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Monday 30 November 2020

Is it just me???

When I take a daily stroll through Twitter, Facebook, Birdforum and my favourite blogs, I come to the conclusion that I'm one of very few birders who are taking the current lockdown seriously. The web is crammed with photos of terrific birds at the moment: Pied Bill Grebe, Greater Yellowlegs, Sociable Plover and so on, as well as tempting Norfolk year ticks such as Iceland Gull, Lapland Bunting and Great Grey Shrike.

I rarely go after birds outside the county these days (Luckily, I have in fact seen 3 Sociable Plovers and 2 Pied-billed Grebes in the past!) but under normal circumstances I'd have been out most days over the past fortnight: always great to walk the Lighthouse Cliffs at Happisburgh, the dunes at Minsmere or Winterton Beach at this time of year, but I made the decision that this Autumn was going to be spent at or very near home. I haven't been anywhere apart from the very occasional exercise trip: the only exceptions were a couple of brief walks with Linda after shopping. 

So if this blog is full of 'tedious astronomy' as someone recently remarked, that's because I've made the decision not to 'stretch' the Government's current regulations.

Sunday 29 November 2020

Another bright comet? And, just possibly, another pandemic!?

A second bright comet is just visible in the early morning sky, close to Venus, Mercury and the leading star of Virgo, Spica. At the moment it's a brilliant object from the southern hemisphere, but once it has swung around the Sun might be as good as Neowise was earlier in the year.

It might be of interest that legendary Astronomers Hoyle and Wickramasinghe were of the opinion that comets might well be a possible carrier of alien viruses from the Oort Cloud or the depths of space to the Earth: it is a fact that throughout history comets have been considered harbingers of doom...

(This is a topic dealt with in one of my books!)

Saturday 28 November 2020

Saturn and Jupiter

Still on the learning curve with my new telescope: I'm beginning to get some decent images using a Pentax K-30. Whether one of my newer camera bodies would give better results is worth a try: they have sensors with a lot more pixcels.

I'm absolutely certain that the CMOS camera I bought with the 'scope will produce dramatically better images, since it lets you obtain sequences of video for stacking. But I'm an old geezer, and there's a lot to assimilate! Watch this space (if you like astronomy, that is)

I've also added some photos of the Moon, taken from the kitchen and office windows: still enjoying a virtually clear eastern aspect.

Friday 27 November 2020

First efforts with my new telescope!

Since I'm still suffering from a heavy cold, I daren't spend long outside at night: however, the Jupiter / Saturn conjunction and a beautiful gibbous Moon was a great opportunity to try pairing up my new Maksuta 127 and Pentax DSLR. I never managed to get any worthwhile results with my previous 4" refractor, but the Moon was a cinch last night! I haven't yet worked out the right settings for the planets, but optically they were fantastic! 

I'll need an hour or two on a clear night to get familiar with the alignment procedure - not having a permanent outdoor mount, I'll have to get speedy at doing this each time I go out! - then I can use the slow-motion drive and take stackable images. Similarly, the CMOS camera I've bought looks very promising, but is going to take some working out!

The large double crater in the second image is Gassendi, while Tycho and its bright rays are prominent in both...

Thursday 26 November 2020

Conjunction of Mars and the Moon

Last night Mars came very close to the Moon: an event a lot of amateur skywatchers have been anticipating for weeks! Needles to say, here in East Norfolk it was overcast and gloomy all day - we even had occasional rain showers.

As it grew dark, I kept checking for a break in the clouds until, miraculously, the skies began to clear around 8.00pm. There's something very special about planetary conjunctions: the best this year, of course, will take place on December 21st when Jupiter and Saturn will appear virtually side by side!

Wednesday 25 November 2020

A Yaffle in the garden! It's been a while...

Yaffle is the Norfolk dialect term for the Green Woodpecker: it's supposedly descriptive of the bird's curious call. This was exactly what alerted me to the presence of one perched in the sycamore tree: amusingly, it was looking for ants on the roof of our owl box! In one photo (all a bit dull, like today's weather) you can actually see the bird's long pink tongue.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Last Swallow of the year?

Just glanced from the office window to see a Swallow briefly hawking around the Sycamore: I just had time for one quick snap before it flew off westwards. No pale rump or other 'interesting' features, but still: a Swallow in mid-November is noteworthy (to me, at least!)

The ISS tours the planets!

Last night's transit of the International Space Station was quite impressive as seen from East Norfolk. Appearing in the south west just before six, it passed just over the conjoined Jupiter and Saturn, moving on to the first quarter Moon and entering eclipse as it approached Mars. The sky was so clear that I managed a really good shot of the Straight Wall (a linear slip fault on the Moon) using just a 300mm lens: through my new telescope, it looked incredible!

