MIRA 25 
May 1989


13th. March 1989, Observer Steve Payne

Tonight there was a sight in the sky which took me by surprise, and I'm sure many others.

I had been observing our moon from about 20.15 U.T., Janssen was very much bolder than two days before, it's central peaks where easy prey to the eye and pencil.  Mare Serenitatis was sliced through by the terminator but showed five peaks in a line shining with sun light.

Fifteen minutes to commit to paper and I was ready for the next object.  A look at Jupiter, M42 in Orion M44 and M67 in Cancer and back to the moon.

Theophilus was my next choice, shadowed in the east and showing loads of detail, with it's three sided central peak, I started to draw it as best I could.

At approx. 21.35 U.T. I noticed a wide band of what I would describe as cloud looking, but what I thought was unusual about it was that it stretched from east to west, along the ecliptic through Leo, Cancer and Gemini.  I thought, clouds in a line, never seen that before, a bit unusual, made a note but back to the eyepiece.

21.38 came and the eyepiece and myself parted company. I watched some strange red glows between Leo and Gemini, in the area of Cancer, I'm glad I did because I was in for a treat of a life time.

21.48.  The cloudy line across the ecliptic seemed to gain intensity and the red glows began to brighten to a vibrant fire-glow.  The general glow slowly changed to a smoke ring effect.  In the centre was red, boarded in wrinkles of orange and a pale wrinkle followed by orange and red again.  It was approximately one third of the distance between alpha Leois and beta Geminorum in diameter covering Cancer area of the sky.  When the intensity had reached its peak of reds and oranges, long turquoise, green and blues shafts of light from the smoke ring reached down to the east and west horizons, and over the zenith covering the sky.  They did fade as they reached the horizon but were they could be seen they blotted out the fainter naked eye stars.

21.53.  The spikes from the smoke ring starts to become more diffuse with the ring becoming a red glowing circle over Cancer.  A minute later I realised what I had seen I went for my camera.  No film, loaded it, grab the tripod dashed out but I didn't take any pictures but made more notes.

21.55.  A long red glow was now on show approximately the width of Orion, east to west along the ecliptic fading as the horizon is reached.  A slightly less vibrant red but still easily seen.   At this time I thought I must get some pictures of this.  I took about 15 photo's from 4 to 15 seconds of the glows etc. on ASA 3200 film.

22.15.  The glows along the ecliptic had reduced to a turquoise to green glow equal to Leo in size but just below Leo with the top part of the glow just edging over the bottom of Leo. This had faded by 22.17.

22.22 to 22.24.  The turquoise glow returned in the same place but in a tear drop shape with the larger end to the alpha Leonis end of Leo.

22.28 to 22.30.  Very faint radial lines of a whitish look from the northern aspect.

22.33 to 22.34.  Radial lines from the north but this time red and approximately three degrees across lining across the Ploughs handle (UMa).

22.45 to 22.46.  A curtaining effect covering the sky from Cassiopeia to Taurus in the shades of green and blue as wide as Leo, in the northern part of the sky.

22.54. to 22,55.  Curtaining effect again but only around Cassiopeia down to the ecliptic.  Blue and green in colour started to fade towards the end.

22.58.  Sky starts to light up like a pre dawn in the north.

22.59.  Whitish vertical lines in wider bands brightens and fade. They reached almost to the zenith.

23.02.  Bands again whitish towards UMa. and also between Cassiopeia and Auriga.

23.03.  Wide faint green curtaining bands through Cassiopeia.

23.07.  Some faint blue green bands from Cassiopeia to the ecliptic.

23.09.  Whitish lines from the north almost to the zenith.

23.10.  Single vertical band through UMa. handle approximately 5 degrees wide.

23.11 to 23.16.  A pale blue haze spreading across Cassiopeia.  A line along the ecliptic also very pale blue continuing through Leo, Gemini and Virgo.

23.16.  Fading now but still lining effect seen.

23.17.  Lining brightens again with bright whitish vertical bands from the north point to the east.
Up to 70 degrees in height above the horizon.

