Observations - news and views on astronomy from Sydney Observatory

Sunspot almost outshines eclipse

Published by Melissa Hulbert on October 24, 2014 No Comments

Today marked the start of the Solar Eclipse Conference 2014 in New Mexico. The first two days of the four day conference focus on education and are being hosted by the Sacramento Peak Observatory.

In the morning we heard from Ralph Chou on eclipse safety and some of the new statistics on eye damage caused by not properly observing the Sun and Fred Espenak who spoke about what he has learned over many years of eclipse chasing, some of the do’s and don’ts with imaging.

Fred Espenak speaking on "Photographing Eclipses".  Photo and copyright Melissa Hulbert ©, all rights reserved.

Fred Espenak speaking on “Photographing Eclipses”.
Photo and copyright Melissa Hulbert ©, all rights reserved.

The afternoon was devoted to the partial solar eclipse and everyone setup cameras, telescopes, binoculars and solar glasses to observe to eclipse and a wonderful sunspot, which is said to be the largest since 1988. In fact the sunspot looks so good, even just through solar glasses that it almost over shadowed the eclipse!

There were a few clouds around during the day but by late afternoon the skies were clear and a clear view of the eclipse and the spectacular sunspot made for very happy eclipse chasers! Maximum eclipse saw just over 43% of the Sun covered by the Moon. Our observing site was next to the Dunn Solar Telescope  and being one of the highest points around (about 2800m above sea level) provides impressive views across the valleys.

Many might ask why a partial is interesting given its not total or annular eclipse? Partial eclipses all appear differently especially when sunspots are present and t also gives eclipse chasers (also known as Umbraphiles) a chance to test new gear and equipment setups ready for the next total/annular eclipse.

Maximum Eclipse. Photo and copyright Melissa Hulbert ©, all rights reserved.

Maximum Eclipse.
Photo and copyright Melissa Hulbert ©, all rights reserved.

If you have solar glasses (or specialised filters for your telescope/binoculars) then take a look at the magnificent sunspot. Otherwise, if you don’t have specialised solar viewing equipment then drop into Sydney Observatory and do a tour that includes viewing through the telescopes (weather permitting) over the next few days – this sunspot is really worth a look!














Antikythrera mechanismThe appearance of eclipses is governed by the Saros cycle, a long sequence of eclipses occurring at 18 year intervals. Today’s eclipse is part of Saros 153 and many cycles are in play at any one time. Australia will not see an eclipse in the Saros 153 cycle until the year 2501!


The remarkable Antikythera mechanism had the Saros cycle programmed into its gearing to  predict eclipses.





24 Oct 2014 Daily cosmobite : Partial solar eclipse

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 23, 2014 No Comments


A partial solar eclipse occurs on the morning of Friday October 24, 2014 AEDT . It is only visible from far eastern Russia, Canada, USA and Mexico but you can view it via live streams from Griffith Observatory, LA and SLOOH. Both streams begin at 8am AEDT.

*Full eye-safety precautions are required if you are viewing this eclipse in person.


The partial solar eclipse of October 24 2014 (AEDT) as seen from Los Angeles. The Moon partially covers the Sun. Chart generated by TheSky6 © Software Bisque, Inc. www.bisque.com.

Daily cosmobite: Constellation Grus, the Crane

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 22, 2014 No Comments

GrusThe constellation Grus, the Crane, is high overhead at present. It first appeared on a celestial globe by Petrus Plancius in 1598. It is one of nine celestial birds but it looks more like a scimitar to me.






Grus, the Crane. Chart generated by TheSky6 © Software Bisque, Inc. www.bisque.com.





Gough Whitlam

Margaret Whitlam AO and Gough Whitlam AC QC in 2007 with Toner Stevenson, manager Sydney Observatory. Photo G. Wyatt.


Today Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC, Prime Minister for Australia from 1972 to 1975, has died at the age of 98. Gough Whitlam was a scholar, a social reformer and he acted on his passion for Australians to shake off our cultural cringes and narrow mindedness and make our own future. His short, less than three years in office, were a turning point in all our lives. Margaret Whitlam AO was always by Gough’s side, but she was a strong, independent woman with views which along with her husband, helped shape society.

Many of us owe our education to the reforms made by Whitlam’s Labor government. For the generation who attended University in the 1970s and 80s we were the first in our families to obtain degrees. Many social and civil rights we take for granted today were due to the Whitlam era. Like so many of his ideas and policies Gough Whitlam forged ahead with ‘giving back’ land to the Gurindji People, a turning point in the battle for land rights by Aboriginal Peoples. It was the right thing to do.

Gough told us that we should and could all embrace the Arts, and subsequently the foundation was laid for a magnificent Australian National Gallery when Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’ was purchased in 1973. Movies, such as Storm Boy, the Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, My Brilliant Career, the Getting of Wisdom and Picnic at Hanging Rock, were able to be funded and Australians became known around the world as creative, and as having an arts industry. During this period confidence in all of the art forms flourished.

