Just this week I was sorting out some lunar drawings and this one has always stood out to me as a strong one. Therefore here is a revisited blog about this sketch.
Many astronomers are less than fond of the moon because its reflected light takes away from deep sky observations. Both the moonless and the moon full renditions of the sky are relished by me for different reasons. The deep dark sky for comets and messier objects, and specifically our moon for its outstanding contrast and detail. My attention is captured by the interaction of sunlight with the rugged landscape. Hence it is often difficult to choose what feature of the moon to draw when your field of view offers several exquisite potentials. The theatre of the moon is almost impossible to ignore.
Binoviewers Yahoo !!
Back in May 2007 I had a loan of a pair of binoviewers. This sketch was the result of trying them for the first time. I was looking at the moon from around 20:00. Oh, boy !!! what a view, really extraordinary. The seeing not as good as it could have been but then I looked at Vallis Rhetia Wow !!. Its long alleyway bent toward me offering a superb almost tangible target.
Petavius close to the limb was also tempting, its central mountain was jutting up like sticks in a fire. What can I say, the drama of the terminator called, it seemed to say to me "Fracastorius is doing a powerful light show with some of its close by craters." Fracastorius D, H and Beaumont were presenting as a series of vertebra arching into the darkness. I was both mesmerised and motivated to capture this on paper with my pastels and etching tools.
A wonderful visual effect was created by this instrument. My two eyes observing together enhanced the view in a unique way. Toward the end of my session, the seeing became steadier and the floor of Nectaris revealed some subtle variations in greys and lines. I etched away side walls of this enclosed plain to bring more depth to the drawing. I spent so much time observing and drawing the action on the terminator that I hardly gave an effort to Rosse crater. Its circular nature is barely etched into Mare Nectaris whereas its human namesake Sir William Parsons (3rd Earl of Rosse) is deeply entrenched in Irish astronomical history.
Fracastorius itself is a lava-filled horseshoe-shaped walled plain, named after an Italian doctor. Madler is named for Johann Heinrich Madler who interestingly was an author of the first map of Mars and a map of the moon. Beaumont named after a 19th-century French geologist.
At ALCON 2009 in New York (Astronomical League Convention), I bought myself a lovely set of binoviewers. They are truly outstanding for both lunar and solar drawing especially if there is a large filaprom on the limb.
You can catch Fracastorius and its surrounding spectacle five days after a new moon or four days after a full moon. A small telescope or binoculars will show it to you, as always aperture is king.
The 15th of September 2017 was the day a superb mission to Saturn ended in a spectacle which for the most part was for Saturn's eyes only. I wrote the following blog back on September 12th 2017,it was updated here in 2018. Its entitled The Last Splendiferous Hurrah because it is about the demise of the Cassini Mission to the gas giant. One hopes Cassini 2 is on the drawing board.
The English language is lacking in affirmations glowing enough to encompass the significance of the Cassini Mission to Saturn. Side winding its way into my mind in the effort to find the right words came a memory of an old TV variety show. In the show, the host announces the artists to perform by pronouncing very large words in rapid precision. Each word is preceded by a judgemental gavel blow. The hyperbolic introductions primed the audience to welcome the splendiferous offerings of the forthcoming show. The pulchritudinous (excellent) nature of the mission has produced an abundance of noteworthy images.
This collection can spectacularly stimulate our senses to levitate our minds and souls. Cassini therefore invites us to relish the beauty of Saturn and its many moons. NASA has magnanimously offered the images videos and gifs to all who wish to enjoy the resplendent wonder of this epic mission.
If the same host was to announce the exploits of the Cassini Mission to Saturn it might well go like this. ........ Laydeeeeez and GENTlemeeeeeen ! . I bring you at no expense spared "The Greatest Show in Space". The global audience would exclaim oooooooooh and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah collectively in an excited upwardly amplified accent.
Indeed a global audience has been touched by this mission. Many touched for the first time by the media coverage of the last hurrah . If you are behind in your knowledge you can find a humongous treasure trove of information here to update yourself.
The Grand Finale has ended, 22 gigantic orbits between the planet and it's inner ring. The final drama over now. The brave enduring spacecraft melted in the atmosphere of the planet. Cassini and Huygens have explored in ground breaking fashion. Several video clips are available online , this one tells the story in a very concise 2.31seconds. NOVA PBS Saying Goodbye to Cassini.
