Star Camp

A star camp is an event where astronomers from around the country meet to observe together.

Kielder Aurora in February 2014

Last week I managed to find myself in Kielder around the time of the Kielder Forrest Star Camp which is held twice a year in the spring and autumn. On the Thursday night the UK was graced with a fine show of aurora – however (as is usually the way with these things) most of the evening we covered by cloud and rain.

Aurora over Kielder

I did manage to get a few shots though, and the above one is the first (not focussed!) photograph I took of the sky to try and work out if I could pick anything up – and I could! However you can already see the clouds starting to come in.

Aurora over Kielder

Even though cloud covers most of the sky, you can really see the colour shine through the gaps in this photo. I only managed to get a few more shots before the rain kicked in, and unfortunately the next day there wasn’t a sign of anything green in the sky.

This was my first experience of the aurora, and I was thrilled to be able to capture it.

Astronomy Every Day Carry

Astronomy Every Day Carry

As an amateur astronomer I have a number of handy tools or utilities that I like to keep with me when I’m out looking at the stars. While the things I want to have to hand at any given time changes depending on what I’m doing, there are always some essentials I’ll want to have.

For example, if I’m taking photos I’ll want my Canon 7D and my tripod. If I’m going away to Star Camp, I’ll want to take my binoculars as well as my computer for taking time lapse video.

On almost every occasion, there is a requirement for a torch – preferably a red one, to avoid damaging night vision. Because this is the most important tool, this serves as the center of my everyday astronomy kit.

Olight M20 Crimson

Red Torch

After spending a lot of time researching torches, I discovered the Olight M20 Crimson while I was at an astronomy show. It’s actually very bright and has multiple settings from 3.5 lumens up to 100 lumens. This could well be too bright if you are using it to illuminate a star chart or camera equipment, but it is fantastic for lighting up where you are going as you walk around an observatory or at a dark location.

  • Ultra bright red Cree LED
  • Three brightness settings with memory
  • Tail switch with momentary on
  • Anodised black steel construction
  • Various included accessories
  • Handy carry case

The only thing I don’t really care for is the strobe feature. While I can imagine it being useful for an emergency, it’s just not something I would use for astronomy and it can be activated by mistake. But I’m willing to put up with this superfluous feature for the fact that this torch is so high quality when compared to other (incredibly poor) astronomy torches on the market.

Leatherman Squirt PS4

Multi-Tool

I know many people carry either blades or multi-tools with them all the time. The majority of the time I like to keep things simple and I do not need to carry one all day.

However I have found that on the occasions where I am either at the observatory or out with other astronomers – having some kind of tool has been extremely beneficial. I decided to get the Leatherman Squirt PS4, which is an extremely small multi-tool, but has some incredibly useful features.

  • Spring action pliers
  • Great scissors
  • Flat and ’2D’ Philips screwdrivers
  • Very impressive file for the size
  • Small blade

When I first looked at multi-tools, I had considered choosing something from the Leather full-size tools – ranging from the expensive Surge to the cheaper Sidekick. I eventually decided that it was a much better option to go for something that is both high quality, and legal to carry at all times in the UK.

Green Laser

Green Laser

Finally, the last of my every day astronomy tools is the green laser. This particular one is a is a relatively cheap ‘no name’ device which I purchased from eBay. Having a green laser is extremely handy for pointing to things up in the sky, from stars to satellites. And while you can certainly get much more powerful lasers, I only wanted something that would be good enough for astronomy rather than something extremely powerful and potentially dangerous.

  • Bright green laser shows up well
  • Very inexpensive
  • Single AAA battery

One of my favourite things about this particular laser is the fact it uses a single AAA battery. I’ve seen other lasers that range from small watch batteries up to multiple AAAs and beyond. In my opinion this design gives just the right amount of power verses portability, and I would recommend this device to anyone who is looking for an astronomy laser.

It’s worth noting that I also use it with a Duracell rechargeable, so it’s easy to replace when it eventually does go flat.

Astronomy Every Day Carry

Final Thoughts

I feel like I’ve actually ended up with an extremely well rounded every day carry kit for doing astronomy. In fact I was so impressed by the case that came with the M20 Crimson torch that I used it as the base for my whole kit. It’s easy to carry in my pocket or wear on my belt – and I can even use the torch without removing it from the case as shown above.