In September 2006, many years after the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor Government, I was fortunate to be invited to the launch of the ‘The Great Wall of China: dynasties, dragons and warriors’ exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Gough Whitlam gave a memorable speech about his important visit to Beijing in 1971, just before he took office, he then returned in 1973 as Prime Minister. He spoke about how Australia’s relationship with China was developed during those visits and it was obvious, that this relationship between Australia and China was one of his proudest achievements.

Afterwards at the celebratory dinner in Chinatown, I was fortunate to chat with Margaret and Gough Whitlam about the relationship Sydney Observatory has with Beijing Planetarium, and that Geoff Wyatt had recently been on an astronomy fellowship to China. The photograph taken that evening will always be treasured.

For more about Gough Whitlam’s life and Legacy I recommend this link.

Orionids.TheSky.2014The Orionids meteor shower reaches its peak on October 20 or 21. The meteors are caused by dust from Halley’s comet entering our atmosphere. Look for them after midnight from a dark place.






Orion is in the north-east sky at 2am in mid-October. Look for fast meteors radiating from below Betelgeuse, the orange star of Orion’s shoulder. Chart generated by TheSky6 © Software Bisque, Inc. www.bisque.com.




UppsalaSchmidt.Siding SpringComet Siding Spring, C/2013 A1, passes close by Mars today at a distance of about 140,000km.



Comet Siding Spring was discovered with the Uppsala Schmidt telescope at Siding Spring Observatory on January 3, 2013. Photo by Robert McNaught/RSAA.








Daily cosmobite: Mercury reaches inferior conjunction today

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 17, 2014 No Comments

Messenger.Mercury.NASA.pia17397Today the innermost planet, Mercury, passes between Earth and the Sun. This is referred to as an “inferior conjunction”. It will next be visible into the pre-dawn sky at the end of this month.



The Messenger spacecraft continues to monitor Mercury. The butterfly pattern of this crater’s ejecta results from a very shallow impact. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.





Daily cosmobite: Happy 40th Birthday AAT!

Published by Andrew Jacob on October 16, 2014 No Comments

AAT40thStarFest2014.AJThe Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), Australia’s largest optical telescope, was officially opened 40 years ago on October 16, 1974 by Prince Charles. Happy Birthday!




The Anglo-Australian Telescope dome all wrapped up for its birthday celebrations during StarFest, October 4, 2014. Photo © Andrew Jacob






Saturday 15 November, 6 to 8:15pm. Two great events on one great Saturday evening at spectacular Sydney Observatory.
This event suits high school students and adults of all ages and is supported by the Australian Institute of Physics.
Cost: $10 adults, $8 students, bookings and enquires 9921 3485. (Group bookings available). BOOK ONLINE NOW

An Astronomical 2015: Launch of the Australasian Sky guide 2015 (6 to 6:30pm)
Dr Nick Lomb, astronomer and author of the Australasian Sky guide

DR. Nick lomb

Dr Nick Lomb

Now in its 25th year, the Australasian Sky guide continues to be a popular handbook for astronomy enthusiasts of all abilities and ages. Well-known astronomy curator, Nick Lomb, will highlight the astronomical events for 2015. Copies of the Australasian Sky guide can be purchased at a special price on the evening.

6:30- 7pm – Nibbles and drinks as we view the sunset. Then as darkness descends we will hear from this year’s AiP Woman in Physics presenter, Professor Sheila Rowan.



Professor Sheila Rowan, image courtesy University of Glasgow.

The search for gravitational waves – Ripples from the dark side of the Universe (7 to 8pm)
Professor Sheila Rowan, University of Glasgow.
2014 presenter , AIP Women in Physics Lecture series.
7pm – 8pm

Gravitational Waves are amongst the most elusive signals from our Universe reaching the earth – ‘ripples in the curvature of space-time’. The information carried by these signals will give us new insight into the hearts of some of the most violent events in the Cosmos – from black holes to the beginning of the Universe. A global network of gravitational wave detectors is in now reaching the final stages of construction, with first data expected in 2015. The nature of gravitational waves, how the detectors work and what the data from the detectors can tell us about the Universe we inhabit will be discussed.

Professor Sheila Rowan is an experimental physicist, and since 2009, Director of the Institute for Gravitational Research in the School of Physics and Astronomy in the University of Glasgow in the UK. She received her BSc (1991) and PhD (1995) in the field of gravitational wave instrumentation from the University of Glasgow. She was awarded a Leverhulme Prize for Astronomy and Astrophysics in 2005, appointed to Fellowship of the UK Institute of Physics in 2006, elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2008, was the recipient of a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2010 and awarded Fellowship of the American Physical Society in 2012. She was made an MBE for services to science in the Queen’s Birthday Hours list in 2011 and has published more than 150 articles in refereed journals.

From 8pm – Telescope viewing in the courtyard weather permitting.






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