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Hunting the aurora… in Cumbria…

EAS Aurora Hunters 2

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know just how many times I have tried to see the northern lights from Cumbria, here in the north of England. It’s a pretty thankless task, for many reasons. Firstly, when it comes to the aurora, the “north of England” isn’t actually that far north. It’s almost the end of the world for politicians and media types down in London, they think we are permanently covered in snow and have to fight off sabre tooth tigers and mammoths, but in terms of being well placed for watching auroral activity we’re really not that far north at all, you need to go up to Scotland to have a chance of seeing anything with any regularity. Also, to be blunt, our weather is crap. The Lake District HAS lakes for a reason – it rains SO much here you would not believe it, and usually when it’s not raining at night it’s cloudy, so doing any kind of astronomy is “challenging” at best.

But that doesn’t stop us haring up to the north of our beautiful county if the KP index and the “space weather dials” suggest there’s even a hint of a whisper of a chance of seeing even the top of an auroral display peeking above our northern horizon. And off we go, with cameras and high hopes… only, usually, to have those hopes dashed by the weather or the aurora itself. What promised to be a Big Display ends up as little more than a water colour wash green glow on the horizon. And every time it happens we tell ourselves “Our time will come… our time will come…” Not really believing it, of course…

But sometimes, just sometimes, our time DOES come. And last week, on two nights in a row, we were able to see the northern lights from Cumbria.


Wednesday evening, and across the UK aurora-hunters and sky watchers are wondering what the night will bring. Earlier that morning, after doing nothing all night, a big auroral display had kicked off after our sunrise, delighting viewers in the US and leaving us banging our heads against ant available wall. As the day progressed we all kept checking the websites and blogs and Twitter feeds we rely on to give us warnings of possible aurora, hoping that when darkness fell we would see something, but it was very uncertain.

Then, at around quarter to eight in the evening, looking at my phone I saw a Facebook post from an aurora watcher in Finland, shouting to the world that he was seeing a BIG display in his sky… That pricked my ears up! REALLY??? Finland was dark ahead of us, so surely at least the upper part of a display as big as the one he was describing would be visible for us too? We get to our Shap observing site around half an hour later, but the sky was almost totally cloudy, with just a narrow, letterbox strip of clear sky to the north. Even though it wasn’t properly dark yet I decided to take a test shot, and aimed my camera at the clear sky…

1st 20-29 frameYES!!!!! AURORA, right there!!!

…and then it all went… nuts…

The sky cleared, and by some miracle it stayed clear ALL NIGHT, as the biggest and most impressive display of the northern lights seen from our part of the world for almost a decade painted the sky green, red and purple.

It started off slowly, with just – just! haha! – a huge green arc across the northern sky, looking like a lime green rainbow…


But slowly the arc started to sprout beams, and rays, which jabbed up into the sky like searchlights…



IMG_3258 20-44

Watching this from Shap we were more than happy with that. It was more than we had seen for a long time, But it turned out that was just the warm up act for the main show, like those cute little UFOs that fly over everyone at the end of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS before the Mothership arrived…because at about half past nine, the green arc vanished, as if switched off like a light bulb, and when it came back the northern sky blazed with cold, green fire…

IMG_3338 21-59 frameIMG_3341 22-02 frame

IMG_3343 22-03 frame

I took photo after photo after photo, laughing at the beauty of it all, as did Stella and someone who had come up on the off chance to see if he could see anything. By ten pm activity was dying down, the great green curtains had stopped rolling and flapping, but the northern sky was still glowing…

stella aurora frame

stella frame

bothIMG_3411 23-26 frame

beamcarol frame

By 01.30 on Thursday morning activity had died right down to a soft background glow, so we headed home, delighted with what we had seen. But activity continued throughout the day, so after dark on Thursday evening we headed up to Shap again.


Word had obviously gone out about the possibility of seeing the northern lights the next night, night because every lay-by we passed was crammed with cars full of hopeful aurora watchers, but our site was thankfully quiet and deserted. This time no aurora greeted us upon our arrival, and the sky was a lot cloudier. In fact, it just didn’t “feel right” for an aurora, so I took some constellation photos to pass the time, hopeful that something might appear. Reports on Twitter and Facebook were suggesting a display was visible further north from us – a LOT further, like Orkney and the Hebrides – but we couldn’t see it. There was a trace, a suggestion of a green glow on photos taken facing north, but that was all –

Then, suddenly, it appeared… The Blob…!

