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2013 -The Year of the Comet (was Comets)..?

At the end of last year astronomers amateur and professional alike were almost weeing themselves with excitement at the prospect of there not being just one but two bright naked eye comets to look forward to in 2013. Comet PANSTARRS, due to shine in the northern hemisphere’s sunset sky in mid-March, was shaping up to be another Hale-Bopp, and Comet ISON was showing all the signs of being a truly Great Comet, with a “You must be kidding! Look at THAT!” length tail, maybe even bright enough to be seen in the daytime sky too. Yep, 2013 was looking like being The Year of The Comets…!

We might have to change that to Comet, because PANSTARRS is not brightening as quickly or as much as it would be doing if it was going to become “another Hale-Bopp”. Lots of people are now observing the comet regularly, and when their observations of its brightnes are plotted on a graph it is definitely behind schedule, and I’m actually worried that if its current level of brightening holds then it might actually be quite challenging to see in the sky after sunset in mid-March without some kind of help, by using binoculars or a telescope I mean.

This might be disappointing, but it’s not a huge surprise, and responsible astronomers and astronomy writers have been warning people from the start that this might happen. Past comets which have promised to put on good shows have laughed at us and fizzled out when they stepped onto the stage for real, and PANSTARRS might be one of those teases. Of course, the comet could just be playing with us, and waiting to brighten properly until it’s closer to the Sun, in which case we might yet be treated to lovely views of Hale-Bopp 2 this March, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s too late to know for sure yet, so let’s be optimistic – and cross our fingers! And hope that instead of this…

Panstarrs March 13th Kendal

… we get this

Panstarrs March 13th Kendal best

Two bright naked eye comets in the same year did seem a bit greedy, rather too good to be true. It probably was. But even if PANSTARRS isn’t another Hale-Bopp it will provide us all with a fantastic dress rehearsal for ISON, and will allow us all to prepare for ISON’s arrival by scouting-out an optimum observing location, practising how to observe comets and, of course, practising how to *photograph* them, so let’s have no wailing or gnashing of teeth! 🙂


Kendal joins in with BBC “Stargazing Live”

As we have done every series so far, the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal has been supporting the BBC’s fine “Stargazing Live” series by holding astronomy events in our town.

On Monday night our monthly meeting was given over to a “Beginners Night”, when we invited people interested in getting started in astronomy and the hobby of starwatching to come along, learn about our Society and learn about the hobby too. And, brilliantly, 51 people came! Not all of them were potential new members, but the vast majority were, and they enjoyed presentations describing how to observe the night sky and how to use binoculars and a telescope. Hopefully many of them will join our Society as full members in the future! 🙂

Then yesterday was a HUGE day for us! BBC Radio Cumbria – always fantastic supporters of our society and of astronomy activities and events in Cumbria – came through to Kendal to broadcast live from the town all afternoon, and to promote our “Stargazing Live Skywatch” we were holding that evening. Here’s presenter Caroline Robertson by the Radio Cumbria gazebo, ready to start her show yesterday afternoon…


And here she is talking to Anna Hall, the Education Officer at kendal Museum who, as EAS members know, is one of our greatest supporters and most enthusiastic helpers too…


It was a brilliant afternoon, and Caroline and I chatted many times on air about Arthur Eddington, astronomy in Kendal, what people can see in the night sky, and more. Other guets also talked about Eddington and astronomy, and we were even allowed into the Mayor’s Parlour upstairs in the Town Hall to see Eddington’s medals, which was a treat and a privilege.

Of course, the main aim of the day was to publicise and support our big evening Stargazing Live event – a public Skywatch up at Kendal castle. We were hoping to be able to show people Jupiter, constellations and more, but when Caroline’s show started at 2 the signs weren’t good: Kendal was being smothered under a thick bank of mist and low cloud, hiding the Sun completely. And sadly that mist and fog didn’t lift – as it had been forecast to by many weather experts online! Curse them! – and as the time to begin the Skywatch arrived there was absolutely no chance of seeing anything up there…

But of course we went up anyway!

…and it’s a good thing we did, because lots of people trekked up to the Castle to see us and talk about astronomy despite the weather!


And ok, so we didn’t see any stars… or anything else in the sky… but we did get to “spread the word” about stargazing, and give out a load of Stargazing Live booklets, AND invite people to our third and final Stargazing Live event, an illustrated talk and ‘astronomy night’ at The Box…



And we had a lot of fun too, as we always do when the Cumbrian weather laughs at us as we try to observe the night sky…! 🙂



On Friday (11th) night our “Astronomy Night” at The ox, down near Kendal Museum, was a big success, withover 60 people coming along to listen to an illustrated talk entitled “A Tourist Guide To The Universe”, see and hold some rare meteorites, and be introduced to telescopes by members of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal…


It was great to see and meet so many people interested in astronomy, and hopefully some of them will become members of the Society in the near future.

Our next event (to be confirmed) is a MOONWATCH in the gardens at the Brewery Arts Centre on Friday February 15th. Hope to see you there!