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Looking back at Dalby Starfest 2015

team1bsmHaven’t had a chance to write up this brilliant weekend because I’ve been so busy, but glad to have a chance to now.

Back in the middle of August, seven members of the Eddington Astronomical Society, including myself and Stella, travelled over to Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire to attend the 2015 Scarborough and Ryedale AS “Starfest”. The event was held over four days, just after the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, so we were even more keen than usual to have clear night skies at the dark sky site of Dalby Forest so we would have a chance of seeing some bright shooting stars.

pan2With almost one whole “avenue” of the campsite all to ourselves, (“Eddington Street”, see above), we set up in our camper vans, tents, caravans and folding campers and enjoyed four days of astronomy fun.

group1Unlike other star-camps, which are more serious and attended by the more experienced amateurs who are there to do serious observing or astro-photography, the Scarborough and Ryedale AS “Starfest” is a real family event, so there were lots of kids rampaging around, not just weather- and world-weary amateur astronomers like ourselves, and everyone had a great time.

r2The event organisers, Mell and Andy, work ridiculously hard to ensure that the event is welcoming for everyone, with something for everyone to do and enjoy, and that the case again this year. There were illustrated talks in the evenings, on a variety of subjects, and through the day lots of mingling and astro-chatter with friends old and new.

r21On the Sunday the popular “Rocket Competition” was as fiercely competitive as ever, and an appreciative audience clapped, cheered and whooped as one home-built rocket (built out of a fizzy drinks bottle and decorated individually) after another whooshed into the beautiful blue sky, some going higher and further than others, but everyone who took part had great fun, which was the most important thing.

r11r12r13As for the night sky… well, I always go to star-camps without my hopes or expectations too high – thinking that if I get one night clear enough for some observing and photography I’ll be happy, and after a bad start on the Thursday and Friday nights the Saturday night was gloriously clear, and I was outside until almost 2am taking photos of the sky with my iOptron tracker and wandering around the campsite, enjoying stunning views of galaxies, star clusters and nebulae through the telescopes of others.

plough1The Milky Way looked beautiful, airbrushed across the sky, and I was very pleased with the photos I took. Here are some of the best ones…

m way best fM31 BEST 3

pano mw1spano mw2bsun1Saturday was a very dewy night tho, and by the time I eventually went to bed everything – my coat, my camera, its lenses – was wringing wet, and that left the sky rather hazy too, but I was very pleased with the photos I took.

darn2The next night, the Sunday, had clear spells, clear enough to allow me to take some more photos, but Saturday was by far the best.

It was a fantastic weekend, and just to drape a deep, heavy layer of icing over the cake, to our delight and surprise, and the surprise of others too, I think, our astro society’s team won the Astronomy Pub Quiz! Again this year the Pub Quiz had a very friendly, inclusive feel, with something for everyone, not just experts and specialists, and after all the laughter and cheering during the rounds even the lowest-scoring team managed to get points on the scoreboard, so no-one went away feeling humiliated or inadequate, which was certainly the case a couple of years ago. Well done to the organisers!

stella trailer 1So, another excellent Starfest at Dalby forest, and a huge THANK YOU to the organisers for working so hard to ensure everyone who attended had a good time, again. We’re already looking forward to next year!

Another NAVCAM beauty…

The ROSETTA NAVCAM team has done it again – released a jaw-dropping image of Comet 67P that shows just what a stunning object the comet is…


That new image really shows how active the comet is now it has passed perihelion. And it’s only going to get more active, so we can look forward to increasingly-dramatic views over the coming weeks.

Thank you again to the brilliant NAVCAM team, and all the ROSETTA Outreach people, for keeping the ROSETTA mission alive for us out here. I think we are due another mass release of NAVCAM images to the ESA Archives next month, but I’m checking on that because I’ve lost track a bit.

And you never know, we might see some more OSIRIS images soon, too.