IMG_3530 22-46

At just after quarter to eleven a vague patch of pale green appeared above the NW horizon, and brightened and kept brightening. No rays came from it, no beams, nothing, just a green glow that came and went. But we were happy with that, and Stella posed in front of it for a photo… look at it carefully, over to the right…

IMG_3546 23-04

Yes! Some rays! I couldn’t see them by eye, but they showed up on the photo on the back of the camera, so I tried a few more shots towards them…

blob and rays

IMG_3548 23-08Again, activity died down around half past midnight, so we decided to call it a night. Stella bedded down in the back oif the van, and I curled up on the front seat, setting my alarm for 04.30 in the hope of seeing a quartet of planets lined up in the pre-dawn sky. Did I see them? Well, that’s in the previous post… :-)

Planets on Parade…

Yesterday morning (Friday, October 9th) I was lucky enough to see, and photograph, a beautiful line up of planets in the eastern sky before dawn –

Actually, no, I wasn’t lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it. As you need to do with many astronomical events, I planned it out carefully in advance, checking times, and dates, and angles and exactly how they would look, and where, and was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to see what was going on; the only element of luck in the whole thing involved the weather, because it was wonderfully miraculously clear at 04.30 when I went out, ready to photograph the Great Parade Of Planets…

When I got up at half four, unfolding myself out of the front seat of the van I’d slept in for three hours, after an evening of aurora-spotting, I peeked out the misted-over window and saw the sky was breathtakingly clear. Looking in the side mirror I could see Venus blazing like a diamond just above a nearby wood, and knew that the Moon wouldn’t be far behind, hidden by the trees, so I slid out of the van, grabbed my camera and tripod, and headed away a short distance before finally looking back… and seeing…

1st view

Oh wow…

A short time later Mars cleared the trees, and Jupiter rose too…

2nd view

Here, let me put some labels on that for you…

2nd view labelled…and basically I stayed out there for the next two and a half hours, taking different photos of the planets as they rose higher, with different lenses and settings, just – and many astro-photographers and observers forget to do this – having fun with something amazing in the sky! :-) While I waited for the planets to gain some altitude I took the opportunity to do some tracked deep sky imaging with my iOptron star tracker…


On the left, below, you can see a single 2 minute long tracked image taken with the tracker. On the right, a processed stack of ten 30 second images…

collage M42

…and with a bit more work you can get images like these…




But back to the planets. Here are the best photos I took…

Leo Planets f

planets plus cloud


Planets and clouds

As dawn approached I was also able to get *another* planet in my pictures, Mercury…!

4 worlds labelled

I was pleased to have four worlds on one photo, but then it was pointed out to me that I’d actually got SIX…

6 worlds f labels


Stella joined me for a few photos, as you can see…



By seven am it was just too bright to see Mars, Mercury and Jupiter, but Venus and the Moon were still visible in the cold, blue sky, but I needed to get *some* sleep so returned to the van.

And just to round things off, earlier in the evening I had managed to track down Uranus and Neptune too, so I actually photographed every (official) planet in the solar system except Saturn over the course of one night… :-) I just missed out on photographing Saturn as it had already set when we got to our observing site, but I’ll definitely try again from Kielder starcamp next week.

collage 8 worlds

Awesome Apollo

If you’re a space enthusiast you probably love looking at Apollo mission images. After all, the are a) dramatic, b) visually stunning and c) remind us of a glorious time, in days long past, when human beings actually went somewhere, and explored, instead of bumbling about in Earth orbit like glorified campers. Many of the Apollo images are iconic – Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon, posing for Neil Armstrong (wish Buzz had returned the favour, but as we all know he was “too busy” to take an official portrait of the first man on the Moon… busy taking photos of rocks, and the sky, and the legs of the lunar lander…), Dave Scott posing beside the lunar rover, “Earth-rise” etc – but I think it’s fair to say that books, magazines and websites tend to use the same images all the time, so over time those images might have lost a little of their impact.

