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Nick Howes Visits Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal.

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Last night members of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal were treated to a fantastic talk by a very special guest speaker. Astronomer/comet expert/writer/broadcaster/Outreacher Nick Howes came up from his home in Lincolnshire to talk to us, even though is is ridiculously, frighteningly busy getting ready to start his new job as a professional astronomer up at Kielder Observatory. It was a great turn out – 47 people! – and was one of our most enjoyable and entertaining nights for a long time.

Having known Nick for quite a while now via Twitter and Facebook, and got to know about him and his work as an Outreacher, I knew we were in for a good night, but it was even better than I had imagined. Nick is a very engaging speaker, and, like all good Outreachers and science communicators, during his presentation he combines science with personal experiences, hard facts and figures with entertaining anecdotes and stories. The result is a talk which has something for everyone in the room, and Nick’s talk on Comets was enjoyed by all.

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Although the Museum resembles a building site at the moment – probably because it *is* a building site; some serious modernisation and renovation work is going on – and our meeting room floor was covered in enough bits of wood to make an Ark (not a bad idea, given our recent bad weather!), Nick seemed to enjoy his visit, and before the meeting began even managed to grab some time to look around the Museum’s history, archaeology and geology collections.

And after the meeting, even though he was on a very tight schedule and had to hit the road, Nick very generously found time to talk to our local radio station, and was interviewed by Lakeland Radio presenters Dan Beale (below) and John Pye (who are also Eddington AS members) for the station and the next edition of the “Heavens Above” podcast, which will be released out into the wild soon…

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Eddington AS has had lots of guest speakers in its ten year history (did we mention it’s our tenth anniversary this year? ;-) ) but I think everyone who was at last night’s meeting will agree Nick was one of our most entertaining and inspiring. Nick’s obvious love of and passion for astronomy, and Outreach literally shone from him as he talked, and his dedication to promoting and encouraging the participation of schools and school pupils in science and astronomy via the Faulkes Telescopes was obvious to everyone. Which was very fitting because that’s what we’ve always tried to do as an astronomy society – involve as many people as possible, and share the wonders of the night sky and the universe with young and old. Nick is going to be a fantastic asset to the team at Kielder, and I know he thinks he’s lucky to get the job but they are much more lucky to get him! So, a huge THANK YOU to Nick for coming such a long way to talk to us. We hope you’ll come back and see us again!

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PS: It was lovely to welcome another brilliant astronomy Outreacher, Jasmine Evans (@Astro_Jaz on Twitter) (not pictured above, as she ran away as soon as the cameras came out!) to our meeting last night.

 

A visit to the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre at Ennerdale

Dark skies -  I mean truly dark skies – are becoming harder and harder for amateur astronomers and skywatchers to find and enjoy, and more and more we’re having to travel to out of the way places to enjoy a good view of the night sky. We go to organised annual star parties in forests and the countryside, and trek to areas which have worked hard to protect the darkness and have been recognised for their efforts.

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One such place is the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre at Ennerdale (above), and last Friday several members of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal headed up there to join astronomers from around the country for a special “Dark Sky Weekend” of skywatching, talks, demonstrations and general astro fun, Unfortunately the event fell foul of the same godawful End Of The World weather which has been slapping the UK across the face for the past month and a half, and we only managed to grab an hour and a half of clear sky on the Friday night, and during that time clouds rolled, blew and flew across the sky several times, but it was definitely worth heading north in gale force winds, driving rain and sleet, and then shuddering and juddering down the cratered, pitted obstacle course that passes for a road down the side of the lake to the field centre…

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…just to be under a genuinely dark sky for even that short a time.

Here are some of the photos I took, using just my Canon DSLR on a tripod, no tracking. First some single frames, no stacking, just a little enhancement and tidying up in image processing programs…

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That’s Jupiter shining through a gap in the clouds…

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The Milky Way taken with a wide angle lens… yes, that’s M31 down at the bottom…

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Orion fighting to be seen through the clouds…

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Stars shining through gaps in the trees surrounding the Field Centre (I admit it, I LOVE this pic!!)

