Nazarra had originally booked her Dark Sky Safari for Saturday, but the weather forecast prompted a late rearrangement…and that was looking like a great idea when the weather on Saturday evening proved to be far worse than forecast 🙂
As I drove to Newbiggin on Sunday evening the rain was hammering against the windscreen but away to the west I could see the weather starting to clear and, by the time I collected Nazarra, Venus was shining bright against a dark blue background. Patchy cloud revealed most of the sky at various points during the evening, and the only real weather we had to contend with was a bone-chilling breeze. After a good look at the Orion Nebula (M42), Pleiades (M45), Andromeda galaxy (M31), Orion, Taurus, Gemini, the Plough, Cassiopeia, Auriga and Sirius, Nazarra mentioned that she hadn’t photographed the night sky but was keen to learn how to do that. Choosing camera settings that would be appropriate for a widefield starscape, Nazarra pressed the shutter release as I held the tripod stable against the breeze. That first shot looked rather orange but I couldn’t see any low cloud that would reflect light pollution…a quick change of the white balance setting did away with the orange glow and the next image had a trace of the Milky Way visible 🙂 With the cloud clearing further, the Milky Way came into naked eye visibility and several sections of the sky were imaged before it was time to return to Newbiggin.
I’ll be leading some landscape astrophotography workshops at the fantastic Battlesteads Observatory from March onwards, and I’m the lead astronomer there most Wednesday evenings and a couple of Saturdays every month too. Do get in touch if you want to learn more about the universe and how to photograph the night sky 🙂
Here’s the Milky Way from the Holy Island causeway last September.
I collected Roger and Jackie from The Swan and then Edward and Isabel from Church Point and we headed off in search of Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. After watching Little Grebe, Cormorant and Goldeneye all fishing unmolested by sinuous predators we moved on to our second site for the day and the sky was filled with Pink-footed and Greylag Geese and a vocal White-fronted Goose flew by. Fulmars soared along the clifftops as we had our lunch and Pacific Diver added a touch of rare to the day’s proceedings. By mid-afternoon we were at the site where I suspected we needed to be at dusk…
In the cold wind Starlings were going straight to roost without putting on a murmurating display and, as light faded and the reflection of the setting sun cast a beautiful glow on the water, Edward spotted an adult Otter 🙂 We watched it fishing as it gradually made it’s way towards a flock of Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Wigeon and Teal and then it was lost from sight…before a flock of Lapwings taking panicked flight right in front of us betrayed the presence of an Otter out of the water! After a few minutes of unsuccessful chasing it went into the water and started feeding. This was a second Otter though, this time a cub that we lost sight of in the deepening gloom of dusk. With a fairly cloudless sky Venus, Mars, the Moon and Orion were all looking mightily impressive as we made our way back to the car after another successful Otter search 🙂
One of the great joys of being a dark sky guide is using good optical equipment to allow participants on our stargazing sessions to see detail in things that are only visible to the naked eye as points of light.
Venus and Jupiter were obvious in the twilight, and Sirius had vanished into the murk just above the horizon to the south, when Jane arrived for our Discover Stargazing session. Sarah and Jodie arrived a few minutes later and we began our exploration of the night sky, starting with the Moon and the two impressive clusters in Taurus, the Hyades and the Pleiades. Using pointers, particularly in Cassiopeia and The Plough, to locate other objects in the sky is always good fun and lets people start to make sense of what can often be a daunting amount of stars when it’s a clear evening at a good dark sky site, and the number of satellites passing over comes as shock to everyone, but the real star of this session was Jupiter. The fourth brightest object in the solar system, more than 300x the mass of the Earth, taking nearly twelve years to orbit the Sun and with a surface temperature of -108C, Jupiter is an impressive planet. Without going to extreme magnification we could still see bands on the surface of the planet and three of the Galilean moons. Hard to believe but, including the four Galilean moons that are large enough to be seen through binoculars or a telescope, Jupiter has 67 moons. There’s an awful lot of stuff up there, and we can’t see most of it!