Of course, if you are online savvy, and “in the know” about Apollo, it has been possible for quite a while to look at other Apollo images, ones not so well known, but it’s been, to put it kindly, a bit of a faff about looking at them.

That has just changed.

NASA has just set up a new website – The Project Apollo Archive – which is basically an online gallery of all the Apollo images. Yes, all of them, thousands and thousands of them, more than 8000 of them, in fact. There are no endless lists to click through, no obscure catalogue numbers, no cryptic references; just page after delicious page of images – actual images – to scroll through and drool over, separated into the different missions.

Apollo Image Archive

Seriously, it’s as if someone at NASA, staring out the window and chewing their pen on a slow day, thought “Now… if I was a space enthusiast, or a teacher, or a student, fascinated by Apollo, what would I really like to see..?” and just made it. (One fly in the ointment: it’s a Flickr account gallery, but you don’t have to be a member of or sign up to Flickr to view or download the images).

The site is basically a free, all-you-can-eat buffet of Apollo images. Just pick an Apollo mission, click on a folder, and start scrolling, and eventually, because there are so many images, you will see a picture you have never seen before. The “classics” are there, of course, and when you see those you’ll smile and think “Ah yes, that one…” but a little bit further down, or in the next album, you’ll see something… new, an image taken on the way to, on, or coming back from the Moon that you won’t recognise, and that’s just a fantastic feeling.

I’ll be honest tho; looking back through these galleries I was torn between feeling renewed admiration for the Apollo missions and the men and women behind them, and feeling frustrated and angry that we’re not on the Moon NOW and, indeed, taking our first steps on Mars. The images in the Project Apollo Archive remind us how high NASA soared, and how it has stalled since, at least in terms of crewed exploration…

Of course, faced with all those images I couldn’t resist doing a little “tinkering” (really just cropping, boosting contrast, ‘cos some are *very* washed out-looking etc)- and making some “processed versions” of the images. Not to “improve” them – how arrogant would THAT be, to even THINK you could improve images taken by astronauts On The Moon????? – just to bring out some details, and make them look a bit more dynamic, more like the images we’re now so used to seeing on the ISS and of distant planets and moons.

So, anyway, here you go. I hope you find at least one you like!

21036773464_035f2801e4_o b 21079047693_6c6f0801cf_o b

21657760696_0f4b7a8638_o b2 21683646195_85ed813730_o b

21691316382_bf116b8603_o b 21703989075_303db9b3b2_o b2

at rover b

boulder LM

parked rocks

New Horizons shows Crazy Charon in close-up

Well, they did it again. The NEW HORIZONS team released an image that has sent jaws plummeting to the floor faster than a Kardashian turning towards a camera. This time they have shown us Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, in stunning detail, and the new image shows just what a crazy body it is. I mean, it is **insane**. Think I’m overdoing it? Just LOOK at it…!

Charon-Neutral-Bright-Release b

Look at that enormous valley system bisecting the moon, looking spookily reminiscent of Valles Marineris on Mars! Look at that dark basin at the top of the moon, like a huge coffee stain! Look at all the craters surrounded by systems of rays! (Only in the northern hemisphere tho; the southern hemisphere seems a lot flatter and less colourful.) And look over there, on the limb almost…


On the right is what looks like a mountain sinking into the ground, and a short distance away a hole. Did that once have a mountain in it too? Did the ground there swallow a mountain? Or is it just a hollow in the surface? No idea. I just know that that… is… nuts

And if you take that released image and work on it a bit – sharpening it up, boosting the contrast and levels and saturation, etc – a lot more subtle detail jumps out at you…

Charon-Neutral-Bright-Release b2…but your eyes keep going back to that valley, don’t they?

valleyFrom the NASA press release: “High-resolution images of the Pluto-facing hemisphere of Charon, taken by New Horizons as the spacecraft sped through the Pluto system on July 14 and transmitted to Earth on Sept. 21, reveal details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon’s equator.  This great canyon system stretches more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across the entire face of Charon and likely around onto Charon’s far side. Four times as long as the Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, these faults and canyons indicate a titanic geological upheaval in Charon’s past.

