What keeps the Moon in space?

Over the weekend my 5 year old son asked one of those questions that are so difficult to answer because the question itself is wrong, but also very endearing too. He wanted to know what kept the Moon "in space".

I tried my best to answer the question, but no amount of trying to point out that the question didn't really make sense (in a nice way) made a dent.

Well, this morning, I found the answer.


Daylight meeting of the Moon and Regulus

Pete Lawrence does it again. This time he observed and photographed a daylight conjunction of the Moon and Regulus.

I'm impressed by and somewhat surprised at the ease with which he managed to find Regulus:

When first looking for Regulus, I was expecting something of a challenge to be able to pick it out. The Moon was the key to the observation because it provided a target to focus on and a reference point in an otherwise featureless blue sky.

As it turned out, Regulus actually appeared quite bright and intense. Using an Astronomik red filter darkened the sky (removed the blue component) and improved the view considerably.
I'm annoyed that I missed this.


Lunar Occultation of Saturn

Tonight I was lucky enough to observe the lunar occultation of Saturn.

Skies were nice and clear for me when I got the Explorer 130M out at around 18:45 UT. By 18:51 UT (yes, no time to let the 'scope cool down) I had Saturn in the eyepiece. This in itself was a first for me. The Sun was still above the horizon — that's the first time I've observed that planet during the day.

The view kept switching from being very hard to make out to being very clear, sometimes clear enough that I could just about make out the planet's shadow on the rings.

The dark limb of the Moon wasn't visible at all so I had no visual clues as to how long I had to wait. There were a couple of false starts where I thought I could see part of Saturn was missing. And then, suddenly, it was really obvious that the Moon was cutting into the rings.

Sadly I didn't have a stopwatch with me so I had no way of timing how long the event took. It felt like it was over in about 30 seconds. I know I was very surprised at how quickly it all happened. It was all over by 19:06 UT.

And then I had a break. I had about an hour to wait until Saturn emerged.

Fast forward to 20:00 UT and the Moon was lost behind a load of cloud. I could see, towards the western horizon, a gap, but I didn't hold out much hope for it getting into place in time. For a while all I had to look at was:

Waiting for the Moon and Saturn
Click for larger picture

Finally, at around 20:12 UT a gap in the clouds gave me a view of the Moon but, just as quickly, it went again. By 20:13 UT a bigger gap moved into place and, through the 130M, I could already see Saturn. Part of the rings was still behind the Moon and over the next couple or so minutes I watched it fully emerge (Saturn was free of the Moon by 20:14 UT).

I just watched the gap between them widen for the next couple of minutes and, then, in a moment of madness (not the first moment of madness like this), I grabbed my mobile phone and held the camera in it up to the lens of the 'scope. This is what I got:

Moon and Saturn on Mobile Phone
Click for larger picture

Probably the worst occultation picture you'll see over the next few days. Probably the worst occultation picture you've ever seen and will ever see. But, what the hell, it had to be done. :-)

By 20:19 UT it had clouded over again. I left it a short while longer and then, realising that was it, I packed up.

I'm so glad I didn't miss it.


Moon and Venus Crazy

It seems that lots of people either observed or photographed the Moon along with Venus. Amongst the astronomy blogs I read Ian got a shot despite the clouds, Nick got a shot (along with a shots of an Iridium flare and a pair of sun dogs) and Tim got a couple of images (including one exposed for the Moon's highlights and one exposed for the earthshine).

After doing a search on Flickr it seems that lots of people had a go at photographing this conjunction. The most unusual one I've seen is this one.

Jodrell Bank Featured on Twitter

Congratulations to Jodrell Bank! It seems their twitter page is a featured page over at twitter:

Seems there's a few astronomy related people and things on twitter now (in no particular order):
And, of course, I had to join in too.

And Mercury Too...

I really should prepare myself better before I go out observing.

Paul S, over on the SPA BB, pointed out that I should have captured Mercury along with the Moon and Venus. This is where I should have been prepared, I hadn't even realised that Mercury was visible around that time from that location.

I fired up Starry Night and had a look at where Mercury was and then went back and looked at the photographs I took and, sure enough, in just the right spot, there was faint little Mercury.

Of course, in the photograph I posted yesterday, my unprepared head was occulting the planet.

Have a look at this image. It's a blown-up crop of this:

Venus and Moon
Click image for larger picture

If you look carefully in the bottom right hand corner you'll be able to see Mercury.

