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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

My latest book, Astrophotography, is now available. You can order a copy by following this link. Astrophotography is a book of exquisite images of space, including some of the latest images such as New Horizons’ images of Pluto, Rosetta’s images of Comet 67P, and Hubble Space Telescope images of the most distant galaxies ever seen. Each stunning image, reproduced to the highest quality, is accompanied by text that I have written to explain the object, and any background science relating to the object.

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Astrophotography is now available. You can order your copy by following this link.

One unique aspect of Astrophotography is that it emphasises the multi-wavelength approach taken to understanding astronomical objects. For millennia we could only study the Universe in visible-light (the light to which are eyes are sensitive), but for the last few decades we have used every part of the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays to better understand the Universe. This multi-wavelength approach has also enabled us to discover previously unknown aspects of the Universe such as the Cosmic Microwave Background, the true appearance of Venus’ surface which lies hidden below its thick atmosphere, and huge quantities of gas between galaxies (the intracluster medium) which emit no visible-light but prodigious amounts of X-rays.

Astrophotography is split into 5 sections, namely

  1. Exploring the Solar System
  2. Exploring the Milky Way
  3. Exploring the Local Group
  4. Beyond the Local Group
  5. At the Edge of the Universe

Below are examples of some of the beautiful images found in Astrophotography, along with examples of the accompanying text. At the beginning of each page’s text I caption which telescope or space probe has taken the main image, and at which wavelength (or wavelengths).

Exploring the Solar System

Two examples from the first section of Astrophotography, the section on the Solar System, are stunning images of Mercury and of Mars. The images of Mercury were taken by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. There are several pages of images of Mars, the page shown below shows an image of the Martian surface taken by the Mars Curiosity Rover, and an image of Victoria Crater taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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Images of Mercury taken by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. The four main images are spectral scans, and show information on the chemical composition of Mercury’s surface.

The section on the Solar System also includes images of Pluto taken by New Horizons, images of Saturn and Titan taken by the Cassini space probe, images of Comet 67P taken by Rosetta, and images of Jupiter and her moons taken by the Galileo space craft.

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The surface of Mars as imaged by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover and, at right, Victoria Crater, as imaged by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Exploring the Milky Way

The second section of Astrophotography includes images of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), the reflection nebula Messier 78, the Horsehead Nebula, the Pillars of Creation (part of the Eagle Nebula), and the Crab Nebula, the remnant of a supernova which exploded in 1054.

The example I show below is of the reflection nebula Messier 78, and is a visible light image taken by the Max Planck Gerzellschaft Telescope, a 2.2 metre telescope located at the European Southern Observatory’s facility in La Silla, Chile. The text describes the history of observing Messier 78, and explains what produces a reflection nebula.

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The reflection nebula Messier 78 imaged in visible light by the Max Planck Gesellschaft Telescope. The text explains what reflection nebulae are, and the history of observing this particular object.

Exploring the Local Group

The third section of Astrophotography looks at the Local Group, our part of the Universe. The Local Group includes our Milky Way galaxy, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and the Andromeda galaxy. Some of the images shown in this section include the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, NGC 602 (in the Small Magellanic Cloud), the Andromeda galaxy, Supernova 1987A and the Seahorse Nebula.

The example I show here is the Seahorse Nebula, a dark cloud of gas and dust located in Large Magellanic Cloud. This Hubble Space Telescope image was taken in 2008, and the nebula is in the bottom right of the image.

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The Seahorse nebula is a dark cloud of gas and dust found in the Large Magellanic Cloud, an irregular galaxy visible to the naked eye and in orbit about our Milky Way galaxy. The seahorse nebula is in the bottom right of the image.

Beyond the Local Group

The fourth section of Astrophotography looks at the rich variety of galaxies found beyond our own neighbourhood. Examples are galaxies like Messier 82, which is undergoing a huge burst of star formation in its centre, Centaurus A, which shows huge lobes of radio radiation stretching far beyond the stars we see in visible light, colliding galaxies such as The Antennae galaxies, and evidence for dark matter such as the Bullet cluster.

The example I have shown here is the spread for Messier 81, a beautiful spiral galaxy found in Ursa Major. It is one of the best known galaxies in the sky, and is visible to northern hemisphere observers throughout the  year. The main image illustrates the multi-wavelength approach astronomers take to studying many objects. The image combines visible light, infrared light and ultraviolet light to teach us far more about the galaxy than we would learn if we only looked in visible light.

