Symbolic Forest

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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Orion Nebula’

Life on Mars

Well, maybe

Astronomy fans probably already all know about the Nasa rover Perseverance, which landed successfully on Mars yesterday evening. The Child Who Likes Animals Space was greatly disappointed that the landing wasn’t going to happen until well past bedtime. “You wouldn’t find it very interesting anyway,” I told him. “All you’ll see is a bunch of people in a control room cheering. You won’t get the good pictures until later.” Indeed, although there was one slightly low-contrast black and white photo through within a few minutes to prove the lander had touched down the right way up, at the time of writing the good exciting stuff is due to be revealed shortly.

As the sun went down, though, the sky outside was crystal-clear and Mars was clearly visible a few degrees above the Moon. “Shall we get the telescope out and look at Mars ourselves instead?” I suggested, and of course The Children jumped at the idea.

I’m getting a bit bored of starting posts on here with “Since we moved house…”, but this is the natural point where I have to say “Since we moved house…”. Specifically, since we moved house, The Child Who Likes Space’s telescope has sat in its box in a cupboard; after all, it is February in Wales and we have hardly had a clear night since we moved in. So last night was the first time in this house that I took the telescope out of its box, set it up in the garden on the camping table, and looked to see what we could see.

To be honest, I wasn’t very hopeful. The new garden has a bright-white LED streetlamp shining straight into it. Moreover, as soon as I went outside, on came an automatic outside light. Could I find an off-switch for it anywhere? No, I could not. I was rather d, given these problems, to see that the sky was a wonderful bright blanket of visible stars, much clearer than anything we could ever see in Bristol.

Mars was easy to find, but still is barely more than a dot with the magnification we have available. After looking at Mars, we saw Orion was bright to the south, so zoomed in on Betelgeuse and then the Orion Nebula, or Messier 42 to its friends. In Bristol, the Orion Nebula only ever appeared in the eyepiece as a pale fuzziness which barely stood out from the background sky. Here, it was startlingly clear by comparison, a cold blue cloud against the background sky. Compared to our previous attempts to observe it, it was an entirely different experience.

By now clouds were starting to roll in from the north, so we packed everything up and went inside. As one last thing to try, I pointed the telescope at the moon and tried holding my phone to the eyepiece. Previously when trying this, I produced possibly the worst astrophotography ever. Last night’s attempt, therefore, can take the second-worst spot.

The moon

Maybe at some point I’ll actually get a proper adapter to strap my phone into and produce something slightly better.

At some point, when we can travel more widely, we’ll have to try putting the telescope in the car and heading up to one of the dark sky sites in the Brecon Beacons, to see just what we can see when we are out of town altogether with no streetlamps and no lights in neighbouring windows. For now, we’ll just have to wait for the next clear night, and see exactly how dark it is when we’re just in our own garden. Fingers crossed.

End things as you mean to go on

Looking up at the sky again

Happy New Year!

Last night was the first clear night for a few weeks; and the only clear night at any point in the forthcoming weather forecast. Naturally, as soon as I mentioned the clear skies to The Children, they immediately jumped up and down and shouted “LET’S GET THE TELESCOPE OUT!”

The decking was already slippery with frost, and there was a lot of light and noise from the surrounding houses, but we started out by pointing the telescope to Enif (ε Pegasi), a red supergiant with a very distinctive orange colour. From there we navigated to the nearby globular cluster Messier 15, which I could see in the telescope as a somewhat hazy blob, but which The Children weren’t sure they could actually see.

After they were in bed, I went outside again and looked up at the sky, but it was already filling up with haze and smoke from the fireworks sporadically going off all around the neighbourhood. I tried to find Messier 36, an open cluster in Auriga apparently also called the Pinwheel Cluster, but could not actually make out any of the stars in it. I looked at the Pleiades to calibrate myself, and realised there seemed to be far fewer of its stars visible than normal. As Orion was rising higher in the sky I pointed the telescope at the Orion Nebula, just about visible as a couple of fuzzy points; and the nearby Coal Car Cluster (NGC 1981). The latter’s stars are around magnitude 6.4 to 7.4, which normally would be clearly visible in the telescope even in our inner-city skies, but with last night’s firework haze I could just about make them out.

Ah well, there will be clear nights later in the winter I’m sure. I got up again about 3am to get myself a drink, and the garden was covered in a thick fog of smoke still from all the fireworks of midnight. Fireworks and astronomy do not mix. Hopefully later in the year, too, we’ll be able to take the telescope to somewhere with properly dark skies one night.