Artificial Flares

Love them or loathe them, artificial satellites aren't going to go away. So why not make the most of them by enjoying some of the amazing effects they can produce. In this blog entry, I'll show you how to see one of the most spectacular events of all - an Iridium Flare.

What is an Iridium Flare?

An Iridium Flare occurs when sunlight is reflected off an Iridium communications satellite in low orbit around the Earth. The satellite has three door-sized reflective antennae which, if they catch the Sun’s light correctly, reflect it back so that it can be seen at certain locations on the Earth's surface.

What’s so special about an Iridium Flare?

A journey into space with Brian Cox, Colin Pillinger and Martin Rees

Learned men of science and astronomy take a voyage into the cosmos

Massing or Missing?

If you're having trouble spotting the dawn planets in the May sky, don't worry - you're not alone!

If you look up in the May 2011 night sky, you might start to wonder where all the planets have gone. Saturn's still there of course, heading ever closer to the star at the base of the 'Bowl of Virgo' known as Gamma Virginis or Porrima, but the other's are notably absent. 

A spring lunar mosaic

Why lunar mosaics are popular in the spring.

It's spring time and when the Moon's close to its first quarter phase it tends to sit high in the sky after sunset and looks quite superb. If you're into deep sky observing/imaging, the natural light pollution from the Moon is a bit of a pain, casting a glare across the sky which can cause all manner of issues with your shots. If you're into Solar System imaging on the other hand, the lure of the Moon is irresistible.

Star parties for beginners

Beginners astronomy events are increasingly popular, thanks to tie-ups between local astronomy groups and conservation organisations

Astronomy has been enjoying an unexpected boost in popularity lately. I have it on good authority that sales of telescope spiked after Stargazing Live in January, and a star party I attended in early March had a bigger crowd than an event at the same location a few months earlier.

Stargazing with the National Trust

The National Trust star parties held at Tyntesfield near Bristol are bringing a new audience to amateur astronomy.

The man from Bristol Astronomical Society was explaining the concept of relative sizes and distances. The Moon, he said, was much smaller than the Sun but just happened to be close enough to cover it up during an eclipse. A lady in front of me was clearly impressed. "We didn’t get that from the trendy professor," she remarked, adding "It was all very morose…"

A Basic Guide to Telescope Mounts

A description of the basic types of mount most commonly used for both visual and imaging purposes.

Mounts come in two basic types – alt-az and equatorial. Although they sound different, they’re actually very closely related, an equatorial mount being essentially an alt-az mount with one axis tilted over so that it points at your local celestial pole. In the UK for example, as we’re in the Northern Hemisphere, our local celestial pole is the North Celestial Pole (NPC) which is roughly marked by the star Polaris.

The Sky at Night episode guide, free with our March issue

The Sky at Night episode guide 1957 - 2011

The March issue of Sky at Night Magazine has an incredible free gift. It's a 24-page guide to every episode of The Sky at Night TV programme, from April 1957 to the 700th episode in March 2011.

On Sunday 6 March at around midnight, you'll be able to watch the 700th episode of The Sky at Night on BBC One. Here at Sky at Night Magazine we're onto our 70th issue, and even that seems like a lot to me. Our magazine is monthly, just like The Sky at Night, but the TV programme is rather older. It was first broadcast in April 1957.

Too much sleep!

When the weather's been bad, as it has been lately, it gives amateur astronomers the chance to catch up on sleep, hone their image processing skills and reconnect with the daylight world.

The weather plays a key part in visual astronomy. If the clouds roll in there's little more you can do than twiddle your thumbs. In my experience, the weather comes and goes in batches where you'll typically get a run of bad weather followed by a run of good weather.

The stranger side of astronomy outreach

A weird and wonderful event involving the stars and a spa.

What’s the strangest astronomy ‘outreach’ event you’ve been to? Outreach in itself is an odd word, but what it means is an activity put on by keen amateurs or professional scientists to interest the public in astronomy. We’re incredibly lucky in the UK that so many people are willing to do this for nothing.

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