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ROSETTA update

I’ve had a few people asking me why I’ve stopped blogging about ROSETTA and Comet 67P. Well, it’s mainly because I’ve been horrendously busy getting ready for the solar eclipse on March 20th – we held a big event here in Kendal for that, and although cloud meant we only got a few brief glimpses of the Sun it was still a very enjoyable morning – and have been snowed under with editing work too, but also, to be honest, because I’ve just grown sick and weary of waiting for new images, or at least new images worth sitting down and writing about.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a huge fan and supporter of the mission, and am very grateful to the NAVCAM team for continuing to release images of the nucleus of Comet 67 waking up. Every day they release into the wild a new image showing jets and plumes and streamers of material shooting off the thawing nucleus, and it’s a privilege to be able to see and show others breathtaking pictures like these most recent ones…

Comet_on_14_March_2015_b_NavCam b Comet_on_14_March_2015_NavCam

As I’ve said here before, the NAVCAM images essentially *are* the ROSETTA mission for the public, and for Outreachers and educators like me, so, again, thank you NAVCAM team, your tireless efforts to promote and support the ROSETTA mission are greatly appreciated.

But where are the OSIRIS images? The OSIRIS team is still holding those pictures hostage, and it’s getting a bit pathetic now to be honest. There have been a few big science conferences recently, at which OSIRIS images have been shown, but none have been released to the public for ages. It’s now over a month since the Feb 14th 6km fly-past of 67P by ROSETTA and although one image was released after that by the OSIRIS team it was just one image, out of how many that were taken? I really had thought we would have seen some more images taken during that close encounter by the OSIRIS camera by now, but no, like so many others they’re still being kept under lock and key by the OSIRIS team and its PI.

feb 14 osiris

Their worries about having their scientific results stolen by others are well known and well-documented now, and I understand their concerns, but come on… if they’re showing images at conferences, to roomfuls of their competition and to journalists, are they really right to be so paranoid about releasing images to the public? I don’t buy it, not for a moment. I have no doubt that they could release a few choice images without risking their science, none at all. They just don’t want to.

Well, you know what? Whatever. If they want to drag ESA’s image –  which has made such huge strides recently – back to the Dark Ages, when every image taken by an ESA probe was jealously horded like a dragon’s gold, that’s up to them. If they want to reinforce the public’s opinion that scientists are cold boffins who think their work is too complicated for “normal” people to understand, or even be shared with, that’s up to them. If they want people to compare and contrast NASA’s image release policy with theirs, that’s up to them. If they want to hide behind their closed doors, looking at their precious images in private, knowing but not caring that people out here who paid for those images to be taken in the first place are desperate to see them, that’s up to them.

For me now, as for many people I’m sure, the NAVCAM images are the ROSETTA mission, and the OSIRIS images are anomalies which sometimes crop up, cause a brief flurry of excitement, and are then gone again.

I used to get angry about this, but not any more.I just think it’s sad that in this amazing year, at this thrilling time, when we are seeing Ceres close-up for the first time, and when we are preparing to fly past Pluto for the first time, when the public are more engaged with space exploration, more excited by it than they have been for years, when Europe has a beyond-incredible mission to explore a comet, the OSIRIS team is refusing to join the party.

Oh well, it’s their loss.

Meanwhile, 67P is warming up nicely, so keep checking back here for more of those gorgeous NAVCAM images :-)

Book review: “Living Among Giants” by Michael Carroll


Take even a quick look at my higgledypiggledy book shelves over there and you’ll realise I’m a big fan of books which combine good, hard science with speculation about the future. I have lots of them, probably dozens of them, some new, some old, and time and time again I find myself leafing through them and, through their fascinating text and beautiful space art, exploring the fantastic worlds Out There in our solar system and beyond. I have books containing the space art of such masters as Don Davis, David Hardy, William Hartmann and Pamela Lee, to name just a few, and cherish them.

