• Blog Stats

    • 769,925 hits

Meteor Madness…!

I’m late writing this up, I know, but hey, better late than never…!

Last Thursday night members of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal gathered up at Helsington Church to watch the long-awaited 2012 Geminid meteor shower. Previous meteor showers had been ruined by the weather, or the intrusion of the big bright Moon, so when she saw the forecast for Thursday night was clear, without any Moon to spoil things, our observing co-ordinator, Carol, put the word out that there’d be a Meteorwatch up at the church late that evening. And so, by 10.30pm, ten of us were sat in deck chairs and loungers (well, eight of us, I preferred to stand and keep awake by walking about, as did another of our observers), staring at the beautifully starry sky, ready for the show to begin..!

And it was a decent show too. Not brilliant, not fantastic, but yeah, pretty good, and between 10.30pm and just after midnight – when cloud rolled in and ruined everything – we saw easily 50 or 60 Geminids. Most were pretty average, mag 4 or 5, but a few were considerably brighter, and a couple were MUCH brighter, minus magnitudes. The most memorable of all was a slow-moving, flaring fireball, a beautiful purple-lavendar colour tinged with emerald green, which dropped towards the horizon like a stone skimming across a still lake before vanishing behind a bank of cloud. I had my camera pointed in that direction… roughly… but didn’t get a picture of it.

In fact, I didn’t get a picture of a single Geminid! Always pointing in the wrong direction, or “between exposures” as is usually the case when photographing a meteor shower, you know what it’s like. Here are a couple of my meteor-free photos…

m1

m2

Would have been nice to have had one of those crossed by a big flaring meteor, but that wasn’t to be. But to be honest, I didn’t care, it was just great to be out there, under a starry sky, with a load of my Eddington mates, having a really good laugh together. Lots of jokes, lots of silliness, and lots of shooting stars – what more could you want? :-)

There was one slightly serious side to the evening. Carol really wanted to take a special photograph as a tribute to the late Sir Patrick Moore, so we all got out our red torches and, as she took a time exposure, drew the letter “P” in mid-air… It was a lovely idea, and hey, whaddya know, it worked..!

m3

Well done Carol! Another of our members tried the same thing, and his turned out even better, but I need to ask his permission before posting his photo, so check back for that.

Sadly, just after midnight, cloud and fog covered the sky, ending our Meteorwatch, and that was that. But it had been a great evening, and we all went home happy with what we’d seen, and seen together, more importantly.

Roll on 2013, with not one but two comets for us all to enjoy observing together too… :-)

A fitting farewell

By now I’m sure most of the readers of this blog will have heard about the sad, but not totally unexpected death of Sir Patrick Moore. It was a great shame, literally – and this is an over-used phrase, to be sure – the end of an era. And for the past few days the newpapers, websites and TV news have been featuring very touching and very personal tributes from astronomers, both professional and amateur, who were inspired by the great man. I was one of them, of course, and since Sunday, when the news of Sir Patrick’s death broke, I’ve been wondering how I could pay my own tribute to him. I was lucky enough to be asked to go on BBC Radio Cumbria on Sunday evening to speak about him, and that was a lovely way of saying a kind of goodbye and thank you, but obviously I wanted to write something here too. It’s taken me a couple of days to build up to it, but here we are.

Patrick Moore was a great man, a truly great man, far greater than some of the modern breed of high profile internet publishing “celebrity astronomers” who have sourly criticised him since his death can ever HOPE to be. (Terrible, terrible thing, jealousy, don’t you think?) He was – to use another now badly over-used cliche – the People’s Astronomer. Patrick loved the night sky, astronomy and astronomers, young and old, amateur and professional alike. He had no boundaries there. For him, the work of the amateur standing in their frosty garden, peering at the shimmering image of Saturn through their humble 6″ telescope, was of equal importance to the work of a career astronomer sitting in a cosy, heated, air conditioned observatory control room, using a mighty telescope to photograph quasars and objects at the edge of the universe.

Many people, of course, knew Patrick as “the man from The Sky At Night”. That TV programme was broadcast by the BBC for half a century, half a CENTURY, and on it Sir Patrick chronicled the whole of the Space Age. From the launch of Sputnik to the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, he was there, watching and telling everyone about what was happening with his trademark enthusiasm and passion.

