Friday morning I travelled back over the border into Singapore. The taxi driver had some errands to run and people to see so it took a bit longer than expected. Friday was essentially a day off with dinner being the only official engagement.
After dinner we decided to go see the view of Singapore from Marina Bay Sands. The Singapore MRT (the metro/subway) was nice! The main differences between Singapore and, say, Newcastle (or London) was how modern and clean it was.
Unfortunately, I left my phone at the hotel so couldn't take pictures of the stunning cityscape from the top of Marina Bay Sands. The spectacular views of the city were complemented by a dynamic lights and laser show projected into the sky. They obviously don't consider light to be pollution here.
For the first time this week the sky was mostly clear and I could make out the brightest stars in the sky. A trio of bright orange "stars" were particular striking: Mars, Antares (meaning rival of Mars!) and Arcturus were all high in the sky. The sky was hazy towards the south but the bright pairing of Alpha and Beta Centauri were prominent and it was my first time to see them. I had high hopes of seeing the Southern Cross this week. Only one of the stars was visible - the cloud covered the rest of the constellation. The cloud kept pace with the rotating sky so one star was all I saw! For the record I saw Beta Crucis. Singapore is almost on the equator and during 24 hours (or over one year) the entire celestial sphere is visible from here. In the north I could see Vega and some of the stars of the Plough. Overhead was Spica, Mars and Arcturus. In the south the stars we don't see in the UK, like Centaurus and Crux. A great place to do astronomy if there was a powercut!
I really wanted to wake up at 5am and get a solid 90 minutes of images of Comet Lovejoy. In the event I eventually fell out of bed at 6am and only managed about 22 minutes.
This is how C/2013 R1 Lovejoy looked this morning.
The comet is past perihelion and getting further from the Sun. This morning it was about 79 million miles from the Sun (between the orbits of Venus and Earth) and about 107 million miles away from Earth.
Comet Lovejoy is becoming harder to observe with every passing morning. The orbit is taking the comet further to the south in the sky which means it is heading towards my southeast horizon. Lovejoy is also fading as it heads away from the Sun. There can't be many more chances to get images like this. The forecast for tomorrow is good so I'll have another attempt at getting 90 minutes of pictures - perhaps enough to get a bit more of the comet's tail.
It's official. Northumberland has some of the darkest night skies in Europe. We certainly have the biggest dark sky park in Europe now.
Hopefully this will go beyond simply recognising how great it is to do astronomy in the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park. I hope it raises the public consciousness to the increasing levels of light pollution around the rest of the county. Because even a few miles outside the Northumberland Dark Sky Park the evidence of light pollution fades back into the sky.
Everyone one can play a part in the reduction of light pollution: from simply being aware of where the external security lights are pointing on your property (shield them or angle them down - it's unlikely you'll be robbed Mission Impossible style from above!) to councils paying attention to light pollution legislation when installing or replacing streetlights.
The Milky Way, meandering across a dark sky is a wonder of nature that people are increasingly missing out on seeing. To see what you're missing out on because of light pollution - click this. And you really want to click that! Understanding the nature of that pale band of light was a scientific journey traversing centuries. Light pollution makes it inaccessible to everyone. The Milky Way and the other stars are increasingly fading into an orange background because of street-lighting scattering up into the atmosphere. Now that a large part of Northumberland's area is protected we have to be vigilant over the 70% that isn't.
I hope that with this award fight to take back our night sky will begin in earnest.
This is a one minute exposure of the sky taken from the car park at Hauxley Nature Reserve, the meeting place of NASTRO. It was taken with my Nikon D80 at ISO1600 and a fisheye lens. The major sources of light pollution are towards the south and west and is the combined lights of Ashington, Blyth, Cramlington and Newcastle. Towards the west and southwest are the villages of Broomhill, Togston, Red Row and Hadston. Lights from a caravan park shine through the trees to the east. The town of Amble is towards the north.
It actually looks a lot darker in reality than the camera suggests! The Milky Way is very prominent at this time of the year and the light pollution only seems to be a problem near the horizon. But the camera doesn't lie. The atmosphere scatters the yellow/orange light from towns and cities very effectively and long exposure images rapidly develop an orange background.
NASTRO was given a little bit of funding earlier in the year to purchase a Sky Quality Meter to measure sky brightness. The average of three readings last night was 20.9 magnitudes per square arcsecond. For a feel of what this is like compared to other locations see the Bortle Scale descriptions; Hauxley Nature reserve corresponds roughly to Class 4 "Rural/Suburban transition".
Dr Adrian Jannetta
Guitar strummin' explorer of the universe. Mild mannered maths teacher by day and astronomer by night.