Early morning

I’m up at the crack of dawn for work. Most mornings, it’s dark. Recently it’s been dark and wet. But this morning, there was a little more light in the sky than there has been of late. I was intrigued and when I looked out of the window I could see the sky was cloud frees, and there was a faint glow on the eastern horizon.

But better than a clear sky, there was the moon and Venus close together. I abandoned thoughts of breakfast and grabbed my camera. I spent 10 minutes snapping away.

After breakfast, and just before I left for work, I took another series of photos. The difference in the brightness of the sky was dramatic.

I varied the exposures on both sessions. The moon is a sunlit landscape so I manually set the exposure to record that. But in one photos, you can see I’ve exposed for the earth shine – the glow of the earth’s reflected light on the moon. The crescent lit by the sun is over exposed, as is Venus.

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How to find a comet

Comet Panstarrs is visible low in the north western sky just after sunset. You’ll need a pair of binoculars at the moment as the comet is barely brighter than the sky that surrounds it. Later in the month it will be visible later in the evening but it’s getting dimmer as it heads away from us. Find where the sun set and look to the right.

Yesterday, with a clear western sky promised, I drove down to Broadpool in Gower to try and get some photos of the comet. Alas, I was beaten by the cloud, which formed a dark band just where Panstarrs was due to be. Even the sunset wasn’t spectacular. I drove home disappointed.

This evening, I went back a bit earlier but the same cloud band seemed to be there again. At least the sunset was better and I got a few photos I was pleased with. Imagine my horror, then, to see dark horizontal smudges on all the photos! I’d cleaned the sensor before leaving and the wipe had left smudges. Panic! I’ve just spent half an hour cleaning, checking, re-cleaning and rechecking. At least they weren’t scratches!

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Lads Weekend

Friday night, pouring with rain. That’s okay, because we were having a lads night in. Me and Rufus!

Neither of us drink and we’re both single, so the reality of our lads night in was really quite boring. In fact, after food and some TV channel hopping, we were both asleep around 10.30 because the following morning we were due to be out early for a stroll around Fairwood Common.

Fairwood Common was soaking wet, as you would expect after the rain we’ve had over the last few weeks. When they built the airfield during World War 2, thousands of tons of slag from the local steelworks, and other hardcore was dumped in the marsh to stabilise the ground. It meant that there were limits to the size of aircraft that could land there. But it was successful. You can get an excellent idea of what the ground was like before the hardcore was dumped by walking the perimeter of the airport, which is what Rufus and I did. I was interested in the tree trunks and took some photos for processing into black and white. Rufus was interested in getting wet, which he did with great efficiency.

I was out with friends for the rest of the day but Rufus stayed with me again on Saturday night and we did more lads stuff, like watching Top Gear and fighting. Someone rummaged through my rubbish bin as well, shredding the contents and spreading them out over the floor. But it’s not for me to grass a mate up.

This morning, we were out early for a walk up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. The weather was grim, misty and dark. Not long after we left the car, it began to rain and the showers kept coming all morning. At the lake, the mist was thick enough to hide the mountains and at some points, the opposite bank of the lake. It was dark, too and it felt quite claustrophobic. After some stone throwing at the lake, we decided to go around it’s edge and we headed off into the mist.

The mist rose and fell as we went and a chill wind blew across the water. At the far end, I sat for a while and sheltered behind a large rock and a shower blew in. Rufus wasn’t impressed and made a point of running around and posing of rocks while I cowered behind mine.

Then it was off around the other side of the lake, beneath the towering Fan Brecheiniog. I would have liked to have climbed it today as it’s been a while since we’ve been up there. But the weather wasn’t good and however cold it was at the lake, it would be worse on top. Instead, we meandered around it’s base and across the mud slides and land slides that dropped from its slopes. We were soon back at the starting point and after a snack break, we headed back down to the car.

It rained pretty much all the time we were making our way back and the little streams were turned into fast flowing rivers Lower down, the rivers were torrents and the waterfalls thundered with the amount of water crashing over them. By the time we got to the car we were both dripping wet. And the sun chose that moment to come out. As I stripped off the wet waterproofs, the sun warmed us up and a bright rainbow shone in the north. Typical!

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Remember, remember…

…when you were a kid and fireworks were the coolest thing ever? Well, in that respect, I never grew up. I love fireworks. I love the smell, the sound and the light. I’m fortunate where I live that I have a grandstand view of most of the organised displays in the area. After festivals, parties in the park and on the 5th of November, I get to see the fireworks in all their glory.

Tonight was no exception. In fact, it was a lovely clear night, with the stars out and good visibility. Our council put on yet another brilliant display that lasted around 30 minutes. I enjoyed every second.

I couldn’t resist taking some photos of Andromeda afterwards.

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Stargazing

It’s stargazing season again. The temperature drops, the skies clear for a tantalising few seconds, some stars pop their heads up to see who is watching them, and away we go.

I was tired last night so I didn’t spend long at the telescope but I did set a camera up to try and get some crude shots of the Andromeda galaxy. Given that its 2 million lightyears away, it’s not a bad shot.

But we should be careful, because the Andromeda galaxy is heading our way. In a few years (quite a few years, actually) it will collide with our galaxy to form… well, a pretty chaotic thing to be honest. But on the way it should get easier to photograph.

I also managed to catch the Milky Way – our galaxy – above the house. I last showed you this from Crowcombe. It’s rare that I see the Milky Way at home because of all the light pollution from street lighting and the city.

