Sunday, 3 January 2016

Astronomy domine: review of the year in the night skies!

For me, it's been a great year for birds (albeit only two 'lifers': Paddyfield Warbler and Lesser 'legs) but in a way an even better one astronomically.

You may know I sell meteorites for a living and have a degree in astronomy, so I naturally take a keen interest in what's going on in the heavens: here are the highlights!

The year started with Lovejoy, a faint, fuzzy green comet, which promised much but delivered less. It was just visible with the naked eye. In January it was also possible to see Venus and Mercury close together just above the horizon.

In February two further conjunctions took place: Mars & Venus and the Moon & Jupiter: spectacular!

March brought a solar eclipse, with a good part of the Sun's disc occluded by the Moon: I was extremely lucky to witness this through a gap in the clouds at Strumpshaw!

It's surprising how reasonable an image you can with a DSLR and telescopic lens: I managed to photograph Saturn's rings in July, as well as Venus and Jupiter in conjunction.

Whilst at the Sidmouth Astronomy Fair in Devon during August, I took advantage of the chance to use a fellow-exhibitor's H-alpha scope to obtain images of solar prominences and several sunspot groups: later, I managed to snap a Perseid meteor, one of many in what was a good year for the shower.

In September, the Moon and Venus were in conjunction, while later on the much-vaunted 'super Moon' was eclipsed as it passed into the Earth's shadow.

October saw the commencement of a long series of conjunctions involving  Jupiter, Mars and Venus: occasionally the Moon joined in and on a couple of mornings it was possible to see Mercury too! I discovered that a brief exposure with a high ISO revealed the colours of stars, as can be seen in this image of Orion:

Finally, the year ended with a spectacular occultation of the bright star Aldebaran by the Moon, a superb display of the aurora and another green fuzzy ball comet: Catalina. This should be at its easiest to pick out around my 65th birthday in January!


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