I stacked some frames too, and the following are just stacks of 4x 4 second images taken with a 50mm lens set at f2 and 6400 ISO…

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M31…

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M31 AND M33… I know, look at that…!

It was fantastic being under a truly dark sky, and gazing up and marvelling at the stars, but the icing on the came for me was managing to get a picture (after stacking) of the supernova in M82…

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Unfortunately the clouds covered the sky late in the evening and then the rain resumed and we all knew there was little or no chance of seeing anything else that night, so everyone retreated back indoors to sit beside the flickering open fires and chat about astronomy over glasses of wine, beer, or coffee…

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The next morning the weather broke just long enough to let me dart outside and take a photo of a patch of blue sky before the clouds rolled over it again…

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The Centre is a fantastic place, with great cooking and sleeping facilities if you fancy staying over, and a classroom / teaching area for talks, demonstrations and the like. There was a full program of talks scheduled for the Saturday afternoon, but unfortunately we had to leave as I had to go back to work, but one day we’ll go for the whole weekend…

Some more pics…

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Above: telescopes and cameras sheltering inside from the wind and rain… awwww….!

And finally, if you like wildlife, there’s a LOT of wildlife at Gillerthwaite…

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Thanks to everyone at the Centre for making Stella, Carol and I so welcome. We can’t wait to get back to the Centre for another of their events. Catching just that fleeting glimpse of the dark sky there was enough to show just what a stunning view there must be there on a properly clear night, with no cloud, wind or rain…

 

No Northern Lights – but a Great Night..!

So, after all the excitement, expectation and hope, the northern lights didn’t put on a show for sky-watchers last night in the UK. In fact, they didn’t put on a show for anyone, anywhere. Reading all the disappointed Tweets on Twitter, posts on Facebook and comments on astronomy forums it’s clear that we went out in our thousands yesterday evening hoping to see something special, but it never came. When the much-hyped Coronal Mass Ejection finally hit Earth’s magnetosphere – both later and a lot weaker than expected – its polarity was wrong, tilted north instead of south, so our northern skies didn’t light up in shades and hues of vivid green, no searchlight beams stabbed up into the sky, no curtains of emerald and garnet flapped and slapped above the trees, obscuring the stars of the Big Dipper. Some observers reported the merest, most begrudging hint of green, but that’s wishful thinking I reckon. No. Nothing happened. The Sun, and the sky, laughed at us. All night. I can still hear their guffaws ringing in my ears now, as I write this.

Here in Kendal, members of the Eddington Astronomical Society – like AS members everywheere – had been looking forward to the POTENTIAL display of northern  lights for a couple of days, and making plans. While some stayed in Kendal, closely monitoring the situation online, ready to dash to a dark sky as soon as word came in that something was happening. others headed out early, scattering in the hope of seeing something, from somewhere.

After looking at weather forecasts, which all agreed people to the north and east of Kendal would have the best chance of seeing something, Stella and I decided to mount our “Aurora Hunt” at Barnard Castle, the closest major town that promised a clear sky after dark and a possible chance of seeing any enhanced auroral activity. Being north of us, and east, it seemed well placed, and eventually we found a great observing location. Stella had the genius idea to go look at a campsite just out of town, figuring that, this time of the year, it should be quiet if not abandoned altogether, and when we got there that certainly seemed to be the case. Not another soul in sight, just a huge sky, a 360 degree horizon, and not too much light pollution considering its proximity to the busy towns and cities of the North East. Perfect!

The clouds covered the stars at 6pm, dead on time, so we headed back down into town to grab something to eat and wait out the clouds in comfort and warmth, knowing that we potentially had half a dozen hours of sitting freezing in a car ahead of us once we returned. And after a gorgeous Indian meal we went back up to the campsite, and prepared for whatever the universe decided to throw at us.

