Current News

Somerset Levels Stargazing news and updates, We will also be posting general Astronomy and Stargazing news! So please come back and keep checking for interesting and exciting articles.

Asteroidal Occultation

Just a quick note to let you know that I have just picked up an
asteroidal occultation visible from Othery on the evening of 9th March.
Asteroid 2589 Daniel will occult Regulus at approx 20h20m47s. Clearly
this will be an eyes only needed event so everyone can see it from
home. Hope it's clear.


John Dobson

I came across this whilst browsing youtube and I hope you also find it interesting.

Bye-bye dark sky

The Natural History Museum has at last spoken out about the effects of excessive and poorly thought-out lighting on the natural world.
Please spread the word:

Thank you
Bob Mizon

Free Local Event

We are holding a free local event on the 16-17th of March. This will include a showing of the the film interstellar and events for the young and old. Please see here for more details.

Interstellar object Oumuanua

The first interstellar object spotted passing through the solar system, called 'Oumuamua', may have been more like a comet in disguise.

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland says there is much more “icy stuff than rocky stuff”in the solar system, making it more likely for emissaries from other systems to also be icy, if other solar systems evolved the same way.

“We know that our solar system has ejected many more icy bodies than rocky bodies” says Fitzsimmons.

As our solar system formed, planets made of gas and ice near the outer edges of the solar system ejected trillions of objects, Fitzsimmons said. In addition, the mass of small icy bodies at the outermost reaches of the solar system, known as the Oort cloud, has lost objects over billions of years due to gravitational disruption from other stars. It was therefore logical for astronomers to expect that the first interstellar visit they would see should be a comet.

Given that this object passed relatively close to our Sun as it was travelling through our solar system, one would expect any ices on the surface to basically be heated and it should behave like a comet.

Astronomers observing it with their telescopes have concluded that the object must be rocky in nature – an asteroid. However, when Fitzsimmons and his colleagues examined data on the surface of the object more closely, they found it doesn't look like a typical asteroid either.

“We didn't see any signs of typical spectroscopic signatures that you would expect from the minerals on the surface of an asteroid we see in our solar system”, Fitzsimmons said. “ It rather seems to resemble the (icy) objects that are there in the outer solar system. That kind of got our head scratching. If the object had, originally at least, ice in it, what's happened to it?

Fitzsimmons and his colleagues looked at older studies and laboratory experiments that tried to find out what happens to icy bodies, such as comets, that are exposed for a long time to energetic particles and cosmic rays. These studies suggest that the ice from the surface layers of such bodies evaporates because of the cosmic enviroment.

“What gets left transforms itself into a relatively rigid and dessiccated surface held together by carbon compounds, which at the same time gives a sort of a reddish, pinkish colour”, Fitzsimmons said. “And thats what we saw in our spectra”.

Researchers studying the interstellar object said that it might have an icy core concealed by a rocky, protective crust.

The astronomers ran a series of computer experiments to model the behavior of the now icy 'Oumuamua'. They found that if the object's crust was only 20 inches thick, it would protect the ice at the object's core from the heat of the Sun, thus preventing it from displaying the telltale signs of gas and dust leaving the comet.

In a separate paper that will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters the end of December 2017, Fitzsimmons colleague Michele Bannister, also from Queen's University, looked at further properties of 'Oumuamua' in the near-infrared spectrum and compared the data with those on similar objects in the outer solar system. She found staggering similarities.

“We've discovered that this is a planetesimal with a well-baked crust that looks a lot like the tiniest worlds in the outer regions of our solar system”, Bannister said in a statement.

While Oumuamua's arrival has been one of the most significant astronomical events of 2017, Fitzsimmons and Bannister expect that such occurrences will become rather common in the future. Similar objects likely make it into the solar system fairly regularly, the astronomers said, but they are usually too faint to spot with current telescopes. As telescope technology advances, Fitzsimmons said he expects that astronomers in the not so distant future will be able to study such interlopers perhaps every year.


Oppertunity Knocks

Mars rover Oppertunity has once again survived another winter on the martian planet. It emerged out of Mar's darkest days at the end of last month and appears that after a system check it is ready for it's 14th year of operation and fighting fit.

It seems that nature has given the rover a helping hand and the martian wind has removed a large portion of dust from it's solar panels.

NASA have new plans for this remarkable rover. After spending years exploring the outer rim of Endeavours Crater and learning all we can it has been decided that then next step is to send Oppertunity down the Perseverance Valley. This valley has been cut into the side of the crater and we will now see if there is more to learn by going deeper inside Martian crater.

It is just remarkable the rover has lasted this long. Oppertunities twin Spririt ended it's mission back in 2009 due to wheel failure meaning that the rover could not position its solar panels correctly to gather enough power of the winter shutdown.

Let's hope we see many more years from Oppertunity and some amazing new scientific findings.