Most of the books I have are, to be fair, pretty similar, and they show, mostly, the same places. They are full of gorgeous artists impressions of future astronauts exploring or settling the worlds closest to us, The Moon, Mars, maybe the moons of Jupiter at a stretch, which makes sense as they’re the places we have a chance of getting to in the relatively near future. So I have grown up with seeing astronauts standing on the edge of Valles Marineris and peering down at the clouds rolling across its floor far below, or kneeling beside antique 20th century landers covered in dust; I have drooled over countless paintings of settlements and research outposts on the Moon; I have smiled wistfully at paintings of men and women standing on Io and watching one of its sulphur volcanoes vomiting into the sky… I love them all, and when a new book comes out I devour that too, but even I have to admit that, sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to “go” somewhere new, somewhere different…

So when I read that one of my very favourite space artists, Michael Carroll, had written a book which offered readers a travel guide to the worlds and moons of the outer solar system, the off the beaten track worlds and moons which lie beyond Jupiter, I was intrigued and knew I had to read it. It struck me as quite a brave and challenging thing to do because, I think it’s fair to say, many… most, perhaps… space enthusiasts and amateur astronomers think that once you get past Saturn it’s all a bit, well, boring out there. They have their fans, of course – people who find beauty in their rushing winds and fish tank grit rings – but to the rest of us Uranus and Neptune are, basically, just big bland blue-green balls, with a few fairly interesting moons going around them –

Oh come on now, don’t look at me like that. Spare me your indignation and be honest with yourself: that’s how many of us think of them. We think so little of them that even when they’re in the sky we don’t swing our telescopes towards them but look at other things in the sky again, for the gazillionth time…

But the truth is the outer solar system is, effectively, a neglected second solar system. Once you fly past Jupiter and Saturn, and set out across that enormous gulf of space beyond them, you are heading towards a host of worlds and moons of incredible variety and a beauty all of their own, and in his new book Michael Carroll takes us by the hand on a tour of many of them, boldly suggesting that in the future human explorers will call them home, and find their landscapes, features and scenery every bit as fascinating and beautiful as those on Mars, the Moon and the Galilean Satellites.

And so, in this book we are thrust far into the future – an optimistic future with no budget constraints or idiot, short-sighted politicians strangling the spirit of human endeavour or the drive to explore – when there are brave, wide-eyed men and women living and working far, far beyond the often yawningly-familiar worn-down mountains of the Moon and the rust-red plains of Mars. Dipping into their history and the literature they have inspired Carroll explains in detail the science behind the atmospheres of the gas and ice giants, and the startlingly varied landscapes and geology of their moons, but in such an approachable way reading this book is like listening to a series of lectures by a scientist who is also a great communicator and public speaker. I learned a lot as I read this book, and it gave me a much deeper appreciation of the work of the planetary geologists

But for me the main appeal of the book is its beautiful illustrations. (I know, I’m shallow, guilty as charged!) As I said before Michael Carroll is one of my favourite space artists, and has been ever since I first came across his work in the pages of the astronomy magazines I bought when I was just starting out in the hobby, and so any book which features new paintings by him is always going to be forced into one of the few remaining gaps on those shelves, but this one is there by merit, not through loyalty, because some of the illustrations in it are wonderfully evocative and inspiring. P102 – a holiday resort cluster of domes on the equatorial ride of Iapetus; P128 – an astronaut standing on the shore of Kraken Mare, one of Titan’s methane seas, watching surf-edged waves creeping slowly up the shore; P152 – tourists posing for photos on the “steep walled cliffs at the junction of Korrigan and Pixie Chasmas” on Uranus’ moon Ariel…

My favourite of all is probably this one, showing a futuristic spacecraft skimming over Saturn’s glittering rings, heading for the tall, icy structures which jut up from it…


…but look what they did with it! They split it between two pages!! Which numptie thought THAT was a good idea???


