Almost a Catalina disastor.


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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.

Missing the goal.


Watching Blair Walsh take his field goal and miss during the Vikings and Seahawk’s game Sunday was soul destroying.  Walsh is a kicker whom had scored all of Minnesota 9 points during the game. With 22 seconds on the clock all he had to do was put in one last field goal to see them move ahead of Seattle whom had 10 points.  The goal should have been easy one only 27 yards.  It is something that Walsh would practice over and over again.  Unfortunately he missed and the Vikings were declared out – at least for this year.

This whole event reminded me of the last manned docking of the Soyuz at the ISS.   Britain was watching live as our first affiliated astronaut Tim Peake was onboard.  We were in for a few nail biting minutes as the automatic docking had to be over ridden and manual docking took 2 attempts until the Soyuz latched itself onto the ISS.  These manoeuvres are extremely difficult and hats off to  Yuri Malenchenko the veteran Russian astronaut who undertook making these tricky moves.  This time the Kurs radar system failed and that was why they had to dock manually.

I know the astronauts have trained extensively thankfully manual docking is not a common occurrence.  Things do go wrong though and in 2014 two Russian cosmonauts and one american astronaut were stuck in the cramped Soyuz module as they missed a 24 second boost which would have enabled them to complete a 6 hour journey to the ISS. Luckily for them on-board was food that would keep them alive for a number of days!  In 2012 a unmanned supply module failed to reach dock with the ISS and took another week until it had another chance at docking.

It just goes to show however much training is involved things sometimes do not go to plan.  Hopefully Bradley Walsh will get another chance at redeeming himself in next season.