Rare pair of Astronomy themed tokens

Tokens were issued in England from 1648. They were used to pay for goods and services – a replacement to coin. This was partly due to the country having no monarchy, Charles I having lost his head, leading to a republic headed up by Oliver Cromwell. How could England have coins when there was no monarchy to put on them? It was also due to the lack of coin available for people to use, leading them to make their own. The practice was outlawed in 1772.

A huge range of tokens were made but I know of only two with an astronomy link. One is in the British Museum  Issued in 1666 by Richard Berry it shows 3 men with astronomical instruments. Possibly depicting a pub called The Astronomers from the dockside in London.


The other was issued in Maidstone Kent by Thomas Swinoke and is in the image below. It shows 3 men one with a globe and 2 with scientific instruments, possibly telescopes. It is possible that it depicts the pub the Worlds End.

More information can be found on 17th-century tokens here http://www.thecoppercorner.com/history/17thC_hist.html

Scottish Fireball – Meteor hunt.


On the 29th Feb about 6.45pm a large fireball was spotted by a number of observers streaking across the sky in Scotland.  Along with the bright streak that lit up the sky there was also reports of a following sonic boom bang.  The event was captured on a number of dash cams as well as static cameras making it possible to try and narrow down where to look for any meteorite debris from this event.

The hunt is now on for any meteorites, with excitement building over who will discover any debris first.  Last night’s BBC TV magazine program called the oneshow even featured a Scottish meteorite hunter.  Whom had a interesting if a little unusual golf club technique of finding meteorites.

One meteor hunter online suggests that the meteor seems to have disintegrated during descent in a ESE to WNW track and a good place to look for meteorites is roughly in a line between Aberdeen-Aviemore-Fort Augustus…but it also could be further west than this, too.   The map above has also been produced with examples of where meteorites can be found from this event.  All of this is a little ambiguous at the moment.  So anyone who is going out there hoping to strike the cosmic jackpot – I say happy hunting to you.  As you really are looking for a needle in a haystack! 

A 6 tailed comet

On the 1st March 1744 comet C/1743 X1 reached perihelion.  Although only the 6th brightest recorded comet.  It will be remembered for its striking 6 tails which developed.  It reached a blazing apparent magnitude of -7 and was visible during daylight, after it passed by the sun a relatively close 0.2 AU.  It has been suggested that the multiple tails occurred due the at least 3 active nucleus, maybe as the comet tore itself apart during perihelion.

It was spotted by a young Charles Messier on whom it had a great effect and lead him down the road of becoming an astronomer.

Comets as bright as these are rare events.  A similar but more recent example was comet Mcnaught or the great comet of 2007 as it became known.


Amazing – 2 clear nights in a row.

Armed with my camera and tripod I headed up the hill again last night.  My idea was to have a go at getting a star trail photo.  I knew I had about an hour to get the shots in before the Moon started to rise and.  So starting before full astronomical darkness I set up my camera and started to take the shots.  I decided that I would face north so the stars would rotate around Polaris.  I set my camera at 18mm to a ISO of 1600 and a F 5.6.  I took shots for 1 minute each.  Tbh its all a great learning curve.  Next time I will wait until the sky is properly dark.  As the first few pictures came out a bit on the bright side.  My next target was the Milky way.  I probably should have had a tracking mount for this one as the stars are starting to trail even with a shot of just 40 seconds.  Finally I got in a quick shot of Orion before the Moon rose and I headed home.


Camera outing

Last night I managed to get out with my camera.  I live in a fairly rural location, even so with the clouds rolling in and the lights from a nearby town, conditions weren’t ideal. Then the full moon began to rise – beautiful but adding to the overall light pollution.  So I called it quits.  Here are the results

Smeaton the first amateur astronomer?

To be sold

Two excellent telescopes, belonging to the observatories of the late Mr Smeaton at Austhorpe, near Leeds, one of them an equatorial and the other a Transit Instrument.
A purchaser may have the opportunity of seeing the manner in which the telescopes are fixed and the constructions to the observatories to which they belong and be furnished with any part of the materials if required, towards refixing them in the same manner. Also two remarkably good time pieces, belonging to the said observatories.
Also a small fire engine with a ten inch cylinder calculated for supplying any gentleman’s house with water.

The telescopes and time pieces will be removed to London, if not disposed of by the first of April.

This advert was placed in the Leeds Intelligencer Monday 25th Feb 1793.

It was while searching through old papers looking for references to telescopes I came across this advert placed in 1793.  Looking into this further I found a story of a man whom was one of the first amateur astronomers.  This advert was selling on his death a large observatory and its equipment which had been placed in his garden at Austhorpe near Leeds in Yorkshire.

