Category Archives: Observing

November Skies

Great month for sky watching, Around these parts one has to pick their days because it is the cloudiest month of the year; but when the sky is clear the viewing tends to be excellent!

Hoping for those clear skies for the Leonids!

October Skies – 2018

In the northern hemisphere October is typically a month of great viewing (and seeing). So far around these parts that does not seem to be the case. It’s early though so I am hoping for an improvement because November is TERRIBLE – cloudiest month of the year.

Anticrepuscular Rays over Southern Tuscany

This glorious image from C) Ollie Taylor (limks below), via ESA illustrates wonderfully one of my favorite things – Atmospheric Optics.

Keep an eye on the sky and you too can see many of the optical effects described in my favorite atmospheric optics site, oddly enough named Atmospheric Optics – check it out and see what you can put to use, I think it’s great fun when it works out. The coolest thing I think I’ve seen and I may have a picture of it is the supernumerary rainbow.

Here is ESA’s caption to this great photo: This panorama comprises five images showing the Sun setting over the medieval and Renaissance town of Montepulciano, southern Tuscany.

While the enormous ball of hot gas that is our star cannot be directly seen, its presence is suggested by the radiant streams of light emanating from below the horizon — called anticrepuscular rays, or antisolar rays.

Despite appearing to meet at a point just below the horizon, the rays are in fact near-parallel beams of sunlight. Similar to the way that parallel railway lines seem to converge at a point in the distance, this is a trick of perspective; while these rays of sunlight do eventually meet at the Sun, it is a great deal further away than they make it appear.

Earth’s atmosphere, made up of gases, particulates and clouds, has shaped the way humans have seen the Sun for as long as they have been able to perceive it, for example making the white-hot star appear yellow against a blue sky, masking the infinite blackness of space.

However, as soon as we get past this protective layer, the true effect of our raging Sun becomes apparent in the fast changing, and potentially harmful environment of space, where space weather rules.

Space weather refers to the environmental conditions in space as influenced by solar activity; besides emitting a continuous stream of electrically charged atomic particles, the Sun periodically emits billions of tonnes of material threaded with magnetic fields in colossal-scale ‘coronal mass ejections’.

These ‘solar sneezes’ can and have caused significant disruption to Earth’s protective magnetic bubble and upper atmosphere, affecting satellites in orbit, navigation systems, terrestrial power grids, and data and communication networks. A recent ESA study estimated the potential impact in Europe from a single, extreme space weather event could be about €15 billion.

For this reason, ESA is planning a new mission to monitor the Sun’s activity and provide early warnings. The spacecraft will be positioned between the Sun and Earth at a special position called the fifth Lagrange point. From here, it can observe the ‘side’ of our star, detecting rapidly changing solar activity before it reaches Earth, providing much-needed warning of extreme weather events, allowing measures to be taken to protect and minimise any possible damage to satellites in orbit or infrastructure on Earth.

More images by UK-based photographer Ollie Taylor can be found on his website, or via Instagram and Facebook.

The Perseids are Here!

My best recollection of the Pereids came from one night years ago now. I was in the back seat of my car, looking upwards through the hatchback window. No, not like that! I was the backseat passenger of a car load of students learning how to initiate intravenous therapy, actually the first class where the class was starting IV’s on each other. Anyway the 45-minute journey was an incredible Perseid viewing experience – as was the EMT class.

Ok, I digress. GO OUTSIDE AND LOOK TO THE NORTH! Not just now but tomorrow too!


Orbital mechanics is a very interesting topic.

Usually when you see an orbital track displayed on your computer you see a nice sine-wave pattern.

Take the International Space Station for example or perhaps the newly launched Sentinel-3B.

Then we have geostationary satellites like GOES-17, oh yes it is orbiting.

Have a look at the seemingly odd orbit of the recently launched TESS.

Thanks to N2YO for those great links and check that site out – great stuff!

Scott Manely has a good video out: T”he Most Confusing Things About Spacecraft Orbits”

May Skies

Hubble’s Tonight’s Sky May 2018

If you have good skies you should be able to catch the peak of the Eta Aquarids. The best time to catch these bits of debris from Halley’s Comet is 06 May in the hours before daylight.