During the evening of Saturday 14th April while commissioning a 150mm refractor some images were taken of M51. After processing the LRGB images and comparing the final image with stock internet images an object was spotted in our image which did not appear in those downloaded from the net.
Checking the subs, the mystery object only appeared in the first 120 second luminance image.
Searches to see if any asteroids were listed at these coordinates drew a blank. Clearly, the object is not a hot pixel so what is it? One explanation is that its a meteor trail which is head on to the field of view.
The first weekend of May gave us the best run of clear skies for months, so we arranged an observation session for Tuesday 8th May at our new observation site in Bobbington. This time we moved to a slightly different area of the site, which gave us a better all-round view of the night sky. The usual ‘It’s on!’ text message was sent out at 5:00 pm, giving details of the session, and when I arrived at the site at 9:30 pm, I was pleased to see people were already there assembling scopes and chatting.
Jupiter was rising in the south-east, and from the area of hard-standing where we were setting up, most of the sky was accessible. It was a pleasant, clear, moonless, slightly balmy evening. The sky was still relatively bright at 10:00 pm. Would this impair our search for celestial objects, I wondered.
After a very cloudy 2016 winter, we’ve at last been afforded a handful of clear skies for the first few months of 2017. For some reason, Wednesdays seem to be the night we’ve had the most clear skies, with the weekends typically clouded over. This is most irritating for those for astronomers with 9-5 weekday jobs, it seems we’re always at the whims of nature!
Venus has been putting on a superb show in the early evening sky, rising very high through February, and presently, (I’m writing this on 17th March), is heading lower in the Western sky. When it’s so visible, most amateur astronomers often get friends asking “what was that bright star I saw last night?” I’ve been asked several times over the past couple of months.
I took some photos of Venus through my 8” Skywatcher in January and February, and was pleased to be able to capture the both the changes in the apparent size and phases of the planet, as it gets nearer to us on its journey round the sun, (photo 1). On the 5th January it was approx 111,000,000 km away from the Earth, and on 26th February approx 54,000,000km away. It always fascinates me that Mercury and the Venus are the only planets that show Moon-like ‘phases’, being closer to the Sun than us.
Deep sky observing in the summer can be quite a challenge. When we talk about ‘deep sky objects’, we’re generally referring to things like Nebula, star clusters, galaxies etc, pretty much everything that’s not a single star or a planet. The astronomer Charles Messier made up a list of the most interesting deep sky objects and we still use his listings and his ‘M’ numbers today. These objects can sometimes be quite faint, and when the sky is bright they can prove elusive, but it’s worth the hunt. Messier objects are some of the most fascinating things in the night sky.
The constellation photographs I’m using to illustrate this article were all taken by me this year using a Fuji XF1 (which is a small compact camera, not an SLR) on a small tripod. Most shots were between 20-30 second exposures at f1.8 and 100ISO, using a two second timer to eliminate camera shake, (picture 1) shows the area of sky looking west after sunset, towards Corona Borealis and Bootes). To locate the deep sky objects in this article, I’d recommend a sky-atlas. My favourite is ‘Turn Left at Orion’, published by Cambridge press.
Amongst the first stars you see in the summer, as the sun sets and the sky darkens, are the stars of the ‘Summer Triangle’. Deneb, Vega and Altair, in constellations of Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila respectively. Vega shines right overhead in Summer, a bright beacon, and it’s always a welcome sight. Four stars near it form a ‘squashed box’ shape that makes up the constellation of Lyra, and in between two of these stars is M57 – the famous Ring Nebula.