The Cassini Mission to Saturn is the perfect plug-in for today's curriculum. Everything about the mission bookends Science Technology Engineering Art and Maths. I was inspired by this mission from my first engagements with it in 2004 via JPL NASA's Saturn Observation Campaign.
In 2017 I spent a lot of time making models of Saturn and Cassini. The models are of course to enhance my forthcoming series of drawing workshops. On September 9th 2017 I had an opportunity to present the new workshop for the first time. It was just prior to the end of the mission , an ideal opportunity to request parting messages from my audiences via drawings.
The venue was Castletown House and Parklands. The audience were family groups numbering 40 in total. Mams , Dads, boys and girls all listening , all drawing images by Cassini. The drawing above is my favourite as this child was using her drawing to convey empathy for the spacecraft . The drawing in fact also shows she understood what was about to happen.
Why make a model of Cassini ?
In my experience having a model of a planet or spacecraft in the room brings immediate attention to the subject. Children like to touch the models , tactile learning. They also like to ask questions about how the models are made. Answering the questions allows me to add to their knowledge and make them smile. Therefore I will continue to work on my models to bring what I teach alive as much as possible.
Saturn is made from a large polystyrene ball , its painted in acrylic using the latest images from Cassini. The rings are made from corryboard. Cassini is made from a soft drinks can , heating insulation material and other bits and bobs that suit the shapes of the instruments. The title of my workshop is Spectacular Cassini at Saturn. Working with family groups is very enjoyable, learning occurs , fun is had , adults find the child within themselves.
On September 15th I was glued to the JPL NASA You Tube broadcast of the last moments of Cassin. Likewise I was also watching in the real-time virtual world of NASA Eyes . It was a cathartic, an end to a wonderful sojourn in space. A body of work by a very positive group of people who are an example to us all of how to work together to achieve something extraordinary.
The mission has ended, the spacecraft was guided into the body of the planet and is no more. However the legacy of the mission will take many decades to filter down and settle its status of The Greatest Show in space exploration history. ( so far)
The quality of the images and science returned bears witness to this robotic ship. An imamate object sending us some of the most beautiful natural art. I have therefore been enriched by being connected to this mission since 2004. Its depth and breadth have been more than I ever imagined. RIP Cassini :-(. Hugs to every single person who worked on the mission and created something very special indeed.
In the Footsteps of Galileo
In September 2009 an exhibition opened in the Science Gallery at Birr Castle in Ireland. The idea came to me in September 2007, it took two years to the month for it to come to fruition. Funding was forthcoming from The Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies and Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork. In the Footsteps of Galileo had landed.
There were over 50 sketches to frame, sent from all over the world. The venues attracted some of the worlds best drawings produced by astronomers at the time. Having their work on display in what is considered to be the global home of astronomical sketching was truly joyous.
Therefore I decided to call the exhibition In the Footsteps of Galileo. A bit presumptuous perhaps however, Galileo produced truthful drawings. Above all finding truth and accuracy drawing is what most sketchers strive to achieve. Drawing exactly what you see through the telescope takes time to do right. In Galileos day drawing exactly what he saw and making it public caused him so much grief but advanced human knowledge significantly.
To astronomers, Birr Castle is a place of great importance. In the 1840s, the third Earl of Rosse built what was then the world’s largest telescope – a 6 foot diameter reflector. With this telescope, he was the first to see the spiral structure of M51 later called the Whirlpool Galaxy and then sketch it.
Drawings by Children
In addition to the adult work were 100 drawings by children who had taken part in my workshop Deadly Moons. Some of these drawings were from children in New York, most were from Irish children. A lovely mixed audience of astronomers, artists, educators, children and the general public attended the launch. Dr Carolina Odman International Program Manager for UNAWE (at the time) ie Universe Awareness for Young Children opened the exhibition. She gave a talk on UNAWE's teachings to young children about the scale and beauty of the universe.
The Seventh Earl of Rosse spoke about the uniqueness of the exhibition and said
"it's a pleasure to see In the Footsteps of Galileo in the shadow of the Leviathan."
I said a few words on behalf of the contributors and also spoke about astronomical drawing. Why we do it, the learning through observational experience, and everything that brings the subject to the page.
