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Nick James

I'm the Director of the Comet Section and the former BAA Papers Secretary and have been interested in astronomy for as long as I can remember, certainly since the age of 8. I joined the BAA when I was 12 (in 1974) and still have the letter from Rossie Atwell.  I am also an Assistant Editor of The Astronomer Magazine. Over the years I have written many articles for magazines and books, and co-authored "Observing Comets" which was published in 2003 as part of Sir Patrick Moore’s Practical Astronomy series.

Professionally, I am an engineer in the space industry, leading a team responsible for implementing highly sensitive and accurate systems for receiving and processing signals from deep-space spacecraft. I am also a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) ambassador and am keen to encourage more young people to consider science and engineering as a career.

In addition to all of this I spend quite a bit of time and money travelling around the world, often to see astronomical phenomena. As an eclipse chaser I have seen 15 total solar eclipses and have led trips to see the northern lights under dark skies.

I have a Youtube channel here where you will find a lot of my eclipse videos and other stuff. I also post photos on my Flickr site here. I also operate a couple of meteor cameras and the data from them is here.

2020 Nov 8

2020 Oct 27

23:26 UTC

There is an interesting fast mover on the NEOCP tonight. TMG0028 is 15th magnitude and moving at 50"/min. It appears to have quite rapid variations in brightness. Here is a timelapse which consists of 5s frames running at 25fps.

2020 Sep 24

08:18 UTC

And here is a longer version tracked on the motion of the object. The magnitude was changing with an amplitude of around 0.5 mags in a few seconds so it must be a very fast rotator. It is very small though, 5-10m across, so not surprising.

2020 Sep 23

22:44 UTC

Dodging rain showers I've managed around 10 mins on 2020 SW this evening. It is around 16th mag now and moving at 25"/min. This is an animation of 10s exposures. The asteroid is the object moving SE past the bright star to the lower left.

2020 Sep 22

2020 Sep 20

2020 Sep 19

2020 Sep 13

2020 Sep 6

2020 Sep 1

2020 Aug 2

13:15 UTC

The Centaur upper stage of the Atlas V stack that launched Perseverance at lunchtime on Thursday was still visible last night (Saturday) at a range of around 870,000 km. It was around mag 17 but moving quite slowly (a few arcsec per min) so was measurable in individual 60s exposures. Here is an animation showing it:

The spacecraft will be tracked by radio very precisely on its journey to Mars but this stage is now junk and will not be. Amateur astrometry will help to define the orbit so that we can link it with observations many years in the future if it ever comes back. 

08:36 UTC

The following links are a set of animations of motion in the inner coma and tail of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) on evenings from July 19 to July 30. All are processed using a standard Larson-Sekanina filter with r = 2.6 arcsec, theta = 10 deg. The first one is at a pixel resolution of 0".65 arcsec, all the others are at 1".29 arcsec. The files in date order are:

The set on July 22 are probably the best with the longest clear run and a lot of activity going on. There is clear rotation of the spiral in the inner coma and interesting flows down the tail. By July 30th the comet had faded and the short exposures required were quite noisy.

2020 Jul 31

01:17 UTC

Just imaged the Perseverance spacecraft and its booster on the way to Mars.

2020 Jul 29

07:00 UTC

Here's an animation of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) from last night:

This consists of stacks of 20x10s (approx 320s total span including the camera dead time) processed using an r=2, theta=10 deg Larson-Sekanina filter. It shows the anti-clockwise rotation of the spiralling dust quite nicely and complex flows in the tail. 

2020 Jul 27

14:56 UTC

I've only just got around to processing my images of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) from July 22. An animation is here:
This shows a field of view of 33x22 arcmin processed using a Larson-Sekanina filter with r=2, th=10 deg. There are 9 frames each of around 330s duration (from 2143 - 2228). You can clearly see motion in the tail and material spiraling out from the centre of the coma. The small black dot at the centre of the coma is the reference pixel for the filter.

I have done quite a few experiments with this data and I think the parameters I have chosen are the best compromise to show detail and motion (i.e. around 300s integrations and L-S with r=2, th=10).

It always amazes me that so much relative motion is visible in active comets over such a short period of time.


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