Blog Archives

Starfest III Lectures: Pete Lawrence – “Observing and Imaging the Moon”

Pete Lawrence is an astronomy writer, astrophotographer and presenter of BBC Sky at Night.

The audio quality isn’t quite as good on this video (due to a technical issue on the day), but is still audible.

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Christmas 2013 Stargazing Night

CO74780_01 stars LOUISE SMITHOn the evening of Saturday 7th December, we will be at the Great Notley Country Park in Braintree for our final public stargazing night of the year.

From 6pm to 9pm, NEAS will be at the park with a selection of telescopes set up for you to look through

If the skies are clear you’ll be able to observe the crescent Moon and possibly even the planet Jupiter as it rises in the east. Some deep-sky objects like the Pleiades star cluster and the Orion Nebula may also be visible.

We’ll also try to answer any questions you might have, and give advice about how to start out with astronomy.

Everyone is welcome to come along and view through our telescopes. The night is free of charge. Please park in the site’s public car park (there may be a site car parking fee) which will remain open until 9pm. Details of how to find the site are on our Stargazing page here.

We will be set up behind the Discovery Centre building, so just following the walkway round to find us. Please try to keep torches pointed toward the ground (to preserve people’s dark adaption) or you might like to purchase one of our red LED keyrings!

Please be aware that we are dependent on clear weather. If it is cloudy you obviously may not get to see anything! And if it’s really raining we will likely call off the event – so please use common sense before setting out. We will still have a couple of members on site in case you have any questions.

Sky Notes for November 2013 with James Abbott #stargazing

The Taurid meteors are active throughout November with the best chances of seeing them being in the first half of the month. The Taurids are associated with Comet Encke, which was the second comet to be numbered after the much more famous Comet Halley.

The Taurids are not one of the more active showers, but they can be seen at a reasonable time of the evening and are noticeably slow and often coloured. As their name suggests they originate from Taurus which is rising in the East throughout the evenings of early November, reaching an altitude of about 30 degrees by 9pm GMT. This year the chances of seeing Taurids are boosted by the Moon being New on November 3rd so moonlight will not interfere at least for the first week of the month.

Image: Astrocal

That New Moon will pass in front of the Sun causing a solar eclipse on November 3rd but the edge of the shadow misses the UK. From Southern Europe there will be a partial eclipse.

Jupiter continues to improve through November and by the last week of the month is over 30 degrees in altitude in the East by 11pm GMT and a brilliant mag -2.6. On the night of the 21st/22nd the waning gibbous Moon is close by. Once the Moon is out of the evening sky at the end of November all of the bright winter constellations will be observable in a dark sky and at a reasonable hour with Sirius rising in the South East after 10pm.

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Full Moon is on November 17th, now shining down from nearly 60 degrees in altitude when in the South.

Venus remains rather elusive due to its large Southerly declination but is visible if the skies are clear, low down in the South West in evening twilight throughout the month. On the 6th the young crescent Moon will be nearby.

Speculation is mounting about Comet ISON (2012 S1), which some, probably unwisely, have predicted could be the “Comet of the Century”. Such predictions about comets have come to grief many times previously. It is possible that it may be bright enough to see in binoculars before dawn in the middle of November low down in the South East. Currently though it is only brightening slowly and at best could become a fairly bright object visible to the unaided eye in early to mid December following a very close swing around the Sun at the end of November.

The comet nucleus is believed to be about 2km across. It will pass within one solar diameter of the surface of the Sun – resulting in a roasting which will rapidly release gas and dust from the nucleus as its ices boil off into space – and hopefully to form prominent tails.

For early risers November will be a bumper month for comets. As well as ISON we have three other comets in range of binoculars. The best placed is Comet Lovejoy (2013 R1), which will be high enough to observe from about 1am in the East. 2P/Enke is low pre dawn, also in the East, with LINEAR (2012 X1) in the same area of the sky near Arcturus. 2012 X1 has undergone an outburst similar to that seen in 17P/Holmes in 2007. Nick James secured these images from Chelmsford:

 For full details of this autumn’s comets visit  http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~jds/

 

James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.

You can download a free map of the evening sky here:

October 2013 Lecture Meeting -“The Apollo Missions”

This month we welcome back speaker Jerry Workman who will talking about “The Apollo Missions”.

The talk will look at the space race and build up to one of the most significant events in human history.

There were eleven manned Apollo missions, six of which landed on the Moon. This talk will highlight  the individual accomplishments of each of the key Apollo missions and tell us about the geological landscape of the lunar surface.

A Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, Jerry is widely known to astronomy groups across at the country and won the Eric Zucker Award in 2009 for his work in the astronomical community.

The public meeting takes place at the Henry Dixon Hall, Rivenhall End on Wednesday 16th October. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start. £2 for members, £3 for non-members. For further information, see the Events page.

October 2013 Stargazing Evening

CO74780_01 stars LOUISE SMITHOn the evening of Saturday 12th October, we return to Great Notley Country Park in Braintree for a night of stargazing.