Sir Patrick Moore
Sir Patrick Moore had donated six sketches to the display, sent a message of goodwill with regrets for being unable to attend himself. I had several memorable experiences dealing with Sir Patrick about the exhibition. All done on the phone to his home in Farthings in the UK. Dan Davis famous for his sketches in Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno and himself contributed his M42 sketch from the book.
To my great delight, Lord Rosse framed four original sketches from his ancestor The 3rd Earl of Rosse. These sketches included the world-famous Whirlpool Galaxy and the Crab Nebula sketched using the Leviathan. These sketches produced by his ancestor, the 3rd Earl were a major contribution to the exhibition.
Incidentally one of my abiding memories of those few day at the castle was being invited to sign the book of visiting astronomers. I was taken by surprise when the 7th Earl asked me to join him for what for me was a truly historic moment.
Blackrock Castle In the Footsteps of Galileo
Prior to visiting Birr Castle the work went on exhibition at Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork . I made a short video show some of the sketches on exhibition at the time. This exhibition was so well done, and looked great. It was opened by Leo Enright and it attracted many visitors to the observatory.
After the Birr Castle the exhibition headed for Dunsink Observatory in Dublin for a short run. Br Guy also visited that version on his speaking tour of Ireland at that time. Here are a few images from the exhibitions at different venues in Ireland. Many people contributed their time and energy to this series of exhibitions in IYA 2009. Without this big pull together this electic range of beautiful drawings would not have reached such lofty heights.
In conclusion the memories I have from this unique series series of exhibitions reminds me how generous people can be in supporting ideas. International Year of Astronomy 2009 really was a feel good global positive experience.
About this time last year I met Br Guy in Dublin for breakfast, - here is my blog revisited
It's raining as I write, water pours down the window like syrup in a jar. Montbretia in the garden seem to generate self-made light. Each flower punctuates the greyness with orange flames on stems within the hedgerow. It is often grey days that send me light thinking and remind me of how frequently I dwell on it.
Recently I met Br Guy Colsolmagno for breakfast in Dublin. A sunny morning with the promise of more light to fill the day. We had a fun catch up chat within which were several moments of encouragement sprinkled towards my work. We then headed to the National Gallery of Ireland to see an impressionist exhibition.
Sorolla was a Spanish master of light, the exhibition held fifty works spread over four large rooms in the gallery. All of Sorolla's work in which the subjects were sails, sailing or water mesmerised me. I enjoyed his brush strokes, bold one stroke renderings of shirt collars. The way he bent sunlight around the arms of children or introduced startling shafts of illumination into dark rooms was indeed masterly.
Most intriguing to me was the painting Sewing the Sail. His choice of colour tones for the folds and shadows on the sail is superb. You can see that painting here - Sorolla at the National Gallery of Ireland How this painter brings strong Spanish sunlight into the work area saturates the viewer and invites deep long looks.
My habit of observing light and thinking about it was fed by visiting the Sorolla exhibition. In past times when I was at Dublin City University one of the assignments involved making a video. This involved teaching myself iMovies. Its a kind of poem about light. In my video, I wanted to show aspects of light in my week as well as fulfilling the list of shots required by the brief. I choose light because it fascinates and challenges me in many ways, it is something that I am aware of all of the time. The natural light from the sun is so multi-dimensional and multi-functional it sinks into the deepest facets of all our lives without effort or notice.
Sometimes in life, you get caught up in your own small world. Meeting positive people like Br Guy can bring light in by their inspiring words. The light within words.
When I do drawings of the moon it is always sunlight edging the rims of craters or tops of mountains that locks my view. Attempting to capture the sun itself with my telescopes on paper is challenging but also irresistible. Watching the action created by the sun on Earth is absorbing and often beautiful beyond description.
Sunsets pouring pink tones on green hills altering my perception of the view. As summer darkness falls on every blade, the only natural light comes to us as twinkling stars. Later in winter, our view of the night sky offers us the reality of our being. Our place in space amongst light visible and invisible. Our past, present and future all in one view.
When I first saw this image I thought it looked like petrified trees dotting the surface of Mars. Likewise the image could be microscopic hairs on strange skin:-) However this amazing image is, in fact, a photograph which shows dark sand emerging on the surface of the red planet. This is as a consequence of some of the ice-covered dunes melting in the warmth of spring sunshine.
This classic view of Mars was taken by HiRISE one of the most incredible cameras working in space. The camera rides onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It subsequently produces feasts of data and true beauty to share with all of us.