By 9pm it was cold, brutally cold, and an icy wind was howling over the exposed campsite, making it feel even colder. But what a sky..! The stars were like jewels, in all directions, and even with a brilliant, lantern-bright Moon blazing above the southern horizon the stars of Orion, Gemini and Ursa Major stood out like diamonds…

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To Orion’s upper left, next to Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Gemini, Jupiter was a tiny magnesium flare, wonderfully bright…

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…but the northern lights? Nothing. Not a hint of a whisper of a glimmer of a sign. I took test shot after test shot of the northern sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of green, suggesting that activity was picking up, but even after I read on Twitter that the CME had arrived the northern sky stayed stubbornly blank. And remained that way for the next four hours. NOTHING.

Sitting in the car each time I took a break from taking photos, sheltering from the wind and cold, I kept an eye on The Situation via Twitter and Facebook – both invaluable to astronomers now – and as I read negative reports from one aurora hunter after another I just knew that it wasn’t going to happen, and by 1pm, with the sky clouding over rapidly, we decided to call it a night and head home.

Of course, halfway back to Kendal the clouds parted, revealing a beautifully starry sky, and we stopped to take a few more pictures and look for auroral activity, but there was nothing. The pictures turned out well tho…

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We made it home shortly after 2pm, and yes, we were disappointed not to have seen any auroral show, but it helped knowing NO-ONE had seen anything because there had been no auroral activity for *anyone* to see.

Now, writing this, many hours later, it’s clear that things just didn’t happen in the way they needed to last night, and there was no amazing auroral storm. Oh well, better luck next time! :-)

Northern Lights visible from the UK Tonight – Maybe. Possibly. Perhaps.

You’ve probably heard that there’s a chance people in the UK will be able to see the northern lights tonight – it’s on the TV, the radio, it’s all over the internet like a picture of a kitten asleep in a bed of roses, it’s everywhere – and a lot of people are getting VERY excited about this. But what’s actually going on? And what might we see tonight if we’re lucky? The sky aflame? Great beams and rays of light stabbing up into the sky? Curtains of green and gold flapping and swishing after dark, filling the sky with their auroral beauty???

Take a deep breath everyone… calm down… let’s take a look.

Ok, firstly – why? Why might we see the northern lights tonight?

Well, long story cut short, there’s been a big solar flare that has sent a huge amount of “Sun stuff” hurtling towards us at a quite ridiculous speed. WHAT???!!! No, don’t panic, we’re safe. Earth has natural “shields” which protect us from solar broadsides like this. We’re not about to get fried, no matter what you read on the less reputable internet sites and conspiracy nutcase forums. What MIGHT happen is that when this stuff hits Earth’s magnetic field it COULD, if all the conditions are right, trigger a big display of the northern lights, so big that we MIGHT be able to see it from parts of the UK we normally can’t see it from, i.e. right down from the tip of Scotland to Northern England. If a really big display – an auroral “storm” – kicks off, people as far south as London might see the northern lights in the sky, but that’s quite a longshot to be honest. I think the best we can hope for is for some kind of auroral activity to be visible as far south as North Wales, maybe a little lower. BUT a lot of things have to happen in the right way for that to happen, so we all have to cross our fingers and just wait and see.

WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN? Well, auroral activity could start at any moment, while you’re reading this in fact, but if it kicks off during daylight obviously we won’t see anything because it will be daytime. Statistically the best time to see aurora from the UK during increased activity is between 9pm and midnight, but with something like this, a potential storm, I think it will be worth looking north to see if anything is happening in the sky as soon as it gets dark, from about 5pm really. DON’T leave it too late, you might miss something, or the whole thing.