So, on Saturday night, not only did I photograph a conjunction, I also managed to photograph an occultation of Mercury too. ;-)


Venus, Selene and Me

I had a pretty late observing session last night, out with a couple of friends just enjoying the available sights (sadly cloud stopped play in the end).

Almost right up until the point where we packed up (around 00:00 UT) the sky had one obvious and striking sight that you just had to keep going back and just looking at. For me nothing quite matches a crescent Moon and Venus. I'm not one for doing much in the way of astrophotography but I had to catch that sight. Not having the gear to do a good close-up (this is the best I could manage) I opted for a landscape shot instead. Actually, more of a landscape and self-portrait:

Venus, Selene and Me
Click image for larger picture

The log of that session should be up in the next day or so.

EDIT: The log is now up.


A little bit of boasting

I received a copy of the June edition of Astronomy Now in the post yesterday. This one's a little extra special for me. In it there's an article about the 2007 SPA Convention and the two photographs that illustrate the event were taken by..... me! :-)

Yeah, yeah, I know, no big deal. But, as someone who enjoys photography as much as he does astronomy, there's something nice about seeing a "Image: Dave Pearson" accompanying a photograph in a magazine. Especially an astronomy magazine.

Okay, that's enough boasting now. I'll try not to let it happen again...


In Praise of Clouds

Astronomers hate clouds.

Well, mostly. We generally like clouds on other planets. We sometimes like clouds on our own planet too. But, most of the time, we hate clouds. They get in the way of observing.

But you knew that.

Despite the fact that the weather's been pretty awful lately it's been putting on a pretty good show for me. In the last few days I've seen a nice stormy looking evening and, last night, a very dramatic sunset (which inspired this Hockneyesque montage — sorry about that, I've got a thing about creating montages).

So, the next time you can't observe because it's going to be cloudy, appreciate the clouds.


Time to move on

When I read this item on the BBC yesterday I guessed it would be all over the astronomy blogs pretty soon although, at the time, I couldn't really see much point in commenting myself. However...

I think the worst aspect of it is that Chris felt the need to go on record and distance himself from the comments (he says "almost all", I'm guessing he agrees with the part that there's a lot of crap on British TV these days but that he disagrees with the posited cause — I'd agree with that too). I'm hoping that there's nobody out there who is stupid enough to think that the bizarre opinions of someone with a history of this sort of thing represent the opinions of everyone involved with a specific TV programme.

Leaving aside Moore's unpalatable opinions and past political aspirations, I do wish he'd retire and hand the rains over to someone like Chris. I'd love to see The Sky at Night fully handed over to some new blood (but please, please, hand it over to someone who is picked for their knowledge of and history in the subject — please don't hand it over to someone because of their celebrity status) and given a regular slot at a reasonable hour. Astronomy, as a hobby and an interest, deserves good publicity and, in the UK at least, probably needs a bit of an overhaul in terms of the perceived stereotype (part of which comes from people such as Moore).

That said, I do wonder if such thoughts are a waste of time, especially given some of the comments made by my fellow members of the SPA.

And then we wonder why there's a stereotype of amateur astronomy based around sad old men with nothing better to do with their time...


I'm the Gnomon

I spent last weekend in Lancaster. While I was there I took a walk into Williamson Park so I could go and take some photographs of a pretty neat sundial they've got there.

When someone mentions "sundial" most people probably think of the more "traditional" kind of sundial that has a fixed gnomon. The Lancaster Sundial is a little different in that it's an analemmatic sundial and you play the part of the gnomon.

In the middle of the dial is an analemma. To tell the time, and to take the equation of time into account, you pick a spot to stand on depending on the date and then use your shadow to figure out the time (adding an hour if needed depending on daylight saving time).

You can see more images of the sundial in my album of photographs of Lancaster.


AA 10953 on 2007-05-02

Yet another shot of my view of the sunspot in active area 10953:

As with yesterday I was also able to see the spot with the naked eye via eclipse shades.


AA 10953 on 2007-05-01

The sunspot in active area 10953 continues to impress after a long period of viewing a blank Sun:

As with yesterday I was also able to see the spot with the naked eye via eclipse shades.

That's great, it starts with an earthquake...

It's been a while since I've seen a "scientists to bring the Universe to an end" story, but a fellow admin on the SPA BB made a post pointing at this vote on the BBC.

Come on, everyone sing along...