Sunday, 28 February 2010

Sky Quality

I borrowed Vectis AS' Unihedron Sky Quality Meter a couple of weeks ago, to see what the sky in the back garden is like. I live in a rural area, although light domes are apparent in the distance from Newport, Sandown and Shanklin, and during nights when the Moon is not about I often get skies of NELM (Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude) 6.5, although usually it's anything between 6.0 and 6.5. Someone mentioned the SQM at one of our observatory nights a couple of weeks ago so I asked if I could borrow it. Unfortunately, I have only been able to use it on one occasion, due to the awful weather just recently. However, I took several readings over the course of the evening, which I'd describe as a very average evening, and got readings of 20.9 which correspond to NELM 6.1. I need to take the SQM back in time for the IW Star Party but I'll borrow it again and try it on a very dark night after midnight, which is when I suspect I'll get even better readings.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked if I could step into the breach and do a talk on visual deep sky observing at the February VAS monthly meeting this Friday just past. I agreed, as I don't mind public speaking, and I'm pleased to say that, despite me forgetting I was doing the talk until Wednesday and therefore not doing any practice with it at all, it went well, with no inadvertent swearwords, no collapsing into giggles and no stuttering! I think I managed to convince at least a couple of people that visual observing is a viable alternative to imaging.
I mentioned my clear night spreadsheet and eyebrows certainly were raised when I mentioned that, in January and up to 25th February we'd had a decent proportion of nights - apart from a long cloudy spell between 9th and 24th January, then another seven nights of clouds between 11th and 17th February - when some observing was possible, corresponding to 33% of all 56 available nights to date. I pointed out that it is a far from scientific method and it only highlights observationally usable nights, where you can get any observing in from a long session with the big dob to an hour with a pair of binoculars - if I was only including totally clear nights, then that total would easily be cut by half to two thirds. However, I have still not managed any observing since 4th January (the night before the snow), mostly due to laziness and cold - we got some nice nights when the snow was on the ground but sheet ice and compact snow made conditions that were bordering on lethal and it was just not safe to lug the scope out.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Texas, here I come!

I booked my flight to Texas this morning. I could have booked online or phoned an airline but, wanting a change of scene, I headed to town and went to a travel agents. My flight is with United Airlines and I fly to San Antonio via Houston (and return the same way) on 7th May. It wasn't as expensive as I thought, only costing £457; last time I paid nearly £600 but that was because I'd left it very late to get a ticket.
Less than three months to go; I am looking forward to seeing everyone again!


Through a link on Cloudy Nights I found this lot. Cloud Appreciation? I take it none of them - or not many - are astronomers. Mind you, having said that, I suppose there's a slight crossover when you think of noctilucent clouds, which astronomers love. Noctilucent clouds notwithstanding (and they dissiapate after nightfall), I hate clouds - at night - and I don't think I'll be joining any love-in over them. However...maybe the CAS can have their clouds in daytime and we astronomers can have clear starry nights? That way we'd all be happy as the cloud-people won't moan about astronomers complaining about the clouds.
Mind you having just said all that...I am not above saying 'Hey that cloud looks like the starship Enterprise, or an elephant, or a bird, or the starship from Alien...' and so on. I may not like 'em much but clouds can be entertaining, for a few minutes, anyway.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Starting again at 40

I have signed up to do a BSc (Hons) degree with the Open University. The first course I am doing is a basic science course in order to get some practice in as, since doing a Foundation course in Science during 1995/96 and starting then abandoning, through lack of funds, a BSc Geology degree the following academic year (96/97), I have done nothing academic whatsoever.
The reason for this decision to do something academic after so many years? Well, I was 40 back at the end of January and the realisation that, a stint in the Royal Navy until 1992 and the aforementioned foundation degree aside, I have actually done bugger all with my life and achieved nothing. So, instead of being depressed about it, I decided to do something about it and contacted the OU who sent me a prospectus. I phoned them and registered to do the basic science course as a preliminary to doing a more in-depth course, as a first step to getting a degree. I have initially linked it to a Geosciences degree (I can make it more astronomy-oriented by doing courses which have Planetary Science content) but there is scope to change it to an Astronomy and Physics-related degree if I decide my maths is good enough and if I decide that's what I want to do. I have more interest in Astronomy and Physics than I do in Geology but these are very maths-heavy so I might stick with the rocks.
Hopefully, I can get the degree done in five years, or even four if I put some effort in, so I will stand some chance of getting a decent, if short, career before I get to my sixties. However, as I am doing this for interest and a sense of achievement, a career will be a bonus although, to be honest, I really don't want to spend the whole of the next 20-25 (or even more) years temping and working in shit retail jobs!
I have begun a blog about this, rather lamely titled 'Science, me and starting again at 40'.


On a sadder note, I see on the Texas Star Party website that John Robert Prude, the patriarch of the famous Prude Ranch, the home of the TSP and my favourite place in the world, passed away on Tuesday. Quote from the TSP website:

"TSP and its attendees which to express condolences to the Prude family, for the passing of John Robert Prude on Tuesday February 9, 2010. John died at his home ("the Big House"), where he kindly gave permission for TSP 1982 to be hosted on the ranch. Over the past 27 years, we have enjoyed a lot of astronomy-inspired history because of the Prude's consideration and efforts. Vaya con dios, John! You will be missed!"

Friday, 5 February 2010


I haven't gone away, I am still here. However, since getting off to a flying start 2010's observing has taken a nosedive, with endless crap weather and almost constant cloud cover. We did have three clear(ish) nights at the end of January, but these were - typically - around a Full Moon, so I didn't bother. I haven't even seen Mars this opposition.
Like other amateurs, I am hoping that the coming spring will bring clear skies and galaxies.


I got my registration confirmation for TSP a couple of weeks ago. It's looking likely that I'll be there but that's subject to an upcoming temporary work contract which begins on 15th February. If that falls through and I can't get anything else, I'll have to give TSP a miss. My fingers are crossed that all will be well, though
In the meantime, we have the now annual Isle of Wight Star Party to look forward to in March, from Thursday 11th to Monday 15th March. I am a volunteer for this event, so I'll be there from the Friday night until the Sunday evening. Obviously, I hope we have good weather for this, not only for the - hopefully lengthy - observing sessions, but because I am camping and don't fancy it if the weather's unpleasant.