Over on my Youtube channel I’ve posted a quick introduction to Video Astronomy using inexpensive security cameras like the Samsung SCB2000.
I have some very sad news to share with regular followers of my blog and facebook page. Graham Bell, a prolific skywatcher and incredibly talented night sky photographer, passed away on Wednesday the 21st of April. He was only 35 years old and leaves behind a deeply saddened family including two young boys.
Graham posted so many images to my page and frequently messaged me with follow up pictures, time lapses and general chat about the night sky. He generously let me use many of his compositions during astronomy presentations and I suspect he inspired many people who follow this blog and page with his wonderful pictures.
He was latterly living in Inverurie but always reminded me that he was a proud Ross-shire boy, having been raised in Muir of Ord in the Scottish Highlands.
I’ve put together a medley of some of Graham’s images as a mark of respect, and I’d like to thank Graham’s dad David for calling me yesterday to share the sad news.
There’s definitely something timeless about looking up at the night sky and I’d like to think that some part of Graham will always be looking up, camera at the ready. RIP Graham.
Around 15,000 years ago a star 20 times more massive than our Sun dramatically exploded in a region of space within the constellation Cygnus the Swan.
Since then the shockwave and expanding envelope of ejected stellar material and ionised gas has been racing apart, creating a nebulous structure over 130 light years across. This image, captured by Katie Hughes, from her home in Loch Lomond, is all that remains of this event (a supernova remnant) in visible light.
Thank you very much for sharing the stunning image Katie. Katie has recently started an Instagram page with more of her images. Please visit it here.
There were only a few stars up at Abriachan Forest tonight for our Star Stories Astrophotography special, but some nice early views of the waxing crescent Moon and Venus before the weather really turned and a mini snowstorm descended.
Many thanks to our guest speaker Eric Walker from the Highlands Astronomical Society for delivering a fantastic talk on astrophotography. Eric showcased a ton of amazing images he’s taken over the years demonstrating his passion for astronomy and observing.
Clelland also entertained in the round house with storytelling and we had a nice impromptu discussion about the night sky over the campfire between changeovers.
The next Star Stories is our Vernal Equinox special in March, which will be the last opportunity for dark sky observing this season before the return of longer days.
Eventbrite link here
Late summer is prime time for observing the Milky Way, and esp. catching the bright core visible near the southern horizon after dark. This bright area marks the central nucleus of our galaxy, some 30,000 light years away..
The Milky Way currently runs between Saturn and Jupiter, both low on the southern horizon, and intersects the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle asterism (Vega, Deneb and Altair). From south It runs overhead and terminates close to the constellation Perseus in the north East.
For the best views you’ll want to get away from urban light pollution, ideally somewhere fairly rural. Let your eyes dark adapt for at least 15 minutes to give yourself the best possible views.
Quick movie of the crescent Moon during twilight tonight with the giant star Aldebaran appearing below.
This was captured very simply by holding a smartphone to the eyepiece of a tripod mounted pair of binoculars. I hope it illustrates what’s possible with simple setups and smartphone cameras.
Although not normally singled out as a major meteor shower, the 2019 Quadrantids will peak under the darkness of a new Moon, offering the best chances of seeing an abundance of shooting stars if you can get away to a suitably dark location under favourable skies.
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids are not produced by the debris from a comet, but by a large asteroid. In this case asteroid 2003EH1 which orbits the Sun every five and a half years.
The time to begin looking up will run from January 1st until the 6th. However rates will be low in general over this wide period. For the best spectacle try and head out over the narrow peak of the shower, after midnight on January 3rd, when for a few hours the shower can theoretically produce between 50-100 meteors per hour, but only under ideal conditions.
If you’re observing close to midnight at Inverness latitudes (57 degrees) the radiant will be about 22 degrees high. Therefore a more realistic estimate would be 20-30 per hour. Stay out later and the radiant will rise higher increasing the theoretical rate. If you’d like to know more about the technical considerations when estimating visible meteor rates check out this excellent blog post by Steve Owens.
The rough radiant for the Quadrantids is the constellation Bootes, although you don’t need to look in this direction to see them.
Observing the Quadrantids
You don’t need any special equipment to view a meteor shower, in fact binoculars or telescopes will just narrow your field of view. Grab a deck chair or camping mat and a warm blanket, prepare a hot drink, wrap up warm and lay out under the darkest conditions you can find. It’s an excellent activity to do alone or if you have children they’ll love an excuse to get outside for some after dark play.
Put away any lights or bright mobile phone screens and simply look up and wait. Remember it takes up to 30 minutes for your eyes to fully dark adapt and any exposure to bright lights will start the process all over again. If you need a light, red leds or touches are best for preserving you night vision.
For optimal viewing, head out late at night after the Moon sets or in the darkness of the pre dawn sky., when the radiant is highest in the sky.
Photographing the Quadrantids
If your have a DSLR camera and tripod, or a suitable phone app like NightCap, you could try capturing some meteors with this rough guide.
- Firmly attach you camera to the tripod.
- Disable autofocus and manually focus at some bright stars (make them as small and pin point as possible in your viewing screen)
- Set an ISO range somewhere between 1000-3000 depending on the capabilities of the sensor. Mid 1000s is a good middle road.
- Turn off noise reduction or you’ll get big delays between each shot.
- Point your camera at a high and clear part of the sky.
- Shoot long exposures ranging from 10s to 30s, or simply use a remote shutter to take manual exposures. Note: don’t go crazy with very long exposures or you’ll get amp glow from the sensor.
- Take lots and lots of shots and be patient!
If your camera has a time-lapse feature you can automate the shooting process and tell the camera to automatically take 30 second exposures over a long interval. Just watch out for dew forming on the lens if conditions are cold. Some hand warmers stuffed into a sock wrapped around the lens will solve this particular issue.
Good luck and clear skies!