Sir Patrick was much more than just a broadcaster, though. He was an accomplished observer, and his observing and drawing skills were respected around the world. He mapped the Moon in such detail that his charts were used by NASA to prepare for the Apollo Moon landings. He discovered my own personal favourite lunar feature, Mare Orientale, a truly enormous impact basin on the lunar farside which we can only glimpse the nearest outer edge of occasionally, when the Moon’s wobble tilts it towards us. I was looking at it the night before Sir Patrick’s death, funnily enough, because we can see it at the moment. I don’t believe in fate, or anything like that, superstitious mumbo jumbo, so I’m sure it was just a coincidence that Sir Patrick’s incredible lunar discovery was visible at the tike of his death. Well, pretty sure… ;-)

And he wrote books, too. Not just a couple, but a hundred, or so. Bookshop astronomy and popular science section shelves groan, begging for mercy, under the weight of his books. Every school, every university in the UK must have at least one of his books in its library; every professioanl astronomer and every amateur skywatcher in the UK must either have one or more of his books on their bookshelf, or have read one at some point. Without having to plug them on a blog, or promote them on TV and radio, or Facebook, or Twitter, Sir Patrick sold millions of books which opened up the doors of the universe for millions of people, young and old, and made astronomy accessible to the world. A certain high profile astronomy blogger, who seems to have declared himself the indignant, moral guardian of the online astronomical community, should remember that, and show some respect.

Since his death many people have described how Sir Patrick Moore inspired them and got them started in astronomy. I can’t say that, in all honesty, because I came to Sir Patrick’s writing some time after I had been inspired (by a hefty “Big Book Of Science” type book my mum bought me for Christmas one year. The biology pages were ok, so were the geography pages, but the astronomy section blew me away and I was hooked! After that I raided my school library, devouring every astronomy book or pages in a book I could find, and when I eventually ‘discovered’ Sir Patrick’s work my soul already belonged to the night sky) but as I grew up he was always there, on TV doing The Sky at Night, or on the shelves of my local bookshop, or in the newpapers… just everywhere, loving and living  astronomy.

As I grew older, my respect and admiration for Sir Patrick grew and grew, and by the time I met him for the first time, attending an astronomy meeting in Durham,  I was in total awe of him. But when I was introduced to him he put me totally at ease, shook my hand warmly, and chatted to me briefly about Mars. I felt like I was talking to a legend. I don’t think I stopped smiling for days.

I met him again under rather different circumstances, when he came to a theater not too far from where I lived, to perform a musical evening with his xylophone. The theatre was packed, and we all waited for the great man to appear on stage. Now, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Sir Patrick wasn’t famous for being one of Britain’s Best Dressed Men. His suits fitted him like Santa’s a sack fits Christmas presents. So when he came on stage there were audible gasps of surprise: he was in a gleaming white tux, with bow tie, hair slicked back, monocle polished, and smart black trousers…

…which ended a couple of inches above his shoes. No one was bothered!

Sir Patrick played the xylophone wonderfully, and his performance was a delight. Predictably, at the interval lots of local reporters rushed to try and grab a few words with the great man before he went back on stage, but he made them all wait. Never one to seek out or court publicity, or celebrity, or fame, it was far more important to him to spend that time assisting a young boy, who had approached him asking for help,  with his science homework.

That’s the kind of man he was.

And now he’s gone. Astronomy has lost a champion, many astronomers have lost a good friend, and the world has lost a great communicator.

How the hell do you honour the passing of such a giant?

Well, I went out before dawn today to look at the sky, and watch the universe itself pay a silent but beautiful tribute to him.

Over the past few days there’s been quite  a spectacle in the eastern sky before dawn. The planets Mercury, Venus and Saturn have been arranged in a diagonal line, strung out like glittering sequins on a string. The Moon has been drifting towards them for a while, and is now drifting past them, one by one, and each morning the view has been more lovely, more beautiful than the last. Yesterday the Moon was close to Saturn, which looked pretty. But this morning the Moon was going to rise next to far brighter venus, with Mercury and Saturnm shining on either side, so myself and fellow Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal member Carol headed out at 06.30 to a layby just outside town, where we have been watching the show. When we got there it was unbelievably cold, bone marrow-chillingly cold, and every sane person was still tucked up in bed. But we’d made the right decision: the Moon and Venus were already visible, close together in the sky, just clearing the trees…

1

And after not too long at all they were joined by Mercury too…! You can just see it peeping through the trees on the next pic…

merc peep2

And after that, the view just got better and better. As the trio climbed higher into the sky we took photo after photo after photo, laughing in sheer, frozen delight at how beautiful the scene was…

merc free 2

best

Moon Venus

carol stu

Slowly but surely the sky brightened, and eventually Saturn and Mercury vanished, leaving the Moon and Venus behind in the dawnlight…

last

…and by the time I got back home, just before 8am, Venus had fled the sky too, leaving the pale, milky Moon to shine alone. But before I went back indoors I took one last look at the Moon and thought what a magnificent send-off the Universe had given one of its greatest champions, lining up worlds to form a celestial Guard of Honour, and say thank you for all he had done to make the wonders of the cosmos accessible to everyone.