Monday 23 November 2020

So you think you've found a meteorite?

Since the media was full of stories about a meteorite that crashed through the roof of a Philippino farmer's hut, I've been swamped by enquiries from people who suddenly noticed an 'odd-looking rock' in their garden. Now, although 300 tonnes of stuff is reckoned to arrive on Earth from space every day, most of that mass is fine dust: meteorites are far rarer than people imagine.

Click the picture below to visit my website for a full account of how to recognise a genuine meteorite:

Sunday 22 November 2020

The International Space Station

The ISS begins a decent series of passes over the UK tonight: nice and early, too, so no need to stay up late!

Saturday 21 November 2020

A flock of Fieldfares

Since most of our neighbours have cut down or pruned their large trees, we have the four tallest in the area: one of these is a tall sycamore, another is a tree cotoneaster. This we bought many years ago, having watched a Black-throated Thrush gorging berries in one at Werrington, near Peterborough. Every year these trees prove irresistible to winter thrushes: today it was Fieldfares. We're still waiting for a Waxwing: perhaps this'll be the year!

Friday 20 November 2020

Maksutov 127: my anniversary present from Linda!

I was given my first telescope - a three-draw brass military refractor - by my Uncle John when I was around 10. After a while I swapped it with my brother for a bayonet (as you do!) He made a tripod for it and instantly made me wish I'd kept it by letting me look at Jupiter's four Jovian moons. The next was a four inch reflector I bought from a schoolmate. It had been put together from a Charles Frank kit - he'd even ground the main mirror himself. I have no idea where that telescope ended up - probably my parents gave it away while I was in the Navy.

For years all my astronomy was carried out using bird watching 'spotting scopes': I've had a variety ranging from Bushnell to Optolyth. Eventually I bought another reflector: a six inch on an altazimuth mount. I found it was far too shaky in use, with an inconveniently-placed eyepiece: it was really difficult viewing objects high in the sky, and I soon exchanged it for a four inch refractor. This was also on an a-a mount, and was much more user-friendly. I tried using it for photography, but mounting a DSLR tipped the telescope: the cradle supporting the tube wasn't adjustable to compensate, so I decided to take the plunge and go for an outfit that had the potential to let me take stackable images of the planets, Moon, comets and so on. 

For my anniversary Linda bought me this terrific Maksutov reflector. It has a 'go-to' mount, so that using pre-programmed co-ordinates or ones you enter using the handset, the telescope will find and then follow any object you choose. My contribution was the 'power tank' electrical supply attached to the tripod leg: this allows you to use the outfit for hours without running out of battery! There's also a fabulous CMOS USB camera that replaces the eyepiece for photography. At the moment I'm dripping with 'man flu' and daren't risk sitting outside at night to give it a real workout: however, I've looked at Jupiter and Saturn and they were spectacular!

Thursday 19 November 2020

The Moon, Jupiter and Saturn

A glorious triple conjunction tonight: the crescent Moon, Jupiter and Saturn, together in the southern skies.

Lockdown celebration!

Today is Linda and my 26th anniversary: this time last year we enjoyed the company of our best friends for dinner, but this year that can't happen... Nevertheless, we'll celebrate in style and raise a glass (or two!) to 'absent friends'.

Wednesday 18 November 2020

The biggest Lunar meteorite I've ever had in stock...

...albeit just very briefly!
Within an hour of putting this wonderful endcut of the Lunar meteorite NWA 11787 online I had two offers for it! It's a really nice chunk that shows the classic features of its class. Here are some details about it:

This lunar feldspathic breccia was found in Mauritania sometime in 2017. The total mass of around 23kg consists of hundreds of fragments: the find may be paired with the similar NWA 11788 which was obtained in Mali around the same time.
Cutting reveals a dark matrix with metal flecks, vesicles and fragments of various minerals: anorthosite, olivine, exsolved pigeonite, pigeonite, augite, chromite, Ti-Cr-Fe spinel, kamacite, taenite and troilite in a finer-grained matrix containing numerous small vesicles. 

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Hen Harrier at Clippesby

I was feeling a little claustrophobic today, so, despite the weather being less than clement, I took the short drive to Clippesby to take some exercise, buy some vegetables and, while I was there, look for the Crane flock.

On this occasion the Cranes were not in any of their usual favoured spots, but there were literally thousands of Pinkfeet all over the fields: probably four large flocks. As I was watching them from a convenient layby, a beautiful ringtailed Hen Harrier drifted across the maize. Always distant, it was none-the-less a very welcome addition to the year list!