Comet NEOWISE

Bright comet alert. Comet NEOWISE has caught many skywatchers by surprise. There’s now naked eye reports of it in early morning skies across northern Europe. This image was snapped a few mornings ago by Paul Sutherland @suthers from Walmer on the SE tip of England.

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NEOWISE imaged by Paul Sutherland @suthers from Walmer, England

Or check out this incredible time-lapse of sunrise with Comet NEOWISE and Noctilucent clouds by Martin Heck (Insta @martin_heck) from Bayern, Munich

Observing Guide

A quick guide to locating Comet NEOWISE, valid for Northern Europe.

Time: You’ll need to rise early and ideally be in position between 2am and 3am. Too early and the comet will be too low on the horizon. Too late the Sun will have risen too much, washing the comet out.

Direction: The direction you need to look in is NNE (north north east). If visible you could use the bright star Capella in Auriga as a reference.

Equipment: Many observers in Europe claim to have see the comet naked eye. This might be possible but your best chance will be with binoculars. Any pair will do, they don’t need to be fancy astronomy binoculars. Low power and wide field is always best for viewing comets.

Clear skies and good luck.

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Changing Sunset Position

 

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Changing position of Sunrise from a fixed location over a year

The changing position of Sunrise throughout a year from a fixed location. The further north or south of the equator we live the more extreme our seasonal changes and the bigger shifts we perceive in the sunrise or sunset position during the year.  In such harsh and changing seasons it would also have been the more important for ancient cultures to mark the seasons.

Using the landscape to mark the seasons like this is called a horizon calendar. But what if your horizons are flat and featureless, or you require more accuracy, or you’re a powerful priest and wish to theatricise important changes in time?

Then ‘perhaps’ you construct an artificial horizon by placing large stones to mark the progress of the Sun – a henge.

Photo Credit: Zaid Alabbdi

DIY Fractals

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything mathematical. Looking for a relaxing and engaging activity to bridge creative art and mathematics?

Fractals are everywhere in nature. In this video I show some examples of fractals you can find in your own garden, how computers generate fractals and finally some fun examples you can construct with nothing more than some paper and colouring pens.

Observing the Moon

Here’s a video (with some voice over) I shot last night when out Moon gazing from my back garden.

I never ever regret the tiny effort and time investment involved in digging out my binoculars or telescope to have a look at the Moon.

Clear skies.

Venus – Morning Star

 

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Waing crescent Moon next to Venus – Inverness

After blazing in the NW after sunset during the depths of lockdown, Venus has now completed its passage in front of the Sun (from our perspective) and now slowly emerging as a morning apparition.

At the moment you’ll need to rise very early to catch it due to very bright skies – binoculars or a telescope might be needed.

The morning of the 19th June is particularly special as both Venus and the wafer thin crescent Moon will sit very close to each other. In fact, later the same morning the Moon will occult (hide) Venus for around an hour.

Future Astronomy Outreach

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A human henge – mid summer at Abriachan

Some good news regarding future face to face astronomy programs, delivered up in the Scottish Highlands. All of this is caveated on the assumption that live gatherings are legal and safe at the end of this year.

Next season (from November) I’ll be continuing to work with Caroline Snow to deliver our Urban Astronomy programme based out of the Friends Of Merkinch Local Nature Reserve in Inverness (with the Sea Scouts hall as our indoor base of operations). These events have been growing in popularity and we’re really glad they’re going to continue.

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Merkinch Moon gazing

Star Stories will also continue from Abriachan Forest (Dark Sky Discovery Site) with Suzann, Clelland, Ronnie and the rest of Abriachan Communityteam. The STFC spark award funding is due to end this season, but the programme will continue on a sustainable footing with events (hopefully) starting in November. This whole programme has been a massive success and I look forward to completing my research report for STFC with dissemination for various astronomy publications.

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Clelland in action

I’ll also continue my hotel based outreach work for the likes of The Torridon and appearances at various festivals, whenever it’s safe and practical to do so.

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Some future plans are also underway, including an outreach programme with much bigger scope that will involve various partners and potentially some innovative new technology.

 

Night Shining Clouds

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Noctilucent clouds over the Isle of Lewis by Emma Rennie

Longer days and brighter nights mean less time under the stars, especially if (like me) you live in the far north of Scotland, when astronomical twilight vanishes completely from around late May.

One advantage to this, however, is increased opportunities to observe some of the highest cloud formations on Earth, so called Noctilucent clouds – or ‘night shining’ clouds.

These beautiful, wispy and wave like clouds sit around 50 miles overhead in a region of our atmosphere known as the mesosphere.  The clouds themselves are composed of fine ice crystals and atmospheric dust, and can even be seeded from the disintegration of small meteors which burn up around the same altitude – called ‘meteor smoke’.

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Night shining clouds from Edinburgh by Chris Cogan

Specific conditions are required to see these clouds, and the further north you live generally the better (roughly between latitudes 50 – 70 degrees).

The Sun must be below the horizon in such a way that its rays light up the clouds from below.  Broadly speaking this can happen during a period known as nautical and astronomical twilight – when the Sun sits between 6 and 18 degrees below the horizon.  This means noctilucent clouds are normally only visible from mid-May to mid August from the British Isles.

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These clouds are normally only visible when the Sun sits within the nautical and astronomical twilight bands, between 6 to 18 degrees below the horizon.

Best Times to Observe

Times vary depending on your latitude but here are the earliest times for nautical twilight at various locations.  These times therefore represent the earliest you’re likely to be able to observe the clouds, although optimal times will likely be between 30 – 60 minutes after these times:

Shetland (60.5 degrees north) – 11.35pm

Inverness (57.5 degrees north) – 11.05pm

Glasgow (55.8 degrees north) – 10..45pm

Manchester (53.5 degrees north) – 10.15pm

London (51.5 degrees north) – 9.50pm

You might think these times suggest living further south affords you longer opportunities to observe them.  This isn’t true as the further south you live the more likely you are to experience periods of actual darkness later on, when the Sun dips below 18 degrees – too low to illuminate the cloud base.

Good luck and please post some pictures on my Facebook blog if you capture any.

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Captured by Gav Ross from Aberdeenshire