Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter's starry delights..

The winter nights are often long and cold..ideal conditions for a bit of astro-imaging! The cold conditions often lead to better seeing when the skies are clear and also make long-exposure digital images less 'noisy'.  It seems that November and December this year have been particularly cold and we have enjoyed a good number of clear nights.I just thought I would post some of the images from the last couple of months..

The Andromeda Galaxy.
  This is the most distant object visible to the human eye...a staggering 2.1 million light years away!If you know where to look in the night sky, it appears as a faint fuzzy object.It is a member of our 'local' group of galaxies and shares a similar size and shape to our own Milky Way...a spiral galaxy which we see slightly inclined.There are also two other smaller galaxies in the shot..the other fuzzies! You can clearly see the dark lanes of interstellar dust and if you zoom in a bit you can see some red emission nebulae there as well.
 This shot was just over two hours of exposures.

The Outer Limits Galaxy.
  This is another spiral galaxy but this time seen edge-on.It is similar in size to our own galaxy (110,000 light years in diameter) but about 30 million light years away. There are a good number of other galaxies in the background..most noteably the ring galaxy just below the right hand star in the upper RHS of the image...one galaxy has collided with another and created a huge hole where the core of the galaxy used to be!

The Cone Nebula.
 This is just a small section of a vast star-forming region 2,600 light years away (ie within our own galaxy) in the constellation Monoceros.The red colour comes from the clouds of hydrogen gas becoming ionised by the uv light of bright young stars and the blue area is the same light being reflected by dust clouds.The nebula gets it's name from the cone-shaped column of interstellar dust.
This is the longest shot I've done so far , just under seven hours of exposures in 5min subs.

The Triangulum Galaxy.
  Another of our 'local' group of galaxies at a mere 2.3 million light years distance...seen nearly face on so that we can see the separation of some spiral arms.It is only a third of the size of the Andromeda galaxy .Again,dust lanes are apparent and also some red emission nebulae.
 Nearly six hours of exposures went into this one,again in 5min subs.

The Rosette Nebula.
  This is one of the largest nebulae (clouds) in our galaxy, measuring 115 light-years across but at a distance of 4,900 light-years.The bright cluster of young stars at it's centre are visible to the naked eye,but not the surrounding clouds of red hydrogen gas.Some impressive columns  of interstellar dust are sillhoueted against the brighter blue reflected light of the stars.

The Great Orion Nebula.
Probably the best known of our nebulae.This wonderful star-forming region hangs in Orion's sword and is vivible to the naked eye (on a clear night!) The very bright young stars at it's heart are collectively known as the Trapezium and it is their light which both illuminates and blows out the clouds of interstellar dust.The formation on the left is known as the Running Man nebula..(turn the image on its side!) and again the blue colour is reflected starlight..

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some of life's small challenges

Steve’s challenge for the last couple of months has been to replace yet more fencing on the island.  Trying to erect hundreds of metres of posts and wire in gale force winds wasn’t easy, but he has now finished the quota for this year, and despite the strong winds, it is (mostly) straight!  He has now started on some more of the winter ditching projects – in the relative comfort of the digger cab.

                                                                          Spot the digger!

Rachel’s challenge has been getting to grips with her A level courses (this has also been my challenge, along with wrestling with new shapes of baskets!)

Ben’s challenge of the month has been how to get good photographs of the wildlife on Enlli; here he is waiting for choughs and waders to wander close by on Solfach.....effective, but pretty cold!
                                         Spot the Ben!

                                          A chough posing for Ben

The wet and windy weather has now given way to cold and frosty days.  The snow laden hills on the mainland look spectacular, but yet again we have escaped any “proper” snow fall!  Rachel and Ben can have a day off school only if there’s more than 1cm of snow.....will it happen this year?
                                           The mountains of Snowdonia from Enlli

                                         Frozen hail on Mynydd Enlli

Friday, October 29, 2010

October Update

Yes, we are all still here! The summer has been very busy, as usual, and so our ‘weekly’ blog writing had to be put aside for...a short while...
Much has happened since May, and I (Rachel), will try to summarise the highlights.
In June, we went to Scotland for our annual two week holiday. It is seemingly impossible for us to go anywhere for any amount of time without visiting islands, as we stayed on Eigg, Muck and Rum in West Scotland.

