Modern mobiles are now able to take quite striking images of the night sky.
Here’s a few examples people shared from last night’s aurora activity in the north of Scotland.
If you’d like to try it yourself I’ve outlined a few pointers below and some apps you could try.
1. Find the ‘manual’ or ‘pro’ setting on your mobile phone, this should let you alter ISO, focus and exposure settings.
2. Boost the ISO to around 800 or higher if you mobile is a more recent model.
3. Alter the exposure time to between 3 seconds – 30 seconds and experiment with a few shots.
4. WIth a short exposure time (a few seconds) you might get away with a handheld shot assuming you can keep you phone still during the picture. Any longer and you’ll need a tripod mount.
5. Good luck.
If you’re looking for some apps specifically designed to take astronomy images you could try NightCap (iPhone only) or ProCamX (Android). And if you want to get really experimental there’s also DeepSkyCamera which attempts to stack images for deep sky images (tripod essential).
Some interesting new information has emerged on Betelgeuse, the red supergiant that marks the left ‘armpit’ of Orion the Hunter.
1. It’s still burning Helium in its core so unlikely to go supernova until around 100,000 years.
2. It’s not as massive as previously thought. Earlier studies had shown its radius would extend to the orbit ofJupiter if placed in our solar system. This new data suggests its real radius is 60% of this.
3. It’s closer to Earth than previously measured, at 530 light years. This is 25% closer than we previously thought.
New data published in the Astrophysical Journal. Further reading here.
I’m very much looking forward to a return to the inky dark skies over the Isle of Lewis next February for the Hebridean Dark Sky Festival. The full lineup and details are available from organisers An Lanntair.
I’ve been reminiscing about last year’s festival, when I toured Lewis delivering outreach to a collection of remote communities under some of the best dark skies you’ll find anywhere. You can read my short account from last February on my blog page here. I look forward to more of the same in 2021, travelling to some new locations on the island.
Have you noticed the dazzling red star high in the East during late evening? That’s the planet Mars and it’s now nearing opposition on October 13th, offering some of the best naked eye and telescopic views possible.
Opposition is when Mars and Earth reach their closest approach to each other with respect to their independent orbits around the Sun. For Mars and Earth, this happens every 2 years and 2 months.
With the planet’s relatively high altitude and closeness around opposition, current views of the planet even with moderately powerful telescopes should be striking, perhaps revealing dim surface features and polar caps.
These images from Instagram’s @nightskyflying show the dramatic size and clarity change of Mars over a period of many months. If you don’t have a telescope it’s still worth looking up to appreciate the brightness of Mars as a naked eye planet at the moment.
All eyes are now on planet Venus, our bright morning and evening star.
In the 1950s Venus was one of the most dreamed of and speculated about planets in the solar system. Science fiction portrayed it as a swampy planet covered in rain forests and abundant with strange alien life. Then, after the Soviet Venera missions discovered the hellish conditions on the surface, interest waned somewhat and attention shifted to Mars.
With recent discoveries of Phosphine gas in the planet’s atmosphere, Venus looks set to recapture all of its human wonder and fascination.
Venus has always had the potential to harbour life high in its atmosphere. While its surface is baking hot with crushing pressures, its upper atmosphere is a relatively warm and clement environment.
So far we can’t imagine a natural process which could produce such high concentrations of phosphine gas in the Venus atmosphere but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an explanation that precludes life. Meanwhile we are left to speculate about the many possibilities, including the most tantalising of all, that some form of ancient anaerobic microbial life exists, or has existed, within Venus’s upper atmosphere.