The man’s name was John Smeaton.  And if that is a recognisable name that is because this man was a celebrated 18th century civil engineer.  He is known as the father of civil engineering and even possibly even coined the name engineer.  A Yorkshire man whom lived from 1724 – 1792.   A man whom moved in intellectual and scientific circles he was a member of the Lunar society.

During his day job he built the iconic Eddystone lighthouse,  (now seen on the Plymouth Hoe) numerous canals and the harbour walls at ports such as Charlestown and St Ives. But he also had a lifelong passion for astronomy.  A passion which would see him bring his engineering skills to design observatories such as the one which still exists in York, with a conical designed roof.  He also designed wedges for telescopes.  When wanting to view Mercury with better accuracy he improved micrometers with his engineering skills.  His observations of Mercury proved him to be a competent astronomer and the paper was read and published by the Royal Society.  In modern terms he would be considered an amateur – all be it a dedicated one.

Its amazing how one small advert can lead to the discovery of a man’s otherwise forgotten passion for astronomy.

To be continued….



Almost a Catalina disastor.


calalina (2)

Here in Cornwall we are often rainy and even more cloudy.  So observational astronomy is a bit of a waiting game.  Last night a gap in the cloud didn’t materialise until in the early hours, so I went to bed and set the alarm for early o’clock.   My plan was to photograph Catalina.  It was certainly cold outside for here.  There was the first frost I had seen in two winters on the ground.  But the sky was crystal clear.  Setting up the scope I realised Catalina was going to be near the zenith, making it harder to look through the scope as I would be bending down.  Scope aligned I sclew to the plough and Catalina’s location and guess what I couldn’t find it.  I looked and looked and catalina was certainly playing a hiding game with me.  Feeling decidedly out of practice and a little foolish I went inside to warm up and look for the gps locations of the comet.  Back out in the cold with information to hand I started aligning the scope again and that is when the owl swooped.  I felt a swoosh near my head and glancing up this huge wingspan of a owl had nearly knocked my hat flying off my head.

I had heard the tawny owls distinctive hoot in the trees behind our house all night but that is nothing unusual.   I had never seen one of the birds up close and personal before.  I know this was stupid but I was now feeling decidedly spooked.  I don’t know if it had been trying to land on me or just dive-bombing me but now I certainly must have looked a sight crouching even lower looking every few seconds over my shoulder.


Image credit Renaud Visage/Getty Images

Anyhow I managed to get a quick one shot long exposure of Catalina –  not my best shot ever but least I got one.  I then packed away my scope and watched the ISS make its pass just after 6am.  As dawn was upon us there was a lovely line of planets rising from the south east Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Mars.  Jupiter had dropped behind the tree line for me.  But 4 was great to see anyhow.

Tim Peake a very British astronaut


Yesterday the a UK was gripped by space walk fever.  Tim our ever smiling and unflappable very British astronaut was the first person ever to emerge from the hatch of the ISS wearing a Union Jack on their sleeve.  It was so great to see that Britain has finally been represented in space.  Prior to Tim British born people have had to make their journeys as commercial astronauts or under other national flags due to the lack of funding from successive British governments. Tim’s selection and training started as early as 2009.  Although the British government only started their investment in the ISS in 2011. 

Long may space fever continue in the UK and I hope that Tim’s spacewalk isn’t the last time we see that Union Jack on an astronaut floating in space.  Well done Tim watching you work while you walked was amazing.

11 years since Huygens landed.


On this day 11 years ago a tiny probe named Huygens landed on Saturn’s moon Titan.  Sending back images of an Earth like but dry landscape.

The science collected by this audacious and tiny probe wasn’t the end of the story for Titan.  The Cassini – Huygens mission has gone through lots of discoveries since. Particularly that Titan isn’t as dry and barren as first envisioned.  Lakes at the North and South pole’s.  The lakes are made of liquid methane and imaged by the RADAR equipment on the Cassini satellite.

Happy landing anniversary Hugyens


A Cornish sunrise – at last!

pluto blue sunrise

Image credit JPL NASA

Watching stargazing live  (our annual astronomical tv fest with Brian Cox)  last night I was reminded that different planets would have different coloured sunrises.  Above is a beautiful image of Pluto’s blue sunrise taken by the picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera.  It is thought that the blue colour comes from nitrogen, methane and particles called tholins.

Winter has been a bit of a damp squid here in Cornwall.  There has not been a sunrise to be seen.  One storm after another this winter has arrived from across the Atlantic and we have already reached the letter R in the naming of them.   I had nearly forgotten what a Earth sunrise looked like.

So this morning when there was a beautiful sunrise with hints of purple I just have to catch this picture of it.  It may not be blue but it certainly was pretty.