23.19.  Bands starting to fade.

23.20.  Pale blue sheets from the northern aspect.

23.22.  Clear sky in all directions.

23.24.  Wide band almost like mist, east to west approximately 20 degrees to 60 degrees in height to the north.

23.25.  Pre dawn sky effect to the north again but not so strong as before.

23.26.  Lines in the whitish shade from 20 degrees in height through UMa. then fade again.  I waited until 23.50. but did not see any other activity in the sky.  Mist seemed to be making the seeing diminish and so I retreated to a warm bed.  I'm glad I was observing that night because because I could never have gained the experience of one of natures rare shows from a book.

The Aurora Borealis of March 13th 1989

By Rob Moseley

On the evening and night of March 13/14th a great magnetic storm, triggered by exceptional sunspot activity, produced one of the most brilliant displays of the Aurora Borealis seen for many years in our latitudes.I have waited for over 20 years to witness the Aurora, and when it finally came to light the sky I have patiently watched throughout that time it did not disappoint.  There is an inexpressible beauty in the Aurora, and I confess that for most of the time I just stood and gaped, in a state of stupefied excitement. But old habits die hard, and I did manage to make a few notes, which I now transcribe from my logbook.

Aurora Borealis. Intensity 7 (All sky storm)

At approximately 21.20 UT I received a phone call from Geoff Johnstone at Leamington, informing me of suspected auroral activity.  On going outside I immediately saw white ray bundles high in the North and North West.  These rays appeared to move rapidly South, proceeded by a brightening arc, stretching across the whole sky from East to V/eat.  At its Southern limit this arc was positioned well South of Leo.

Between 21.30 and 21.50 UT the storm intensified.  Greenish curtains of rays appeared in the North, originating from another large arc well above the horizon.  With a period of approximately 5 minutes the intensity of the forms waxed and waned, with well defined "searchlights" converging on the area of the Head of Leo/Cancer.  The corona thus formed, well South of the zenith, turned a brilliant pulsating red — the other forms being mainly green.  During the strongest outbursts, which lasted only a few minutes, the whole sky was lit up.

Activity diminished after approx. 21.55 UT, but during the next 2 hours or so the sky was still filled with quiet glows, arcs and rays.  At 01.35 UT rapidly pulsating arcs were seen near the zenith, with a white corona forming near Cor Caroli.  At 01.50 UT red rays in the North West united to form a dull, blood red corona just North of Arcturus.  The sky full of subdued green glows.  After this activity subsided once more, but when I went to bed at 02,15 UT the sky was still full of quiet auroral glows.

With the Sun threatening a super—maximum of sunspot activity there is every chance that further displays may occur.  Mid evening is the most likely time for a storm to occur — so keep a close watch every clear night.  You may be rewarded by the incomparably strange splendour of "the Northern Lights".


By G. Johnstone

There are various complicated methods published for setting up an equatorial head accurately.  The one described here is both simple to understand and to execute and can be as accurate as you wish depending only on the time taken.  People who have no permanent site for their telescope may also find it worthwhile setting up the head.  All they have to do is to mark the position of the legs so that they can be placed in the same position each time.

The head will probably be mounted in one of two main ways:-

A) On (i) a tripod with adjustable legs or (ii) on a pillar stand with adjustable feet.

(B) On a permanent pillar sunk into concrete.


(1) In (A) above one leg should be placed due south and the other two legs placed east and west.  Due south can be found with a compass and this is accurate enough for the moment.

(2) In (A) above adjust the legs until the mounting is level.

(3) In (A) and (B) the head should then be aligned north-south, with the polar axis pointing roughly in the direction of the pole star, and then clamped.

Setting up the head in azimuth

Focus the telescope on a bright star as near the meridian (south) as possible. A star in this position is not changing in altitude.  Bring the star to the centre of the field using an eyepiece of moderate magnification.  If cross wires are present it helps, but if not rack the eyepiece out until the star's image occupies about three quarters of the field of view. Now try to follow the star in right ascension only, do not alter the declination of the instrument.  The star will probably start to drift either upwards or downwards from the field of view. Assuming you are using an astronomical telescope with south at the bottom of the field, then make the following adjustments:-

If the star moves upwards then the polar axis is to the west of the meridian.  Rotate the head anticlockwise a bit at a time until the star remains stationary in the centre of the field.  If the star moves downwards in the field it shows that the polar axis is to the east of the meridian and so should be rotated clockwise to correct the drift.

If set correctly a star should remain in the centre of the field for at least thirty minutes.