So that’s how I’ll end this post, by saying thank you to the man who helped open the eyes of not one generation but several generations to the beauty of the night sky, and the magnificence of the universe.

Thank you! :-)

Planets on parade..!

I’ve been telling the members of my astronomy society for a long time now that the Universe doesn’t owe them *anything*, that if they want to see its wonders they’re not offered for free; there’s usually a charge, a cost, a price. Not a financial one but a personal one. The Universe is happy to share its beauty, but only with those who give something back, in time, effort and dedication.

In other words, if you can’t be bothered to go and look at something amazing that’s offered up by the Universe at an inconvenient time, or place, then that’s your fault, and you know, maybe you don’t deserve to see it in the first place.

Which is probably why the current “planetary parade” happening in the east before dawn isn’t being photographed or observed very widely. You not only need to get up way before dawn to see it, at OMG o’clock, when the thermometer reads minus “You must be having a laugh” degrees C, you need to get out of town, away from all the streetlights and buildings, to somewhere with a Big Sky, and then, then the Universe will smile down at you approvingly, turn you towards the east, and show you… something beautiful.

Mercury, Venus, Saturn and the Moon, all in a diagonal line, strung across the brightening eastern sky like beads glittering on a necklace.

Yesterday morning – and by “morning” I mean 05.45 – hoping for a good view of this ‘planetary parade’, which we’ve been looking forward to for some time, two members of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal, myself and fellow sky nut Carol, headed out of Kendal, leaving behind the bright marmalade-hued sodium streetlights of the Auld Grey Town to an ice- and frost-covered layby a mile beyond the town’s edge. When we got there and started to unpack and set up our telescopes, cameras and tripids, it was bitterly, bitterly cold, and still quite dark, the sky a huge blue-black dome above us. But the sky was so clear, the seeing so good, that it felt magical.  The waning Moon was razor-sharp, high in the south, and Saturn was clearly visible to its lower left – beyond Spica – as a yellow-tinged, unblinking star. Venus had just risen, and was visible as an orange spark through the skeletal branches of the trees…

1

In the west, low and barely clearing the trees, shining amongst the stars of Taurus, Jupiter was dropping out of sight, having dominated the sky all night…

2 jup

So we got set up, slowly, it was so teeth-chatteringly cold, and as we stalked around the layby by torchlight the ice and frost cracked and snapped loudly beneath our feet, shattering the silence. After a short time Venus was high enough to clear the trees…

3

We had a look at the Moon through Carol’s monster 8″ Celestron (I REALLY wanted a high magnification view of Mare Orientale – whaddya mean I’m obsessed?!?!), but it was so blindingly bright we decided to leave that for later. And soon after that, with all our gear set up ready, we spotted a teeny tiny spark of light through the trees, just clearing the eastern horizon…

4m1

Mercury! The line up was complete! :-)

For the next hour and a half we just drank in the scene, loving every minute of it. Yes, it was *stupidly* cold, forcing us to wear big fat hats and gloves, and stamp our feet and clap our hands for warmth like demented Morris Dancers, but you see, that’s the fee the Universe charges for seeing something like this. Below and beyond our layby, countless thousands of Kendalians were tucked up in their beds, warm and cosy, but we wouldn’t have swapped places with them, because we were seeing something quite beautiful, quite spectacular… three of Earth’s sister worlds, huddling close together in the icy yellow-blue sky of a winter’s dawn, with a lovely Moon close by, watching over them, watching over us… That’s a price neither of us minded paying.

Another EAS member, Andy, joined us briefly, and was delighted with his first ever view of Mercury, too.

I lost count of how many pictures I took, but here are some of the best ones…

5mvs

Left – right: Mercury, Venus, a star and Saturn.

