Mars from Mayo

Sadly, we had to go to the West of Ireland for my Father-in-Law’s funeral. For part of the time we were there, we stayed in a lovely thatched house, an AirBnB near the village of Cong in County Mayo. Although the house was close to the main road into Cong, it was well above the road up a steep drive, and looked out onto fields and woodland across Lough Corrib and Connemara. I knew the sky would be very good if we had a clear night. We were not lucky enough to have it completely clear, the West of Ireland is infamous for cloud and rain, but there was one evening with short gaps in the clouds and a moon rising. I threw the camera onto a tripod and fired off some 20-second exposures to see what I might catch.

I was pleased to see the red planet Mars framed between the house and trees, against a backdrop of stars. Even though the population of the area is very thin by UK standards, tiny villages all have a few sodium streetlights, and this is reflected on the low clouds. The orange glow was not immediately visible to the naked eye, with the light from the rising moon shading the sky slighly blue, but in the long exposure it shows up very clearly. This is why light pollution is such a curse. A little light shone into the sky can be seen many, many miles away. It affects wildlife and robs us of the glory of the night sky and the deep legacy of dark nights. It is also a collosal waste: the light is pouring onto the environment where it does harm instead of any good. As Ireland develops, it is noticeable that its once pristine skies (which are still some of the best in Europe) are being eroded. It would be a shame if it goes the same way as most of the developed world.

Galactic Centre To the naked eye, the sky was magnificent and the dim but just visible clouds added to the drama. As the cloud began to close in, I managed to capture a view of the centre of the Milky Way, low down, just above the trees. These clouds (Saggitarian star clouds) are millions of stars as we look into the densest part of our home galaxy and are astonishing, even when partly covered by much nearer clouds.


Images were made of two exposures, each 25 seconds, with a full-frame Canon DSLR using a zoom lens around 30mm focal length and wide open. ISO was set to 800. Images were integrated, noise reduced and “stretched” for contrast in PixInsight before some further processing in Affinity Photo.

Christopher Curtis Written by:

After a lifetime's work in education, Chris took early retirement and now lives in the New Forest, Hampshire, England