An ‘Astronomy’ related day – plus… I met an astronaut!

I started my day today photographing ceramics at Richard Winterton Auctioneers ready for the next sale later in the month.

One of the early lots was this pair of Clarice Cliff vases with a space theme:

Later in the day I found Jon, our resident toy expert looking through some old newspapers, he’s here, hiding behind this one!


I left work early as Julie had got us both tickets to Lichfield’s Guild Hall to see a talk by retired NASA astronaut, Winston Scott.

It was a 5.30 opening for a 6.00pm start. We arrived just after opening and I was surprised to see the back of a man in a blue jump-suit… the man himself.

Considering Winston and his wife had only just flown into the UK and had been travelling most of the day, he had a big smile and seemed genuinely happy to meet and greet us (and everyone else) on our arrival. Julie and I had chance to talk with him before his presentation and I said I was a member of a local astronomy group. He asked about us and I told him about the new observatory. He didn’t just politely listen (as you might expect), but asked what sort of scope we were going to put in it, etc.

His talk lasted about half an hour. He told us about his childhood and how he joined the US Navy becoming a fighter pilot, flying F14 Tomcats. As he explained for those that didn’t know their planes, that was the one made famous by Tom Cruise in TopGun – although he quipped that he had actually ‘flown’ the things!

He explained that he trained to become a helicopter pilot flying anti-submarine machines in the Vietnam war, before applying to NASA.

His talk continued about the training involved to become an astronaut and his two missions. One of the most important things he did (yet hadn’t practised for), was after the Shuttle had released a solar observation satellite that malfunctioned. It was decided that he (and his Japanese colleague) should try and manually rescue said satellite (because it was slowly spinning out of control, the Shuttle crew could not use the robotic arm). Instead the two astronauts strapped their feet into position and over a 3.5 hr EVA, Winston guided the Shuttle pilot ever closer to the satellite so the two astronauts could physically grab it and load it back into the Shuttle cargo bay!


The satellite in question:

A link to him talking about catching the satellite:


He then explained the re-entry and landing procedure for the unpowered Shuttle and the extraction of the crew.

After concluding the main talk, the floor was opened for a half hour question and answer session which covered questions relating to travel to Mars, his training, pre-flight feelings and expectations, the private sector and space tourism, the future direction of space travel… and even his Navy ‘Call-Sign’… no, it wasn’t Maverick.. or Ice Man!

At the end Julie and I both went up separately to thank him. J got chance to ask a few more questions (!), one was about languages (as you might expect from a modern languages teacher!!!) and the other was about how they decide which way is ‘up’ in space – he’s answering that question below…

We left with a signed photograph having had an absolutely super evening. We couldn’t have met a nicer and more down to earth guy. If intelligent life ever visited Earth, he would make a great ‘First Contact’ ambassador !

Damian and Julie


Impressive prominences – – – 13/11/2018

This is the most impressive prominence that I have seen for a while!

The prominence changed quite rapidly as you can see from the times, and from this animation (the earlier prominence image is a bit fuzzy because the Sun was VERY low at the time!):

Also see

M33 Pinwheel

Sunday night was clear so i decided to have a second go at M33. This is the second time Ive attempted this galaxy as the first from last year was slightly out of focus. It was a poor night seeing wise and my “clear outside app” was actually orange/red for most of it but Im pleased with the improvement from last year. I still feel i need to add more subs or would better seeing make that difference??? I actually tried to view the galaxy with a set of 70mm binos but it wasn’t visible. 100×2.5min plus darks, flats and bias. Processed in pixinsight.

Observing Report 11/11/18

The forecast was a bit ambiguous, but it was a lovely night out under the stars last night. Set the camera running on M33, got the 14 inch dob out and away we go:

– Double double: I’ve taken to starting on this to check conditions and collimation. It was an easy split at 205x which promised well for the evening.
– Mars: Although it’s diminishing rapidly following the summer, the height in the sky and the lack of a dust storm are providing a much better view- especially with an LP filter to reduce the glare. I was able to see the polar cap reasonably well and some appearance of surface features.
– M15 – Bright core, with individual stars resolvable almost all the way in. At 205x it covered an area almost half the diameter of the FOV.
– Blue Snowball – a first for me- it really is blue! Really pleasing fuzzy blue disk. I wanted to try different filters and found it stood out best with the UHC filter.
– Mirach’s ghost – another first for me. Mirach was very bright, but once you edged it out of the FOV this Galaxy was quite an easy spot.
– NGC7814- I was beginning to feel a bit cocky so I went for a random Mag 10 galaxy in Sky Safari. It was actually quite an easy hop from the bottom left star of Pegasus (it’s in the same view in the finder) so wasn’t too hard, but was really pleased nonetheless.
– Delta Cephei – lovely sharp double, with a blue tinge to the companion. I put it on the list because of its historical importance- but it’s a nice visual target as well.
– Garnet Star – This is such a beautiful vivid red.
– Elephant’s Trunk – Hard to see at first, but the UHC filter really helped and with this and a bit of concentration and letting the eye get in I was able to follow it for most of its length. The section at the top was the most visible.

At this point I went in to put the kids to bed and have some family time. A bit later…

– M1 – Crab Nebula – Took a long time to get back in the groove. It took me ages to find this- I had to get my eyes to adjust back and then spent ages point at the wrong star and generally confusing myself. Even with the UHC filter, and having gotten past my own ineptitude, it was quite difficult to spot.
– M52 – Open Cluster in Cassiopeia – This was a bit easier- and visually more rewarding.
– M45 – Pleiades – Put in the 35mm at 47x. Just stunning.
– Uranus – a faint greenish tinge to a small disk.
– M74 – Spiral Galaxy in Pisces- Despite being quite dim (Mag 9.4) there was a hint of shape visible on this beyond the core (I couldn’t see the arms, more just a fuzz) – it might make an interesting imaging target at some point.
– M77 – Spiral Galaxy in Cetus – A brighter core than M74, but less hint of the outer structure.
– NGC 2024 – Flame Nebula – Now I really should have gone to bed by now, but Orion was sliding in over the rooftops and I have precisely no willpower. Not much doing without a filter, but with the Oiii in, the nebulosity was visible. I was also able to track some of the dark lanes.
– IC434 – Horsehead – Fail! Emboldened by the views of the Flame I spent ages looking for the Horsehead. The bank of nebulosity that it sits in was reasonably straightforward, but I couldn’t find the nag. One for a dark site…
– M42 & 43- Really time to pack up now, but as I sat back from the EP I saw that Orion’s sword was (just) above the rooftops. Re-pointed the scope, leaned forward and shouted ”Wow!”, which is a bit weird when you’re sat all alone in your back garden. I think the surprise was because of the almost solid feel of the area around the trapezium after the wispiness of the HH and Flame. At 205x it’s a fascinating structure- this bit was almost photographic. At 47x, and without filters, the whole area was more gauze like, but vast, and with the dark lanes between M42 & 43 obvious. I then dialled it up to 530x (probably well beyond what my scope can sensibly cope with), but was unable to split the trapezium beyond 4 stars. Being right over the rooftops probably didn’t help.

The night was just getting better, but it was approaching midnight, I’d been out since 6 and it was really time to pack it in. The way it was going I would have happily stayed up all night…  Now where are those M33 subs…

Microscopy of sample from bottom of pot pond 11/11/2018

For last few months, I have been cultivating a “pond” in a large pot in my garden.

The following photos are taken from a sample from the bottom of this pond today, using my Leitz Laborlux 11 microscope and Bresser Microcam SP 5.1 camera, with x4, x10, x40 objectives.

The photos and video below are all based around highly magnified microscopy of the antennae/legs of a small 2-3mm crustacean I found in the sample. In particular, I focus on other animal life (single and multicellular) living on or around these structures.

Obj = microscope objective power.



See the small group of oval objects attached to the antenna on the right – I think this is a group of other organisms using the crustacean as a platform!

On the other two legs visible, note the nodular structure to the chiton exoskeleton. Plenty of hairs to be seen projecting from legs and antenna.

Those group of oval organisms are seen attached to the antenna at bottom of photo below (photo & video):

Antenna (below):




These images show close ups of where the hairs arise from the chiton exoskeleton of the legs.

Rolling ball cells pot pond Leitz Laborlux 11 x10 obj 111118 (below):

Rolling ball cells pot pond Leitz Laborlux 11 x40 obj 111118 (photo and video):

Worm pot pond Leitz Laborlux 11 x4 obj 111118 (below, photos & video):

Worm pot pond Leitz Laborlux 11 x10 obj 111118 (below, photos & video):