We are a two-world species, which is probably an extravagance, like a two-car family, but never mind. This is our spare world, which is not in use at the moment, but we keep it in a handy orbit, just in case. And it makes a pleasant companion in the garden on a spring evening.

I took these pictures (in daytime) with the iPhone 5 held to the eyepiece of the 6-inch reflector, and I’m pleasantly surprised with the results. I processed them a little in Lightroom to improve contrast and remove the colour channels. The picture above was taken with the 25mm eyepiece.

Detail view with the 10mm eyepiece. Annotated versions after the jump with some interesting sites and features marked.

Moon Safari

The Moon! An amazing world right above your head, just three days away: ideal for today’s busy lifestyles.

I have often written about the Moon before, and taken pictures of the crescent Moon, the full Moon, craters on the Moon, a lunar eclipse, and mentioned the Moon’s powers of spiritual refreshment. It is amazing when you think all of that is available absolutely free, with no subscription required, just by looking up. Even wicked David Cameron cannot prevent us from enjoying it.

Tonight’s Moon is just past First Quarter and this is always a good time for seeing the Moon through a telescope or binoculars, because it is early morning on the part of the Moon that faces us, and so there are long shadows which give us maximum contrast. Reconnaissance satellites looking at Earth are aimed to pass over their targets in the early morning or late afternoon for the same reason. More precisely, they are often Sun-synchronous: chasing the Sun continually so that it is always morning below them, like Concorde racing across the Atlantic.

A day on the Moon lasts a fortnight, which is weird. When it is full Moon for us, the Sun is shining directly down on the part of the Moon that faces us, so it is noon there. By the time the Moon has reached Last Quarter, the Sun is just setting for the imaginary Moon folk, and when the Moon is new, it is midnight there. So it would be a very long day and you would almost certainly need a giant beer after work to recover. Luckily the nights are a fortnight long too, which would be a popular thing for the Governmint to introduce here. I would certainly vote for two weeks extra sleep a night.

This is taken with the Canon 350D and 200mm telephoto lens, a 1/10 sec exposure sharpened in the computer and filtered to remove the red channel, which gives slightly better definition because most of the skyglow here in London is red.

In conclusion, then, the Moon.

Moon and planets

On the night of May 19th the Moon appeared to pass very close to Venus, it was a beautiful sight just after sunset. Unfortunately as the Moon was fairly new, it necessarily set not long after the Sun, and seen from the UK had not reached its closest approach before setting. This picture is from earlier on in the evening. The Moon is sneaking up on Venus, in preparation for giving it a wedgie.

Closer shot of the crescent Moon. Note how the low-angled morning light shows craters in deep shadow along the terminator. That is just an astronomickal term, there is not a killer robot from the future living on the Moon. Or at any rate if there is, it is not visible in this photo.

Jupiter is high and bright in the south at the moment, and I got this nice picture from my cosy living room with just the 200mm telephoto. It is no trick to be able to see Jupiter, as it is genuinely awesome in size, bigger than all the other planets put together, twice, and a bit more, but I was pleased to be able to see the four principal moons as well: from left to right, Callisto, Ganymede, Io and Europa.

If you looked at the Solar System from far away, you would conclude there was one main planet, Jupiter, plus some annoying specks. Jupiter has more moons than the Sun has planets (over 60 at last count), but then it acts like a giant Dyson, vacuuming up any asteroids and comets that wander too close, with no loss of suction! In 1994 the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet hit Jupiter, creating an explosion about the size of the Earth, and seriously denting its no-claims bonus.

If you expose for its moons, Jupiter is just a bright blob, so here is a picture attempting to show detail of the planet itself. You can see its coloured bands and stripes, especially the large white equatorial zone. It is sometimes said that Jupiter is a failed star, and in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2010 it is turned into a star by some helpful people from a black monolith. This would be convenient for us here on Earth as it would provide valuable light to see by at night, and deter burglars. In reality though that would not happen, as Jupiter is a long way short of enough mass to kick-start nuclear fusion, but on the other hand if you have a giant black monolith you can do basically anything.