WHERE’S THE BEST PLACE TO LOOK FROM? The further north you are, the better. There’s more chance you’ll see something if you live in Scotland, or the north of England, than if you live in the Midlands or further south, and there’s no getting around that. As for your own personal observing site, you might be able to see something from your garden, from your doorstep if it faces north, but wherever you are you will improve your chances of seeing something HUGELY if you make the effort to get out of town – away from all the streetlights, house security lights, lit-up pubs and supermarkets etc – and find yourself somewhere nice and dark out in the countryside. Also, you want to see as much of the sky as possible, so although you might be tempted to find a quiet lake surrounded by hills or mountains to block out the lights of neighbouring towns etc, just be sure you don’t lose too much of the actual sky. At the very least you want a flat, low, northern horizon, because you’ll be looking north for activity, and some of it may be very low in altitude, and you don’t want hills, buildings or great big forests getting in the way. A few trees might help though, for reasons I’ll come to later.

WHAT WILL WE SEE? Ah, that’s the million billion pound question, isn’t it? What will we see… let me look into my crystal ball… Well, hopefully there will be a lot of activity after dark tonight, and we will see a “classic” northern lights complete with the colourful rays, beams, curtains and arcs we’ve all seen in pictures and on the telly. But that can’t be guaranteed. We might just see a vague greenish glow in the northern sky, like a green haze, and nothing more…

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Or we might see a pale green “rainbow” with colourful  rays going up from it…

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We might be lucky and see a full on display, with rippling curtains and pulsating rays…

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…which would be brilliant, obviously, but please don’t count on or expect that! It might happen, but it might not, we just don’t know yet, and there’s still a chance this all might go horribly wrong and we see nothing at all.

And even if a big display does kick off, please don’t go out there expecting to see the northern sky ablaze and alive and going crazy with rapidly swaying and swishing curtains of green and searchlight beams of blue and red leaping up into the sky, flashing on and off, climbing and falling again and again. You’ll have seen that kind of thing on TV and on YouTube clips, I’m sure, but that footage is almost always speeded up and enhanced for dramatic effect. The northern lights DO move, but slowly, gently, subtly. Take it from someone who’s seen displays both subtle and amazing, watching the aurora is less like watching a ship’s great canvas sail flapping and slapping in the wind and more like watching a lace curtain moving and swelling slowly as a breeze blows behind it.

If you want to get an idea of what the northern lights REALLY look like, this YouTube clip – footage of the aurora filmed in real time, with no speeding up or enhancing – is about the closest you’ll get… “Dance Of The Spirits”

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED TO SEE THE DISPLAY IF IT HAPPENS? None. No astronomical equipment at all. A telescope is utterly, utterly useless for observing the aurora with because telescopes zoom in on a tiny part of the sky, to magnify and brighten something like a galaxy, or a star cluster, and an auroral display can cover a huge chunk of the sky. Binoculars aren’t really much use either; they might help you get a closer look at any bright, sharp-edged beams or edges of curtains, but no, really an aurora is a naked eye sight. You want to be standing there, in the dark, looking up, and around you, taking in the view, as the curtains gently ripple and sway, and ripples work their way along, across and down the structures in the sky. So you just need your eyes, under a clear dark sky, with no light pollution to ruin the view.

A couple of tips tho. Firstly, wrap up warm. Very warm. Warmer than you think you’ll need to. Because you’re going to be standing outside, in the dark, for hours (hopefully) and you WILL start to feel damp, and cold, no matter how big and brave you think you are. Even if an aurora does become visible from the UK tonight there might be long periods when activity dies down and nothing is happening, and it’s at those times you will start to feel the cold, trust me. So, WARM!

Also, if you can, try and see this with company. Not just to keep you awake and motivated in the soul-sappingly quiet periods when your enthusiasm will flag and a voice will start whispering seductively in your ear “That’s it, it’s finished… poor you, you’re cold, and tired, and you’ve got work in the morning, go home, you’ve seen enough…” (because trust me, if you do that, as soon as you get back in the car and turn your back on the aurora it will flare up and laugh at you..!) but because it just makes it so much more enjoyable to view it in company. You can talk about what you’re seeing, point out features and activity, and generally just enjoy the show with others, which makes it much, much more enjoyable.