…and if you turn the processing dial all the way up to “OH MY GOD!!! WHAT DID YOU DO?????” you get this…

Charon-Neutral-Bright-Release b2crazyNow, I know what some of you are thinking: why did you DO that???? Well, because sending everything almost off the chart, to make what is effectively a “false colour image”, really highlights subtle differences in colour and texture on the surface. Usually I *hate* false colour images, but in Charon’s case I’ll make an exception, because you can see more clearly just how far that red-hued polar cap extends; how the valley system is surrounded by material that’s darker than the surrounding plain; how systems of rays extend really quite away from some of the craters, rays that spread away more in one direction than others. And if you isolate the polar basin, like this…

basin pole…you can see a wealth of detail and structure in there: craters, ridges, and more.

Time to update our “Before and After” image, I think…

collage charon oct2

Today, Friday, we should have another batch of images given to us by the NEW HORIZONS team. I wonder what they will show..? :-)

See FOUR planets in a row next week…

If watching the total lunar eclipse has got you interested in astronomy and the night sky, you’re probably wondering “What can I see next?”

Well, next week there will be a very interesting line-up of planets in the morning sky. Don’t worry, you won’t need a telescope to see them; the planets are all bright enough to be visible with just the naked eye, and will look just like stars in then sky. And to make watching this “planet parade” even more exciting, the crescent Moon will be in that part of the sky too, moving down the line of planets, from right to left, as the days pass.

As was the case with the eclipse, seeing this parade of planets will mean getting up early or staying up late, but it will be worth it to see four of Earth’s sister worlds strung out across the eastern sky before dawn, like gemstones on an invisible chain.

Ok, here’s what you’ll see… click on each image to enlarge it…



OCT 10

If you’re lucky you’ll be able to see this from your garden, but be aware that if you live in a built up area, with trees and buildings around you, or if you love somewhere with hills on your eastern horizon you might struggle. If you can, get out into the countryside – or at least to somewhere dark and more wide open, like a park – and you will have a much better view.

With a digital SLR camera – or a good “bridge” camera – on a tripod, or resting on something, you should be able to photograph this planetary pile-up using time exposures.

As I said, this will be clearly visible to the naked eye (although Mercury might be a challenge, being so low as the sky is brightening), but if you have or can get hold of a pair of binoculars they will enhance tour view and your enjoyment. They’ll definitely make the different colours of the planets much more obvious, and make them look brighter too. They will also show you some of Jupiter’s family of more than 60 moons, looking like tiny faint stars next to brilliant Jupiter. And with Mercury being so low, they’ll help you pick it out from the background glow.

Good luck!

Water! On Mars! Again! BIG Deal, or Big DEAL?

Much excitement yesterday around teatime UK time as, around the world, space enthusiasts, scientists and the simply curious – many of them still pale and watery-eyed from sleep deprivation after a late night of lunar eclipse-watching – gathered around their computers or stared into the screens of their tablets and phones to hear NASA make its Big Announcement. “Mars Mystery Solved!” had been the cry a couple of days earlier, prompting outrageous speculation on Twitter, Facebook and every other social media platform (and in Ye Olde printed media too): what were they going to tell us?

Many people were convinced it was a big astrobiology story – that NASA was finally going to announce that Mars wasn’t dead. But what were they going to say? That they’d found fossils? That they had found chemical traces of life? That they had looked again at the Viking laboratory results and decided that maybe the 1970s probe had detected signs of life after all? Others thought it might be an announcement that they had found one of the many space-probes lost on Mars. Others, wearing neatly-folded tin foil hats, were convinced NASA was going to “come clean” and admit that its photos really DID show yetis, small women or dinosaur skulls…

But those who took a little bit of time to think about it, and to do some research, already had a pretty good idea what the announcement was going to relate to. A quick look at the names of the people on the panel was enough to tell one that it was about water, or water processes, rather than life. And digging into the recent work of people on the panel strongly suggested that the news was related to the “gullies” and “dark stains” observed on Mars in recent years.


And that turned out to be the case. No yetis, no tiny women, no fossils – but something very exciting for people with a more scientific approach. Basically, NASA has now got evidence that the dark streaks seen on the sloping sides of certain martian landscape features were caused by water –

WHAT???? Cue disappointed groans from thousands… Oh, great… NASA had found water on Mars. AGAIN.