From 6pm to 9pm, NEAS will be at the park with a selection of telescopes set up for you to look through

If the skies are clear you’ll be able to observe the Moon, there may also be the chance to see some deep-sky objects and we’ll also try to point out some constellations to you.

We’ll also try to answer any questions you might have, and give advice about how to start out with astronomy.

Everyone is welcome to come along and view through our telescopes. The night is free of charge. Please park in the site’s public car park (there may be a site car parking fee) which will remain open until 9pm. Details of how to find the site are on our Stargazing page here.

We will be set up behind the Discovery Centre building, so just following the walkway round to find us.

Please be aware that we are dependent on clear weather. If it is cloudy you obviously may not get to see anything! And if it’s really raining we will likely call off the event – so please use common sense before setting out. We will still have a couple of members on site in case you have any questions.

September 2013 Stargazing Evening

CO74780_01 stars LOUISE SMITHOn the evening of Saturday 14th September, we return to Great Notley Country Park in Braintree for a night of stargazing.

From 6pm to 9pm, NEAS will be at the park with a selection of telescopes set up for you to look through

If the skies are clear you’ll be able to observe the Moon, there may also be the chance to see some deep-sky objects and we’ll also try to point out some constellations to you.

We’ll also try to answer any questions you might have, and give advice about how to start out with astronomy.

Everyone is welcome to come along and view through our telescopes. The night is free of charge. Please park in the site’s public car park (there may be a site car parking fee) which will remain open until 9pm. Details of how to find the site are on our Stargazing page here.

We will be set up behind the Discovery Centre building, so just following the walkway round to find us.

Please be aware that we are dependent on clear weather. If it is cloudy you obviously may not get to see anything! And if it’s really raining we will likely call off the event – so please use common sense before setting out. We will still have a couple of members on site in case you have any questions.

Sky Notes for September 2013 with James Abbott #stargazing

On August 14th, a Japanese astronomer discovered a Nova in the constellation of Delphinus which brightened to become just visible with the unaided eye from dark sites. The star system that is the source of the Nova reached some 25,000 times brighter than be-fore the outburst which at our distance from it equated to about mag 4.5. Although now slowly fading, it is still a bright binocular object.

Image: Dennis di Cicco/S&T

The spectral signature is that of a classical Nova. In a binary star system, gas is being drawn from a cool giant star into an accretion disk around a dense white dwarf. When enough gas has built up on the smaller star, a nuclear fusion reaction is triggered with the ac-companying massive increase in brightness. Such events can recur in the same system – such as RS Ophiuchi.

Saturn and Venus will be close together in the evening twilight around mid-month but are both very low in the West as it gets dark. The young Moon will be near the planets on the evenings of the 8th and 9th.

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For those up before dawn, Jupiter will be dominating the early morning skies in the East, located in Gemini.

Full Moon this month is on September 19th and will be 37 degrees in altitude when due South, much higher than the low summer Moons of late. The September Moon is a classic Harvest Moon, the time of rising on successive evenings only advancing slowly so that even on the 23rd, 4 days after Full, the Moon is still up before 9pm BST.

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By the last week of the month the Moon finally leaves the late evening sky. The constellations are now turning to-wards Autumn with Taurus rising in the East by 11pm BST. The Autumnal Equinox arrives on the 22nd September at just before 10pm BST.

It is expected that this month will see the start of part-night street lighting in the council areas of Chelmsford City and Braintree District. Most of the lights will go off between midnight and 5am, though town centres and industrial estates, areas around railway stations, etc will stay on all night. Maps are available showing all of the villages and towns affected with individual streetlights detailed.

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Essex County Council do include reducing light pollution as one of their reasons for the programme:
“To save money and reduce our carbon emissions and light pollution, we will be turning off some of our street lights at night – this is called part night street lighting.”

After many years with this programme being under discussion it will be intriguing to see what the effect is on our night skies. There will be a reduction in the light pollution domes over the towns but it is unlikely to be “Dark Sky Park” quality skies for Essex!

James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.

You can download a free map of the evening sky here:

Sky Notes for July 2013 with James Abbott #stargazing

Following the Summer Solstice on June 21st, the nights start to draw in again through July but only very slowly. For most of July the Sun still sets after 9 pm BST.

Venus remains visible throughout July but will always be low in the North West in the evening dusk, setting about an hour after the Sun. Although our “Sister planet” is on the far side of its orbit around the Sun from Earth, it is the brightest object in the night sky apart from the Moon and so with a clear Western horizon it should be visible in the twilight.

Saturn is still fairly well placed at the start of July but by the end of the month is starting to sink low in the sky soon after 11 pm BST. The first quarter Moon is nearby on the evening of the 16th. Full Moon is on the night of the 22nd/23rd, low down in the Southern sky.

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As the Moon wanes in the last week of July and leaves the late evening skies, clear nights will reveal the Northern Milky Way almost overhead. From truly dark sites the Milky Way reveals a lot of detail but from Essex we have to cope with an often murky atmosphere and of course light pollution.

