Friday, January 29, 2010

Starry,Starry night....

In a recent survey of the distribution of dark skies throughout the U.K ,Ynys Enlli and Pen Llyn were among the clearest.The survey hilighted the difficulty of seeing the beautiful details of the night sky from areas where light-pollution is a problem.Our nearest light pollution (apart from the lighthouse!) is the faint orange glow from Dublin,about 60 miles away.
Having already had an interest in Astronomy,it was an obvious place to bring my telescope to take advantage of the stunning night skies. However,the challenge here on the island is the almost continuous sea breeze that causes the telescope to shudder and spoils the view.I managed to get permission to install a small observatory dome behind the farm that now enables me to use the scope even when there's a breeze.
Some of the fainter sights of the heavens can better be seen by taking long exposure photographs,which I have been having a go at and include here some of the far.

The image below is the Horsehead and Flame nebulae. These are 1,500 light years away in the constellation Orion. In fact the bright star in the shot is the left hand most star of Orion's belt,Alnitak.The Horse's head is a large cloud of interstellar dust outlined against red ionised hydrogen gas.

This is the core of the Andromeda galaxy,just over two million light years away. You can see this with the naked eye on a good night.Apparently it's about twice the size of our own galaxy and contains 300 billion suns! The smaller fuzzy object is another,smaller galaxy.

This next one is the Triangulum galaxy. It is only one third the size of Andromeda but of similar spiral shape,though we see it more face-on than Andromeda.

Next,in black and white,is the Whirlpool galaxy,or M51 by it's Messier catalogue number. This galaxy is 15 million light years away and sits just under the tip of the handle of the Plough. There are two galaxies here,the larger one gradually pulling the smaller one apart through gravitational forces.

The Great Orion Nebula ,located in Orion's sword,is a large area of glowing hydrogen gas and dust.The nebula is being illuminated and blown apart by a grouping of stars at it's heart called the Trapezium. This is quite an easy object to see with the naked eye or binoculars.

Finally,the Rosette Nebula. This is the largest nebula in our galaxy,about three times the size of the Orion nebula,though appears of similar size because it is also three times further away (4,900 light years).


  1. I really enjoyed looking at all the pictures how lucky you are.I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. We have had a lot of snow and ice for 3 weeks and were house bound! Ann Vaughan

  2. Great pictures, Ben! It makes me homesick for the island, but I don't think I could lie out and watch the night sky in this weather!! I hope you are all well. Love from Dianne and Patrick

  3. These are excellent Steve, can I have a go in the summer? Steve Obs

  4. Most enjoyable text and pictures. The clearest introduction to basket-weaving and galaxy-gazing that I've ever come across. It goes without saying that I loved the canine pin-ups, especially Daisy!
    The 'Welcome to Mud Island' sequence may or may not attract a whole new type of visitor (a new Bardsey beauty skin treatment perhaps?) The star photographs are amazing, and I find the sentence about each galaxy or nebula very helpful, and have gone back to the astronomy books I've struggled with before. Thanks, this is a really worthwhile blog and I look forward to the next episode.

  5. Wow! The photos are stunning. I came here after reading the article on the BBC News website. I do wish that Gwynedd Council will make more areas of Gwynedd have access to dark skies. I have great interest in astronomy, but living in Bangor, it is very difficult to see much.

  6. Hello Porter family. I'm writing from the International Dark-Sky Association. We had heard rumors that you might be considering an application for designation as a dark sky place and wondered if you had had any thoughts on this lately. Please feel free to email me and we can discuss the status more! I'd love to learn more about your fantastic location. Please feel free to email me at amee(at)darksky(dot)org
    ~Amee Hennig, IDSPlaces Program Manager