A little Mars chat
Earlier this week I found a lovely NASA poster in my outreach box. It compares Mars to Earth in their similarities and differences. My grandson was fascinated by both planets even though he is only 3 and a half. We had a great chat about it all. As a result the session brought some memories of painting Mars blended with hints of the Earth.
As an artist, I am totally fascinated by the surfaces of other worlds. Images taken by the solar system explorers are very inspiring. Many of my canvases emerge directly from my observations of a tiny fraction of an image or are influenced by an entire object.
Mars Earth Merge
My painting Mars Earth Merge is directly influenced by space images in tandum with my observations of surfaces on Earth. Keel Beach in Achill Island, Mayo, is one of my favourite places to walk. It is six kilometres long, with a constant roar from the Atlantic waves. In addition to walking there I enjoy taking macro images of the sand. Observing how the rough sea makes channels in the sands delicate softness also captures my attention. Generally the markings are delta-shaped, water etched, well defined, but fine. On Keel sometimes the wind whips up dry sand and sends it at great speed to wrap itself around rocks on the wet sand.
This painting started as a depiction of those sand deltas on Keel. As it developed I had the idea to use Martian colours often associated with MRO HiRise Images. I used pallet knives to merge Earth-style water erosion on a beach scale with long-gone water erosion on Mars which is on a larger scale.
Furthermore, I developed the link by adding a beach stone and lots of sand in layers on each side of the Mars / Earth delta. The sand I used was too perfect therefore I had to enhance it by introducing particles of pastel in yellow, and orange to give it some depth. The addition of a little seaweed gave a 3 D kick to the work.
Here are a few images from those walks that led to my painting.
28 inches X 22 inches Acrylics, Pastel, Rock, Sand and Seaweed on canvas.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
― Benjamin Franklin
My workshop Deadly Moons has been presented on hundreds of occasions. Thousands of Irish school children have taken part and learnt something interesting. The title of the workshop has its roots in the expression ‘that’s deadly’. This is Irish street talk, which means, something is ‘Amazing’. Deadly Moons is built on a range of robotic space images coupled with some of my lunar sketches. From time to time I update the presentation to include images from Cassini, Mars Reconnaissance Obiter (MRO) and of course New Horizons.
I realised early on in my outreach efforts that most children and most adults are totally unaware that other moons exist. In general, people are not able to recognise moon phases. They are also unable to point out features on our moon. Our moon is in the sky for the duration of all our lives, it is therefore reasonable to understand something about it.
Deadly Moons is my way of addressing gaps in the understanding of our solar system. Within the presentation, there is scope to introduce moon terminology such as the terminator, limb, impact craters etc. These terms are common to all moons, thereby extending the learning to encompass Mimas, Enceladus and other extraordinary moons.
For me, there is nothing as good or as satisfying in education than to give up to date real-time knowledge to my audiences. The outstanding images from Cassini, MRO, Rosetta and other robotic missions continue to inspire my creativity in designing workshops for children.
During Deadly Moons the participants use soft pastels and black paper because this combination brings wonderful colour, blending and texture to a drawing. Generally I make sure to take time to explain that some of the images in the presentation are in false colour, some in true colour.
After I shared Deadly Moons with UNAWE (Universe Awareness for Young Children) this simple workshop took off. It was was presented by other educators in many countries. My workshop was also featured at various events. These include an exhibition at the opening of International Year of Astronomy 2009 in the UNESCO building Paris. An EU UNAWE event at Europe Kijkoagen in Brussels. Also at science events in Poland, The Netherlands, Vietnam, Ghana, and Hofstra University New York. The workshop was also featured in The National Exhibition Centre in Vancouver Canada. Reykjavik Iceland also took part to mention just a few.
Exhibitions extending learning
Whenever it was possible I exhibited children’s "Deadly Moon" drawings with astronomical drawings. Some of the best contemporary observers on the planet, on show among the giants of the past. In International Year of Astronomy 2009, I took great pleasure including the work of the late Sir Patrick Moore in the exhibition. In addition the event also included drawings by the Third Earl of Ross. The exhibition was on show at the Science Gallery at Birr Castle. This was so fitting because Birr Castle is the ancestral home of the 3rd Earl. Over 50 astronomical sketches were on display to the public.
