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About Astro-Nat

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    Kent, UK
  1. @Mognet I hadn't noticed the Lunar X, thank you for pointing that out! Definitely not intentional, just lucky!
  2. It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks in the life of this (very) amateur astronomer. Of course, our old sparring partner the clouds have loomed large and thick, making viewing nights few and far between, and then, when a beautiful, visibility-for-miles kind of night did come about, Herschel said a firm ‘no.’ Try as I might, I could not get the power to turn on and stay on. I tried all the tricks in my arsenal, all the high tech stuff like swearing, switching it off and on again, swearing, changing the batteries, swearing, Googling, swearing, waiting 10 minutes, and of course, swearing. I managed to stop just short of giving her a damn good thrashing, but it was a close run thing. So, a day followed of getting in touch with Celestron and my local, very patient telescope dealer, and trying to ferret out the problem. Long story short, it turned out to be the notoriously fickle battery pack, which to be fair, looks to be held together only by the power of prayer. So, a power pack was duly ordered. leaving me with an out of a action scope for a few nights. Last night, now in possession of a fully charged power pack, a telescope which worked and the promise of a couple of clear hours, I headed out into the garden once more. I focussed my attention on the Moon, the planets are not easily visible to me at the moment due to trees in the way-I really must invest in a chainsaw-and it was not dark enough for any deep sky viewing, but the Moon was a lovely racing gibbous, and I decided to attempt to point my bridge camera down the eyepiece and get some lunar detail shots. At first, this went about as well as you’d imagine, and blurry grey smudges were the evidence to show for it, but with a little bit of practise and a fair bit of grumbling, I managed to hone in on some detail.
  3. There is something so beguiling about a full moon. An endless source of inspiration for gothic novelists everywhere, it has become synonymous with dark and mysterious happenings, and I have grown up enamoured with it’s beauty. A hazy evening provided the perfect opportunity to try to capture this sentiment. I can't wait to do some luna photography with Herschel, to really get in amongst the detail.
  4. Not at all! I'm still at the point where I do everything the scope tells me to do. Thank you so much! This will save me many hours of frustration!
  5. Really? Aw, man, thank you for that! I didn't realise that there was any other option than the three star alignment, as that's what it always asks for!
  6. I have been blessed with that rarest of astronomical phenomenons these past two weeks-clear skies on nights when I can stay awake long enough to see something! Praise be! (Normal service has now resumed, I might add. As I type a thick layer of cloud has rolled across the entirety of the sky, and seems well and truly here for an overnight stay. Ho hum.) This past Saturday was, without doubt, the clearest sky I have seen since brining Herschel home, so I was pretty excited to get all the kit out and get set up, then waited patiently for the first stars to begin a-twinkling. Which they did. And boy, did they look beautiful, so inviting and twinkly and generally ready to be magnified through a telescope. So, I set up Herschel, loaded up the tablet and began to align my three bright stars. I focussed the eyepiece dead centre on them, chose three as far apart as I possibly could, and set to work, ready to view the wonders of the cosmos. Then, that little message appeared on screen. “Alignment failed.” Drat. Try again, making extra sure that I had the right stars and that they were properly centred. And…go. “Alignment failed.” Fine. Astronomy is teaching me nothing if not patience. And so, again, I sent Herschel roving across the sky, in pursuit of different stars this time. “Alignment failed.” In fact, quite a few more of these messages followed suite. At this point, my astronomer’s patience was running out, and I was donating frequently to the swear jar once more. For whatever reason, be it user error (highly likely) or the fact that it was a full moon, which was throwing out a butt-load of light (technical term there), I don’t know. But it was not my night. So the stars twinkled enigmatically above me, as I heaved my telescope back inside in disgrace, flicking a select finger or two at the moon as I went. Thankfully, I had a second shot last night, with beautifully clear skies once more and a late moonrise meaning that I had perfect conditions gifted to me once more. So, putting last week’s misstep behind me, I set myself up again. As if she were trying to make amends, Herschel gave me that glorious message “alignment successful” on her first attempt, meaning that we could get straight on with the business at hand. Where I live we are extremely lucky to have some of the darkest skies in the county, if not the entire country, in fact we’re currently trying to get my local area designated as Dark Sky Reserve. So clear nights afford the most spectacular opportunities for a bit of deep sky observation. I haven’t dabbled too much in this yet, either because conditions haven’t been right (still not ideal with light levels at this time of year, but possible) and not having the confidence to know what I was looking at. I had a bit of modest success a few weeks ago, a few smudges here ad there which were Messier objects, and a nondescript smudge which may have been a blown out bit of the Andromeda Galaxy. But nothing concrete. Well, last night, as both Jupiter and Saturn were being unhelpful in their positions, I decided that it was as good a chance as any I was going to get in the foreseeable future to do a bit of deep sky hunting. It took me a while to get my eye in. I went searching for nebulae and galaxies and Messiers, without much luck. It was only when I really took time to closely look that I began to see that somethings looked just a little bit different. At one point I was trying to polish an annoying smudge off my eyepiece, and when it wouldn’t go, realised that the smudge was actually something a few thousand lightyears away. This might sound a little underwhelming, but I don’t mean for it to, the realisation that I was viewing something with my own eyes that I had only before seen in textbooks (in this case it was the Dumbbell Nebula) was a real ‘wow’ moment, and once I knew what I was looking for, it turned into quite a fruitful night. Long after the clock had ticked over into a another day, and I put my Herschel away, I sneaked back out for one last look at the sky which had been so kind to me that night. What I saw took my breath away. I had been so focussed on looking at the little things, individual star and deep space wonders, that I had forgotten to look away from the eyepiece and look at the stellar canvas as a whole. It was truly beautiful. i know I overuse that wok, but it was. There must have been thousands of stars visible to the naked eye, like diamonds glittering against deep blue velvet. I have never seen the sky so full. Needless to say, it was another few hours before I made it back inside. Everyone should look at our night sky, see our universe in motion. So many stars. If there is a more humbling, awe inspiring experience to be had, I don’t know what it is.