After a week of walking on Eigg and winding up our fitness levels, we climbed the Cuillin Ridge on Rum during the second week.

After battling persistent midgies on the long and arduous ascent up Sgurr nan Gillan, we claimed our first summit of the day and watched Askeval and Halival emerge out of the cloud, their peaks looming above us. We were in and out of the mist all day, but when, eventually, the sun burnt off the fog, the views of the ridge and the valley below were spectacular.

We climbed the six peaks in 8 ½ hours, (including losing our bearings slightly on the descent of Ainshavel), and were all fairly relieved when the small outline of Dibidil bothy came into view, and we put the stove on for a much-needed beaker of tea.

We returned to our own, now sun-baked, island to discover that we had missed a heat-wave whilst intrepidly exploring in the highlands, and it had apparently just left, (this seems to be an annual pattern), as July was, for the most part, inescapably wet and foggy. The weather did not stop the swimmers in the family from braving the artic waters almost daily with friends who were as ‘keen’ as we were.

In August, after diligently watching the weather forecasts and willing the wind to turn to the east, dad seized the opportunity and set off in his kayak for ireland. He started at an absurd hour in the depths of the night, and we all stumbled, bleary-eyed, down to Solfach to wish him a safe trip. The next day, after a tiring 14 hour paddle, he arrived in Wicklow, having been met by a friend, and after being treated to a curry, he got a ferry back to Hollyhead, having satisfied his adventure-craving for one year, anyhow.

Mum also took to the sea, exchanging a kayak for a wet-suit, and set out to swim Enlli sound for a second time, hoping to touch land at the other side. She completed the swim in 1 hour 23 minutes and became the first woman, (mad enough), to swim across the sound.

Ben and I did not escape the insanity, as we participated in the first island triathalon, along with mum, Rich.E, Gwyn and Carwyn. Inevitably, the weather took a turn for the worst about an hour before we had planned on starting, but we were determined to continue and ended up swimming in pitching waters, our ‘target’ buoy bobbing out of sight behind the waves, and running and cycling face-on into horizontally squalling wind and rain. Nevertheless, everyone finished; shivering and soaked, but alive and all headed up to Ty Pellaf for a mug of hot chocolate and warm bath.

Ben and I, along with Rich.E , run around the island every week, endeavouring to improve our personal times.

Hence, the summer passed in a blurr of visitors, farming activities and mad epics. September came round all too quickly and Ben and I were back in our classrooms. I have now started my A levels and Ben, now in year 10, is continuing his GCSE’s, having to be pinned to his chair by his long-suffering teacher every time a rare bird is announced on the VHF radio. Dad has now started his fencing work, and has recruited a temporary ‘slave,’ Tim O’hare, for a couple of weeks, who is a great help.

One of our recent challenges was erecting mum’s newly- aquired polytunnel. The foundations were painstaklingly marked out by mum and dad, and then, armed with shovels and pick-axes, we all joined forces to dig the holes and trenches for the base-plates.

It took the better part of two days to raise the skeleton of the polytunnel, and, a week later, the wind had died down enough to attempt the plastic.

I was absent during this phase but am told that it took the combined efforts of dad, mum, Ben, and Tim to prevent it from taking off with all four clinging on.

It was eventually finished and was still standing the following morning after the night’s gales.

Mum and I went to West Dean College for a week in September. Mum did a basket course, and I did a fused glass jewellery course; we both returned full of enthusiasm.

Dad continues to take stunning pictures of the heavens on clear nights.
And so, we are all now starting to adjust to our daily winter routine, and, as the days get shorter and colder, the wood burner is in use once again. Hopefully, we will be more diligent with our blog writing and there will be an update before next May...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May days

The cold northerly winds have continued well into may/we still need a log fire every night to keep us warm! However, there is still evidence displayed in the wild life on the island that we are well into spring;

The Oystercatchers are fiercely guarding their territories and nests, screaming a warning as you walk by.

Squill has begun to carpet the coastal areas in a lovely light blue.

The Thrift is also starting to flower, the pink clumps lining the Gullies and cliffs.

