Sir Patrick Moore, 1923-2012

The world of astronomy lost one of its most colourful and famous figures yesterday, Sunday 9th 2012, when Sir Patrick Moore died at his home in West Sussex. When I first got into astronomy, slightly over 20 years ago now, Sir Patrick was one of my main influences and I never missed a single episode of the Sky At Night. I was fortunate to meet Sir Patrick on a number of occasions and he never failed to be kind and funny.

At the age of 89, someone’s passing is never a huge surprise but still a sad loss.

R.I.P. Sir Patrick.

2012 has been a bad year for the fields of astronomy and space exploration, with the deaths of Neil Armstrong, Sir Bernard Lovell and now Sir Patrick Moore.


Stars and ships

This weekend (Friday 16th to Tuesday 20th November) I was aboard the Cunard liner Queen Mary 2 for a short cruise to the Channel Islands, France and Belgium. The weather, as has been the norm during 2012, was disgusting but the clouds parted one night and the stars appeared.

I decided to experiment and try to get a shot of Orion with the ship’s forward superstructure and bridge in the foreground. One shot came out and I am quite pleased with it, considering that I was using no tripod, no cable release and I was leaning the camera on one of the spare propeller blades which are kept on the public area of the ship’s bow. Oh and I’d had four pints of Stella Artois by this time, so it’s a miracle even one photo came out (cocktails came later!).


Losing the will to live.

It’s been ages since the previous post but that’s because nothing has happened. The weather continues to be utter shit and I have done no observing. What clear skies there have been have been spoiled by fog or the full Moon.

I am fed up with this and am this >-< close to saying ‘fuck it’, packing it in and selling my stuff. My interest is at an all-time low thanks to the crap weather and encroaching light pollution and, if I had the money and means to do so, I would emigrate.

The summer was dreadful, apart from 8 days in May, a few nice days in June or July and the first week of September when we did get some good weather and reasonable temperatures. It’s rained almost constantly and, because the ground is saturated, there’s a lot of moisture when it does clear.

Oh, and I am now redundant, with not much else in prospect, which doesn’t help.

The view from the dining room window this afternoon:


The new ‘observashed’

After a few days of de-cluttering, de-spidering (there were some huge monsters, fortunately mostly deceased, in there. One was curled up dead and I dread to think how big it was when it was alive) and cleaning up, plus a couple of tip runs, I was able to move my 18″ and other stuff into the large wooden shed yesterday. The 18″ is the large object beneath the silver cover, at left. I had to disassemble it to move it safely down the garden. The ramp arrived from Amazon on Tuesday and is perfect for moving the scope in and out of the shed.

My previous scope storage shed, which is plastic, has now been filled with various bits and pieces for the garden. I noticed this afternoon that the inside walls of it are covered with mould, presumably as a consequence of the dire ‘summer’ we’ve had. Eeek, not good. I have now plucked up the courage to look at my 18’s mirror and, while it is pretty grubby and in need of a wash, it doesn’t appear to have mould on it; the silica gel cat litter in socks placed inside the rocker and mirror boxes seems to have done the trick.

The mirror would always be covered in condensation in the mornings, regardless of having been used or not, during its year (I have had it one year tomorrow) in the plastic shed. Having moved it down to the wooden shed yesterday, I noticed this morning, when I decided to inspect it, that there was no condensation on it at all. A good sign…and this will be far better for the mirror.


I am going to change things round, nothing major, just swapping my plastic shed at the top of the garden for the larger wooden shed next to the house. The main reason for the change is that I don’t like going to the top of the garden to observe because a neighbours’ lights interfere, erecting a tarpaulin each time is a pain in the neck and, also, there is not much room at the top of the garden because it narrows considerably so I end up trampling my aunt’s plants in the dark and I have also stepped in the pond on a couple of occasions! Fortunately the pond is only a foot or so deep.
I have always preferred observing on the lower lawn, although I have a better view of the sky from the upper lawn, I am not easily spooked or anything like that, it is just a matter of preference and neighbours’ lights aren’t so much of an issue on the lower lawn.

The big shed, which has a tiny, lean-to one next to it, is supposedly my aunt’s gardening shed but, in reality, is actually used as a dumping ground for stuff we don’t want. It’s full of things which need taking to the tip and, once that is cleared out, de-spidered (very important this, as I am a card-carrying arachnophobe) and repainted I can move my stuff into it. Apart from my scope and other astronomical items, it will also house my surfboards and the sun loungers.

