A superb souvenir

n 1: something of sentimental value
[syn: keepsake, token, relic]
2: a reminder of past events
[syn: memento]
Yesterday I mentioned that a letter I'd written to the editor of Sky At Night magazine had been published in the December edition. I also noted that I didn't have a copy yet (I still don't). Knowing that I wasn't going to get my hands on a copy of the magazine for a few days a friend was kind enough to let me know what the reply to my letter was (the reply is also to two other letters published regarding the same subject).

A copy of the reply has also been posted to the SPA BB. One bit of the response doesn't make much sense to me:
I think digital imaging will encourage many more people to get into astronomy as it gives you a superb souvenir of your nights observing
While I don't doubt for a moment that it's true that images you produce are a "superb souvenir", the response is written such that it implies that sketches aren't. I'd have said that sketches are a "superb souvenir". Sure, my sketches might not be that good but they do act as a great reminder and record of the experiences I've had at the eyepiece so far.

Something else that annoyed me slightly about the editor's response was that it didn't deal with (and, arguably, made worse) the central point of my letter: the suggestion that imaging and sketching were somehow mutually exclusive activities. It seemed odd that he didn't deal with the point at all. He also didn't deal with the cost issue either. And then, when I was provided with a copy of how my letter had been published, I found out why. Here's what I originally wrote:
In the November edition of S@N magazine D Fisher asks the direct question "I was wondering if you would accept sketches of planetary, stellar and other objects." Sadly, you don't seem to offer a direct answer to D Fisher's question; "we won't be publishing sketches regularly" suggests that sketches might be accepted for publication but it also suggests a reluctance to publish them too. It would be nice to see a clear and concise statement of the magazine's position.

More alarming is the suggestion in your response that CCD imaging is "now very affordable". Relatively speaking that might well be the case but it's this kind of attitude that makes astronomy appear to be an inaccessible interest unless you have a startup budget that is heading well into four figures (£300 for the camera, then there's your telescope, etc...). Worse still, it suggests a false dichotomy with sketching on one side and imaging on the other.

I've seen enough letters to astronomy magazines and enough posts to astronomical bulletin boards on the internet to know that a good number of people starting out in this interest are under the impression that you're not really doing anything useful if you're not imaging with webcams or the latest CCD technology -- this is a situation that isn't helped by the sort of answer you gave to the question.

I'm also concerned by the suggestion that sketching is mostly part of "astronomy's past" and, these days, it only serves a useful purpose when recording "transient events". Sketching, if nothing else, is an excellent way of learning to actually observe. It's also a rather good method of recording how an object appears in the eyepiece.

I'm sure captured images make for a more eye-catching magazine and I'd understand a decision not to publish sketches, but could we at least have a clear guideline as to what this magazine will and won't accept? Personally I'd like to see something that encourages people to observe and sketch -- especially given the heritage that this particular magazine draws upon.
And here's what got published:
In November's BBC Sky at Night magazine, D Fisher asks, "I was wondering if you would accept sketches of planetary, stellar and other objects?" Sadly, you don't seem to offer a direct answer. I'm also concerned by the suggestion that sketching is mostly part of "astronomy's past". Sketching, if nothing more, is an excellent way of learning to actually observe. I'm sure captured images make for a more eye-catching magazine and I'd understand a decision not to publish sketches, but could we at least have a clear guideline as to what this magazine will and won't accept?"
Now, sure, I'm well aware of the fact that there's only so much space in a magazine &mdash especially for a letters page — but that's almost a totally different letter they've published there! I really would have liked to have seem them deal with the issues of cost and the false sense of "sketching vs imaging".

It's also interesting to note that this line:
especially given the heritage that this particular magazine draws upon
was left out; the irony here being that the first edition of the magazine came with a lunar map produced by Patrick Moore — a map that was hand-drawn.

I'm disappointed. Not because I want them to publish sketches, but because they seem to be adding to the impression that sketching isn't such a worthy observing technique any more.

File Under: Sky at Night, Sky at Night Magazine, Sketching, Imaging, Sketching vs Imaging.


Annoyed of Lincolnshire writes....

Last month I wrote about my reaction to something I'd read in the November edition of Sky At Night magazine. I think I forgot to mention that I also wrote a letter to the editor.

I've just been informed that my letter has been published in the December issue of the magazine.

Annoyingly I don't have a copy at the moment and probably won't get my hands on one until the weekend. I guess I'm going to have to wait that long to see if my comments were useful or were shot down in flames...

Looks like I'm having a bit of a "annoyed of Lincolnshire" week this week.