CAN I TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS? Yes, and if you’ve a camera you absolutely must try, because you’ll want to try and keep some memories of this special event. But some cameras are much better than others, and will improve your chances of getting a good photo to keep. The “point and shoot” digital camera you take to parties to photograph your friends with MIGHT manage to capture the glow of the aurora if it’s a bright enough display, but really you’ll need to use a camera that can take time exposures of several seconds – ideally up to ten seconds – and can be set at a high ISO rating (what used to be called “film speed”). That might be a fancy Digital SLR (DSLR) or a “Bridge Camera”. If you aim one of those at the northern sky, with the lens wide open (set at the lowest “f number”, ideally something like “f2″ or something like that), and the ISO set at maybe 1600, and take a ten second or so exposure, you’ll get something. Only got the camera on your smartphone or tablet? Doesn’t matter. Give it a try anyway!

Ah, remember I mentioned trees earlier? Well, try to have some on your northern horizon, because they’ll help give your pictures a sense of scale. Also, they look great silhouetted by the northern lights, very atmospheric! And, another top tip, if you can’t see anything happening when you start looking, take some pictures anyway, because there might be very weak activity going on that your eyes can’t detect but your camera can. So try a few time exposures of the northern sky right after dark, and you might be surprised to see those trees silhouetted against a ghostly barely-there glow…

Got no camera at all? IT DOESN’T MATTER! People all over the country will be taking photos, you can look at theirs. The main thing is you get out there and see it.

But a quiet word of caution here – don’t get so caught up with the desire to get photographs that you don’t look at the sky. It’s so, so easy to do that. Take photos, yes, but make sure you spend MORE time looking at whatever’s happening in the sky. That’s the most important thing.

…so there you go, that’s your aurora watching guide. To summarise:

* We MIGHT see the northern lights from the UK tonight, and we might not.

* If we do, it MIGHT be an impressive display, or it might not.

* You’ll have more chance of seeing it the further north you live.

* Wherever you live, you’ll improve your chances of seeing it if you get away from streetlights and find somewhere dark to observe from.

* Having found somewhere dark, give your eyes time to adapt TO that darkness. It’s called, funnily enough, “dark adaption”, and after twenty minutes or so you’ll be amazed how much more you will see in the sky than when you got there.

* If an aurora starts – ENJOY IT! Don’t obsess about photos, or seeing everything, or missing anything, just look up, watch, and smile. You might not see another one of these for a long time.

* Stay out as long as you can. You don’t want to give up too early, go home, and read the next day that soon after you got into bed the display REALLY went nuts..!

…and I think that’s it. I hope you found this information useful, and that we all see something lovely tonight, wherever we are.

Good luck!

Review: “The Year In Space 2014 Calendar”

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We’re coming up to Christmas  – sorry, there’s no escaping it now – and the TV adverts are *all* claiming that every CD, DVD and book is “the perfect gift for Christmas”. Well, if you’re gift-buying for someone with an interest in or passion for astronomy and space, here’s a suggestion for a genuine ‘perfect gift’- the 2014 “Year In Space” calendar, which has – as its cover proudly declares – been produced with the cooperation of The Planetary Society.

At this time of year there are lots of spacey calendars available; here in the UK – and it’s probably true elsewhere, too – micro-shops suddenly pop up in shopping centres and markets, crammed full of the things. There are “Moon Phase” type calendars, “Beautiful Universe” type calendars, “Our Solar System” type  and “Fascinating Space Facts” type calendars and more. The perfect calendar would, of course, combine all these aspects of astronomy, right?

Right. And this is it. Or as close to it as you’re going to get.

Why? Well, everything about this calendar just screams class. It’s printed on beautiful, high quality, heavy glossy paper; it has perfect printing of its images which were obviously all chosen to look stunning; its pages feature side panels giving Space Facts; the calendar tables themselves are crammed with more facts, plus historic annivesary dates and useful “heads up” notes for sky-watchers too, as you can see from this pic of Chi – possibly drawn to the heat on this cold, cloudy Cumbrian day – carefully checking out the May spread, which focusses on the Sun…

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One thing I really love about this calendar is the way it features short biogs of some of the scientists and researchers involved in astronomy and planetary exploration. Some I’d heard of, others were new to me, but it was lovely to meet them. Other biogs feature famous figures from the history of astronomy and space exploration.