Hang on, hang on…! Well, ok, it might have sounded like NASA was reheating old news, but to be fair that wasn’t the case. This was different. The water found on Mars so far before has all been frozen or misty water. Orbiters have photographed veritable martian ice rinks, in craters and at the pole, and going all the way back to the Viking days landers have seen frost (frozen water) sparkling on rocks around them before dawn broke. The Phoenix lander (which many people seem to have forgotten about, you hardly hear it mentioned now, do you?) even sent back photographs of a slab of ice right beneath it, and yet more ice glinting on the floors of the trenches it dug in the dirt with its robot arm, and many people think that strange globules photographed on the lander’s own body were actually water droplets. Other missions, notably the Mars Exploration Rovers – now all but erased from history whenever a NASA media event is held, they just aren’t mentioned any more, it’s all about Curiosity – have found evidence of past water flowing or standing on Mars. But this water was, well, proper water. Of a sort.

What NASA was saying was that the dark streaks observed by orbiters had been caused by water. Not, they were quick to point out, liquid water running or rushing down the slopes, not by rivers gurgling down crater or valley walls, not even by weedy trickles slithering their way past and around boulders, creeping towards the floor below. They had been caused more by a dampness gradually spreading through the dirt, staining it, darkening it. So, yes, the dark streaks had been caused by water, but not what we think of as water here on Earth; rather a very salty “brine”, that you couldn’t possibly drink or use for anything, really, spreading like damp through the dirt.

So, to be clear, here’s what NASA HASN’T found…


Seriously, some papers and websites are going well over the top about this news. If NASA had found water running freely on the surface of Mars that would be amazing news, astounding news! What they’ve actually found is evidence for water seeping through the ground, briefly, occasionally, leaving behind, for a brief time, damp dirt. But that’s still exciting, still important, because it’s something new, something found after years of painfully hard, challenging work, at the end of a very rigorous scientific process. And it means that if Mars has water of this type, it improves the chances of finding other, more familiar forms of water elsewhere – and that, in turn, improves the chances of Mars having life, of some sort, today. It also means future astronauts, and after them, settlers and colonists, might have water to use when they get there, instead of having to bring it all with them, or have it sent up from Earth for them.

And that is a Big Deal.

But everyone, please… a deep breath. Calm down. Yes, yaaaaay for the news, yaaaay for the discovery, yaaaaaay for science, and yaaaaay for NASA. But let’s keep it in perspective. Red Mars is STILL Red Mars. It still isn’t the kind of place to raise your kids, and it is still as harsh and cruelly cold as the north pole at midnight on New Year’s Eve. There are no rushing rivers with salmon leaping in the sunlight, no tinkling streams dancing over mossy stones, no rainbow-framed waterfalls roaring. It’s still a dusty, desolate wasteland of a planet that is as dry as a bone compared to Waterworld Earth – but now we know it is damp, in places, now and again. That’s a big discovery, in scientific terms, but no matter what they are saying on TV and in the papers it doesn‘t mean there absolutely definitely is life on Mars.

And it doesn’t mean astronauts will set foot on Mars one day or even one hour sooner than they would have done otherwise, either. There will not be a land-rush to Mars now. Schedules set for future exploration will not change. We won’t see landers dropping down next to these dark streaks and sampling them, and we certainly won’t see astronauts scrambling up those slopes to dig into the dirt and scoop it up in test tubes to analyse “back at the Hab”.

If Mark Watney put THIS type of martian water on his potatoes, THEY WOULD DIE.

Enough frivolity. If you want the hard science behind this story, I can direct you to two very good blogs, each of which goes into the science in much more detail than I could – or at least want to.

Firstly, you should take a look at what blogger “Space Kate” has to say about the story. Kate is very prolific on Twitter, but if you’re not you might not be aware of her great work.  You can change that now by going to…


Then – of course – Emily Lakdawalla has the hard science behind the headline. If you want to cut through all the weeds to get to the truth of any space exploration-related story, it’s really quite easy – just go to Emily Lakdawalla’s blog on the Planetary Society website and read her write-up, because the golden rule for whenever a big space/astronomy story breaks is “What has Emily written about it?” She can go into a lot more detail about a story than other people because a) she has all the space she wants on her blog, so doesn’t have to skim over a story and write it in soundbites, b) has a very strong science background, so knows what she’s talking about, and c) is an expert communicator. And she is very honest too; if she thinks NASA is over-hyping a story, or making wild claims or assumptions she’ll say.I admire her and her work a lot.


