The Plough asterism, part of Ursa Major
I had the privilege of visiting Snowdonia this summer for a family camp in a beautiful river valley near Maentwrog. During the evenings I managed a bit of stargazing before moonrise and captured a few bright constellations over the Welsh hills.
Cassiopeia over the Welsh hills
I also captured a lovely close pairing between the Moon and the planet Jupiter.
Jupiter sits serenely below the waxing gibbous Moon
The highlight, however, was witnessing a beautiful partial eclipse of the Moon on Tuesday evening at around 11pm.
I took these pictures and a short video using my smartphone anchored to a simple pair of 8×40 binoculars (mounted for stability). The eclipse was already underway when the Moon rose into view and continued until well after midnight.
A lovely crescent Moon hung in the West for most of the evening
We enjoyed another superb evening of stargazing and storytelling up at Abriachan Forest last Saturday – the last dark sky session until stargazing returns in October 2019.
There were beautiful crisp skies all evening long, allowing me to guide both groups outside for views of the Milky Way and numerous open star clusters like the Hyades, Pleiades, Beehive and the stunning double cluster in Perseus.
We also studied the Orion star forming nebula, the great spiral galaxy in Andromeda and some fainter galaxies in Ursa Major (M81 and M82), and even had a go at sighting the triplet of galaxies in Leo, which some of the keen eyed youngsters successfully glimpsed in the 8×40 binoculars.
Clelland was also back in action with the story of Arden and the birth of Merlin in the roundhouse.
Thanks to everyone who came along. Please check my Facebook site for details of future summer events.
Perseus and the double cluster
I had the great pleasure of helping the 2nd Balloch Brownies gain their Stargazers badge this evening. Brownie leader Gaener Rodger wanted an astronomer to lead the girls through basic constellations and star navigating, but I came prepared for both outdoor and indoor activities in the event of poor skies.
A captive and very excitable audience!
The location for stargazing was next to the Balloch hall (beside Balloch Primary) which has some fairly bright street lights nearby. Thankfully the skies were clear enough to make out the main constellations once we’d shifted our location to the gable end of the hall, away from the worse offending lights.
The plough or dipper is one of the best asterisms to orientate an audience and begin a stargazing tour with. Ursa Major is also home to dozens of interesting stars and deep sky objects.
The stargazing tour lasted about 30 mins and covered the following:
- Ursa Major and the big dipper pointers stars
- Polaris and circumpolar constellations
- The story of Callisto and Arkos (The greater and lesser bears)
- Cassiopeia and the story of Queen Cassiopeia and Cepheus
- The great square of Pegasus and the legend of Perseus
- The Northern Cross (Cygnus)
- Stellar physics on the differences between the stars Vega, Deneb and our Sun
Although it was quite a large group (around 20 brownies), I was amazed at the number of really interesting questions the girls kept throwing at me – what’s a light year, what causes a supernova, how many stars are there? The science behind the stars seems to really engage the minds and imaginations of children.
After stargazing we headed back inside for some of the indoor activities I’d prepared. These included:
- Demonstrating Moon phases using spheres on sticks and bright head torches
- A competition to guess the distance from the moon to the earth (using scale ‘chocolate’ models)
- Mars and Moon cratering using trays of flower, coca powder and lots of marbles!
Laying down the lunar soil
The latter experiment was messy but well worth the effort, and was a good opportunity to discuss planetary evolution – why the moon and inner planets have such clear cratering and what it tells us about their age and history.
All in all it was a great evening and more importantly the Brownies seemed to have a fantastic time.
Discussing the impact craters