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Above: Chi turns away from the April spread, no doubt dismayed by the stunning image of the space shuttle, reminding her what a beautiful spacecraft it was…

This is a calendar which doesn’t actually feel like a calendar. It’s more like a really (really!) big, thin popular level science book  which you can open up and then hang on your wall, because the quality of the writing is so good. In fact it’s so concise, detailed and clear I strongly suspect that The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla – who is listed in the credits, along with many others – had a lot of input there.

I don’t know what more I can say, to be honest. It’s just a brilliant, classy calendar which would look great on your wall, or your friend’s wall, or preferably both. :-)

“The Year In Space 2014″ Calendar

ISBN 978-0-9894923-0-0

Link here: “Year in Space Calendar 2014″

Review: Collins 2014 Guide to The Night Sky

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At this time of every year I go hunting in my local bookshops and newsagents for guides to the next year’s sky. I know, I know, I can use my computer or tablet – and now my phone – as my own personal TARDIS and go forwards in time to see what’s going to happen in the sky at any time in the future, not just over the next twelve months, but somehow there’s still no substitute for sitting down with a cup of tea, a mince pie and one of these guides, and leafing through it to see what celestial sights and treats I’m going to miss in the next year because of the crap Cumbrian weather..! :-)

I’m not sure if Collins and the RGO have produced this slim (96 page) paperback-sized guide every year, but this is certainly the first time I’ve come across it, and I have to say I’m impressed. It’s not flash, it just Does The Job efficiently and with a minimum of fuss. It follows the familiar and successful format of opening with a basic “beginners guide to the night sky” – how it works, how it changes, what stars are, etc – and then looks at each month in turn. For each month there are charts (drawn by master celestial cartographer Wil Tirion) showing the night sky to the north and to the south, a calendar of astronomical events, plus smaller diagrams showing the month’s Moon phases and any striking or important arrangements of the Moon and planets which will occur during that month.

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Storm Dunlop’s text is aimed at the beginner, and is informative and clear, no clutter here either.

So, all in all, I can definitely recommend this 2014 Sky Guide. If you’re an experienced amateur astronomer it won’t replace your favourite computer planetarium software, or your favourite phone app, but it is definitely a very handy reference guide to have at hand. But if you’re just starting out in the hobby – or want to buy a gift for someone who is – then it’s a good buy.

2014 Guide To The Night Sky

Publisher: Collins

Authors: Storm Dunlop and Wil Tirion

ISBN: 978-0-00-754074-7

Book Review: “Alien Seas” Edited by Michael Carroll and Rosaly Lopes

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OK, in the spirit of full disclosure and openness, I should stay from the start that Michael Carroll has always been one of my very favourite space art artists – I’ve grown up with his work, seeing it in the pages of monthly astronomy magazines and books too, and it has taken me not only to my favourite planet, Mars, but also to some of the most beautiful, most stunning places in the solar system and the universe beyond its outer rim – so I was pretty much guaranteed to love this book from the moment I heard about it, before I’d even seen it on a website or looked at its contents. And Rosaly Lopes is not just a hugely accomplished planetary scientist, but a great writer too. So when I heard that these two had collaborated on a book about “Alien seas” I was as excited as a dog locked overnight in a lamp post factory. But would the book itself live up to the potential..?

Don’t be daft. Of course it does.