File Under: Sky at Night, Sky at Night Magazine, Sketching, Imaging, Sketching vs Imaging.



Google Sightseeing is a really neat site at the best of times — but I love it even more when it comes up with stuff like this.

File Under: Google Sightseeing, Google Maps, Google Earth, Tunguska.

Oh no! Not another list!

While reading the December edition of Sky & Telescope I noticed a great article about an astronomical list that I've never seen before — the Levy list. However, my initial interest soon gave way to a feeling of worry, how long would it be before I started reading rants about this list?

The worry comes about from something that I only recently became aware of. Until I started to get back into astronomy in a serious way I'd never heard of the Caldwell Catalog. I did a bit of searching about it on the net and soon found out that it's a list of objects put together by Patrick Moore. It was during that search that I first came across what might be described as a rant against it. Since then I've read a thread or two on usenet that have attacked the list — there's even been a thread about it on the SPA's BB where some people had negative things to say about the list.

So, given this, I'm wondering how long it will be before the sorts of accusations leveled against Patrick Moore will be leveled against David Levy.

Personally I don't get it, I don't really see the problem. For someone like myself, with a small telescope and a desire to see stuff, lists such as the Messier List and the Caldwell List come in very handy; they provide me with a list of objects that are generally within the grasp of the equipment I own; they provide me with a useful tool for learning what's out there and for helping me record what I've observed. The rants I've read that deal with the Caldwell List seem to assume that it's about some desire for fame and glory on the part of Patrick Moore, they seem to think that someone like me might fall for the "trick" and that I might ignore the astronomical heritage that can be found in older lists and catalogues. I can't help but think that this borders on insulting (insulting to me, the observer, the person with a keen interest). It also seems to miss the point that the knowledge and experiences of other observers are a valuable learning tool for the less experienced.

I'm happy to add the Levy List to my list of lists, it's something else to consult when trying to figure out what's up there and within the grasp of any equipment I own or might own in the future.

I hope this list doesn't come in for the sorts of flack that others have.

File Under: David Levy, Levy List, Patrick Moore, Caldwell List.


It's astronomy, not astrology!

Grantham has a weekly paper called The Grantham Journal. In last week's edition there was an article about how StarLincs paid a visit to a school in Colsterworth. The article spoke about how the children had learnt about "astrology" and how they'd been told about a "new planet" called "Zena".

I'm not really one for writing letters to magazines or newspapers (I've probably done it three times in my life, two of those being in the last month — the other one being to Sky At Night Magazine) but I couldn't really let this one slide. So, last Sunday, I composed and sent an email to the editor.

Fast forward to today and the new edition of the paper is out. Look what I found on the letters page.

Shame the heading draws on the Zena/Xena thing when the real error that needed correcting was the astrology/astronomy thing.

File Under: Astronomy, Astrology, Grantham, Colsterworth, 2003 UB313.


£3.65? For a space programme?

Well, okay, not quite, but....

Here's something I didn't know: according to this item over on the RAS website we, in the UK, spend £0.01 per person per day on civil space activities.

File Under: UK, Space.


Sunspot 822 heading out of view

Today, unlike yesterday, I managed to get in a quick observing session to see if I could still see sunspots 822 and 824.

What a difference one missed day makes! For starters I could no longer see 822 with the naked eye (although I wonder if it was down to the misty conditions more than anything). Also, when viewed with my Solarscope, it looked a lot less "busy" than it has over the past week. It also appeared very obviously foreshortened due to the fact that it's now getting close to the Sun's limb.

I wonder if it'll last long enough to come back around again — just like sunspot 798 did?

File Under: Sunspot 822, Sunspot 824, Solar Observing.


Sun run finally comes to an end

After seven observing sessions in a row the run of observing the Sun has finally come to an end. It's been overcast all day today. Shame, I was hoping to be able to track sunspot 822 right until it disappeared over the Sun's limb.

File Under: Sunspot 822, Solar Observing.

The shadow of Venus

Pete Lawrence has been doing some amazing work again. This time he's been photographing the shadow of Venus.

File Under: Pete Lawrence, Shadow of Venus.

Sunspot 822 and a cold Scottish morning

Tim Haynes has published a really nice photo of the Sun rising on a cold Scottish morning. Look carefully and you can see sunspot 822.

File Under: Sunrise, Scotland, Sunspot 822, Tim Haynes.


End of a good run? No!

Earlier today I said

Annoyingly, at the moment, it seems to be getting rather overcast so there's a good chance that I won't manage to make it to seven days.
Happily it cleared up again. The sky was much more misty than it has been of late but I did manage to get in my 7th consecutive solar observing session.