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Messier 81 is a beautiful spiral galaxy found in Ursa Major. Hence it is visible throughout the year to northern hemisphere observers. The main image shown here is a combination of of a visible light image (taken by the Hubble Space Telescope), an infrared image taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, and an ultraviolet image taken by Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).

At the edge of the Universe

In the final section of Astrophotography, I show examples of some of the most distant objects known. Images include the Hubble Deep Field, the Cosmic Microwave Background, the most distant galaxy seen (GN-z11, lying about 13.4 billion light years away), gravitational lenses and the recent discovery of gravitational waves made by LIGO.

The example I show here is the spread about the gravitational lens SDP81, a galaxy lying about 12 billion light years away which is being lensed (and brightened) by an intervening cluster of galaxies which lie about 4 billion light years away. The top image was taken at millimetre wavelengths by the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), the bottom image in visible light by the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Gravitational lenses enable us to see distant galaxies which would otherwise be too faint to see, but they also provide us with a way of tracing the distribution of dark matter in clusters.

I hope these few examples from Astrophotography have whetted your appetite to find out more. I really enjoyed putting the book together, and am very pleased with the quality of the images and their aesthetic beauty.

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I recently went to Douala, the Cameroon. On my way here my flight took me via Casablanca, and with the timings of my arrival in Casablanca and the departure for Douala I had about 20 hours. So, I booked myself into a hotel for (part of) the night, and in a very tired state the following morning tried to explore a bit of this magical city.

I had been to Morocco before, to Marrakesh. I have to say though, I found Marrakesh a bit of a disappointment, I don’t really know why but I did. What little I saw of Casablanca during the 4-5 hours I had led me to conclude that it is a more interesting city than Marrakesh, and being close to the sea is always a bonus in my opinion.

The first thing I decided to walk to see was the Hassan II mosque, and I was not disappointed. This spectacular mosque is in a spectacular location, it sits on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Here is a map of (the central part of) Casablanca showing where it is.

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The Hassan II mosque is on the Atlantic shore of Casablanca.

This next photograph shows essentially the first view that I got of the mosque as I approached it from the East. It was about 10:30am but already over 30C, so lots of children were jumping into the se off the rocks around the mosque.

The mosque was only completed in 1993, so is pretty modern. It is the largest mosque in Morocco, and has the tallest minaret, at 210 metres, of any mosque in the world. The designs on the facades of the building are exquisite, it really is a beautiful building, and its location near the sea only adds to its beauty in my opinion. I only wish my schedule had been there to take photographs near sunset, it would look spectacular as the late afternoon sun lit up its marble walls.

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The Hassan II mosque is on the seashore of Casablanca. It was completed in 1993 and is the largest mosque in Morocco.

If you are ever in Casablanca I would definitely include this near the top of your sight-seeing list. It is well worth it. Just try to go on a cooler day than I did!

UPDATE: Unfortunately, to reduce my use of the allocated storage space for images, I have had to reduce the size of the original images.

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In mid-July (2016) I went to the famous seaside resort of Blackpool. It was my first ever visit to this town; growing up in Pembrokeshire I’ve never felt a need to visit any seaside resorts as Pembrokeshire is more beautiful than most seaside areas. But, I got a cheap deal for 3 nights in a hotel in Blackpool, so I thought “why not?”. It is a bit of a drive to Blackpool from Cardiff, in theory it should take about 4-5 hours; but as it involves the M5 and the M6 it often takes longer. As I was heading up during the summer, on the first weekend of the school holidays for many, it took a lot longer. About 7 hours!

There were lots of roadworks, and the ensuring traffic jams. Not a nice drive. It was even worse coming back; it was one of the hottest days of the summer so far, and with the high temperatures there were lots of vehicle breakdowns. Both the M6 and M5 resembled city centres at times, with the cars barely moving for tens of minutes. I ended up coming off at several service stations to try to let the traffic calm down before I continued. The journey back took me 12 hours!

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Blackpool tower taken from the South, on the promenade, near the Central Pier.

The hotel where I was staying had definitely seen better days. I guess that is why they were offering a cheap deal in the summer. Unfortunately they had no parking, so after unloading my bags I went off in search of some. I found a car park just up the road, about 200 metres from the hotel. However, this parking was right next to the Winter Gardens, and this apparently presented a problem. There ensued one of the most bizarre exchanges I think I’ve ever had.

The car park attendant : Are you here for the darts?

Me : Um, I had no idea that there were any darts going on.