When I was growing up a “sea” was a strictly terrestrial thing – a body of water on the Earth, simple as that. But to me, as a child, living and going to school in a town many miles away from the windblown scent of salt and the cawing of seagulls, The Sea was a magical thing, a living thing, as exotic a place as Narnia, or Middle Earth. I remember when, on our annual summer trip when we were taken by bus to a coastal town called St Bees, I would stand on the edge of the beach, ignoring everyone else rushing past me with buckets and spades, and just stare out at the ocean, marvelling at its beauty, seeing it shimmering and dancing in the sunlight, hearing its call – and wondering what lay beyond…

Today, thanks to the discoveries of unmanned space probes and the teams which build and operate them, we live in a world where seas are not restricted to our planet. Science fiction has come true. As film maker and explorer James Cameron describes in his thoughtful Foreword, in the past couple of decades we have learned that the solar system has other seas, even more exotic seas in places and on worlds we never dared imagine possible. And through beautifully-written essays by some of the most knowledgeable scientists in the field, accompanied with even more beautiful illustrations, this book takes us by the hand, lifts us off the Earth, takes us to the edges of those alien seas, sits us down on their beaches, and tells us their stories.

Like all the best astronomy and science books, “Alien Seas” is a spaceship of the imagination, and it takes us on the ultimate tourist trip, not just through space but through time, too. It takes us back in time to see the Lost Oceans of Venus and Mars; clinging to our seats it takes us on a daring dive down to the Sea of Saturn which lurks beneath its clouds, where diamonds fall down from the sky; peering out of its windows we enjoy stunning views of the magical and mysterious Sand Seas of Titan and Mars,with their towering, wind-blown dunes, and lands us within walking distance of Titan’s lakes and seas of molasses-hued ethane. All these places and the processes which formed them are described in great detail – but never with an overdose of jargon or scientific gobbledygook – by specialists who have worked on unravelling their mysteries, so reading this book is like being a passenger on the ultimate solar system cruise, with VIP window seats and the cream of today’s planetary scientists as guest lecturers.

But as fascinating as I found the science, of course as a space art fan the book’s main attraction for me was its illustrations, and they are genuinely inspiring. Co-editor Michael Carroll shows us such wonders as the interior of the Tupan Caldera on Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io, with its 1000m high cliffs and pools of glowing liquid sulphur, and to the almost Tolkienesque geysers of Enceladus.

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Above: A clearly fascinated Chi – not usually a fan of seas of any kind – reads all about the subsurface seas of Europa and other icy moons

And as beautiful as the Mars paintings are, my favourite illustration in the book is of a world far, far away from my beloved red planet. On page 56, in the chapter ‘Sand Seas of the Solar System’, is a painting of a small unmanned robotic drone aircraft called AVIATR just about to land on one of Titan’s great dark dust dunes. Stark white against the caramel and coffee hues of the landscape, the plane is dwarfed by a truly enormous dust dune rearing up from the far horizon… That painting has brought Titan to life for me in a way no other illustration I’ve ever seen has managed to.

The closing section of the book is a gallery of space art images, and while I would have been more than happy with several pages of works by Michael Carroll it was an absolute treat to see “maritime themed” paintings by some of the world’s most respected space artists there, such as Don Dixon, David Hardy and others.

Even without its wonderful illustrations this book would be worth buying. The story of the discovery of alien seas is a thrilling one, and with yesterday’s announcement by NASA of the Curiosity Mars rover’s discovery that it has been driving across the remains of the bed of an ancient martian freshwater lake, this book’s publication is very timely, and offers readers a great opportunity to “catch up” with the state of this area of planetary science. But when you add the illustrations it becomes a lavish tourist travel guide  to some of the most fascinating and beautiful places in our solar system, and beyond.

Now I’ve grown up I still feel a sense of wonder, and still her the far horizon calling, whenever I stand on the edge of the sea. But now I can stand outside on a clear night, look up, and know that there are seas Out There too. That’s a magical thing. And this book brings that magic to life.

Get it. You’ll love it. It really is as simple as that.

 

“ALIEN SEAS” – “Oceans in Space”

Editors: Michael Carroll and Rosaly Lopes

Publisher: Springer

ISBN: 978-1-4614-7472-2

 

 

 

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