This isn’t actually my idea, my aunt suggested swapping sheds as she pointed out, the wooden shed – which is a proper wooden shed, like a summerhouse, not that cheap ship-lap rubbish – will be much better for my scope than keeping it in the plastic shed which is poorly insulated and I don’t think it’s doing my 18″ mirror any good. The plastic shed also sometimes leaks slightly when it rains, due to the rain blowing in through the vents. And one more thing – I won’t be worrying that the shed will blow down every time a storm comes along!

Apart from the clear out of clutter, dirt and spiders plus the repainting, the other thing that has to be done is getting a ramp. The shed has a step up to it because it is built up off the ground to avoid damp and to prevent mice and rats getting in so, after making various measurements, I have ordered a wheelchair ramp which can be fixed to the step as and when needed. I chose a wheelchair ramp because these are both easy to get, not horribly expensive and what is safe for a person will definitely be safe for my big telescope.

This shows the current state of the inside of the wooden shed! All this stuff is destined for the tip, and just dumped in the shed to get it out of the way. There’s a large television lurking among that stuff somewhere!


Bringing my observing spot back down nearer to the house will also mean more sessions. Apart from the neighbours lights being a pain in the arse, I developed an aversion to going to the top of the garden to observe. Don’t ask me why, it just is. I think it’s because I felt overlooked, despite the fact my spot can’t be seen either from the neighbours’ house or from the footpath that separates the respective gardens, especially in the dark – and the footpath is another factor. The photo below is the neighbours’ house, as seen from my current observing spot, with the offending window; they also have an annoying insecurity light they put on for their dogs.
I also won’t have to lug my other equipment (eyepieces, books, dew zappers, etc) up the garden either. It can just be placed outside or stored in the shed.

Changing the subject somewhat, in the news this week, depending on which source you looked at (it was mostly reported on the BBC – interestingly it was only reported in the more left-wing liberal press) it was reported that the Arctic ice is melting at an ever-faster rate, meaning that it could possibly be all gone during the summer from 2030. This could have ramifications for the climate of Northern Europe because, as sod’s law would have it, it probably won’t improve and become a nicer Mediterranean climate, it will instead become stormier, resulting in more crap summers like the abomination of a ‘summer’ we endured this year. Scientists believe this will push the jet stream further south, allowing stormier weather in over northern Europe, which is precisely what happened this summer. This is worrying for the future of amateur astronomy in the UK, which is bad enough as it is but, that said, this is what *could* happen and not necessarily what *will* happen and, even so, we should still get enough clear nights – anyway, by 2030 (when I will be 60! 😮 ) I may well have cleared off to warmer climes.

Looking at my clear sky spreadsheet for this summer highlights just how bad summer 2012 was, with few clear nights. May was ok, despite the unsettled weather, June had four clear nights and two partly clear ones, July had 11 clear nights but August was the worst month, making dismal reading with a paltry ONE clear night and seven partly clear ones; this is highly unusual for August which is generally pretty good for observing. June I’m not too bothered about, as it’s too light to observe anyway, but it is usually our clearest month. Time will tell if this is an aberration or the sign of something more sinister.

We have had four clear nights so far in September but these have been marred by dew and fog. I set up the other night, only for everything to be soaked within a matter of minutes, overwhelming the dew zapping equipment and forcing me to quit before I’d even found my first object. Not only that, but mist also rolled in, making deep sky observing impossible.

Australia, here I come…? Maybe

If things work out as well as I hope they might, I may be going to OzSky 2013. This depends on work over the winter, though, my current job is fine during the summer, when it is at its busiest, but will go right down to only a few hours a week in winter. That, at least, will help pay my share of the bills, but if I can get something else (instead of or along with this job) then it looks do-able.
I have been to OzSky before, in 2009. It was known as the Deepest South Texas Star Safari then and I could only stay one night as I had to get to Wollongong for a pelagic birdwatching trip I was booked on. It was a disaster, that one night was clouded out, with heavy rain and the same storm system responsible for that also ensured the pelagic didn’t go ahead. I couldn’t make it back to Coonabarabran, due to lack of funds and I was also heading off to Bangkok a few days later. To say this was annoying is an understatement and it could be said that I have Unfinished Business there.

Failing that, as it is in March, there’s always Queensland AstroFest later in the year, usually held in July or August. That is very do-able.

For All Mankind

All too often these days the labels “hero” and “legend” are bandied about far too cheaply. A footballer is labelled a hero for scoring a last minute goal for his team, thus getting them promoted, winning them a cup or saving them from relegation, or a rock star is called a legend for being around since 1980. These people may be legends and heroes within their own field – and I am both a football fan and a rock music fan – but, when it comes down to real heroism and real legendary status they have nothing on people who make history, who have risked their lives in the advancement of exploration and science.
Neil Armstrong, who died on 25th August 2012 at the age of 82, was one such person. He and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins, flew to the Moon, not knowing whether they could land there and, if they did succeed in landing the lunar module, whether they would be able to take off again – and failure to do so would have certainly resulted in their deaths. Not only did they succeed, they made history and Armstrong and Aldrin remain two of only twelve people to have walked on the surface of another world.