ROSETTA sees 67P bursting into life…

Comet 67P is now approaching perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, and the unmanned European Space Agency probe ROSETTA has been taking increasingly stunning images of the activity on the comet as it enters its most active period. For a while now, the ever-reliable NAVCAM team have been sharing with us their views of the comet, releasing almost every day a new image showing jets and plumes of dust and gas shooting out of the comet’s nucleus, like this one…


The other day the OSIRIS team released a rare but very welcome image of the activity they are seeing in close-up, and predictably the image was snapped up and lapped up by both media and public alike, proof – if any proof is actually needed after all this time – that there’s a real fascination with and hunger for the high resolution views the OSIRIS team are seeing but, mostly, keeping to themselves.

Here’s the image…

Outburst_in_action cropCredit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

I know what springs to mind when you look at that image…


That’s one of the most striking images taken during the ROSETTA mission so far, I think, and it shows just how active the comet is. In fact, that image is one of a sequence of images, which together show that this was a short-lived event, a real sploosh of gas and dust spurting out of the nucleus for a brief time before dying away again…


That must have been like a fire extinguisher going off beneath the crust. Imagine standing nearby and seeing that… wow….

It was great to see that image released into the wild, and thanks should go to the OSIRIS team for that, but I remain absolutely baffled by their attitude to image release. For example, there’s a big astronomy event going on in Hawaii at the moment, a meeting of the IAU, at which astronomers from all around the world gather to share their latest data and discoveries, and as you would expect the ROSETTA mission is represented there too. Last night OSIRIS PI Holger Sierks gave a presentation about the most recent findings at 67P, and although I wasn’t able to watch the presentation I was able to follow it, in a way, via Twitter, as people who were there tweeted about it. This particular Tweet caught my eye…


WOW! OSIRIS is now seeing pieces of the comet breaking off as it approaches perihelion! Other tweets reported that OSIRIS has seen wide-scale surface modification on the comet – i.e. previously-photographed features on its surface have either changed or gone altogether – which bodes well for the weeks ahead, when 67 will really start to wake up. But this image caught my eye too, for a different reason…


Look at all those empty chairs! Where WAS everyone??? Now, I know that that is probably a huge room, and that talks run parallel at these events, so attendees can’t get to everything, but still…

And I couldn’t help thinking that that picture shows a very basic flaw in the OSIRIS team’s argument that they can’t release images because they fear their work being stolen by other scientists. Because, while some of the people in that room will have been journalists, others were *scientists*, some of them probably the very ones the OSIRIS team are so worried about gazumping them, yet they were perfectly happy to show them images that aren’t being seen elsewhere…

Er, does anyone else think that is just a bit nuts? I mean, if I was a scientist and I was genuinely worried about someone using my images to steal my research out from under my nose, I just wouldn’t show them to *anyone*. I certainly wouldn’t show them to a roomful of my competitors. That’s asking for trouble, surely?

It does rather suggest that, as I have thought all along, the OSIRIS team a) simply does not want to share its images with the media and the public, and b) really doesn’t get the importance of the whole “outreach thing”. They are clearly happy to share their images with fellow scientists, at big conferences, but letting the public see them, by releasing them to the media, seems out of the question. And that’s both wrong, and, frankly, ridiculous. It’s actually shooting themselves in the foot. I mean, look at the recent public and media reaction to the releases of the NEW HORIZONS images, that was fantastic! Imagine how people would react to seeing those OSIRIS images of *pieces of the comet coming off the nucleus*! Imagine the PR boost that would give the ROSETTA mission, and ESA!

I don’t know, I just don’t get it. They just don’t seem to realise how important a part of any space mission outreach and public engagement is. Baffling, seriously.

In an ideal world all the images that have been shown at the IAU event would now be released into the wild, via the ESA website, seeing as they have been seen *in public* at a major international science conference open to the media. But I doubt that will happen.

Go on, OSIRIS team, prove me wrong… 🙂