Don't look at the Sun!

From Astronomy Blog: Don't look at the Sun!. Not that it should need saying or demonstrating — but what a great little demonstration!

File Under: Solar Eclipse, Sun, Eye Safety.

Hoping for partial success

The annular solar eclipse is almost here. Sadly it's only going to be partial for me but I'm still looking forward to it.

I've got my hand-held filters. I've got my Solarscope. All I need now are clear skies. The current forecast isn't looking fantastic but, then again, it isn't looking like a total washout either (as of the time of writing it's showing partial cloud with the chance of some Sun).

File Under: Sun, Solar, Eclipse, Annular, Partial, Solar Filter, Solarscope.


Never take a break

Last night saw the first really nice clear night I've had in quite a while. I set up pretty early (this getting dark earlier business is so nice) and, because Mars wasn't up over the roofs of the houses to the East of me yet, I decided to spend a little bit of time with chair and binocular. This would also give the 'scope plenty of time to cool down too.

I finished sweeping around with the binocular as Mars got to a reasonable height. At this time I noticed that some cloud was creeping in from the West. Thinking this was just a passing bit of cloud I decided to have a little break, let Mars get a little higher, and let the cloud pass.

There's my lesson for the night: Do not, ever, decide to take a break when you see cloud approaching. It wasn't a passing bit of cloud — the sky totally clouded over and that was it for the rest of the night.

Well, I say "for the rest of the night". Of course, I woke up this morning to glorious sunshine. What's the betting that the cloud cleared just after I headed off to bed?

File Under: Mars, Cloud.


Prototype astronomer

The first prototype of www.astronomer.me.uk is now up and running. I've written the whole thing in PHP with a view to the whole site being fully XHTML 1.1 compliant and look and feel fully under CSS control. I've also written the underlying code so that it can easily be used for any other site I look after (I aim to recreate my personal site with this engine once I'm happy that it's working well).

It's been quite a pain to get working and most of the problems (not all of which have been ironed out) have been with getting it to work with Internet Explorer.

One nice side-effect of working on this is that it's forced me to re-work the way I write up my observing logs as XML. I've now started to build up a set of "mini-markup" tags for the notes of a session so that I can generate output for my existing logs pages and new pages.

One example of this "mini-markup" approach is the way I refer to previous observations in an observation I'm writing up. Previously I'd simply write the link like:

<a href="http://www.davep.org/astronomy/logs/?show=20050909#2005-09-09T23:30Z">yesterday</a>

which is both tediously long and also very site-specific. Now all I have to do is write:

<obsref log="20050909" obs="2005-09-09T23:30Z">yesterday</obsref>

which is both easier to write and also isn't specific to any site. I've also added elements for marking up inline images and for linking mentions of Messier objects to www.messier45.com

It's also worth noting that the colour scheme isn't the one I'll finally use — colour is the last thing I want to pay attention to.

File Under: Vanity Domain, PHP, XHTML, XML, CSS, Astronomy Website.

A hint of winter skies

Having woken up at about 05:20 BST this morning I wandered outside with my first coffee of the day to see what the sky looked like. Although I was expecting Mars and the Moon to be riding pretty high up what I didn't expect to see — but should have expected had I been a little more awake — was to see the likes of Orion, Taurus and Gemini riding pretty high too. I could even see Leo poking up out of the gathering light on the eastern horizon.

It felt odd to be just a handful of days into Autnum but looking at the sort of skies I associate with the dead of Winter.

I did consider getting dressed and dragging the 'scope out but I was still far too sleepy and the sky was slowly getting brighter — by the time I'd have been ready and by the time the 'scope would have cooled down to be good enough to have a proper look at Mars the Sun would almost have been up.

I popped outside again at about 06:30 BST and, while the sky was now very light (it was about 20 minutes until sunrise), I could still easily see Mars, Betelgeuse and Sirius.

File Under: Winter Skies, Mars, Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Leo, Moon, Betelgeuse, Sirius.


Me UK astronomer

Vanity domain alert!

While making some changes to a domain the other day I did the usual thing that people do while on their domain registrar's website — I had a quick look at what interesting words and phrases were available. Fatally I noticed that astronomer.me.uk was available. How could I resist?

www.astronomer.me.uk is up and running for "only a placeholder at the moment" values of "up and running". Behind the scenes I'm now hacking on a brand new site framework in PHP which will be used to produce this new site. The site itself will be an expanded version of my existing astronomy pages.

File Under: Astronomy Website, PHP, Vanity Domain.


Space is big

"Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."
Don't believe that entry in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Then take a trip with The Hubble Ultra Deep Field SkyWalker.

Thanks to Tim Haynes for pointing me at that.

File Under: Hubble, Space, Ultra Deep Field, H2G2.


Caroline Herschel, just someone's sister

While reading my Sunday paper I almost spat my coffee across the breakfast table when I read this:

"Sobel also adopts some truly dotty literary devices: posing in one chapter as Caroline Herschel, the astronomer's sister;"
in this article.

The astronomer's sister? And there was me thinking that Caroline Herschel was an astronomer in her own right.

File Under: Astronomy, Astronomers, Caroline Herschel.