One thing I really love about Carroll’s art is it is natural, and human and warm. He is an artist, not an illustrator. In one of the prefaces he states, proudly, that although a few incorporated modern digital techniques, he actually painted most of his illustrations in the book the old fashioned way, on canvas, with paint, and that is a joy. It makes such a difference. For example, today, just by coincidence, as I was killing time in my local bookstore I came across a new Star Trek book, an update of the old “Ships of The Line” book which features many of the beloved starships and spaceships from Star Trek’s series and films. And yes the pictures in it were all very striking, but they were almost all digital creations, and as clever as they were, many of them were just so artificial-looking, so cold, that they could have been created by robots. Too clean, too sharp, too artificial. But when you look at paintings like this, in “Living Among Giants”…


…you can tell a person, a living, breathing human being made it. He paints with the same love and human touch as people like Pamela Lee and the vastly under-rated Lucy West-Binnall (not heard of her? Google her right now, you can thank me later!). I have no doubt that if Michael Carroll went into space he would take an easel, a canvas and a box of paints with him and would be out of the airlock, set up and painting something before his lander’s engines had even turned off.

And you know what? I don’t care that it’s unlikely the future shown in the book will ever materialise, that’s not the point. The point is, this book will lift you off the face of our troubled home planet and lead you by the hand to some of the incredible worlds which lie out there, opening your eyes, and your mind, to the wonder and beauty which exist far from home.

Ok, so, to summarise, why should you buy this book? Well, here’s a contents checklist… Serious science? Check. Useful and educational diagrams? Check. History of astronomy and space exploration? Check. Beginners course in geology and comparative planetology? Check. Gorgeous space art? Check.

Another winner, Mr Carroll.

What’s next? :-)



“Exploring and Settling The Outer Solar System”


ISBN: 978-3-319-10673-1

In Eddington’s footsteps…


The great astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington – famous for his work on stellar evolution and for supporting Einstein’s work on Relativity – was born in Kendal, and I’m very proud to be the (current) Secretary of the town’s astronomical society, which is fittingly named after him and features him on its logo…


Eddington’s father was the Headmaster at Kendal’s Stramongate School for a time, and although Eddington moved away from Kendal at an early age, in the summer of 1930, not long after the historic discovery of Pluto, he returned to Kendal, as a famous “celebrity” astronomer, to give a lecture at Stramongate School, which was, it was later reported in the school magazine, attended by the Mayor and local figures as well as pupils of the school. Eddington took his enthralled audience on a “tour of the universe”, using the “school lantern” which was brought out especially for the occasion,

Yesterday I was extremely proud to follow in Eddington’s footsteps, literally, by going to Stramongate School myself and giving a talk in (I think…) the same hall the great astronomer lectured in 85 years ago. No Mayor this time, no “local figures” in the audience, but a very enthusiastic group of 50 pupils and their teachers. Like Eddington I took them on a “tour of the universe”, but my ‘magic lantern’ was a state of the art computer and projector, and my ‘slides’ were jpgs put into a Powerpoint and run off an 8Gb USB stick.

When Eddington stood in front of his audience Pluto has only just been found, and there was no information known about it, or very little. I was able to show my group Hubble images of Pluto, and tel them how New Horizons will race past it in July. When Eddington gave his lecture he no doubt thrilled his audience with an account of his historic eclipse-chasing expedition eleven years earlier. I was able to tell my audience about the forthcoming March 20th solar eclipse, and invite them along to the EAS “Eclipse Watch” being held here in Kendal, where observing instruments and tools Eddington would have considered science fantasy will be on hand to show the public the Moon passing in front of the Sun in absolute safety. I stood there, in that hall, showing the kids more than a hundred stunning images – Earth shining as a sapphire blue ‘Evening Star’ in the twilight martian sky, the cliffs and jets of Comet 67P, the geysers of Enceladus, and more – and couldn’t help wondering what Eddington would have said if he’d seen them…

After the talk there were lots of wonderful questions from the kids – kids who are growing up in a world, and at a time, when robot explorers are scattered through the solar system, when we know planets orbit other stars, and when we have mapped the spiral arms of our galaxy. And as I left the school, and started the walk home, I wondered what an astronomer visiting the school in a further 85 years time would tell their audience about. It’s frustrating not knowing, but that’s how astronomy and how science works – there are always incredible discoveries for the next generation to make, new wonders for them to see and show others.

Back home I had half an hour of browsing Rosetta and MER images with the cat fast asleep and purring like a motor boat on my lap before heading out to work.

Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all. :-)

Kielder Spring Starcamp 2015


Enthusiastic astronomers or gluttons for punishment, take your pic, but Stella and I headed up to the wilds of Kielder again last week to attend the 2015 Spring Starcamp at Kielder Campsite. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that our previous trips to Kielder have involved a lot of squelching about in mud and surviving rain and snow – it’s famously the Glastonbury of starcamps – but this year, thankfully, the weather was very kind until the morning we packed up, and we came home without trench foot or frostbite! This year, in fact, we had one of our most enjoyable starcamps at Kielder yet.

It helped that this time we pitched our tent “down the bottom end”, down by the static caravans which serve as the command post and nerve centre of the Starcamp. Down there it was lovely and quiet, and a lot less muddy – though recent improvement work on the campsite’s drainage on other parts of the site has really helped – and we really enjoyed being there. Our pitch had the added bonus of being just a minute’s walk from the toilets/showers and warm room, and 5mins walk from the Anglers Arms Pub and Kielder Castle up on the hilltop, so it was a win win all round.

This time, after doing very convincing impressions of Linda Blair vomiting explosively in the Exorcist before we’d even got half way, Peggy – our cat – almost made it to the campsite entrance before throwing up, and somehow managed to splash her sick onto my leg *through* the side of her box, meaning that when I got out of the car I looked like I’d wet myself, a very dignified way of arriving. But soon we were saying hi to the wonderful Lynn and the other organisers and started to set-up our tent, without getting soaked to the skin for a change, as we managed to dodge the showers, and by teatime we had made ourselves at home, ready to face whatever the weekend threw at us.



(That’s our tent right in the middle, the blue one)

And Peggy soon made herself right at home…


The thing is with Kielder, for us, at least, it’s a camping holiday first, and a Starcamp second. It’s so wild up there, so exposed, and the weather is so changeable that if you go there expecting to see stars every night, or somehow feel you are entitled to see and photograph them every night, you are setting yourself up for a huge disappointment, so we always go up there “on holiday” and I always say that if I get just one clear night, just one, I’ll be happy. And this year the first night we were there was magnificently clear…

As darkness fell there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and soon I was outside setting up my new iOptron star tracker. In a previous post I described my first night with the tracker, and how successful it had been at letting me take photos of an average sky, so you can imagine how excited I was at the prospect of setting it loose on the truly dark skies of Kielder! And it didn’t let me down. Here are some of the pictures I took that first night…

orion wide 1

m45 1

lovejoy 1x67s exp ioptron labels

orion 1 crop

M42 STACK best

(I am **so** chuffed with that one!!!)

horsehead 1 200mm crop

Yes, that’s right, I managed to capture the famous Horsehead nebula using just a 135mm lens on my iOptron tracker. It was probably worth going to Kielder just for that photo…!


Eventually, in the wee small hours, cloud rolled in, but I didn’t mind, I’d managed to get some gorgeous photos, and I pulled the duvet over me a very happy man…

Next morning was beautiful and sunny, and Stella and I made the first of many pilgrimages up to the Castle for a lovely full breakfast – one of the highlights of the starcamp, to be honest…


…and then had a nice chill-out day just wandering around to the shop and back, saying hi to old friends, chatting to new faces, and “bedding in” to the starcamp.



The field began to fill up and by nightfall was probably half full. I think numbers were down this time because of the date change – the event had been moved forwards so it didn’t clash with the travel plans of people wanting to head north to see the solar eclipse – and maybe because people had had such disappointing experiences with the mud and weather recently, but the die-hards, like us, and the Kielder regulars, were all there, and had a great time.