File Under: Solar Observing, Sunspot 822, Sunspot 823, Sunspot 824.

Solar talent

Given that I don't have any imaging equipment to speak of (although I've been known to employ the camera in my mobile phone when I'm feeling a little silly — examples being this, this, this and this) I tend to rely on sketching and notes when recording what I see during an observing session.

Because of this I tend to keep a keen eye out for other people's sketches — it's nice to see other people's work anyway but, better yet, there's a lot you can learn from seeing how other people produce their records.

Sunspot 822 has resulted in two sketches that have really impressed me. Yesterday, on the SPA's BB, Joe posted a really impressive sketch and then, this morning, I was reading Top of the Lawn and saw Peter's amazing sketch in this observing report (scroll down about ½ way — but do be sure to read the whole of the report anyway). I'm so impressed by the talent that's behind sketches such as those.

I find both of those images impressive, educational and inspirational. I'm so glad that people like Joe and Peter share their output with everyone else.

File Under: Solar Observing, Sketching.

End of a good run?

As of yesterday I've managed to observe the Sun (and follow the progress of sunspot 822) for six days in a row. As well as following 822 I've watched 823 appear and, yesterday, saw 824 for the first time. Annoyingly, at the moment, it seems to be getting rather overcast so there's a good chance that I won't manage to make it to seven days.

Given all this solar observing I've done of late I've also now added a sunspot index for my logs.

File Under: Solar Observing, Sunspot 822, Sunspot 823, Sunspot 824.


Live Moon webcast - 19th November

Peter Grego, the director of the SPA's Lunar section, will be running another live webcast of the Moon on his website from 01:00 UT to 02:00 UT on the 19th November.

File Under: Moon, Webcast, Peter Grego, Society for Popular Astronomy.

Four days of sunspot 822

Seems I didn't tempt fate too badly yesterday — I've just managed to make another observation of sunspot 822. I've not had time to type up the notes yet but a scan of the sketch is on my site.

I also notice that Ian Musgrave has been having a look using binocular projection.

File Under: Solar Observing, Sunspot 822.


A good run at the Sun

Okay, I'm probably tempting fate by writing about this...

I've now managed three days of Solar observing — following the progress of sunspot 822. That's much better than back when I was trying to observe sunspot 798, then I only managed two days in a row (although I did manage three observations in total).

It's been really fascinating following the progress of the sunspot group and, if forecasts around here are to be believed, I might just get two or more days observing in.

All I need now to top it off is for it to be the cause of a nice auroral display. Nights are getting dark quite early now and we're getting clear skies each night (well, apart from last night, when there was a fair bit of high haze about that resulted in some people seeing nice displays of Lunar halos).

File Under: Solar Observing, Sunspot 822.

Live Moon webcast - 18th November

Peter Grego, the director of the SPA's Lunar section, has announced that he's going to be running a live webcast of the Moon on his website from 01:00 UT to 02:00 UT on the 18th November.

File Under: Moon, Webcast, Peter Grego, Society for Popular Astronomy.


Solar observing on the cheap — failed

Earlier on this month I made a filter for a rubbish little telescope I've got thinking that it might work as a cheap method of solar observing. Now that there's a good sized sunspot on the surface of the Sun I thought I'd give the 'scope a proper test.

It was rubbish. Really rubbish.

I could see more detail in sunspot 822 with the Solarscope than I could with the rubbish 'scope. Also, to top things off, when I'd finished observing I managed to rip the filter while trying to take it off the 'scope; seems I'd made it a little too tight and it was a hell of a struggle to get it off.

Still, it's not that much of a loss. I didn't use up much of the Baader filter to do this and it was a first good test at making a filter for a telescope.

File Under: Sunspot 822, Solarscope, Solar Observing, Baader Filter.

Moon, Mars, Mobile

What do you get if you point the camera in a mobile phone at the Moon and Mars?

It was a bit of stupid, idle mucking about. I expected to get a bright blob for the Moon but I never expected to get Mars.

File Under: Moon, Mars, Mobile Phone.


Sunspot 822

It cleared up again so I went back out with the eclipse shades and, sure enough, Sunspot 822 would appear to be visible with the naked eye. I then got the Solarscope out and did a quick sketch (as you can see above).

File Under: Sunspot 822, Solarscope.

Sunspot 822 naked eye?

While looking at SpaceWeather.com this morning I noticed that there is a new Sunspot coming into view and, better yet, it looks like a rather big one. I popped outside with some eclipse shades and had a quick look and I'm sure I could see it with the naked eye. Annoyingly there's a lot of cloud around and as I was looking the Sun disappeared behind it. An hour later and the sky is overcast.