Aurora and Pareidolia

Having a look at the latest crop of Aurora images on Spaceweather.com I was struck by a couple of opportunities for experiencing pareidolia. I've seen a Dragon (or a Griffin — not made my mind up yet) and an Eagle's head.

File Under: Aurora, Pareidolia, Spaceweather.com.


Bad design improved a little

While there are still some issues about the design of my logging system that I'm not fully happy with I've managed to solve the issue of having more than one observing session in a single day. Thankfully all it took was one small change to the way I write the XML files (the change also being back-compatible with all existing XML files that I've written) and a very small change to each of the xsl files that help produce the HTML version of the logs.

It's not perfect, but it's good enough. I also managed to come up with the fix just in time. The same day I wrote about the problem I ended up having two observing sessions in that one day.

File Under: Astronomy, Observing Logs, XML, XSLT.


Light pollution

This post on the SPA's BB says it all.

File Under: Light Pollution, Society for Popular Astronomy, Astrophotography.


Bad design

Early on this year, when I first took delivery of my telescope, and after a couple of "test" sessions out in the garden, I decided that I should keep a log of all of my observing sessions. Within a couple of weeks of starting to keep that log I then decided to place a copy on my website. The two main motivations for doing this were that it would mean that I've got a backup copy should anything happen to any of my logbooks and it also meant that I'd have something that I could, at a push, index and search.

The initial version of the online version was done with a bunch of code written in GNU emacs that generated the template HTML and I then wrote the text into it.

It wasn't very long before I got fed up with that approach and decided that I wanted to try and hold each session's details in a more standardised format and then generate the HTML from that.

I decided on an XML layout of my own design (that was probably the first mistake — possibly a bad case of NIH; I should have known better) and then wrote a set of tools, mostly based around Sablotron, that converted the XML files into HTML for use on my site. This approach also meant that it was pretty easy for me to add different views and listings of types of observing sessions (such as this, this, this, this, this or this).

Up until now it's worked a treat.

Until, that is, I got the Solarscope and until Sunspot 798 turned up and made for a great solar observing target.

I won't bore you with the details but the current log processing and presentation system is based on the idea of me only having one observing session per day. Although it's not happened yet there's a good chance that I'll find myself having two sessions in a day at some point.

It's an annoying problem that came out of a silly assumption on my part and the irony is that it's an issue because I'm in danger of doing too much observing in one day. Who'd have thought that too many chances to observe would ever be a problem?

Oh well, at least it's an exscuse to do some more astronomy-related hacking.


Excellent image of Sunspot 798

SpaceWeather.com currently has an excellent image of Sunspot 798 on their front page. You can see the image over here.

I'm kind of happy to see that the sketch I made today isn't that far off the mark.

That said, seeing the sort of detail that there is in the image mentioned above I'm very tempted to look seriously at making a Solar filter for my 'scope.

Sunspot 798 Images (but not very good)

Had another go at trying to snap my view of Sunspot 798 using my lowly digital camera in my mobile phone. Managed to get three that aren't too awful. You can't see any actual detail in them but, if nothing else, they do give you a sense of what the view is like in the Solarscope.

I've also made a sketch of 798 too. This'll go up on the logs page later on.

Spiders and Sunspots

Having read yesterday about the return of sunspot 798, and given that it's nice and clear here at the moment, I've just been out with the Solarscope to see if I could see it.

Before I could do any observing with it I first had to deal with a spider that had decided to make a home inside the 'scope. I really should knock up some sort of cover for it.

Anyway, managed to see 798 with no problems at all. Quite an impressive group of sunspots. I still need to figure out a useful method of recording observations though. With 'scope and binocular projections you're generally projecting onto some paper so tracing the image is very easy — with the Solarscope this isn't so easy as the image is inside a box and getting your hands in there to draw just won't work (unless, I guess, you've got really small hands).

I guess a camera with a zoom lens would be a good idea — ideally a digital camera. Sadly I don't have such a thing at the moment. I did try taking an image with the camera that I've got in my mobile phone but, as you'd imagine, the result was next to useless.


Water Water Everywhere

Just got back in after a good couple of hours out in the garden with the telescope. The log will be online early next week — Mars through my 'scope for the first time!

Tonight's useful lesson for the future: don't, whatever you do, leave the dustcap of the 'scope lying around on a night where dew is forming hard and fast. At the end of the night you're left with a small swimming pool.


"You alright there mate?"

Here I am, about five months back into actively observing (although only the second time observing out in "public") and, finally, I've been mistaken for someone up to no good.

I was out on the western end of the village I live in trying to catch Venus and Jupiter (totally failed I'm afraid — they were far too low by the time I got there and there was some cloud low on the horizon). Just hanging around with notepad and 10x50 binocular and had a chap who lives just outside the village drive past me three times before finally stopping for a friendly chat.

"You alright there mate?" he asks all casual. "We've had a break-in or two and just wondered if you were okay". Etc. All very friendly (helps that the chap who I purchased the house off is well known in the village so it was easy to tell him where I live so he knew I was local and had nothing to hide).

Once the initial suspicion was over he asked what I was doing. "Looking for Venus and Jupiter" I say. "Oh, looking for the Owls?" he enquires. Turns out there are a couple of Owls in the trees near where I was stood and he got the impression I was looking for them and had given them pet names.

First time I've been mistaken for a twitcher.