Hofstra University New York, Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork, Dunsink Observatory in Dublin, and Dublin City Libraries all hosted variations of the exhibition. Sometimes a library or a school would exhibit the newly created drawings. This therefore enabled the parents and other school visitors to enjoy them. Occasionally this led to up to 700 drawings on exhibit in a school hall. Deadly Moons cross-pollinates Art, Science and ICT. The workshop encourages dialogue, imagination and hands-on learning.
In 2011 Deadly Moons was awarded the SPORE Prize (Science Prize for Online Resources in Education). The awarding body was the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A paper was published in conjunction with UNAWE in Science Magazine. Irish National Radio interviewed me about the achievement . This offered me an opportunity to give voice to the wonders and beauty of our solar system's moons.
Understanding inspiration is like catching and harnessing the wind. It may have to be blowing for a while before it can return the original energy. Many people inspired me over the years. Jane Houston Jones JPL/ NASA, Guy Consolmagno (Director of the Vatican Observatory), Jan Visser (The Learning Development Institute/ UNESCO). Closer to home it was John Flannery (Irish Astronomical Society), Professor Carolina Odman - Govender ( Universidy of the Western Cape), Dr Marie Bruck (University of Edinburgh) and many others.
In turn, I have tried to inspire countless small faces and their teachers. Many schools use the workshop towards their Discover Primary Science Award. This is an accolade to encourage STEM in schools. The award is bestowed by Science Foundation Ireland to schools who fulfil the criteria of the scheme.
Perhaps it is impossible to measure inspiration; if it takes hold it is only the future that will unfold the ongoing story. Ripples through time, ripples moving forward. Dunamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise Ireland was the venue for a session with a small group of enthused children. Their work is featured in the slides show below along with some of my favourite Deadly Moons drawings and images over the years.
Two groups of Irish children talk about Deadly Moons after taking part at Draoicht Arts Centre Blanchardstown Dublin.
Drawing a meteor shower
On several occasions in the past, I have drawn the Perseid meteor shower. I am not sure if anyone else has done this ? I might be the only mad woman to have tried. The Perseids are fast and are therefore in my opinion the most fun meteor shower of the year. With luck the sky is clear and the air is warm. You can sit back and be enthralled by the action of ancient pieces of comet debris hitting our atmosphere at 37 miles a second.
Video about the method
Because it is an enjoyable excercise, I decided to share how I go about recording the meteors in the video above. The pencil drawings are done on the night in real-time. I use a clip board and an A4 sheet of paper. The colour version is usually produced the following day. It is difficult to see colour properly in the dark. It is, therefore, more practical to do the data transfer the next day.
What you end up with is a drawing which clearly shows the radient. That is the area in space where these meteors mainly eminate from. Of course you will see many more perseids than you record as you are limiting your drawing to one section of sky. It would be some odd piece of paper that would facilitate the capture of all the meteors you might see. 🙂 That would be one very busy session.
Enjoy and learn
Mostly the drawings are made up from meteors seen on different dates over time. Enjoying the perseids is the most important thing because every year they offer one of natures best entertainments. This is a simple method of recording what you see visually. Its a method for anyone to try, a kinaesthetic learning curve for total beginers. A fun practical approach for the more experienced with no high tech equipment needed. There is more infomation on the drawing from August 2010 (in the video) in this blog here
This week my mind is turing towards the Perseid Meteor Shower. I was reminded of a Space Camp for children that I did back in August 2018. The children helped to create several dark sky paintings, this one involved learning about the best meteor shower of the year.
While Dark Sky Painting one deals with the impact of light pollution on bees and other insects. It also sought to teach children and viewers of the painting about the night sky.
Dark Sky Painting two here, highlights the effects humans have on our planets bird species and their habitats. On Earth, there are multitudes of birds in trouble from pollution and habitat issurs of all kinds. For this project, we focused on just two, Barn Owls and Swifts.
The constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia feature as do some Perseid meteors. The workshop led up to the Perseid meteor shower. The children were prepared to view, should they have clear skies. They were given notes with a map showing the location of the constellations involved.
The children learnt about the effects humans have on our planet. Actions that can cause the decline of some birds species. We share the Earth with Barn Owls and Swifts. Both species are in severe decline in Ireland because of the loss of their usual habitats.
According to BirdWatch Ireland, there has been a 50% decline in Barn Owls over the past twenty-five years. They have been listed as a Species of European Conservation Concern.