6mvsmoon

Mercury (visible through gap in trees)… Venus… Saturn… the Moon… that’s a big chunk of the solar system in one image, right there…

6mvsmoon labels

Img_0388s

Carol, mega-chuffed that she’s seen Mercury (behind her, with Venus) for the first time…! :-)

Img_0389s

Two insomniac nutters, standing in a patch of icy gravel beside a road at dawn, shivering in the bitter cold, looking at points of light in the sky… :-)

Dawn approached, and the view to the east was, well, magnificent…

sun1

… and then the closest star to the Earth burst over our local horizon, like a nuclear weapon detonating…

sun2

Time to go home.

So, yes, we had a fantastic time, despite the ungodly hour and the crazy cold. And we got some beautiful pictures between us. But it also brought something home to me. Looking at that array of worlds, strung out across the sky, I realised that we’ve visited – and are actually currently exploring – each and every one of them. Those lights in the sky used to be just sparks to people in ages past, stars that wandered through the heavens. Now we know what they really are. Mercury is a blistered, cratered ball of rock and metal that is ridiculously close to the Sun but *still* has ice on its surface, deep inside craters near its poles. Venus is a planet the size of Earth, but very different, with its choking, poisonous atmosphere and runaway global warming. Saturn is surrounded by that glorious system of rings, familiar to and beloved by every amateur astronomer who’s ever peered through a telescope, but more importantly it has a pair of moons, Titan and Enceladus, which might have life on them. And the Moon, so often overlooked or taken for granted, is now known to be a fascinating world in its own right, and will soon, perhaps, be visited by more astronauts – but this time rich businessmen and adventurers rather than square-jawed test pilots…

And right now, right now, there are space probes orbiting and exploring each and every one of them… how amazing is that?

Next time someone tells you we’ve “stopped exploring”, show them this picture, with my permission, and show them they’re wrong…

IMG_0374bsm

I got back home just before nine o’clock, after thre hours in the marrow-numbing cold, but my camera was full of beautiful (I hoped!) images, and my heart was full of the beauty I had seen with my friend Carol, standing there, in that layby, two skywatchers dressed like eskimoes, happy to pay the price the Universe asks to share its wonders…

What? *Another* rover going to Mars…? Hmmm.

There was a huge disturbance in the space enthusiast community’s version of the Force last night, when it was announced at a huge science conference in San Francisco that NASA is going to send *another* rover to explore Mars in 2020. Reactions ranged from stunned silence to incredulity, confusion to anger, and beyond. I read the announcement and subsequent comments and responses on Twitter with a mixture of bafflement and disbelief. Another rover? To Mars? Really?

Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

The initial reaction from many at the conference and reporting on it from elsewhere was that it was a rather bizarre decision, given that money is very short for planetary exploration – and getting shorter, with budget cuts looming – and it’s not that long ago that NASA pulled out of a rover mission with ESA too. And there are many scientists in the planetary science community who are at best envious of, and at worst mad as hell at, NASA’s continuing exploration of – some would say obsession with -Mars. What about Enceladus? they say. Or Titan? Or Europa? Why go to Mars AGAIN when there are many other, arguably more fascinating places Out There just waiting to be explored, and that COULD BE explored for a lot less than the cost of another Mars mission?

After the announcement last night many people were furious that the “new rover” – to be based on Curiosity, as far as its design is concerned – would cost a fortune, and would take away money that could and should otherwise be spent on exploring one of those previously mentioned worlds. I’ll admit I felt uneasy about that myself – ok, I’m a martian explorer to my core, to my DNA, and I am steadfast in my support of NASA’s Mars exploration program, but even I would find it very hard to justify building and launching a Curiosity 2 if that meant money was going to be cut from other missions, or if those missions were cancelled altogether – but a very informative and clear article on The Planetary Society’s blog makes iot VERY clear that this is money that has already been budgeted *for* Mars exploration, it’s not money that is going to be sliced bloodily off missions to other destinations. You can read that remarkable piece here…

2020 Mars rover in context

So. NASA is going to design and build another Mars rover, and launch it in 2020. And for all my passion for Mars, for all my years of dedication to its exploration, of support for NASA and the amazing people who do these amazing things, I have to admit I’ve got very, very mixed feelings about this news.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that a Mars nut like me would greet the news of another rover mission to Mars with all the excitement of a dog finding a juicy bone under a Christmas tree. But even my excitement has to be tempered with realism.