  7. @Stu @estwing Thank you both for the advice. As you can tell, I'm finding it all a bit confusing at the moment, but loving it all the same, so any advice is really appreciated!
  8. @ronin I was using my Celestron Astro Fi 130mm, with the 25mm eyepiece. All I did see was the central core, and it pretty much looked like a smudge on my lense (I thought it was for while, it's only when I couldn't clean it off that I realised that it wasn't!) It wasn't a great view at all, but very exciting all the same! I shall take the binoculars out next time, thanks for the tip!
  9. Just got in from making the most of a beautiful clear sky before the cloud (inevitably) rolled in. Stoked to have had my first deep sky viewings. It started with Andromeda, which has always eluded me before tonight. Although presenting as just a hazy shape through my eyepiece, (saving up for better ones as we speak) it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Up there with my first Jupiter viewing for excitement levels, even though the results were less instant, probably less impressive in the traditional sense, and it took quite a bit of eyepiece changing, twisting of focus knobs and trial and error to get it right, I was blown away by this smudge 2.5 million light years away. Still buzzing an hour and a half later! I also saw M3 and M5, once I got my eye in it was surprising how much easier it was to see things that I've definitely overlooked before. I think I'm getting the hang of it! Fingers crossed for another clear one tomorrow, and another successful night!
  10. I really love astronomy. I love nothing more than getting Herschel out and gazing at the universe until the wee small hours of the morning. Unfortunately, this is not helpful for maintaining a non-zombie like state during the daytime, which in turn leads to some tricky situations at work. This, combined with shockingly poor impulse control means that I have to implement a strict ‘no summer astronomy on a work night’ rule. This stands until the nights start closing in, or I can find a viable nocturnal job. Whichever comes first. Suggestions welcomed. So this rule really blows when the past 3 weekends have been cloudy, but weeknights have been gloriously clear, with twinkly stars and everything. Twinkling away like they’re mocking me. WhyIOughta…..*shakes fist at sky*. Anyway, determined to find a loophole in my self-imposed rule, I was delighted when we had an early moonrise on Monday night. Due to monthly cycles, cloud or timing, I have not yet observed the moon through Herschel, and so saw this as a new and exciting opportunity. I was able to spend a good hour finding my way around the maria and craters, getting very excited about nerdy things like the impact craters inside other impact craters (yeah. Told you it was nerdy.) To be able to observe all this before 9pm was, just a few days outside of the longest day, a real treat. I now am looking forward to setting my AltairAstro on the moon next time it puts in an appearance. Which could yield a number of results. And probably a lot of cursing. Watch this space.
  11. This Friday just gone, I hitched up my (entirely metaphorical) breeches and went to my first ever astronomy social meeting. Believe me, my very anxious brain tried every excuse in the book to talk me out of it, not limited to poor weather, Friday night fatigue and post meal bloat leaving me looking like a blimp, because a room full of new people is enough to render me a quivering wreck. I am not god at social stuff. I am very awkward, and really rather weird. People don’t tend to like me much on the first meeting. Or the second. Sometimes even the third. But after that, I normally chill the heck out and relax into being something resembling a fully functioning human being, rather than a very unsubtle alien masquerading as one. So potential new social groups are not things to be taken lightly. But I came to the unarguable conclusion that I won’t get very good at astronomy bumbling around the back yard by myself, swinging my telescope every which way and occasionally getting lucky. So off I went. I should add, I insisted that my dad come with me, as he is annoyingly capable at humaning, so I felt safer with him there to divert attention from me. As usual with all things, I had no reason to worry. The AAS (Ashford Astronomical Society) were as friendly, welcoming and knowledgable as I could have dreamed of. I talked to quite a few members, all of whom were lovely, and really, really like astronomy. As I also really, really like astronomy, this gave us an easy opener for conversation. I feel like if I strive to talk to new people about astronomy, then my awkward first meeting problems could be solved! Although most people would probably not appreciate that, but I can iron out the wrinkles later. We had a fascinating talk about GMC (Giant Molecular Clouds) and probably my favourite astronomical thingy-majigs, Bok Globules, and not just because of the funny name, arguably the coolest things in the known and unknown universe. I am determined to see one. Although the weather was against us, we had a really helpful talk about what is around behind all that cloud, and how to find it, invaluable for a newcomer like me. So, after all my flapping and dallying and excuse-making, I felt really rather foolish. I didn’t need to worry, didn’t embarrass myself (too much. I think.) learned a great deal and met some wonderful people. I loved my first astronomy social, and cannot wait for the next one.