Swifts are also in trouble and are amber listed due to the decline of the breeding population in Ireland.
In the painting, the children are launching Swifts toward the milky way. This is, therefore, encouraging an understanding that we share this planet with many creatures. One boy has a barn owl on his arm, a magnificent bird that needs our protection.
Halfway up the painting swifts leave the canvas in an arc as they journey to blend with the sky above. They reconnect with the canvas just under Cassiopeia.
As more than twice as many children attended this second space camp their places on the canvas had to be carefully pondered. Each child has energy surrounding them which rises upwardly to merge with the Milky Way.
Barn Owls and Swifts lots of them
Each child made several swifts and several owls. There were too many birds for the size of the canvas. Therefore just some swifts ended up in the painting however all the owl drawings ended up on the side of the canvas.
While carrying out the work I decided to over emphasise the stars. This was to make the shapes of the constellations stand out to people viewing the work. The children had good craic (fun) as they say here while posing for their silhouettes.
We live in Space
The title of the painting is We live in Space, because nothing exists in isolation from everything else . Therefore even though the painting may be slightly surreal in nature. It is an attempt to pull that thought together with practical education via drawing and creativity.
Empathy developed during the workshop towards appreciating the Dark Sky. Drawing and cutting out the birds also helped in an appreciation of their predicament. All of this left the children in the painting reaching out in harmony towards the milky way. The energy of understanding lifting their spirits up to touch the stars. The painting still hangs two years later at the venue Books at One Louisburgh.
Here below is a small selection of images from the workshop.
On July 20th I was well set up to go observe C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). My eight-inch dob was ready with a 32mm eyepiece. My LX90 was set up with a set of binoviewers. I was hoping to see more detail around the false nucleus and draw it. My set of filters were also at the ready as some of them claimed to enhance detail in comets.
Alas, the seeing was terrible, a muted view under magnification. However the naked eye view was still very good, and the comet was dangling over Clare Island some seven kilometres away from me. Even post-midnight orange and pink tones were hugging the rugged edge of the island. The comet looked more vertical than I expected. It mimicked an exclamation mark with the head of the comet playing the dot. Perhaps an exclamation of the last time I might see it. Because my view has been only clouds, and fog since.
July 19th with my dob
The comet had dimmed somewhat since my last observation on July 19th (above) and the tail was not as long. the two stars in the fov are I think Hip 420101 7magnitude star and Hip 42072 6.6 Mag
It had a bright star like nucelus DC 6 I reckon .Surrounded by a torc of less bright material and then an outer less bright area. The tail continued well outside my fov and three stars were visible it . One of them was viewed through the tail. Its tail length was approx 15 degrees . No dark lane down the middle was visible to me as on July 10th.
Great to see it over Clare Island. Rotated image above - Pan pastel on black card. It would be wonderful to have another look at it, but as it moves away from the sun it is more likely to become increasingly dim till it is no longer visible. A final outburst would be fantastic, one can only hope that the opportunity to go observe happens again.
Something I did that produced unexpected results on July 19th and 20th was to introduce the location of the comet to several Facebook pages and groups. Some of the pages do not have to include submissions and are mostly about the beautiful west coast of Ireland. People tend to submit images taken on the holidays or tours on the coast.
I posted a map of the progression to the comet under Ursa Major with some information. To my surprise the Wild Atlantic Way public FB group page allowed it to publish. Hundreds of people shared the information and then some of them took mobile phone images of the comet from various locations along the Wild Atlantic Way and other parts of Ireland.
There are always comets of various magnitudes in the night sky. However most people are not aware of them. Its only a naked eye beauty that they can relate to if its bright enough. I was therefore doubly delighted that this comet brought such joy and smiles to so many.
Four drawings July 10th
Its been seven days since I had the pleasure of observing C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). Unseasonal weather coupled with lots of fog has obscured my view. A frustrating week with a marginal chance of seeing it over the next few days. If you live in the northern hemisphere do try to go observe C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) It is a truly extraordinary comet because, in addition to surviving its encounter with the sun, it is now putting on a great show.
Here are 4 drawings July 10th 2020 created between 23:45 and 02:39 local time Naked eye and telescope / blended together. For the most part, it was a battle with lingering black clouds. They were tube-shaped, they were also the only clouds in the sky at the time. Killadoon Co Mayo Ireland.