These are very difficult times for people. Money is short, and space missions are unbelievably expensive. Heart-stoppingly expensive. Space missions to Mars have more public support than most, I think it;s fair to say, because Mars has a hold on our imaginations unrivalled by any other body in the solar system. Why? Because we’ve grown up being told by scientists that despite it being a barren, frozen, rock-strewn, dust-covered desert world, it’s a place where extraterrestrial life might exist, or at least have existed in the past. SO people generally look more favourably upon missions dedicated to exploring Mars than exploring elsewhere because we are desperate to know if there’s Life On Mars, it really is as simple as that. And no matter how many NASA scientists, commentators, space journalists or bloggers insist that going to Mars to study its geology, its atmospheric processes and internal structure is just as exciting, the truth is that we’re going to Mars because of the “L” word – life. Either to see if there’s life there now, or if it once had life.

We really need to stop kidding ourselves, and each other, that people outside the scientific community give a **** about rock layers, erosion timetables and atmospheric pressures. They want to know if there are, or ever were, martians there. Simple as that.

Soooo… this new rover… the question is, what’s it going to Mars FOR? What’s it going to DO there? Because, honestly, if it’s just going to go there to be a Curiosity 2, to study geology, to sniff air, to eat dirt, then that’s not right, it’s just not. That would almost just be spending money for the sake of it, and I honestly think NASA would have a VERY hard time justifying that.

What it might go there for, according to many commentators, is to collect samples of martian rock and dirt and gather them up in one place to be collected, and returned to Earth, by another spacecraft at a later date. NASA is really wanting to stage a “Sample Return” mission to Mars in the future, and having Curiosity 2 collect rock and mineral samples *for* that mission would be in line with the space agency’s plans.

But

I personally think that NASA really has to use the next Mars rover to answer, once and for all, the question of life on Mars.

Now I can imagine some of you reading this scoffing at that, or sneering, or shaking your heads in disapproval. I know that many engineering types look down on astrobiology as some kind of lesser science than geology, or physics, or atmospheric studies, and dismiss astrobiology almost as a pseudo-science, not worthy of serious consideration or funding, but save it ok? You’ve had your shot at Mars, for years, for decades.  It’s time we went there to actually do something special, something that would make a difference to everyone, not just to professional rock breakers and microscope peerers who use the photographs and measurements to write papers full of squiggly charts and graphs, which conclude that although that mission told us a lot, we need another mission like it to find out even more.

We’ve looked for life on Mars already.. kind of. Viking tried, with technology limited by its time. Curiosity, NASA keeps telling us, ISN’T LOOKING FOR LIFE, not directly, but it MIGHT find chemical evidence showing ancient Mars wasa place where life might have existed. No, they say, it will take another mission to do that.

Well, this should be that “other mission”. To be frank, NASA has faffed about with this for far too long. The “L” word has always been something for “The future”, for “another mission”, for “another time”. Well, enough. Come on. No more delaying, no more procrastinating, no more dicking about with instruments which might find this, might find that, and might give us tantalising hints or clues about Mars’ habitability. Rocks have had their time. Geology has had its time. It’s time we went to Mars to look for life, plain and simple, with no distractions.

There will be pressure for “C2″ to be just another Curiosity with a rock collecting element added on. But it could, and should, be so much more. It should either be a wholly dedicated astrobiology mission, a rover packed with life detection instruments, or at least carry a suite of astrobiology instruments in its payload that would allow it to look seriously for life on Mars and, if it’s there, tell us something about what it is.

Because seriously, NASA can’t just keep going to Mars to take beautiful pictures of rocks and scooping up teeny scoopfuls of dust and dirt looking for “fascinating chemistry”. People – and by “people” I mean the people who pay for it, the taxpayers – aren’t going to keep putting their hands in their pockets forever. NASA enjoys huge public support and goodwill in the US, but if I was a US taxpayer I’d be seriously hacked off in 2020 if NASA just launched another robot geologist to Mars.

And yes, if I’m honest, I think even I would be a bit underwhelmed by another Curiosity. I don’t want to use the word “bored” but I don’t feel very excited at the prospect of yet another geology mission. I want a robot to go to Mars to do something incredible, something amazing, something genuinely “Earth-shaking”. I love Opportunity and Curiosity, everyone knowsI do, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with the people responsible for them. But another Opportunity? Another Curiosity? We have to move on.

The press release about the new rover states that scientists will soon be invited to propose instruments for the mission, and many of those will be brilliant I’m sure. But someone should just get the world’s best exobiology experts together, to form a Task Group or Think Tank or whatever you want to call it and have them design an instrument suite that will detect microbial life if it’s there. I’m sure they could do it, aren’t you? We must have got to that stage by now. Damn it, if you have to, if it’s the only way to do it, then just build another Beagle 2, put it on top of Curiosity 2 then drop it onto the surface after landing and let it go hunting!