Him (with a look of either disdain or incredulity) : Well, you’ll have to pay extra then.

Me : Oh, ok. And, if I were here for the darts?

Him : Same deal mate!

At which point I decided it wasn’t worth asking why he wanted to know whether I was there for the darts or not……. It turned out that the town had been taken over by darts fans because the Winter Gardens was hosting the World Matchplay Championships. The entrance to this event was 150 metres from the hotel; I didn’t venture in once.

Anyway, back to the main point of this post, which is Blackpool and its tower. Blackpool was, for many decades, the main holiday destination for large numbers of people living in the north-west of England; places like Manchester and the surrounding town. I don’t know how popular it was with people from Liverpool, presumably they tended to go to the North Wales coast; and people from Leeds and Sheffield would presumably have tended to go to Scarborough. Does anyone know?

With the advent of cheap package holidays to Spain, Blackpool has seen a huge slump in its popularity, hence why hotels are offering cheap deals in July. I am not sure if I will ever return; although I liked it, it does not have the beauty of places like Pembrokeshire or the Gower peninsula, which are closer to Cardiff. I was, however, keen to see the famous Blackpool Tower. Having seen and been up the more famous Tour Eiffel, I was interested to see how they compared. Here are some photographs, so judge for yourself.

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Blackpool tower was opened in 1894. The wikipedia page about it says it was “inspired” by the Eiffel Tower. Inspired? I’d say that it’s a copy of the Eiffel Tower, albeit not as tall or majestic. I think if I were M. Eiffel I would have sued for copying my design! The Eiffel Tower was opened in 1889, and stands 324 metres tall, and when built it became the tallest man-made structure in the World. The Blackpool Tower, on the other hand, is 158 metres tall, less than half the height of the Eiffel Tower; and is far less impressive in my opinion. Still, it has become the most recognised attraction in Blackpool, and I glad to have seen it. I did not bother to go up it; maybe that gives me a reason to return to Blackpool again in the future. But, I suspect that I will return to Paris first 😉

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Today I thought I would post this gallery of Beatles photographs which I came across a few months ago. Judging from the appearance of the Beatles, I am guessing they were taken in 1965, during the Rubber Soul and Help! period. One of them appears to be a still from a scene in the movie Help! Enjoy……

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UPDATE: Unfortunately, to reduce my use of the allocated storage space for images, I have had to remove the gallery. This is what the gallery looked like.

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A screen capture of the gallery. I have had to remove the individual images to save space. Sorry!

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Christmas is nearly here, and I have to say that Cardiff makes a pretty good job of decorating its streets and buildings with lights. Here is the castle, which is right in the centre of the city.



Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle



In the Disunited Kingdom, there is a superstition to remove Christmas decorations by “Twelfth night”, which is January the 5th. In the USA, where I lived for 9 years, no such tradition seems to exist which means that people often leave their house decorations up until late January, which I liked as it helps brighten the dark days of December and January.

Here is a gallery of some of Cardiff’s decorations. Enjoy!






What is your favourite tradition at Christmas time?

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Recently my wife and I went to Normandy. Whilst winding through the backroads of Normandy from Cherbourg to le Mont Saint Michel (we got off the motorway on purpose), we stumbled across this lovely windmill – moulin à vent du Cotentin, which has recently been restored.



The moulin à vent du Cotentin

The moulin à vent du Cotentin



Of course it helped that we had beautiful weather with cloudless skies, but if you get the chance to visit this lovely building it is well worth it.



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I first visited le Mont Saint Michel the day after the total solar eclipse which passed through Normandy in August 1999. It would seem that most of the people who had flocked to Normandy to see the eclipse had had the same idea, I don’t think I have ever been in such a large crowd before, and sadly it made moving around the island at one’s own pace impossible.

Since that visit, I have been back to le Mont Saint Michel twice, but have not been back onto the island itself in either of these two more recent visits. When I was there in 1999, one could drive one’s car quite close to the island and just park somewhere on the side of the road, but things have changed. Now, there is a large car park with a visitor centre about 1.5km from the island, and no cars are allowed any closer than that. To get to the island you can either walk, or take one of the free shuttle buses which run every 10 minutes or so.

Between this car park and the island are some shops and galleries and eating places. There are also these “pop cows”, which certainly brighten up the place!



Pop cows at le Mont Saint Michel

Pop cows at le Mont Saint Michel




Here is a gallery of all the cows I managed to spot, but there may be some I missed 😉



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