Exoplanets Periodic Table

The first exoplanet was discovered back in 1992 and since then many more have been discovered and cataloged. No two planets have been the same regarding size, distance from their star or composition.

To help us understand these finding Abel Mendez an astronomer fro the Planetary Habitability Laboratory has put together a perriodic table of exoplanets or the current 3,700 confirmed so far.

He has used 18 categories for his table using size and temperature to pigeon hole these planets.


exoplanet table

Herschel Museum of Astronomy

11 member attended a private talk in Bath on Saturday morning and we were then free to wonder around the museum and grounds. We were all made most welcome and I can recommend that if you are every in Bath this is well worth a visit. It was very humbling to stand in the actual garden that William himself made so many new astronomical discoveries.

Hestercombe House

We would like to thank all those that came and hope you all had a great evening. Appolgies for those of you who were unable to purchase tickets, Should Hestercombe House plan another event we will update the website and facebook pages accordingly to keep you informed.

We were blessed with some extremely clear skies on Friday and everybody managed to enjoy some marvellous sights through the many telescopes we had set up. There were various displays and a activities for the younger people at the event.

If any of you would like to join us at our monthly meeting in Othery please use the contact form here on the website for more details.

Double success for LIGO

At 1241UTC on the 17th August LIGO detected it's longest gravitational wave to date, named GW170817. It also detected a short wave gamma ray burst that the same time.

This data suggested that two neutron starts had collided into each other, but at the time scientists could not be sure. After many hours studying the data produced they finally were able to pinpoint the location of this epic explosion and orientated their telescope to try and get a look at what had happened.

To their joy, at 130 million light years away sat NGC4993 where two neutron stars that had be caught in a death spiral finally smashed into each other.

This collision created a 100 second long gravitational wave along with a 2 second flash of gamma radiation. Over the following days and weeks they also captured additional infrared, radio, optical, ultraviolet and X-ray waves

This discovery has helped confirm theoretical predictions that double neutron stars give rise to gamma rays, optical, infrared, X-ray and radio waves. It has also help us determine the how the universe's heavy elements are produced. Spectrographic reading have shown large amounts of platinum and gold were produced at the time of the impact.

Edo Berger from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said "We've shown that the heaviest elements in the periodic table, whose origin was shrouded in mystery until today are made in the mergers of neutron stars. Each merger can produce more than an Earth's mass of precious metals like gold and platinum and many of the rare elements found in our cellphones."

Professor Laura Cadonati, deputy spokesperson for LIGO Scientific Collaboration said "This detection has genuinely opened the doors to a new way of doing astrophysics. I expect it will be remembered as one of the most studied astrophysical events in history."

So now we all know where the metals in our jewelry and mobile phones comes from.

Asteroid 2112 TC4 Fly By

On the 11-12th of October asteroid 2012 tc4 will pass between our Earth and the Moon.

At a distance just over 31,000 miles from earth, travelling at 4.7 miles per second and 50ft across it should be possible to see the object move in real time from a telescope, 8" or above is recommended.

Please find below a chart showing its trajectory and a video animation showing the pass, Earth(blue), Geostationary satellite orbit(purple), Moon(white). Lets hope for some clear skies.


Gripping news..A seven hour operation on the ISS

Commander Rany Bresnik and astronaut Mark Vande Hei have just spent seven hours working on the the robotik are on the space station.

The job involved replacing the "Latching End Effecor" which is part of hand grabber at the end of Canadarm2. This essential work was needed due the the old one becoming worn out. After 16 years spent in orbit and being used nearly 400 times during this period the part in question experienced a stall in one of it's motorized latches.

At 17 metres long, the arm is used to catch supply ships and also carries power and data from the ISS to the vessel's.

Further information of the catches performed by this arm can be seen here and if you have the time then the full seven hour operation can be viewed below.

Rosetta and the lost image

Scientists working on data from the rosetta program have realized that the final image beamed down from the spacecraft was not its final party piece.

The craft was designed to beam back images in 6 seperate packages per photo. These were then put together by the ESA's imaging software on earth. Due to this software expecting 6 packets it failed identify rosette's last 3 packets as an image.

After checking the probs telemetry is became apparent that these last three packets had not been processed. The way the prob took photos and beamed them back to us meant that there was enough data to create this last image.

The final image thought to be between 17.9-21.0m above the comets surface and below you can see the results of this last ever image from rosette. But how amazing it is.

Gravitation Waves

Rainer Weiss, Kip.S.Thorne and Barry.C.Barish have all won the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics for "decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves"


For all you film buff's out there Thorne was a scientific adviser in the film Interstellar ensuring that all the science behind Christopher Nolan's film was feasible.




Tomorrow September 15th 2017 at around 12.55 pm UK time the Cassini space probe will plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn , ending an historic and highly successful mission.

The Cassini Space Probe around Saturn

For more information click on this link to go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website where you can watch the show