The Apollo missions, the last of which, Apollo 17, landed in the Pacific on 19th December 1972, showed the best side of the human race, and what we could do as a species when we put our minds to the more noble things, such as science and exploration, rather than trying to kill each other and other species. Without wanting to delve too much into politics and suchlike, it is a huge shame and a terrible waste, bordering on criminal, that the human race didn’t press on, establishing a Moon base and going on to Mars and the rest of the Solar System from there. Instead, the Americans, knowing they’d beaten the Soviet Union to putting a person on the Moon, did a ‘dog peeing on a lamp-post’ trick by leaving a flag, some footprints and bits of lander and left, never to return. If only serious money went into countries’ space exploration programmes rather than into defence budgets…

I don’t have many personal heroes, and the Apollo 11 mission occurred 6 months before I was born, but Neil Armstrong and his astronaut colleagues are among them. They are people to be proud of, unlike the fake ‘celebrities’ who are lauded these days. One UK newspaper website, on the Saturday evening Armstrong’s death was announced, featured an item about it alongside an item on Manchester Utd footballer Wayne Rooney’s (admittedly nasty) leg injury…I don’t think that Rooney deserves to be on the same page as Armstrong, let alone sharing headline space with him. In these times of fake heroes, dubious ‘celebrities’ and thieving politicians, people such as Armstrong should be celebrated and held up as a prime example of what we, as a species, are capable of…these are the people kids should look up to, not royalty, not models, not vacuous non-entities famous only for sleeping with footballers, rapping badly or kicking a ball.

Neil Armstrong was an American – and the Americans are lucky to have had such a wonderful space program – but he and his astronaut colleagues went to the Moon on behalf of us all – ‘For All Mankind’. RIP Neil Armstrong, a real hero and genuine legend.

The next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink” – Neil Armstrong’s family


Nothing whatsoever has happened here. Nothing worth posting about anyway. The weather continues to be mostly shit, apart from the odd few nice hot days here and there. The nights are mostly cloudy, with the few clear ones around a fat Moon. Now we’re nearly into September I am hoping for the usual autumn clear spell but I honestly can’t see it happening, as everything is so wet that any hot sunny spells see a lot of evaporation and yet more cloud. We have had NO clear nights in August this year, we’ve had a few partly clear ones but no totally clear nights. The one night that looked promising was quickly ruined by thick fog.

Good luck to Southampton back in the Premier League (good performance last Sunday at Manchester City, despite ultimately losing) and why are Portsmouth FC still in business?


Sky shots

In the complete absence of any observing whatsoever for ages I have been doing other things. Last week I went, with a friend, on a cruise on the P&O ship Oriana from Southampton to Amsterdam and Zeebrugge and back to Southampton and very nice it was too. Except for the rain as we departed and as we arrived home. However, I did manage to get a couple of spectacular sky shots.


Moon rising behind Oriana’s funnel

The tanker ‘Minerva-Julie’ against a spectacular sunset sky


Cloud shadows (upper part of picture) cast by the setting sun


My Deep Sky Binocular pin and certificate arrived while I was away. I haven’t got round to thinking about the next project – in fact I am wondering if the sky will ever clear again and why, exactly, I spent £3.5k on an 18″ telescope. Why did I take up such a frustrating hobby? So our latitude means that serious deep sky observing is not really possible between late May and late July but that’s not the point. Shit weather is still shit weather and it’s been going on for bloody months now! Observing is only part of it, I want some decent sunny weather and warm temperatures, something this country *is* capable of providing when it wants to.

Pope is, indeed, Catholic – tell us something we don’t know

In ‘breaking news’ last night it was announced that this second quarter – April to June – has been the wettest since reconds began in 1910. I think we could have worked that out for ourselves, given the appalling run of weather we have had for the past three months. It makes me more glad than ever to have been to the Texas Star Party this year, although thinking back to that does put into sharp focus just how utterly shit our climate can be is and what UK astronomers are missing. I wrote a while back about how our climate isn’t *that* bad, depending on where you are in the country, with the south east being better than the north west, but at the moment I feel like a prat to have written it.

Reading on Facebook and Cloudy Nights boasts/moans about hot weather and sunshine elsewhere does nothing to dispel the gloom either.