Logs by comet

Now that I've observed a handful of comets I've got around to adding another way of getting at my logs: by comet.

There aren't that many there at the moment. Let's hope this situation improves this year.

Another light pollution petition

There is another light pollution petition on the UK PM's e-petitions website. Unlike the last one, this one is more concerned with all forms of outdoor lighting:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that all exterior lights are shaded to direct their light downwards, so as to prevent light pollution obscuring the beauty of the night sky.

For those who live in our towns and cities, the night sky is filled with a dull orange glow punctuated only by the dim glimmer of an occasional bright star or planet. Fitting well designed shades on all exterior lights would stop light leaking wastfully upwards, restoring the glorious beauty of a star strewn sky overhead. Bring back the milky way!
Shame about some of the problems with the text of the petition, but it's got to be worth a signature if you're in the UK.


The Star of the East

What is it with artists and light pollution?

According to this article in Louth Today Mablethorpe is to acquire an installation that is based around a "star". To make things more annoying "an electric light at the top of the Star will light up and change colour – creating a lighthouse effect". Around this are a series of lines in the ground, each one of them is supposed to represent "an important date in Mablethorpe's history", one of which is "the little known Mablethorpe meteor of 1898 which exploded in the sky over the resort".

So, let me get this right: they want to commemorate an event in astronomy by... creating light pollution? How very clever.

According to Michael Trainor, the "Manchester based artist" who designed it, "Mablethorpe is the only town in the UK to have its own star". I bloody hope so!


Google Earth/Maps European Light Pollution Overlay

This seems to be turning into an evening of links via the SPA BB — sorry about that.

Via this post on the SPA BB: a European light pollution overlay for Google Earth and Google Maps.

Night Earth

Take Google Maps. Take NASA's image of Earth's city lights. Lay the latter over the former, mix, and you get Night Earth.

Very cool.

Yet another interesting little nugget found on the SPA BB.

The British Astrological Association

It must be a week for this sort of thing. Not only do we have one UK paper running an article about how comet McNaught will affect your love life, I now see from an article on the SPA BB that a report in The Telegraph about the BAA/CfDS/CPRE star count talks about the British Astrological Association.

Is it really too much to ask of the popular press that they treat the subject anything close to correctly?

No, that's okay, I know the answer to that question.


Comet of Destiny

From earlier:

Also, talking of Paul Sutherland, I guess I should mention my tabloid shame. ;-)
Just to be clear, I can't stand The Sun, it's an awful newspaper, truly awful — it feels wrong to even call it a newspaper, but...

Paul's a fellow admin on the SPA BB, when he asked if he could borrow some bits that I'd written about the comet for an article he was working on I was more than happy to oblige (even knowing where it might end up). Anything that gets a story about astronomy out, if it's done well, is worth supporting. I knew where the story might end up but, ahh, what the hell...

So, okay, the story as it ended up in the paper (and, yes, it is in the actual paper too, my mother will be so proud) is very short on detail, but at least it doesn't make stupid claims and doesn't misrepresent anything. It might just have got a few people to poke their heads outside during the evening and try and take a look. Unlike this pile of total nonsense in The Daily Mail.

I could rant on about that all afternoon, but I'll save myself the trouble and point to the Bad Astronomer's page dealing with astrology instead. Yes, I know, no regular reader will need to be told any of this, we all know that astrology is wrong, but you never know who might end up here via a search.

In comparison to that pile of total nonsense a story about a pub toilet seems very sensible.

Comet 2006 P1 McNaught Pt II

After a day of lots of cloud and near-damaging winds things cleared up a little into the evening so I took another stroll to the edge of the village to see if I could get another view of the comet.

Conditions weren't ideal, it was rather murky and there was a fair bit of cloud on the western horizon. Unlike the previous evening I didn't manage to catch a glimpse of the comet on the walk down, I only managed to see it once I got to the chosen observing location.

This time it took a few moments to find it, it was nowhere near as obvious as the day before. In a way it was kind of disappointing, but that's only because I'd been so spoilt by the previous view.

Over on the SPA BB Robin Scagell has posted a rather nice image from last night. Paul Sutherland has also posted an image that seems to give a good impression of how it looked to me last night (not as obvious as the previous night).

Also, talking of Paul Sutherland, I guess I should mention my tabloid shame. ;-)


Comet 2006 P1 McNaught

I've just got back into the office after having a wander out to the western edge of our village, hoping to catch a glimpse of comet 2006 P1 McNaught.

While having dinner I'd mentioned that I was going to go for a walk and have a look and my son asked to come along too. Given that he's not quite 5 and given that I'd be using a binocular my wife decided to come along too — the best place to observe is next to a reasonably busy road (especially busy around 17:00 or so due to people heading home from work) and that wouldn't be a good mix.

I'd told them both that I didn't quite know what to expect. From what I'd read so far I was expecting a small fuzzy comet, probably visible to the naked eye with some effort, but probably requiring that I find it in the 10x50s first. We got coats and hats and stuff on and started walking down the road. About ½ way to the edge of the village I saw something out of the corner of my eye, through some trees. I looked, did a double take, and then a triple take, and then almost said the sort of phrase a father shouldn't say in front of his child.

