One of the great things about astronomy is that it is a very visual science, so one of the best ways to experience it is through the medium of pictures. At the HSS we organize many events and we present here galleries as a visual record. (It should be noted that these are no substitute for actually being there.) In general these events are to promote awareness of astronomical phenomena as varied as comets, eclipses, transits and planets. There are also galleries for some of the figures in our long and illustrious history and our observatory.There are also more images on Doug Daniels' flickr photostream at: Doug Daniels flickr photostream
For the most part these dirty snowballs are irregular visitors to the inner solar system where we live. Sometimes they wander in from their cold home further out and sublimate into these delicate fluffy shapes. When comets are easily visible to the naked eye (like Hale-Bopp or Halley) large amounts of public interest is generated. But for the most part, especially in London, they make pretty pictures accessible to a small telescope for a few weeks or months.
In October 2007 there was a pleasant surprise for us northern sky watchers with Comet Holmes brightening by about 1 million-fold to become a clearly visible object, even to the naked eye. During October, November and December 2007, comet Holmes looped in Perseus and the dust disk increased in size to over 3 million kilometres across. In an ideal position, close to the zenith, comet Holmes gave members ample opportunity to apply their digital cameras and telescopes to obtain some spectacular images.
Other recent comets include, Comet Machholz (or Comet 2004 Q2, if you want to be more formal about it) which was just about visible to the naked eye in late 2005 and we managed to share it with the public through the Cooke telescope. The Pleiades is the name of the cluster of stars visible above the comet. Comets Schwassmann-Wachmann (C/1973P-B) and NEAT are also shown. By the way comets are usually named after the people or project (in the case of NEAT) which discovered them.
Meteors are strongly linked to comets because these 'shooting stars' are in fact caused by the debris left in orbit by periodic comets visiting the inner Solar System. As the Earth orbits the Sun, from time to time, it passes through or close to the dust and particles left by the passing comets. This dust is drawn into the Earth's atmosphere by our planet's gravitational field, and friction in the stratosphere heats up the particles to such high temperatures that they burn up. We see a streak of light flashing across the sky - a 'shooting star' or meteor. There are a number of meteor showers each year when meteors seem to come from certain parts of the sky. These points are called the 'radiants' and are named from the constellation where the radiant is located. During these showers many meteors per hour can be seen. One of the most famous showers has its radiant in the constellation of Perseus. Every year on or about the 11th of August we can see many meteors from this shower. Photographing them is not easy, it's just a matter of luck if they cross the field of view of the camera during an exposure; but sometimes it works!
Once in a while the alignment between Sun, Moon and Earth is so good that they lie on a very close approximation to a straight line and there is an eclipse.
When the Moon's shadow falls on the Earth there is a solar eclipse. Total solar eclipses are amongst the most spectacular natural phenomena but are visible only from a small part of the Earth. Because of this people, including HSS members, travel from far and wide to witness "a day with two dawns".
29th March 2006
The type of solar eclipse you see often depends on how close you are to the path of totality, which is the name given to the trail the Moon's shadow follows as it winds its way over the surface of the Earth. Britain on this date was a long way from this path and a partial eclipse was visible, with the Moon only covering part of the Sun (also read the UK report). But if you were in Turkey under the path of totality like Jim Brightwell was, the whole Sun was covered.
Annular eclipse 3rd October 2005
If the Moon is too far from the Earth then it is not possible to have a total eclipse. Instead the Moon will obscure most of the Sun but leave a thin ring, or annulus, visible. Hence we see an annular eclipse. Two of our members went to Spain to capture these pictures of the 2005 annular eclipse.
Total solar eclipse 1st August 2008
The path of the total solar eclipse on August 1st 2008 was confined to a narrow band extending from northern Greenland, across Siberia and ending in northern China. Jerry Workman travelled to a site near Novosibirsic in western Siberia to see the eclipse and has sent the following images. Totality lasted for 2 minutes 19 seconds. Jerry reports that he saw the eclipse under perfect seeing conditions and it was warm and windy and there was a temperature drop of some 4 degrees centigrade at totality.
From Hampstead the eclipse was seen as partial, only about 20% of the sun was obscured at maximum eclipse and was seen through scudding cloud.
If the Earth's shadow covers part of the Moon we get a lunar eclipse. This is not as spectacular as a solar eclipse, but it is striking to see the normally brilliant white full moon assume a ruddy hue from sunlight refracted and reddened by the Earth's atmosphere hanging in the sky like a copper coin. Most recently we had an excellent eclipse on the 3rd of March 2007 and you can learn more about it along this link.
Although the Moon is the most familiar of the night time objects it offers some of the most spectacular views as the Cooke pans over its sea, riles, mountains and craters. The best viewing is to be had near the line between lunar day and night where the Sun makes a low angle with the surface thowing it into glorious relief.
I know that it seems a bit wierd, what with it being so intensely bright and all, but the Sun is actually a star. We get to see it in glorious close-up, warts and all. There is an eleven year cycle that the Sun goes through and in the past we have seen some pretty spectacular sunspots. At the moment the Sun is quite quiet and that is why the pictures below hail from 2003.
Errant stars, the wanderers, our planetary cousins, what ever you want to call them are regular eye-candy at the observatory. Whether it's Mars' rusty brilliance, Jupiter's bands and moons or the magnificent rings of Saturn the planets are worth a look.
Mars has long captured the imagination as the short red man of the solar system. We have observations dating from 1911 and over the last few years, especially 2003, Mars has had its most spectacular apparitions for hundreds of years through a happy accident of planetary alignment. The surface details have never looked so good.
King of the planets for sure. It's got more mass than all of the rest thrown together, the Great Red Spot alone is large enough to swallow 3 Earths.
No tour of the planets would be complete without a look at Saturn and that fantastic ring system.
Van drivers: you'll need to look elsewhere for your fix. In astronomy transit is the term for a really small eclipse and in the last few years there's been a flurry of activity involving Mercury and Venus. Typical really, you wait 200-odd years then you get three in a row. And you thought buses were a unique phenomenon. Self-similarity at what scale will you stop? Anyhow, these planets pass between the Sun and the Earth and obscure a tiny piece of the Sun.
Venus 8th June 2004
A large turn out on a lovely day for this rare alignment. Venus played her part as a beauty spot on the face of the Sun.
Mercury 7th May 2003
Britain has done quite well with this bout of transititis getting a look at both Mercuy and Venus crossing the solar disk. To catch an earlier outbreak James Cook had to sail to Tahiti (Venus) and New Zealand (Mercury).
Conjunctions, Occultations etc
As the moon and planets move across the sky, they sometimes appear to get close to one another When this happens we have a conjunction. The Moon can also pass in front of stars and occasionally planets. When this happens we have an occultation. These occasions provide astro-photographers the opportunity to produce some pretty pictures.
Deep sky is a generic name for objects which are not stars and not in the solar system. This includes clusters (globular and open), nebulae (reflection, dark, emission, planetary), galaxies,
Last modified: Jan 25 2015 DGD