I know many people will dismiss these thoughts as the ranting of a naive space enthusiast obsessed with Mars, and with looking for alien life. I can live with that. I can live with that because out here, in the real world, there are thousands, if not millions, of people like me, who just want to know, before we die, if there’s life on Mars or not. Scientists have teased us about it for generations, drip-feeding us information about the atmospheric pressure there, the humidity there, the amount of wate the dirt  may or may not contain, then told us “but we won’t know if there’s life there for another xx years, until a mission goes there to actually look for life”. Well enough! Stop playing with us! Get your act together and build a robot to carry a laboratory to Mars that will tell us, once and for all, if there’s life there. And if you’re going to pull out that old tired line about “Well, we’re still not sure what life is..” then get your bloody heads together and find out! That’s what you’re paid for! And when you’ve decided, send C2 to Mars and let it go hunting for that life without being distracted by rocks and dust, etc.

NASA… please… for the love of God… don’t just send another Curiosity to Mars. Don’t just go there to pick up a few rocks and drop them into a basket for yet another machine to go and collect and bring back to Earth, for scientists here to study. Grasp this opportunity to send a robot bloodhound to Barsoom and let it snuffle. Try to answer The Question once and for all.

You can’t lose. If it found life, our understanding of our place in the universe would change. If it didn’t, it would tell you much about the planet’s past and tell you you need to look elsewhere.

We’ve done rocks and dust to death. Time to think bigger, NASA.

I dare you.

Mare Orientale spotted…

There have been some lovely clear, frosty nights in Kendal recently, and after starting off overcast last night was bone-shatteringly cold and clear too – which was brilliant timing, because I wanted to try and spot a lunar feature which we can only glimpse now and again, and is on view at the moment…

The feature in question was “Mare Orientale”, a truly enormous impact basin on the lunar farside. Because of its position on the lunar globe we never see it in all its glory – it was seen by Apollo astronauts, of course, but since Apollo ended we’ve only ever seen its true structure and shape through the robot eyes of unmanned spaceprobes – but because the Moon wobbles on its axis a bit, occasionally the nearest rim of the basin pops into view on the lunar limb, and sometimes we can even enjoy a tantalising glimpse of the dark frozen lava pool in its centre.

Here’s how we see Mare Orientale from Earth (its position is marked by teh white line)…

Screenshot_2012-12-02-21-01-56

…but if we could somehow grab the Moon and twist it around, bringing Mare Orientale better into view, this is what it would look like…

Screenshot_2012-11-25-07-57-20

…and if we kept spinning the Moon around, until Mare Orientale was in the centre of the disc, this is what it would look like…

Screenshot_2012-11-25-07-57-42

Wow… imagine that… imagine if the Moon actually looked like that in our sky… how would our religions and faiths have been shaped if the rising Full Moon had looked like a big, bloated, bloodshot eye staring down at us from the heavens…?

moonrise102704s

As I said, our best views of Mare Orientale have come from craft orbiting the Moon. Here’s what it looks like from above…

mo

Pretty impressive! But that doesn’t really give a sense of scale, does it? This will help you appreciate just how big Mare Orientale is…

MO 629km2

Incredible… and that’s why I wanted to try and see it through my scope.

At the moment we can see the closest rim of Mare Orientale as a mottled light/dark area close to the lunar limb. It’s going to be at its best after next weekend, but because this morning was so clear and still I really wanted to give it a go, so at 6am I went out into the freezing (below freezing, actually, I think it reached -4 deg C overnight!) morning and aimed my humble but trusty 4.5″ reflector at the Moon – and there it was, clear as day. Mare Orientale! :-)

Hands shaking, breath forming white clouds around my head, I tried taking a few photos, lifting a very basic point-and-shoot digital camera up to the eyepiece and just clicking away optimistically… and yaaaay, a few of them show Mare Orientale! This is the best one…

mo1b

And if you’re not sure where Mare Orientale is on that admittedly less-than-perfect image, this little animation will help (you might have to click on it to run it)…

Animation1

So, there you go! Others will be taking better photos, with larger telescopes, fancier cameras and high tech kick-ass software, but I took that with my trusty little 4.5″ reflector and an almost-dead digital camera, from my own backyard. More than happy with that!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 88 other followers