Here's one for your diary:

Following on from the success of #moonwatch back in May this year (an event which attracted people such as Maggie Philbin, how cool is that?!), Newbury Astronomical Society, in association with IYA2009UK, are going to run #meteorwatch.

The event will happen on the night of the 11th and 12th of August, coinciding with the expected peak of the Perseids meteor shower.

The Twitter Meteorwatch will start at 21.30 BST on the 11th of August and will continue through to the evening of the 12th of August. Amateur and professional astronomers from the US and other countries are invited to join in and take over from the UK, when the sun comes up here, helping make the event run for over 24 hours and be truly international. The event will close in the UK, in the early hours of the 13th of August 2009.
See the main page for the event for more details, and be sure to follow @NewburyAS over on Twitter.

Now that I've got an Android phone, which runs a twitter client (twidroid), and now that I've got a laptop with a WiFi connection, I should be in a good position to take part. All being well, weather permitting, I'll be out in the garden, doing my best to add to #meteorwatch.

See you there?


Google Sky Map on Android

Just recently I acquired a new mobile phone, one running Android (in my case a HTC Magic) and I've had a quick look around for some astronomy software but didn't find much.

Then, this evening, I noticed this tweet from Stuart and went and did a little digging about and finally found it.

I'm stunned.

Rather that try and explain it, I'll just go with Google's video explaining it:

The one warning I would give is that it takes quite a while for the application to start. It will look like your phone has hung (and, if you try and do something, you'll probably be told the application is taking too long and would you like to force an exit or wait) but just wait a little, it's simply slow to start. Once it's running it's nice and snappy.

If you've got an Android phone and astronomy is this thing I'd call this a "must have" application — even if you do know your way around the sky.


Colour Lubitel Star Trails

I've done some star trails with my Lubitel 166B. Initially I'd been using black and white film — first on Ilford FP4+ 125 and then one on Ilford HP5+ 400 — but I've been meaning to have a go with colour for a while now.

Back on 2008-11-22, while doing some observing at Woodland Waters, I finally did some using Fuji Provia 100F. I'm rather pleased with the results:


Twittering the International Space Station Close Encounter

As I'm sure many people will know by now, at 2009-03-12 16:39 UTC the International Space Station had a close encounter with some debris. I won't bother going into any serious detail about that, I'm sure that, by the time you read this, others will have gone into this in much more detail.

The thing that I find really interesting about it is that I even know anything about it, right now, right at this moment, as I type this. And the reason I know about it is I use Twitter and TweetDeck.

I'm not sure who posted about it first, whose "tweet" I saw first, but I first saw mention of the problem about 50 minutes before the closest approach of the debris (this is where TweetDeck comes in, I always have it running on a screen, very handy). From then on I was able to follow links, get more information (including checking what "11:39 CDT" was in real money), get a live audio feed from the station via NASA TV.

And then, as 16:39 UTC came about, and the feed from the ISS had gone quiet, the tweets from the people I follow pretty much went quiet too. There was a moment, a fascinating moment, where I really felt like I was doing the same thing as lots of other people who share my interests and concerns — we were all just watching and listening and wishing the crew of the ISS well.

And then the moment passed and we could hear the ISS talking again (first in Russian, then in English) and there was an obvious huge sigh of relief.

Two things really stand out for me:

  1. It's amazing that I was able to follow it at all. That's some incredible transparency. The fact that I could listen to the conversations taking place, how amazing is that? (and that's leaving aside the technology involved in making that happen)
  2. By the time the danger for the ISS had passed the BBC news site had just managed to get a "BREAKING NEWS" banner on the front page. It wasn't until after the danger had passed that a page for the story appeared. By then, for me, via twitter, it was "old news".
Here's the TwitScoop graph for mention of the ISS as of the time of writing:


SPA Convention 2009: Photographs

Last night I processed some of the photographs I took at the 2009 Society for Popular Astronomy convention. You can see the photographs over in the album SPA Convention 2009.

I hope to do a report on the day some time soon (although time is against me at the moment) but, for now, I'll say it was an excellent day. I managed to attend all the talks and each one was enjoyable and fascinating.


Thee Years of Sunspot Counts

It's now three years since I decided to make a point of doing sunspot counts as often as possible (I say "now", I'm actually a few days late make a note of this).

While weather, and other things, do often get in the way, I've managed to log 378 observations so far. The sunspot graphs are coming along pretty nice too (even if they are a bit flat due to the solar minimum).

The sunspot/active area observation list is starting to get pretty long now and, at some point, I might have to think about reworking it so it pages or something. On the other hand the active area timeline is doing fine (and it shows rather nicely just how quiet things have been of late).

I hope things start to pick up this year. It would be nice to see some significant solar activity again.


Finally Seen Comet Lulin

Last night, after waiting most of the week (and being defeated by cloud), I finally got to see comet Lulin.

There was no sign of it with the naked eye but I could see it (after a little bit of searching) with my 10x50 binocular, and also with my 20x60 monocular. Not the most impressive of comets, at least not at this point. There was some obvious elongation, but I wouldn't say I could see any kind of tail. There wasn't any obvious "concentration" to it at all, it was more of a large ghostly colourless patch than anything else.