It’s one of the highlights of the sky, but many beginners have trouble locating the Orion Nebula. This is probably because photos such as the one at the top make it look brilliant and vivid, while the real thing is really quite pale and colourless as seen visually. Read more
The International Space Station (ISS) is in our evening skies again between 26 January and 13 February. You’ll be able to see it every clear night until 11 February from anywhere in the UK, gliding through our skies as a brilliant star. It appears brighter than most planes, despite being hundreds of kilometres away, and on good passes you can watch as it passes well over central Europe. Amaze your friends with your predictive powers! Read more
The media are full of excitement about tonight’s full Moon. But will it be as spectacular as they are making out? Read more
The SPA have held an autumn weekend course about practical astronomy at Preston Montford near Shewsbury almost every year since 1977, and the 2017 event, held in November, was as popular as ever. Some 40 participants gathered on the Friday evening to hear welcoming talks from Prof Ian Morison, Robin Scagell and Pete Williamson, making his first visit to Preston Montford. Read more
We are putting the finishing touches to our wonderful new website, which is due to go live on 20 January 2018. Read more
News is coming in that a bright fireball was seen across much of the UK at about 5.35 pm on 31 December. Read more
The Leonid meteors over the weekend have produced some spectacular fireballs, though as expected rates were fairly low and there was no ‘meteor storm’. Read more
A Leonid storm in 2017? Simple answer: No. Longer answer: probably not. Read more
This is a particularly good time to look for Iris, as at the end of October it reaches its maximum possible brightness of 6.9. That is below naked-eye visibility, but easily reachable with even small binoculars. But you have to know exactly where to look.
Fortunately it is passing through the constellation of Aries, which is currently well placed looking quite high in the sky in the south-east during the late evening as seen from the UK. While not a bright constellation, itâ€™s easily found by anyone with a basic knowledge of the sky. Its three brightest stars make an easily recognisable group. Use the map below first to find Aries itself. With binoculars, first identify the three main stars of Aries, then use our map to â€˜star-hopâ€™ through the patterns of fainter stars to Iris.
Although Iris is about 130 million miles away, it moves noticeably against the starry background from night to night, so if you want to pick it out you need to know its position when you are looking. Bear in mind that the tick marks on the map are for midnight at the start of each day, so if you are observing before midnight, the asteroid will be close to the next dayâ€™s mark.
With exposures longer than a few seconds, and telephoto lens settings, the stars will start to trail after more than about four secondsâ€™ exposure as the sky moves (or, more accurately, the Earth turns). So to keep the images as points of light, use a short exposure time and a high ISO setting.
The photograph at top was made using a 125 mm lens setting on a Canon 70D camera, with a 75-second exposure. The camera was driven to follow the stars. The image is cropped.
Nebula IC 63 in Cassiopeia. The bright star is Gamma Cassiopeiae
The sky is full of mysteries, but we’ve picked out a few that look particularly spooky for Halloween. All the pictures were taken by Nick Hart from his observatory in light-polluted Newport, South Wales.
A ghostly apparition in Cepheus â€“ the nebula IC 1396
Among the stars at centre of NGC 1977 in Orion is a figure covered with a sheet to scare us
A witches’ cauldron? No, the nebula IC 5070 in Cygnus.
All photos copyright Nick Hart