Tuesday, 17 March 2015


Coming soon to a Friday morning near you - our best partial eclipse since 1999, and the only one before 2026...
The event lasts from about 8am to about 11am, with maximum (90%) eclipse at about 9.30, so we are ideally placed to view.  I will be speaking about it in Assembly, with some sort of live view on the big screen throughout. If the weather is OK, then Astro Club members will be invited to join with 8T for part of lesson 1, when I will be continuing with the excitement - I have a class set of eclipse glasses so we can all get a direct view, and we will be making pinhole viewers and setting up the telescopes to get another safe view.
For those unlucky enough to not have a lesson with me at that time, I will have briefed all the staff at the Wednesday meeting about how to make and use the pinhole viewer, so they can decide whether to give it a go in their lesson.
Let's just hope it's not too cloudy.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Sun stuff

Just a quick note to give you the link to Sun¦Trek - the best site about the Sun that I know of (as demonstrated at Astro Club today).  With the eclipse getting closer, we're going to be talking more about the Sun in coming weeks - the telescopes and filters are ready, and I have ordered some eclipse glasses too.  Exciting times... if it stays clear!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Clear night forecast!

The title says it all, really - as astronomers, we have to keep an eye on the weather so that we can make the most of the clear patches of sky we get at night.  Get a weather app on your phone, or find a reliable website to visit; there are plenty to choose from, and none of them is right all the time. This means that it doesn't matter which one you use, so find one that looks good, doesn't crash all the time and doesn't chew up great lumps of memory or processor.
I like the BBC app on my phone & tablet, and Metcheck on the PC, but try a few & see what you like.  Metcheck does have a very detailed cloud forecast for astronomers under the 'Hobbies' tab, though.

Anyway, it looks like tonight might be the last clear sky we see for a few days, so enjoy the view!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

My 'viewpoint'

I know that some of you are struggling to find the perfect viewpoint in your garden, that gives a clear view in every direction... Well, I thought I'd give you an idea of the difficulties I have - difficulties that have not prevented me seeing a full selection of planets (on one occasion, all in one night! - see post on March 7th, 2012), the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, a full set of Moon phases, Globular and Open clusters of stars, a couple of comets and the ISS.  All you need is a bit of patience, and knowing where and when to look.  A pair of binoculars helps, but I've seen all these things without a telescope.
I live at the bottom of the Trent Valley, about 100m from the river. This means that there are hills in every direction, and my longest horizon (down the valley) is blocked by houses about 300m away. There is a street light in front of my house, so I have no southern view at all.  My best view is that one with the houses, which is to the east. I do have bits of view to the north and west, but they are blocked by large trees. I was only thinking today that now autumn is starting to arrive, I'll perhaps soon get a bit more sky when the trees are bare.It was a bit awkward the other day, doing a bit of stargazing with my daughter, to have to say 'well, the Plough...that'll be behind that tree there...you can just see the last two stars - they point to the North Star!

This is the view to the NW (where the Plough is at the moment). Obviously, it's easier to take pictures in daylight!

This is the NE view - these's a bit more sky to the right of this, but that tree is on my hit list.

This is my view to the west. That's the tiny gap I look for Mercury through... no wonder I get excited when I see it!

So, don't moan that you haven't got a good viewpoint; it's almost certainly no worse than mine, so just learn how to make the most of it.  And when you do get the chance to see the sky from a good vantage point, you will really appreciate it. We're going back to Devon in half-term (see my post from June 1st), and hoping for some clear nights.

Monday, 15 September 2014


OK, here we are again - in the hope that someone might actually look at the thing!  Notes from Astro Club all have this website address on them, so here's the information you need:
  • Look up the School website, and follow the Departments -> Astronomy links. There are links on my page to useful sites, including the one to Stellarium (planetarium software) which will be essential.
  • Go outside on the next clear-ish night and find a viewpoint close to your house (preferably in your garden!) from where you can see a reasonable patch of sky and no nearby streetlamps/security lights. Work out what direction you are looking, and how close to you the horizon is.
  • Set Stellarium's start-up defaults to show your patch of sky. If you can't work out how, I'll show you next Monday.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Astro Holiday!

I've just (well, yesterday, actually) come home from a week in Devon. Not just any week, but one at a very dark sky site with a 500mm reflector for company.  As you'd expect, most of the week was spent looking hopefully at clouds, but towards the end of the week, we got some clear sky, and Friday night was beautifully clear... I was out till 2am.
The difference that such a large aperture makes to the viewing experience is amazing.  I'm not a great fan of 'faint fuzzies', but in a telescope that big, they're not so faint, and even my dodgy eyesight can make out dust lanes in galaxies and planetary nebulas. For me, though, there were two highlights;
  • firstly, globular clusters: these are so easy to resolve that it's hard to believe that each tiny dot is a star - and they look beautiful too; 
  • secondly, individual stars. My fellow observers found it hard to understand that I wanted to look at individual stars, but their colours are amazing.  The extra light collecting power means that even subtle colours are easy to see - certainly much more spectacular than I've seen, even in the school's 200mm 'scope.
 Oh, yes, we also saw 4 planets (I had a proud moment pointing out Mercury to an experienced astronomer - he said he'd only ever seen it 3 or 4 times in his life!), the ISS, 5 meteors and the Milky Way. All in all, a good week. And cream teas too. Lovely!  We're going again.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Stargazing 101

Yes I know it's a bit American (Canadian, actually), but One-Minute Astronomer is really good for beginners to astronomy (worth subscribing to as well). In particular, do download this free e-book and podcast for a thorough introduction to the night sky.