23:45 - This first drawing ( above) is a naked eye drawing of C/2020 F3 ( NEOWISE) The comet is above Achill Island in the drawing. The island in the foreground is Clare Island seven kilometres from my viewing point. I was sitting higher than the last drawing so I could see another cluster of houses in a row. The comet was naked eye and looked golden and bright. Pastels and Conte on black card. It was very quickly masked by that black cloud. Then after a while, that cloud expanded and joined the black cloud below it. Masking my view till 1am when the hugely long black cloud began to drift east.
01:00 - 00:00 UT - The second drawing began a game of cloud dodging. The comet appeared for brief moments. It danced in and out of the black clouds. I used a 32 mm eyepiece in my Meade LX90 FL- 2000mm Mag 62X. The clouds are drawn naked eye. It's not flipped, to give a normal naked eye view. the clouds are sketched as seen to my eye. I used a pastel pencil for the bright head of the comet. In my haste, I leaned a bit too hard and put a hole in the paper. It was piercing a black cloud and heading into another one. Pastels and pastel pencil on black card
01:30 am - 00:30 UT - The third drawing Meade LX 90 using a 14 mm eyepiece FL - 2000 mm giving me 142X. The comet is drawn using the telescope but the clouds are drawn naked eye. A hybrid drawing, at least that is what I am calling it. A combination of naked eye drawing alongside the telescope view without correcting the telescope view. The drawing is not flipped - the bright head was not exactly round it had a ballistic look about it. I could see the dark lane up the middle of the tail. A black cloud obscured some of that tail.
That tail seemed to be very long and was compromised in part by the bright sky even at that time of night. I am almost sure it had a curve in it. The entire dust tail was not visible in my field of view. I had to hunt along its edge through that overlapping cloud and follow it some more. The curve was very subtle, therefore being uncertain about presence this shape was not included. NEOWISE vanished once again into the dark cloud. However, I could see very faint noctilucent clouds forming in behind some of the dark clouds. It looked very interesting.
02:39am - 01:39 UT - My final drawing another hybrid, the comet is drawn using the 14mm eyepiece with the Meade LX 90 - 142X Pastel and Conte on black card.
02:39am - 01:39 UT - My final drawing another hybrid, the comet is drawn using the 14mm eyepiece with the Meade LX 90 - 142X Pastel and Conte on black card. Comet not flipped, the clouds are drawn naked eye. It was once again heading into the black cloud which was starting to get bigger once more. The edge of the lower cloud was rimmed with noctilucent clouds. Some were curved some were at angles. Obviously, the noctilucent clouds were much higher than the black clouds. Their visual closeness to the black cloud was just perspective. They became very bright, perhaps they looked like that because of the contrast with the dark clouds. The entire view was extraordinary. To the eye without the telescope, the comet still had a golden look in the telescop it had a white look. Went to bed very happy.
Comets are the ultimate solar system travellers. I love finding them, to follow and also to draw. They are exciting because they move and morph. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is one such visitor.
Seasonally we have the changing constellations. As predictable as a ticking clock. On view constantly are circumpolar constellations. Planets take their turn in the sky to show themselves off. Our moon is always gorgeous and as steady as a rock can be, one of our night sky beautys.
However comets are so unpredictable, that is part of their allure. They may or may not make it round the sun. Perhaps they might crash into Jupiter. One might even expand to be the largest object in the solar system. Or they might have internal gas explosions causing them to spin. Some have huge tails and some lose their tails. The very best kind reveal themselves to everyone on the planet by becoming visible to the unaided eye. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is the comet of the moment. Of course, everything within and outside the solar system is moving however, comets are moving and changing sometimes before our eyes.
NEOWISE - drawing the vista
My drawing above is C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) July 9th 2020 in noctilucent clouds. Pastel on A 4 black card. 02:00 - 02:30 local time. - 01:00 - 01:30 UT. The bright orange dots low in the drawing are a row of houses on Clare Island, several miles in the distance. The bright white dot toward the tip of the island is a light in the harbour area. This newly visible comet is within the drawing , look up and right in the noctilucent clouds.
The comet was bright, only picked out by binoculars at that time amongst the very bright noctilucent clouds.(NLC)
I could not see the split in the middle of the dust exiting the comet because of NCL clouds masking some of the fan-shapes tail. Earlier I had spotted the coma of the comet popping out from a black cloud. At first, I spotted in 10x50's but then I saw it naked eye. The comet's tail has a distinct yellow /orange tint.