Friday night wasn’t as clear as Thursday, clouds came and went, but inbetween those clouds the sky was sprayed with stars and I managed to get some more good pictures…

M42 stack


That’s a tracked shot of Jupiter, over-exposed, I know, I just liked the dramatic look of it :-)

It was great to be joined later in the evening by our fellow “Kielder veterans” Carol and Simon, who are also members of the Eddington AS, which brought the total number of EAS members at the event to 5, as Moira was there too, trying her hand at astrophotography for the first time that night.When I finally called it a night and headed back into the tent, Stella was fast asleep and being guarded…


Saturday dawned a bit drizzly, but we felt fine after another big breakfast, and in the afternoon headed up to the Castle to browse the wares being offered for sale by Grovers Optics and to listen to the talks which are always put on on the Saturday afternoons at Kielder Starcamps. After a fascinating talk on the history of the study if galaxies I gave a talk giving the audience a guide to our place in the universe, which seemed to go down very well, I had some very nice comments afterwards, though it was a shame there was such a big gap between the talks as many people who drifted away at the interval didn’t bother to come back again. The talks afternoon ended with a look at NASA’s Maven mission to Mars, then it was time for Stella and I to head down to the Anglers for dinner, booked – we thought – early enough to give us plenty of time to get back to the tent and set up the camera and telescope for photographs and views of Venus, the Moon and Mars all gathered together in the twilight. But it didn’t quite work out that way, and because, unusually for the Anglers, our food arrived rather later than planned I ended up having to wolf down my meal and race back to get ready, leaving Stella to finish off her food on her own, which wasn’t what we had in mind, but she hooked up with some mates, Neil and Karen, after  left anyway, so it worked out okay in the end.

And before clouds rolled in I managed to get all my gear set up in time to get some pretty decent (I think!) photos of the Moon and planets glowing serenely in the western twilight…




Unfortunately after that the weather decided to torment and frustrate us, and all night clouds rolled and swam over the campsite, clearing, in places, occasionally, to allow brief tantalising glimpses of the southern starry sky, and overhead. It was very frustrating that the whole northern sky was obscured by a wall of cloud that just refused to budge – someone said it was as “a ruddy big planet had just parked next to Earth, blocking everything in that direction” and I had to agree. I tried some pictures but to no avail, what clear sky there was was actually hazy and misty, and the stars of Orion all had haloes around them, so I put my camera back in the tent and just went for a wander, looking through various telescopes at various things, and even after retiring to the tent I kept checking the sky, ever the optimist, hoping it would clear, but I eventually gave up at around 4am and surrendered to sleep…

By Sunday morning it was clear that poor weather had set in, so after another big breakfast (hey, we were on holiday!) Stella and I settled down with Peggy to watch DVDs in the tent.


Last time we were at Kielder the Sunday was marked by gale force winds which threatened to carry our tent away, they were so strong, but this time wasn’t as bad, nowhere near, but with the weather forecasts all agreeing that we had seen our last starry sky the Great Exodus began, and by mid-evening the previously busy campsite was almost deserted, just a few tents and caravans scattered across it. With no prospects of any stargazing that evening Stella and I headed back down to the Anglers for a meal, and had every intention of just having a snack there until we bumped into Robin and Antoinette, who gushed about how lovely a HUGE Sunday roast they had just enjoyed in the pub, so we gave in and treated ourselves to one of those, and it was spectacularly tasty… and I treated Stella to this rather magnificent desert, too…


Of course, when we emerged from the tent we saw stars! None of the weather forecasts had suggested that would happen, so we raced back to the tent to get my camera gear set up… but it was a “sucker sky”, and the gaps closed over again soon, and although other gaps appeared and disappeared through the evening it never really got clear enough to do any serious photography so I just admitted defeat, took my gear back inside, and got under the quilt at about 1am.

Monday morning… time to go home… and we woke to the sound of lashing rain. Great. Another soaking seemed inevitable as we took down the tent. Taking advantage of occasional gaps in the rain, and then the snow, we managed to get most things packed away into the car without getting too wet, but by mid-morning it was clear that the weather just wasn’t going to let up so we had to take the tent down in the snow and wind, and were both freezing cold by the time we had dragged the sorry-looking, soaked canvas under a shelter to mop it off before cramming it into its bag and stuffing it into the car…


…and then, finally, we were on our way, soaked and cold, even after a lovely hot shower, waving and beeping our farewells to the last few people on the campsite. Another Kielder was over. Time to go home.