  12. @AbeSapien Thank you! I think my experiences are similar to a lot of fledgling astronomers!
  13. A couple of years ago, fed up with the daily grind and the men in our life (a frequent complaint, if I’m honest), my mum and I embarked on a girl’s trip. First, and anyone who has done this will know, came the trials and tribulations of choosing a destination. I am a bit of a space case, in that flying gives me the willies, and I will literally do anything to get out of it (truly, I once took a 9.5 hour bus journey at twice the cost to avoid a 1.5 hour flight), but thankfully, my mum loves nothing more than a cruise, so that was an easy issue to resolve. But where would we be chugging off to on the high seas? In the end we settled on Norway, because we had never been, and who would turn down the opportunity to see perhaps the most famous natural light show on earth? We are hot weather mortals, so we had to speed buy ski trousers and ear hats and those jackets that make you look like Michelin Man and look good on no-one, ever, because we were not just going to Norway, we were going 250 miles into the Artic Circle. In March. I have a condition called Raynauds, which essentially means that my blood vessels are tight arses and refuse to let blood pass to my hands and feet and in cold weather, I end up resembling those blue Avatar people, so I was beginning to question my own sanity. But press on we did, and soon, we were waving the men-folk off at Southampton port, and settling down with an obligatory holiday cocktail as we set sail. By happy accident, a couple of days into our trip was due to be the date of the total solar eclipse being visible from Torshavn, in the Faroes, so we diverted there for that occasion (see Why Astronomy? for details on that particular adventure). Soon, we arrived in Norway, viewing the most incredible fjords and proper, powdery, fluffy snow, not that damp smelly mush we get in England. But the main event, was of course, the majestic Aurora Borealis. We docked at Alta, near the northern tip of Norway, and stayed for 2 nights to have the best chance of viewing them. We diligently studied the weather forecast, and plumped to journey out on the second night, which promised to be clearer. But it still was no guaranteed thing. On the first night, we watched as those who had tried their luck traipsed back to the ship, glum faces revealing misfortune. Soon, it was our turn, and we journeyed to a golf course in the middle of nowhere, far away from city lights, mountains rising ghost-like form the horizon, a lake frozen solid with thick ice glinting in the moonlight. It was -22 degrees celsius. I was bloody cold. To be fair, I had used my extra clothing, including socks, gloves, hats and even a jumper, to wrap my camera up to protect it from the frankly ridiculous temperatures. You know, priorities and all that. We stood, (literally) frozen to the spot, hoping furiously that those lights would appear in the sky, and sure enough, rippling over the mountains, they began to dance. Now, if you’d indulge me, I would like to take a detour into science, by far one of my favourite detours to make, because I think that it makes the Aurora even more magical when you know why they dance for us. If some geek prattling on about physics and trying to convince you that it’s cool isn’t your idea of fun…well, you may be on the wrong blog, but feel free to skip the following paragraph. Auroras occur at the magnetic poles of our planet, when solar wind emitted by the Sun, containing charged particles, enters the Earth’s upper atmosphere and collides with oxygen and nitrogen atoms approximately 200 miles above the surface. These collisions and the resulting reactions cause the aurora that we then see, and the constantly shifting combinations of these collisions cause the lights to “dance” across the sky. The different colours depend upon the type of atom that is struck, and the altitude at which the collision takes place. Observe below: •Green – oxygen, up to 150 miles in altitude •Red – oxygen, above 150 miles in altitude •Blue – nitrogen, up to 60 miles in altitude •Purple/violet – nitrogen, above 60 miles in altitude Of course, our Sun is an extraordinarily powerful star, and the force of it’s solar winds are truly awe inspiring, and honesty slightly alarming. Just look at what it did to poor old Mercury. So the magnetic poles, and the busy little atoms contained within them, are actually shielding us from these harmful winds. The aurora is our planet visibly protecting us from the wrath of the Sun, in the most beautiful way imaginable. And I think, that makes it even more wonderful.
  14. I totally agree! Even for the short time that I've been astronomising (definitely made that word up!) cloudy skies has taught me the virtue of patience. It's a nice way to look at it @Pig and @Littleguy80, that it's even more special when a clear night comes along.
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