But away from streetlights in the Essex countryside it is possible to see some detail in the Milky Way. Looking at Cygnus, the individual stars we can see are almost all relatively close to us in space, typically tens or hundreds of light years away with a few exceptions such as the supergiant Deneb which is several thousand light years distant. The hazy Milky Way is made up of millions of faint stars much further away, forming the spiral arms of our galaxy. Through Cygnus, an obvious dark rift in the Milky Way can be seen, caused by huge clouds of dust obscuring the spiral arm stars.

Summer Triangle

The Summer Triangle

Late July is also a good time, with hopefully some warm evenings, to watch for meteors – which are also caused by dust, but obviously much closer to home. As well as the Perseids which starts in late July there are several other showers active. Almost all meteor showers are streams of dusty debris left behind in the orbits of comets. The Earth crosses a number of these through the summer and each shower is different depending on the way in which the comet orbit intersects that of the Earth and the physical properties of the comet dust. Perseids strike our atmosphere at a velocity of 60 kilometers per second. The energy produced as the dust grains burn up means we can see them easily even though they are over 80 km up in the atmosphere.perseids

Fragments of meteor dust drift down to the surface of the Earth and across the whole planet material from space amounts to many tonnes per day.

 

James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.

You can download a free map of the evening sky here:

Sky Notes for June 2013 with James Abbott #stargazing

The Summer Solstice this year takes place on June 21st just after 6am BST – an hour and a half after sunrise. At local noon on the 21st, the Sun beams down from an altitude of nearly 62 degrees, as high in the sky as is currently possible from our latitude.

The June Full Moon follows on the night of the 22nd/23rd, low down in the Southern sky. With the Moon near perigee (closest to the Earth) it will appear larger than usual, with the added effect of the Moon Illusion due to low altitude.

Saturn remains well placed in the late evening sky, about 12 degrees to the left of the bright star Spica in Virgo. The waxing gibbous Moon will pass about 5 degrees below the ringed planet on the night of the 19th/20th. With the rings now wide open, only a small part of the Southern Hemisphere can be seen, but the Northern Hemisphere is well presented. Leading amateurs have been able to image the Polar “hexagon”. Visually this feature can appear quite dark compared to the rest of the hemisphere.

Venus should be glimpsed after Sunset low in the North West in Gemini, joined for most of the month by Mercury with a separation distance of around 4 degrees until mid-month. On the 11th the pair are below the lead stars in Gemini, Castor and Pollux, and are joined by a thin crescent New Moon, just 9% illuminated. After mid-month, the 2 planets close and on the 20th are just 2 degrees apart. Towards the end of the month Mercury moves back towards the Sun whilst Venus continues to improve and by the 25th is in a line with the 2 lead stars of The Twins. Mercury will be of similar brightness to the Twins, but Venus will be much brighter, attaining mag -3.9 by the end of June.

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The lingering twilight of June and their low altitude will make observations of the 2 inner planets tricky and a transparent sky and a clear horizon will be needed for success.

The time around the Solstice is usually the best for observing noctilucent clouds (NLC). These are high atmosphere formations thought to be composed of small ice-coated particles. They form at very high altitudes – around 82 km above sea level – and so are a quite separate phenomenon from normal weather. They are best seen from our latitude after sunset and before sunrise. The period from 10.30 pm to 11 pm BST is a good time to look, towards the North West and in the twilight glow. The clouds take a variety of forms, more often silvery interwoven streaks and waves.

Image by James Abbott and Freddie Abbott

Image by James Abbott and Freddie Abbott

Spaceweather.com is now posting daily satellite images of NLCs from the NASA AIM spacecraft (look down the left-hand side). The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission is exploring Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs), also called NLCs, to find out why they form and why they are changing.

James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.

You can download a free map of the evening sky here:

May 2013 Stargazing Evening

IMG_2258Our next public stargazing evening takes place this Saturday 18th May, from 6pm until 9pm.

NEAS astronomers will be at the Great Notley Country Park in Braintree with a range of telescopes set up for you to look through.

As the sun now sets quite late, we may be able to some solar observing before turning out attention to the night sky and the first quarter Moon high in the southern sky.

As always our volunteers will try to answer any questions you might have, and give advice about how to start out with astronomy.

This is our last stargazing evening until the Autumn. Over the summer months, we will run midday solar observing sessions.

Everyone is welcome to come along and view through our telescopes. Attendance is free of charge. Please park in the site’s public car park (there may be a site car parking fee) which is just a short walk away and will remain open until 9pm. Details of how to find the site are on our Stargazing page here.

We will be set up behind the Discovery Centre building, so just following the walkway round to find us.

Please be aware that we are dependent on clear weather. If it is cloudy you obviously may not get to see anything! And if it’s really raining we will likely call off the event – so please use common sense before setting out. We will still have a couple of members on site in case you have any questions.

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