So, another great time at Kielder! Two good photographic nights, which was wonderful, and I am very happy with the photos I took. Many thanks to the organisers, Lynn and Richard and everyone else for staging another hugely enjoyable event and for all their hard work behind the scenes. It was great to catch up with old friends, and to make some new ones too, and we came away thinking, again, that going to Kielder Starcamp is one of the best decisions we ever made, ad one of the best parts of our year now. We’re already booked to go back in October, and I can’t wait to get my iOptron tracking the Milky Way and its glittering star-clouds then..!


67P blazes…

Another day, another gorgeous navcam view, and a slightly more artistic and poetic take on it than usual…


A whole new sky…

That’s what I saw last night – or at least it felt like it. How come? Well, last night, three looooong weeks after buying it (CURSE you Cumbrian weather, and my inadequate tripods!) I finally managed to use my new iOptron star tracker camera mount and its new sturdy ££ tripod for the first time. And was it worth it?

As Sam Beckett used to say after each Quantum Leap – Oh boy

Last night, lured outside by the first properly clear sky for a week or so, Stella, our observing buddy Carol and I headed out of Kendal and up to our closest “dark sky site” in a church car park in the nearby village of Old Hutton. It’s not perfect by any means – a couple of neighbouring houses have security lights, and there’s a big bright streetlight down the street, but if you position yourself in the long shadow of the church you can block those out and spend a good few hours under a very pretty, very starry sky, and that’s what we did last night, in the company of another pair of EAS members, as I took the iOptron out for its initial shakedown cruise.

It took me longer to set up for the first time than I thought it would – it’s a heavy piece of kit, and setting it up is actually quite fiddly, in the dark,what with all that screwing and unscrewing of ball heads etc – but eventually, with valuable assistance from Stella and Carol, everything was assembled. Then it was time to polar align it and take my first shot. I knew that the mount, and my photos, would benefit from aligning on the genuine polar point in the sky, which is some distance away from Polaris, but I wanted to see what an image would look like with the mount aligned on Polaris itself first. So, setting the DSLR for its maximum set length of exposure, 30 seconds, I set it running… and got this…

ioptron first image orion 50mm 30s

..which at first glance looks pretty good! Lots of stars, the nebula shining brightly. Promising! But the focus was out (a common problem with modern DSLR astrophotography cos they go *past* Infinity… so annoying!!) and when I enlarged the image I could see the stars had trailed slightly…

ioptron first image orion 50mm 30s trails

Ok… so that’s what alignining on Polaris did. So I used the app on my smartphone to align the mount with the *true* celestial pole, a little way away from Polaris, re-focussed, and tried again, another basic 30s exposure, and got this…

2nd image orion 50mm 30s

Oh… look at that…. that looked *great* on the back of the camera… but had aligning on the true pole made much difference..?

2nd image orion 50mm 30s trails

Oh yes…! I looked at that and started grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I’ve wanted to take a photo of that nebula looking like that for years, ever since, in fact, I was a young boy starting out in astronomy, and there it was, on my camera. At the second try with my new toy – sorry, highly sophisticated piece of equipment. I couldn’t wait to get home and process that image! But I did, wait, I mean, we were there a few hours, and I took many more photos, gradually lengthening the exposure times to see what the iOptron could do, and of course as soon as I got home I fired up the laptop and got to work… and you can imagine my amazement when this appeared after processing – this is a 127 sec exposure…

0rion 50mm single processed 127s

…and when I cropped the nebula, and did a little more work, I got this…


Seriously, seriously chuffed with that. That is a crop of a single tracked processed image taken at a reasonably dark site. What that tracker will give me when I use it at a truly dark site – which I will be doing this coming weekend, up at Kielder Starcamp in Northumberland – should be nothing short of amazing.

First images in the bag, and faith in the mount fully established, it was time to play! :-)

Here is a selection of the images I took over the next couple of hours, with technical details for those interested.


Pleiades, 135mm lens, single 82sec exposure.