So, after all that hard science, what does this discovery mean for the future? Well, in an ideal world it would mean that NASA sat back in its chair, let out a deep sigh, stared out the window for a few hours and had a good hard think about what it is doing, before deciding to stop “following the water” and studying one rocky landing site after another and, instead, bite the bullet and design and send a mission to Mars dedicated solely to looking for signs of life, past or present. As huge a supporter of NASA as I am, and as thrilling as I personally find images of martian geology, even I have seen enough “rusty red” rocks, enough “melon-sized” boulders, enough “crumbling outcrops” and “fascinating veins” to last me the rest of my lifetime. It’s time NASA went to Mars for the only really good reason TO go to Mars – to look for signs of life. IMHO, of course.

But as optimistic and enthusiastic as I am, I’m not naive or stupid. I know that’s not going to happen. In the real world, this discovery means no new hardware will be built and sent to Mars, and there will be no boot-prints in the dirt – damp or otherwise – for a good couple of decades yet; for now, watching THE MARTIAN is as close as we’re going to get to see humans exploring Mars. What it means is more science is needed, and will be done, and more hard work is needed, and will be done, so scientists can refine these results even further. That takes time, but tough, that’s how science works.

But if you’re up before dawn any time soon, take a look at the eastern sky and you’ll see a line of three stars shining there. These aren’t actually stars, they’re planets. I took this photo the other morning…

5 labels

The middle one is Mars, see? When I took this photo, Mars was known to be a planet with water, but not actually known to be “wet” anywhere. That has changed, and that is why this announcement was worth making, and why this discovery is important.

Looking back at the Sept 28th Lunar Eclipse

best eclipse frame names

So… after all the build-up, all the “BloodMoon!” “SuperMoon!” “AbsolutelyDrenchedInGoreMoon!” hype, the much-anticipated total lunar eclipse of September 28th is behind us. And, surprise surprise, all the armageddonporn-loving “journalists”, raving nutter “pastors” and fruit loop YouTubers were wrong about it triggering earthquakes and nuclear war. (Even now, as you read this, they will be looking up the date of the NEXT eclipse and preparing to write absolute BS about that too). I hope you saw it, or at least part of it, from where you lived.

Here in Kendal we had a surprisingly good view. I say “surprisingly”, because all the weather apps were predicting, before and all through the day, that we wouldn’t see it – or at least wouldn’t see much of it – because of cloud. Consequently, trusting soul that I am (I know, I used the words “weather apps” and “trust” in the same sentence, stop laughing) I spent several days agonising about what to do – whether to risk staying close to home and hoping to catch some of the eclipse through gaps in the cloud, or head somewhere else with a better forecast. At least one of my astronomical society friends, facing the same dilemma, took the decision to flee the county and headed south on search of clear skies. Thankfully she found a great spot and enjoyed lovely views of the eclipse. At the last minute I decided that it just wasn’t worth trying to get to clearer skies – in the limited time we had available we wouldn’t be able to get to anywhere with dramatically better prospects than Kendal’s. So, we rolled the dice and stayed home, deciding we would head up to Helsington Church, just outside Kendal, at midnight.

When midnight came, the sky above Kendal was almost perfectly clear. All the weather apps were insisting I was under a cloudy sky, right then, but looking up from my phone I saw not a hint of a wisp of a cloud – just the brighter stars, and a huge, dazzlingly-bright Full Moon high in the south. It looked like we’d made the right call, so we headed out of town to Helsington, quietly optimistic about seeing the eclipse, by then just two hours from starting.

Helsington Church has been one of my astronomical society’s “go to” observing sites for a while. Just ten minutes drive out of town, it offers a good combination of reasonably dark skies and plenty of parking spaces, making it very useful for us, especially when wanting to observe something happening in the southern art of the sky. Usually it is very quiet at night, but when we got there we found almost all the parking places taken, which was a bit of a shocker! We figured out that they must have belonged to people staying in the new bunk house that’s up there now… the same bunk house with lights all over the outside of it, so the sky there isn’t as dark as it used to be. But we weren’t going to look for anywhere else at that time of night, and there was enough space for us to park, so we stayed, and I got out to take a quick look around before setting up –

– to find another problem.

