Astronomy photographer of the year

Astronomy photographer of the year launched today. This is a collaboration between the Royal Observatory Greenwich (my employers), Sky at Night magazine and Flickr. It’s been keeping me busy for the last few weeks, mostly getting my head around the Flickr Authentication API so that I could build the entry form. There’s a Flickr group from which photos can be entered for the competition, via the form that I built on the Maritime Museum website.

The most interesting bit, from my point of view, is our collaboration with the amazing work done by the guys at Their robot will scan photos in the group, derive astrometric data (coordinates of the centre, orientation, angular extent and names of objects in the field) and then save that data as machine tags on each photo. The machine tags are all in the astro: namespace. There’s a brief overview of the tags on the web site. I’ve also scribbled some notes on how the machine tags might be used. I’d be really interested to hear what ideas other people have for the applications of this sort of data.

Fly to Mars, travel halfway to the stars

Saturn, originally uploaded by eat your greens.

Just got home from work, having set up the Observatory’s LX10 telescope for some visitors in the courtyard tonight, right next to the Prime Meridian of the World. We spent a couple of hours watching Saturn, which looks amazing at the moment. I think we saw its largest moon, Titan, too. As Darren notes, over on the Royal Observatory blog, this month is a good month for planet-gazing. We have Mercury, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter all visible at some point during the night.

No photos from tonight, so I’m making do from an older photo taken with the 28-inch Great Equatorial telescope.

Natural fireworks fill the sky

Constellation map for the 2007 Perseids meteor shower - 13th August 2007

This coming weekend sees the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. Annual meteor showers occur when the Earth’s orbit around the Sun passes through the orbit of a comet. Dust and debris, which the comet has left along its path, burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere. We see the results as shooting stars in the night sky.

Peak activity for this year’s Perseid shower is predicted to reach 80-100 shooting stars per hour before dawn (in Europe) on Monday 13th August. Read more about the 2007 Perseids at the European Space Agency.

Total eclipse of the Moon, 3-4 March 2007

From the Royal Astronomical Society press list today:

On the evening of 3 March the Moon will move directly behind the Earth in a total lunar eclipse. This is the only eclipse visible from the UK this year.

The Moon will begin to move into the lighter part of the shadow of the Earth (the penumbra) at 2016 GMT and from that time it will take on a yellowish tint. It will enter the darker core of the shadow (the umbra) at 2130 GMT. The total eclipse starts at 2244 GMT when the Moon is completely immersed in the umbra. Totality will end at 2358 GMT, the Moon will move out from the umbra completely at 0111 GMT (on 4 March) and the eclipse will come to an end when the Moon leaves the penumbra at 0225 GMT.

Although fairly common, total lunar eclipses can be spectacular events. Normally the Moon does not disappear completely but is lit by sunlight scattered through the Earth’s atmosphere and takes on a beautiful brick-red hue. At the time of the eclipse, the Moon will be in front of the stars of the constellation of Leo and from the UK it will be high in the southern sky.