Hopefully things will clear up this afternoon (the forecast I saw this morning suggested that it would) and I'll be able to get the Solarscope out and have a proper look (might even be a good time to give the cheap 'scope a proper go).

File Under: Sunspot 822, Solarscope, SpaceWeather.com.


Comet Hyakutake — 1996

As I mentioned back in October, a fellow poster on the SPA BB has been kind enough to scan a series of slides I took of Comet Hyakutake back in 1996. When I get the time I'm going to work through them all and build a page for them on my website. I couldn't resist putting one of them up as soon as possible.

Special thanks go to Neale Hind for scanning the slides for me.

File Under: Comet Hyakutake, Astrophotography.


National Astronomy Week

It's just come to my attention that the next National Astronomy Week will be held in 2009. Looks like it should be a good year for promoting astronomy. Let's hope that my local society is still up and running by then.

File Under: National Astronomy Week.

International Year of Astronomy

According to the RAS things seem to be looking good for 2009 being the International Year of Astronomy.

File Under: Royal Astronomical Society, International Year of Astronomy, UNESCO.


No more Newton's Astronomical Society?

I had some rather sad news over the weekend: it's starting to look like we might need to suspend Newton's Astronomical Society.

Basically the reasons are twofold.

The first problem is that we're struggling to increase the number of members — in fact just sustaining the membership numbers is proving to be difficult. There could be any number of reasons for this but I suspect it isn't a lack of good speakers. Given where we meet it generally seems easy to attract good quality speakers. The main reason for the low numbers mostly seems to be down to the fact that Lincolnshire is a largely rural county and Woolsthorpe is a reasonable distance from anywhere. Even if you're traveling from Grantham you've still got to get into a car and drive there.

The second problem, which also involves the first, is that the National Trust have just rationalised their charges for use of their facilities. The new charging scheme means that the cost of room hire (for nine meetings in a year) alone will use up almost all of our membership subscriptions and door takings for the year. Once that is paid there will be nothing left to pay for speakers, let alone things like FAS subscription, tea, coffee, nibbles, etc...

When I first read that there was an astronomical society starting up that was going to be associated with Woolsthorpe Manor I was shocked to realise that there wasn't one anyway (having only recently moved into the area I'd not checked yet). For some reason I sort of assumed that an organisation like the National Trust would encourage and nurture such activity given the historical associations between those buildings and astronomy (speaking to a number of friends about this I find that they're also a little surprised that this isn't the case). Since joining I've been proud and delighted to be part of something that, to me anyway, is quite special (even more so given that membership of the society has been instrumental in me getting back into active observing). If we have to suspend the society, or have to find a venue that's more affordable for such a small society, I can't help but think that we'll have lost something important.

I can't help but think that Woolsthorpe will have lost something too.

File Under: Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton's Astronomical Society, National Trust.


University Challenge

I see from their news feed that the RAS have been invited to submit a team for University Challenge: The Professionals.

If they get a team together I'll have to keep an eye out for that.

File Under: Royal Astronomical Society, University Challenge.


Predict your future with perfect clarity

Anyone who knows the first thing about astronomy will know that, when you look through your telescope (heck, when you just look at any body in the sky with the naked eye), you're looking back in time (perhaps amazingly far back in time).

Now, for as little as £29.99, you can purchase a telescope that lets you look into the future. If you can't see it at first glance (or on the off chance that someone fixes it) the first item in the list of features says:

262.5x astrology telescope
Sadly it seems it only works
in the winter night sky

File Under: Cheap Telescopes, Advertising Goofs, Astrology.

NASA World Wind — Now with the Moon

I've had NASA World Wind installed on my machine for a while now but it was only today that I noticed that you can now use it to browse around the Moon too. Time to start downloading the latest version...

File Under: NASA World Wind, The Moon, Clementine.

Stolen equipment alert

If anyone out there, in the UK, is in the market for a second-hand telescope and you're currently looking at sites that sell such things (or perhaps adverts in your local press) can you please keep this post in mind? Also, if you're able, can you get the word out as far as possible?

I won't go into how I feel about this sort of thing, I prefer not to use strong language here.

File Under: Stolen Telescope, Second-hand telescope, Sky-Watcher.


Solar observing on the cheap

£10.00 telescope. Camera in a mobile phone. Baader filter. Ok, it's not going to win any awards, but it was fun to have a go.

File Under: Solar Observing, Baader Filter.

Two more moons for Pluto?

Bad Astronomy Blog and Tom's Astronomy are both reporting on the possibility that two new moons of Pluto have been discovered.

File Under: Pluto.