The car park was full of bullocks; great snuffling, snorting things were clattering about the car park tarmac on their hooves, heads swaying from side to side as they wandered around, in no obvious hurry to go anywhere. There was no way I was going to set up my expensive gear with those things blundering about, being all “curious” and “inquisitive”, so we waited until they had wandered off yo one of the nearby fields, hoping they wouldn’t come back again. At one point we were hemmed in by them, with one at each end of the van, watching us. It was like being in a bovine version of Jurassic Park, not fun at all. I mean, seriously, they should have been asleep at that time of night, surely?

Anyway, eventually they left, and I was able to get set up. I was very grateful to Stella at this point, because a rather nasty back injury is stopping me doing any lifting or carrying, so she helped me get my camera gear and small scope set up ready to photograph and watch the eclipse. A while ago, with this eclipse in mind actually, I bought a 2x converter for my Canon DSLR, and when I did a couple of test shots I was extremely pleased I had done. Look at the difference:

collage lenses

By the time I was properly set up it was about quarter to one, still an hour and a half away from the start of the eclipse proper and half an hour away from the start of the much more subtle penumbral phase, so I got back into the van for a while, and read to pass the time. And all the while the Moon burned brightly in the sky, and despite the predictions of the Met Office, the BBC Weather app and other apps, no clouds drifted across it…

I looked out for signs of the penumbral phase, and took photos too, but saw and photographed nothing, but by two am there was a very definite darkening on the top left of the Moon’s disc – the eclipse was underway…

start b…and after that we had a great night – sorry, morning! Our view of the eclipse was uninterrupted by cloud (it got a bit hazy at the end, but we could still see and photograph the Moon) and we were joined by quite a few other people too. A policewoman, on her late night patrol, stopped to see what we were doing and ended up staying for an hour to enjoy the eclipse with us, and several of the people staying in the aforementioned bunk house came out to take a look too. It was especially good to be joined by Moira, another of our astronomical society members.


All in all it was a really good eclipse, both to watch and photograph. Ok, so it wasn’t as vivid or colourful as other total lunar eclipses I’ve seen – lots of people are commenting on how dark it was, and how that made it difficult to focus their cameras on it (use a bright star!!!!) – but every eclipse has its own magic, its own unique qualities, and this one was no different. Although my camera has picked up the colours well, exaggerated them to be honest (as time exposures always do), through the telescope its hues were subtle and subdued – gentle pinks, hints of violet and blue.


Again, looking at the eclipsed Moon through my telescope I was struck by how much it looked like Mars, which is obviously a good thing for a Mars enthusiast! :-)

As totality proceeded I kept having to wipe the dew off my lens, but I didn’t care. I had started the day convinced that I would miss the whole thing if we didn’t get out of Cumbria, and even then we weren’t guaranteed to see it, but those dice we rolled came up with two sixes and we saw all we wanted to, from a good site, under a dark sky, with great company. ANd I got good photos (I think!) too!

By half five the Moon had come out of the total phase of the eclipse and was brightening from the left, but by then it was starting to look fuzzy and blurry as it was covered by a veil of mist and haze, so we decided to pack up and head home. back in Kendal, as Venus blazed high in the brightening eastern sky, the bin collection wagons were trundling around, orange lights flashing, and the Moon was sinking behind the trees and houses, still looking very pretty but we’d had our fill and needed sleep. It had been a great night.

Some of my photos…



hazy end

collage pix fcollage triplet labels

A lot is being made in the media about how there won’t be another chance to see an eclipse like this until the year 2033, which is true; there won’t be another eclipse of a so-called “SuperMoon” until then. But if you didn’t catch this total lunar eclipse – or if you did, and are now hooked and want to see another – you won’t have to wait that long: the next total lunar eclipse visible from the UK will take place on July 27th 2018. On that evening, at sunset, the Moon will rise already fully eclipses – imagine how many photos will be taken of that!! And as it rises we’ll see Mars close by, to its lower right, making for some great photo opportunities. Less than a year later another total eclipse of the Moon will be visible from the UK, early on the morning of January 21st. So, put those dates in your diaries!


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