It was a comet! Not a little fuzzy thing, not the sort of thing I've struggled to find in binocular and telescope over the last year or so, this was a proper naked eye comet. Bright head, easy to see tail, skirting the horizon in a really nice looking sunset.

I was shocked and amazed. As was my wife and son. To be honest, it's hard to say who was most excited, although I think my son wins ("I've seen my first comet! I've seen my first comet!").

I won't bother even trying to relate any technical details, I wasn't really paying attention to it in that way. About all I managed was a quick estimate of the length of the tail (about 2 widths of my thumb, held at arms length) and that was about it. The best I could really manage was to just stand there, awestruck, repeating things like "oh wow", "that's huge!", "look at it! just look at it!" and other pointless variations on that theme.

Within around 10 minutes the head had set behind some trees and I watched the tail slowly set for a couple of minutes more.

I'm still really excited, I'm still feeling kind of shocked and moved by it. I'm still feeling very inadequate when it comes to trying to relate what I saw and how it felt to see it.

Don't you just love it when the Universe surprises you like that?

Update: BAA/CfDS/CPRE Star Count

The BAA are reporting that 72 observations of Orion were received in response to the Christmas star count. That might seem rather low but it's not surprising given how awful the weather was for many people during the allotted time (I was pretty much under a constant blanket of fog so never got to do a count).

Thankfully there's going to be a second attempt:

There is another chance as the survey will re-run over the next new Moon period, from Jan 14 - Jan 21, between 9.00-11.00 pm which is just right for catching Orion 'high in the sky.'

Ignoring the Sun

Ever since I wrote about the UK floodlighting petition back in November I've been keeping an eye on the e-petitions site (its RSS feed makes this nice and easy). Some petitions are obvious, some are amusing, some are kooky and some are just outright strange.

I saw one this morning that probably falls under amusing, or perhaps just misinformed:

Why bother changing the clocks? Greenwich Mean Time is valid all year round. Midday indicates that the sun is highest in the sky; changing to BST over the summer suggests that we should ignore what the sun does when we plan our lives.
Nice enough idea I guess but there's a problem with the reasoning. There's a reason why Greenwich Mean Time is called Greenwich Mean Time — I'll borrow a paragraph from Wikipedia to explain why:
Noon Greenwich Mean Time is not necessarily the moment when the Sun crosses the Greenwich meridian (and reaches its highest point in the sky in Greenwich) because of Earth's uneven speed in its elliptic orbit and its axial tilt. This event may be up to 16 minutes away from noon GMT (this discrepancy is known as the equation of time). The fictitious mean sun is the annual average of this nonuniform motion of the true Sun, necessitating the inclusion of mean in Greenwich Mean Time.
In other words, even when we're working with GMT, we're still "ignoring what the Sun does" (well, not really, but I'm trying to use the line of thought of the author of the petition).

And now for the gratuitous use of the word analemma, which gives me the perfect excuse to link to Anthony Ayiomamitis' amazing images.



Fireworks probably aren't an astronomer's best friend (ask any UK astronomer who wants to observe on the night of the 5th/6th November) so they might not seem like an appropriate subject for an astronomy weblog. But...

A little earlier I was having a look at the latest challenge results on DPChallenge.com and noticed this image in 3rd place for the fireworks challenge.

Wow! Just, wow!

Your initial reaction might be "it's got to be fake" but, if you read the photographer's comments you'll see that it was a real image. And, when you see the location, you'll realise that it's probably not that big a deal.

SPA Convention 2007

Further to my post back in October last year, more details are now available about the Society for Popular Astronomy's 2007 convention.

I'm really looking forward to this. I really enjoyed the last one and if this one is even ½ as good as the last one it'll be a really good day out.


Not much happening, and a couple of new toys

And still the lousy weather continues.

Since Christmas I've had no good clear nights when I've been in a position to observe. Just as bad, I've only seen the Sun, at a time I could observe it, twice so far this month (as of the time of writing there's one log missing, I've yet to type it up on the machine). This is starting to feel somewhat like last year.

Just to frustrate things, today I took delivery of a couple of new observing toys: a Baader contrast booster filter and a Baader Neodymium filter. The former should improve the view via the Antares 905 while the latter should improve the view in the Explorer 130M (hopefully improving the view of some DSOs). I'm looking forward to giving them a go so a nice clear night would be welcome some time soon (current forecasts suggest this won't happen for at least the next couple of days).

Still, at least when the weather isn't really awful, I've got my other new toy to keep me occupied.


Happy New Year

I know this is a little late (I wasn't ignoring those of you who posted comments the other day, I was just a little busy doing the new year holiday thing ;)) but I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a happy new year.

As Tag points out in his comment, this is my third calendar year of writing this blog, and it's also my third calendar year of being back into observing. I know it's kind of trite to say so but it really has flown. One of the things that has made it all the more enjoyable, one of the things that has helped make blogging and observing a little more focused, is the input from fellow observers, including those who have taken time to leave comments here and also those who go to the effort of maintaining their own blogs. Astronomy can be a bit of a solitary hobby and the community of astronomy bloggers makes it feel just a little less so.

Happy new year to you all. Many thanks for everything you've written in the past year. I can't wait to see what you all get up to this year.