M31, single exposure, 50mm lens, 51sec.

jupiter 135 60s

Jupiter, 135mm lens, 60sec exposure. Ok, that might be a *touch* over-exposed, but isn’t it pretty? ;-)


Crab nebula (centre) – crop of tracked image with 135mm lens

But what I really wanted to try and photograph last night was Comet Lovejoy – and the iOptron didn’t disappoint. Here’s a single 30s exposure with the 50mm lens…

comet 1st image 50mm 30s

And you can clearly see the tail of the comet there. Faint, certainly, but there. A 2 minute exposure rewarded me with this…

lj 2m single tracked

Bit bright, that, but I kept going, trying different exposures and lenses, and when I got home I worked on the images I’d taken… and these came out…

crop single 62s

135mm lens, 62sec exposure, cropped and processed. Love that!

lj i1

lj i11

I’ll be honest, I’m absolutely delighted with those, but at the same time I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy the iOptron months ago when I was originally thinking about it, cos then I could have used it on Comet Lovejoy when it was at its brightest and best. Idiot! I hummed and haa’d about buying one for ages, lingered by them at three different astro events, and didn’t take the plunge. Now I know that if I’d used the iOptron on Comet Lovejoy a month ago, when its banner tail was unfurled and flapping in the solar wind, I would have got beautiful images… oh well, at least I have in now, ready for the *next* bright comet which comes along! And I’ll get to use it at Kielder Starcamp next weekend – weather permitting of course.

But just how much better is it using a mount like an iOptron than taking images with just a camera on a tripod, which I’ve always sworn by? Well, see for yourself by clicking on the following images to enlarge them…

comet 50mm

m42 50mm

comet stacked

One image from last night shows just what is possible with my new piece of kit. I thought I’d give M1, the Crab Nebula a try with my 135mm lens. I’ve imaged it before, kind of, but it’s never looked better than just a faint, smudgy dot… so imagine my delight when I managed to get this…

m1 crop

As I said at the top there, it feels like I have a whole new sky for my playground now… :-)


Many thanks to Carol Grayson for her help and for taking Stella and I up to the church last night; to fellow EAS members Ian Bradley and Simon White for their ongoing support and encouragement; and to Stella, as always, for accompanying me and supporting me on these (often futile) dark sky safaris :-) Also thank you to Jeremy Hunt, who very generously built me a manual barn door-type tracker – it was by using that I was able to see just how essential it was to take “the next giant step” from camera-and-tripod to something that moved on its own. And finally a big thank you to Marcus Grover at Grovers Optics for his excellent service, during and after the purchase of the iOptron and the tripod.

67P from 6K = O… M… G….

Now this, dear readers, is something very special.

Over the weekend the ROSETTA probe did a close fly-by of comet 67P, and today was the day scheduled to see the release of some of the amazing images taken by the NAVCAM camera during that fly-by. How close did ROSETTA get to the comet? Well, it raced past at a height/distance of just 6km. So, obviously the images were always going to be detailed and exciting and fascinating. But when they appeared online this afternoon I was totally unprepared for just how spectacular they were…

Before you take a look at my enhanced and processed crops of the images, take a moment to look at the *official* images, which are featured on today’s ROSETTA Blog post. Go on, I’ll wait…


See? Told you they were something special…

So can you imagine the look of joy on my face when I saw those images? When I sat back and imagined what I could pull out of them? There is so much detail in those images, so much, it’s bewildering, and scanning them I felt spoiled for choice – craters and cliffs and layers galore. But eventually I settled on a few specific areas, and here they are after being worked on.






…and finally my favourite from today, this sweeping panorama showing huge boulders, thousands of scattered rocks, and a cliff-side with countless gateau-like layers…


I absolutely *love* that view. You can easily imagine you’re looking down on that landscape from ROSETTA’s back as she flew over it, can’t you?

And don’t forget these are just the *navcams*. The OSIRIS cameras will have taken images too! But I have been told (thanks Dan) that those images haven’t come back yet, so we’ll have to wait a little longer to see what wonders they show. I hope we don’t have to wait months to see them, because they’re bound to be stunning. Until then, no doubt the navcam team’s releases will continue and through their camera’s eyes we will all be able to feel the joy of this mission – the joy of exploration and discovery. Thanks again, navcam team. :-)


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