 A Incorrect Setting   B Correct Setting
Star drifts upwards if telescope axis mounting points too far to the west or drifts downwards if too far east Star drifts straight across field of view if axis mounting is aligned along N/S line

Setting the angle of the polar axis

Focus the instrument on a star in the east, with a positive declination, that has just risen.  Follow the star as before in right ascension only.  You will probably find the star moves either upwards or downwards from the centre of the field.  If the star moves upwards, the angle the polar axis makes with the horizontal is too small.  Increase the angle by lowering the leg or foot that was placed due south a bit at a time. If the star moves downwards raise the leg to reduce the angle of the polar axis.  A star to the west of the meridian just setting could be used instead of or as well as one to the east.  In this case the procedure is the reverse of the one described.

If large adjustments needed to be made in setting the azimuth or the. angle of the polar axis, it is perhaps best to repeat the procedure again from the beginning as a check.


Date . . . . . 1989 / 1 / 17
Time  . . . .  23h 00m to 23h 30m UT
Conditions   Ant. II to III
Instrument  6" F/10 Reflector  x320
Co-long  . .  37.90 to 38.15
Observer  .  V. Cooper

Ramsden a 12 mile diameter crater whose outside eastern I.A.U. wall rises 18,000ft. above the outside area, but it's most distinctive feature derives from it's remarkable association of clefts that cover this area.
According to the H.P. Wilkins book Moon Maps and the texts from Elgers book The Moon there are many more clefts around Ramsden than I was able to see during this observation, so perhaps a more favourable libration might render them visible.

A Series of Observations of Mars
by the Revd. T.M. Gouldstone
from St. Keverne in Cornwall
Part Two

Date           1988 Nov. 12th.
Time           19h. 20m. to 19h. 35m. U.T.
Instrument   216mm Reflector Mag. x216
Conditions    Very poor much boiling.

On account of poor seeing features very hard to identify.
N. hem. featureless apart from very faint feature p. meridian.  Sirenum visible p. side. On f. side darker features are possible, Salis Planum and Aurriae Planum.  The former is the darker of the two.
S. area adjacent to polar cap uniform but faint.

Date          1988 Nov. 13th.
Time          21 h. 5m. to 21 h. 20m. U.T.
Instrument  216mm Reflector Mag. x155 and 216
Conditions   Very poor with some moderate periods.

Sirenum visible as well as extensive, faint features in N. hem. during better seeing at 21 h. 50m. U.T.

Date           1988 Nov. 14th.
Time           18h. 15m. to 18h. 30m. U.T.
Instrument  216mm Reflector Mag. x216
Conditions   Moderate to good: better than the 13th.

C.M. 69°
Polar cap very conspicuous Acidalia Planitia in N. hem. Argyre in S. hem. p. side.
Two dark linear areas oriented N/S approx.  in centre of disc separated by light band.

Date          1988 Nov. 17th.
Time          18h. 15m. to 18h. 30m. U.T.
Instrument 216mm Reflector Mag. x216
Conditions  Seeing steady with turbulence.

C.M. 43°
Argyre visible in S. hem. as a pale patch above darker area (A) which is darker on S. side.
Margaritifer (?) separate from Aurorae Planum by NW/SE lighter area.
Faint dark area in N (B) Acidatia PI. ?

Date         1988 Nov. 17th.
Time         21h.20m.to 21h.40m. U.T.
Instrument 216 mm Reflector Mag. x216
Conditions  Seeing much better than earlier in the evening, higher power could be used.

C.M. 89°
Very dark area in centre of the disc, separate from dark area p. Extensive dark area S. of central dark spot extending to S.P.C.
Some faint area s in N. hemisphere.

Date         1988 Nov. 18th.
Time         17h. 21m. to 18h. 00m U.T.
Instrument 216mm Reflector Mag. x216
Conditions  Seeing good but small scale tremors, low contrast.

C.M. 22°
Low contrast of main large area, darkest area (Meridian) on p. side.
Faint dark features in N. hem. Argyre area lighter.
Pronounced bay between Margaritifer and Aurorae Planum.

The above series of observations by Tim shows a very determined attempt by him to keep a steady surveillance of Mars during it's recent apparition and the observations demonstrate how much can be seen and positively identified with moderate apertures, of the surface features.  This now concludes any further observations till the next opposition which is due in November 1990
Ed. V.C.