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Flora’s Barn 1

Travelling on a Saturday is always to be feared, Shoppers, holiday makers, caravans, people who don’t normally drive on motorways. But for some reason, the roads were clear today.

In what seemed like no time (maybe it wasn’t, maybe time travel is possible) we reached the bridge and after that, apart from a few minutes joining the  M5, the roads were relatively clear. Caravans miraculously stayed in the inside lane, as did the lorries. Everyone else seemed sensible. Continuing the tine travel theme, we arrived at Flora’s Barn before we left home. (Paradox – discuss).

Rufus is with us and it his his mission in life to escape from any confines we impose. The garden of the barn was his latest challenge and he rose to the occasion admirably. Despite seeking and finding his escape route, I was unable to block it sufficiently well to prevent him from getting out – the last time by crawling on his belly under a low wooden beam before leaping from the top of a wall to almost bump his chin on landing.

It’s later now and I’ve just finished a pizza. It’s about time to enjoy the scones and cream that our landlord left us. The sky is dark outside, and the milky way is clear to see even with the naked eye. I think some photography is in order later.

The Milky Way

The Milky Way

Cefn Bryn

You’ve encountered Cefn Bryn before in this blog. I used to go up there quite often. It’s the spine of Gower, with views across the peninsula of the northern and southern shores, and the bulky wall of Rhossili Down to the west. It’s the site of a number of Neolithic and later monuments, the most famous being Maen Ceti, or Arthur’s Stone. The story goes that King Arthur, walking in Carmarthenshire (some say Llanelli) on his way to battle, found a stone in his shoe and threw it away. It landed on Gower. The truth is that this is the remains of a Neolithic chambered tomb some 4,500 years old. The great capstone, now split in two, was probably deposited on Cefn Bryn by glacial action as the predominant rock on the ridge is Old Red Sandstone. Beneath the capstone is double chambered tomb.

Just after I started college, some friends and I were making movies during our summer holidays. We used Arthur’s Stone as the location for a sacrifice scene. I don’t know what the visitors must have thought of us there. Since then, archaeologists have uncovered a number of cairns, most of which are probably piles of stone cleared from farmland. But three large cairns have been identified as tombs. These days, there are wild horses all around the area.

I’ve been in that area a few times to take photos of the night skies. The streelight glow from Swansea and Llanelli is still quite strong but directly overhead the light pollutions is minimal. Over the last few years I’ve taken part in the Gower Gallop long distance sponsored walk and the route always passes over Cefn Bryn. The first few times I did the challenge, the summit was a half way check point at which chocolate cake was available. Very welcome!

Rufus likes Cefn Bryn too. There is lots of space for him to run around in, plenty of mud and puddles for the cooling of paws and the odd rabbit for him to play with.

These photo were taken yesterday morning with the Infra Red camera.

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Perseid

Every year on or about 12 August, the earth barges its way through the debris left behind by comet Swift/Tuttle. The result is a spectacular meteor shower know as the Perseids (because of the apparent location from which the meteor trails appear to originate, in the constellation of Perseus). Also, around the same time, cloud cover almost always prevents me from seeing them. This year I went out early to try and catch a few on camera – two days early.

Rufus and I managed to see a couple and I’ve uploaded a couple of pictures below. I’ve also included an image of a satellite and a plane passing overhead.

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Cold and Clear

Driving home last night, I was conscious that I was following Jupiter and Orion for most of the journey. The sky was clear and the temperature was close to freezing. I decided to have another go at getting some images of the Andromeda galaxy.

I was using my 150-500mm lens and it’s notably heavier than the set up from last time. This came over in the blips as the telescope mount motors tried to smooth out the tracking motion. I must have spent over an hour taking photos ands this time I set up a second camera to take a long exposure of stars circling the pole star.As a result of the blips only a few frames were usable.

I’m really pleased with the image of Andromeda. In the picture on here, you can make out two almost parallel dark dust lanes in the bottom part of the galaxy. The slightly fuzzy ‘star’ at about 11 o’clock is the companion galaxy M110 (proper stars in this image have a more defined edge). Further away at about 7 o’clock is M32.

I think this is the limit of clarity I can get from the back garden as there is a significant amount of light pollution evident in the final images – hence the conversion to black and white. The next move will be to find a dark sky site and start again.

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Starry Starry Night

By fortune, I popped my head out of the door last night to see clear sky. It only lasted a short while as fast moving clouds scudded past. The moon was up and very bright. But despite all this, I managed to get a few photos of the stars that I was pleased with.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get long exposure photos of the stars without getting trails. I have a motorised telescope mount but attaching the camera to the telescope makes the combination too heavy for the motors to track properly. In work yesterday, I was thinking about the problem whilst working hard and remembered an old tripod mounting plate I had. So when I got home, I dug it out, fitted it to the camera and then attached it to the telescope mount. Then fortune smiled and the skies cleared.

I used an old 180mm manual focus lens I’ve had for a while. It’s a lovely lens, but very heavy. I focused on the moon before moving to my chosen targets. The sky was quite bright with light pollution and the original images are a light pink in colour., I’ve converted them to black and white and adjusted the levels to boost the contrast and bring the blacks back.

Success! Of the 15 images, 11 worked well. I’ve added three in the slide show below.

I’ve been particularly keen to capture the Andromeda Galaxy. I’m really pleased with the result below, mainly because I have proved the camera mount works and I know I can improve on the picture. It’s great to have captured the smaller galaxy M32 as well (it’s more prominent in the original uncompressed image).

(Andromeda is 2.3 million light years away from us. The Pleiades are 400 light years distant and the nebula in Orion is 1,500 light years away.)

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