Local Astronomy History Leaflets

Bright Stars Dark Skies - Leaflet
Self guided tours for John Couch Adams and The Hurlers in Cornwall

Newly released and in Cornwall you will find two self guided tours. The first looks at local astronomy hero John Couch Adams and takes you on a self guided trip around his home area based in Laneast and Launceston. There is lots of information about the man and his achievements and sites to be seen along the way.

The second leaflet is a tour of the Hurlers. Once again self guided, it takes you around the immediate sites. It looks at the recent archaeoastronomy developments for the sites.

These leaflets have been produced as part of a Heritage Lottery funded project by Bright Stars Dark Skies. Grab one while they last!!

Singing the Stones at The Hurlers


Equinox brought experiments, fun and antics. Sunday was spent at The Hurlers on Bodmin Moor. We were there to celebrate the equinox weekend and the project Dark Skies Bright Stars – organised by Mayes creative. On arrival the site was shrouded with mist which added to the whole atmospherics of the event. At 2pm the event started with dancing and singing in the stones, it was wonderful to see the site used in such a creative way. The dancers were very expressive using the whole of the central circle. A choir accompanied the moves with melody, lyrics and tuneful notes. Once the mood had been set the crowd were invited to participate in an experiment. This experiment was to test the resonance of the stones. The stones themselves have flat sides and could have been used to reflect sound back to groups of people singing or making noise within them. Sound testing equipment was set up and a number of tests were undertaken. First of all the crowd was asked to line up with the stones and the sound test equipment was placed in the center of the circle. A number of notes were sung straight and in  staccato. Then the crowd were asked to clap together and then one at a time. Amazingly an echo could be heard with the claps and the sound testing equipment picked up a resonance. With this early success we repeated the experiment but this time had the crowd stood in the center of the circle and the test equipment on the edge. This did not give us the same results, it in fact increased the resonance.

Bring on the drums!!

A number of drummers had been invited along to attend. It was time to check the resonance with a larger sound. The drums first of all stood with the stones and it was amazing to hear the noise echo and reverberate around the circle. But when a snare drum was brought into the circle the effect was very noticeable. The resonance of the snare drum was particularly effected when the drummer reached the center of the circle. This experiment was a huge success and shows what can be achieved by just trying out ideas and having a go!

IMG_6521 (2)IMG_6504 (2)IMG_6530 (2)

Boskednan circle and Carn Galver


Boskednan circle is located on a ridge near New Mill north of Penzance. Here is an image looking towards Carn Galver a local easily recognisable outcrop. The summer solstice sunset imaged falls to the south of this outcrop onto an area known as watch croft. But what is interesting is that a Lunar Major Northern setting point would be directly on the Carn itself, as it measures 318 degrees. Could this have been built as a lunar observatory? rather than a solar one?IMG_5733

Other circles in the area have links to the lunar cycle, The Merry Maidens also has a local outcrop in the lunar major setting position and Boscawen-un has lunar links with its quartz stone and positioning of a menhir (standing stone) in the lunar northern rising position. All these discoveries and much more are being compiled and will be released in a book dedicated to wonderful circles found here in West Penwith, within the new year.  I will keep you all posted.

Summer Solstice approach at the Merry Maidens

As the summer solstice draws close. I thought it would be nice to image the position of the setting sun at the Merry Maidens stone circle in West Cornwall. Currently, the sun is setting to the north (right) of the locally important hill, Chapel Carn Brea. The sun will move only one solar width between now and the solstice (or about 0.5 a degree), as the daily displacement of the sun at this time is at its smallest.  If we to wind back time to the late Neolithic or early Bronze age the sunset would be another degree to the north or to the left in the images.  So the setting sun in the bronze age would be 3 solar widths to the north (right) in the images. So the solstice sun would be setting on the lower ridge between Chapel Carn Brea and the next hill in the photo which is called Bartinney.

Anyhow here are the images – enjoy.sundown Merry Maidens

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

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.

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.


Lightning strikes


lightning penzance

Lightning over Penzance Credit Adam Gibbard

Lightning stuck Penzance at 4am Sunday morning doing damage to our works phone line. Reported by the local newspaper it was a strike that was large enough to disable car batteries, take down the internet and make plasma tv’s fall from their wall mountings smashing on the floor.  Lightning news.  I love a good thunder storm but this has to be one of the most destructive strikes in Penzance’s history.

A nice piece of technology added to the ISS in 2014 is the lightning imaging sensor.  It records lightning strikes and works on recording lightning both during the night and day.  It would be nice to know if the sensor had recorded the strike and we could find out how powerful it was.  Time for me to go back to trying to get the phone line fixed. Thank goodness for mobiles!


Rubbish attack

poldu pink]

The stormy weather has hit one of my local beaches here in Cornwall and with it there has been a massive amount of pink bottles washed up on Poldhu cove.  27000 bottles of Vanish detergent were lost from a container ship west of Lands end and have spent months at the bottom of the ocean before the stormy weather has washed them ashore.   A clean-up is occurring with many volunteers arriving each day to help remove the plastic, although some have leaked detergent fortunately many of the bottles are still sealed.

However difficult it is to clear up my local beach it is considerable harder to deal with rubbish in space.   NASA currently tracks 20000 pieces of space junk and the amount is ever increasing.   This recent image highlights how the Earth’s orbit is becoming increasing cluttered.


IMAGE CREDIT Royal Institute of Great Britain.

During 2015 the ISS had to modify its orbit numerous times to avoid collision with space junk.  In fact continuing to litter low earth orbit without formulating a plan of dealing for the existing pieces of junk is short sighted.   It is not like we can just go out and remove them!  The number of countries and independent businesses wishing to use low earth orbit is on the increase and I hope this does not mean a increase in the amount of junk.