The coma had an orange/yellow tint with a very bright whitish centre. DC 9 Mag 2. Tail length about 2 degrees at the time. I did a sketch with the telescope as well. However I wasn't really happy with it as it did not tell the whole story of the vista in front of me hence the second drawing of the view.
The noctilucent cloud display was sensational. Blue / white structured NLC over a large area. The remnant colours of sunset still lingering. Therefore a sketch of more or less my whole view was necessary. The sketch was captured in 20 minutes or so, a bit of a hurry. The NLC display became weaker about 15 minutes after I finished. In the east the waning gibbous moon was just rising over the mountains behind me as I packed up.
To think that this icy visitor is circe 141,726,511 kilometres from Earth and we can see it with our eyes. We must realise that it will be over 7,000 years before it will grace our solar system again is really special. Viewing this visitor among noctilucent clouds a double rare event.
Find it for yourself
The comet is currently in Auriga heading up and over towards Ursa Major. Over the next week or so it will be visible over Clare Island from my view point. Fingers crossed it continues to be visible to all. Those who are interested in astronomy and those who never think of looking up. The latter will undoubtly be impressed if they take the time to check it out.
Our planet being hit by an asteroid is a worrying thought and not much fun. However, this week I was reminded of the night I brought about 30 asteroids to Dunsink Observatory in Dublin. A family audience packed the meridian room for my workshop Balloon Planets. Which partly involved learning about the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.
On June 30th this week we had Asteroid day. This is an annual reminder of the threat that asteroids hold for our home in space. We know that organisations are working on methods to deflect asteroids heading in our direction. We know that there are organisations on constant watch for these objects. The treat is real, the possibilities of a hit are real. Hopefully, more resources will be put into research and defence activities to avert the nightmare scenario of a direct hit.
I've spent almost 14 years or so doing talks and workshops for various groups at the observatory. Dunsink is close to the city of Dublin. However, this beautiful building rests on a hight above suburbia in a semi-rural setting. It is a peaceful place where time seems to stand still, yet great movement happens in terms of public engagement. The observatory has always been supportive of my work and has at times allowed for some of my wilder ideas to actually happen. Here is the link to Dunsink
Sometimes new concepts tend to arrive late at night or just before waking in the early hours. One such idea is Balloon Planets. Basically, helium-filled balloons in an appropriate colour would represent each of the eight planets. Pluto could not be left out so a white balloon would stand in. I made a huge polystyrene ball into the sun and acquired a tripod to stand it on.
Each balloon had a string attached, the farthest planet Neptune had the longest string. Uranus, a lesser string and so on till Mercury closest to the sun. Each balloon planet was attached to the solar orb. The lesson being that the sun holds up all the planets, moons and asteroids that travel around it. It holds on to its family.
As you can see in the picture above the observatory meridian room has an unusually high ceiling. Plenty of room for orbiting planets. I called for eight volunteers to be in charge of the balloons. Eight young enthused children took the strings of each planet in hand.
My presentation started with the sun and then I spoke about each planet in turn. When Mercury was done that child let the string go so the planet floated free but still attached to the sun. Venus next, then Earth, Mars and so on. The planets further out had their strings held by children spaced further down in the meridian room. When Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune were released they settled high up in the roof. It was visually cool as well as been good fun for the audience.
The asteroids were made by hacking away at a large polystyrene block. I created thirty or so and gave each an ice pop stick as a holder. A few rows of families toward the back of the room held the asteroids. They swayed back and forth to show them off when I was speaking about them.
Everyone learnt something about the asteroid belt and its place in relation to the planets and the sun. The workshop was interactive, entertaining and educational at the same time. I held Balloon Planets at Dunsink a few times and also in big halls for girl guides. It was always well received.
The planet holders went home with their balloons plus some educational material about Saturn. In fact, I had enough to give everyone attending some of those wonderful resources. At the time my work was well supported with such material by the education outreach section for the Cassini Mission to Saturn.
That evening I tied lonely Planet Pluto to the gate post at the observatory. It announced the workshop on the way in and it went home with some small child later. The asteroids were, for the most part, returned to the bucket they arrived in. However, some had shed themselves all over the seats and the floor. Nobody minded the mess because everyone went home that night with a smile on their faces.