While I do not carry this stuff with me all the time, it’s always the first thing I pick up when I go out to do astronomy, and I’m sure this equipment will keep me going for years to come.

Kielder Forest Star Camp March 2013

Another March brings another Spring Kielder Forest Star Camp – supported by the Sunderland Astronomical Society. Unfortunately, this year I was unable to camp due to other commitments, but I did travel over to spend the day with members of The York Astronomical Society who were visiting.

Kielder Star Camp

As per usual, the weather was not very good while I was there, missing clear skies both before I arrived and after I had departed. In fact, the cloud cover was so bad that I didn’t even get around to taking my camera out of its bag!

The fantastic company and the beautiful surroundings made it all worth while, and I’m now looking forward to the next Kielder Star Camp in October.

Kielder Forest Star Camp October 2012

This year brought the 10th Autumn Kielder Forest Star Camp, and I decided to head along to camp with astronomers from all over the country with the hope of getting a clear dark sky. Before I arrived, my friend Martin Whipp from The York Astronomical Society managed to take the above picture of aurora seen from the Kielder Observatory – so my hopes were high that I would get a glimpse of the truly dark sky for myself.

I arrived on the Wednesday to clouds and fog, and ended up spending most of the evening in The Anglers Arms with good food and good company, and by the time we got out we managed to get about five minutes of clear sky before the clouds set in.

Thursday brought rain, and the wettest Kielder Star Camp that I have been to so far. Unfortunately, the rain did not stop, and a number of us ended up getting a little wet inside our tents – including my sleeping compartment. So after a quick nap in the car, decided to head home on Friday morning to get dry and get a good night’s sleep.

Not wanting to miss out on the adventures, this was not the end of the Kielder Star Camp for me. A number of fellow astronomers from The York Astronomical Society decided to head up to Kielder for the main events on Saturday, which included a number of interesting talks at Kielder Castle.

Though I really wish I’d seen the flashing lights of the aurora borealis, it was still a fun adventure and I’ll definitely be going again next year, just as I did last year.

Kielder Forest Star Camp October 2011

Twice a year astronomers head north to Kielder Forest to enjoy the dark sky as part of the Kielder Forest Star Camp. This year was no exception, bringing us the 9th Autumn Star Camp which included talks from a couple of members from our York Astronomical Society, a BBC television crew filming for The Sky At Night as well as some interest from The Guardian.

Unfortunately, as is usually the case with these things, the weather was not ideal, but I did get one good night of seeing on the Thursday.

Even the dark sky of Kielder is subject to light pollution, but here you can make out a very prominent Jupiter, the Pleiades and a rising Orion.

Here I just pointed my camera up towards the Milky Way, where there is far less light polution.

You can see a close up here of the Andromeda Galaxy. This photograph really reminds me of the early pictures I took of Jupiter. Just imagine the detail I’ll be able to get in the years to come! (If I ever get equipment like the very impressive telescope shown below…)

The larger versions of the pictures above have been uploaded to my Flickr page if you want to see the details.

For myself, no trip to Kielder Forest would be complete without a walk up Deadwater, which has some of the most amazing views! *

* and mobile phone signal…

Freezy Timelapse

Unfortunately I wasn’t very well at Kielder Star Camp, however I did get a number of nice sky photographs as well as this timelapse video.

As you can see the camera froze over a couple of hours in to the ten hour session – maybe next time I’ll get some kind of heated band to go around my lens… it’s all learning!

Kielder Forest Star Camp

It’s that time of year again – the 6th annual spring Kielder Forest Star Camp is just around the corner.

Previous years I’ve taken some very nice photographs of the surroundings, but I’ve not been particularly successful at taking anything impressive of the stars themselves… But hopefully this time I’ll make a couple of timelapse videos – probably not as amazingĀ as the one above by the super talentedĀ Martin Whipp, but hey – watch this space!

Many thanks to the Sunderland Astronomical Society and the Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society for arranging both the spring and autumn star camps respectively. (Though both of their websites are *so* terrible I wont be linking them!)