We are also starting to see the oats and grass that we sowed a month or so ago beginning to poke there stems above the ground. All images (c) Ben Porter

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April Activity

Now that we have finally said goodbye to the wintry weather (we hope!) and are enjoying beautiful calm, sunny days, there's a buzz of activity here on Ynys Enlli.
Apart from a few stragglers, lambing has finished and calving has begun:

While I have been rotavating, sowing and planting in the various vegetable patches, Steve has been busy cultivating on a bigger scale, ploughing the fields ready to sow arable crops and grass leys:

The cafe is in operation, offering refreshments to day visitors, and the craft shop is well stocked with crafts and products made over the winter:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

More night-time wonders...

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." Psalm 19

I hope you enjoy these next few images I've taken through the telescope over the last couple of months. Clear night skies have been a bit lacking recently, as has the energy to stay up and enjoy them...due to late-night lambing and calving duties.

This first image is of the Cone nebula area, in the constellation Monoceros (up and left of Orion). On the left side of the picture, the Cone itself is a column of dark interstellar dust sillhoueted against red glowing hydrogen gas. The blueish area over on the right is a reflection nebula , where the light of bright stars gets reflected off the dust.

The next picture is of the Outer Limits Galaxy...or NGC 891. This is estimated to be between 24 to 32 million light years away and is of a similar size to our own Milky Way galaxy...110,000 light years wide. We see it edge-on and so the dust lanes in it's spiral arms form a stiking dark band. It is situated in the constellation of Andromeda. Can you spot several other smaller galaxies in the picture?

This next one is called the Jellyfish Nebula...I think you can see why...
8,000 years ago in the constellation of Gemini a star exploded and sent a shock wave out into space which is still travelling. As it speeds through clouds of dust and hydrogen it energizes and excites them into the red glowing tendrils that form the Jellyfish shape.

A rather hazy shot of jupiter and two of it's moons. You can just about make out the Great Red Spot, an orange blob in a dark band (the South Equatorial Belt)upper left. This is a huge storm that is bigger than the Earth and has been raging for over 200 years...and we think this winter has been bad!

Galaxies M81 (lower left) and M82 in Ursa Major.
These two are 12 million light years away but only 150,000 light years apart...virtually on each other's doorstep! In the distant past it is believed that the larger galaxy, M81 partly deformed it's smaller neighbour (M82) and has left it bursting with star formation as a result.

M101...The Pinwheel Galaxy.
This is one of my favourites. A beautiful face-on spiral galaxy 27 million light years away in Ursa Major (next to the handle of the Plough). It is 70% larger than our own galaxy but quite faint and takes long photographic exposures (27 exposures of 5-10 minutes each) to capture the details of its spiral arms.

A poorly processed picture of the surface of the Moon. Funnily enough, although the Moon is bright it can be difficult to get clear, high magnification pictures because of turbulent air currents. I must be more diligent and remember to label my pictures when I take them because I can't remember which area of the Moon this is...any guesses?
The Needle Galaxy in the constallation Coma Berenices,32 million light years away.
Another edge-on spiral galaxy with dramatic dust lanes cutting across it's bulging central core. This is the largest edge-on spiral galaxy in the night sky, containing 200 billion suns! Our own Milky Way would apparently look very similar if viewed edge-on. There is another smaller galaxy lower on the right (NGC 4562)
Well..roll on clear quiet nights...and get your binoculars out!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Arrivals

Spring has been slow to start with the cold weather persisting well into March. However, the Daffodils have poked their heads above the ground and are now in full flower around the abbey. The Pussy Willows are also flowering down in the withie beds, like yellow-stained cotton buds. The real sign of Spring for me is when I start to hear the Chiffchaffs singing their name over and over again and see Swallows darting around. Among the earliest arrivals are the Wheatears, lovely smart and colourful birds of the Chat family that you can never get tired of. During the nights, as Dad checks the lambing flock in the pastures, he has heard the first few Manx shearwaters calling. And of course, there are plenty of lambs!

Pussy Willows (c) Ben Porter

Wheatear (c) Ben Porter

Daffodils and Celtic cross (c) Ben Porter

Chiffchaff (c) Ben Porter

Sheep (c) Ben Porter