Castle Point Astronomy Club
Castle Point Astronomy Club Diary
July 2018 by Dave Stratton
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Wednesday 4th July 2018

Mike reminded us that we have a Family Day at Hadleigh Castle Country Park on 28th.

Next week we are juggling the schedules as there is a risk that a certain football team may be playing so Nick James has been moved to the following week and we have pulled Ed forward.

Ted said that the church fete is on 14th.

Mike introduced Andrew for his talk: The Astronomer´s Guide to Strange Things in the Sky

He began by saying that UFO means Unexplained Flying Object – so not necessarily something alien - just something unexplained. He defined the various ways we can be confused. Most things seen in the sky are lights of some sort.

He said that a major problem was gathering the story from witnesses: - Where, when, what, size, state-of-mind. It was very difficult. He then told a story to illistrate state of mind. It involved going back to the year 1977.

The public had been becoming more interested in UFOs for several years before. Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past is a book authored by Erich von Däniken came out in 1968. It involves the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by ancient astronauts who were welcomed as gods. This book, which is pure fiction but remains a very good read did a lot to get the public thinking about aliens.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 American science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, Cary Guffey, and François Truffaut. It tells the story of Roy Neary, an everyday blue-collar worker in Indiana, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object. Close Encounters was a long-cherished project for Spielberg. A wonderful film that added to the imagination of lots of people.

Andrew said that as a youngster he lived near Chingford. Pole Hill was a local bit of higher ground that was often the location of UFO reports. Lights had been seen ascending into the sky and also landing on the lcoal reservoir before disappearing beneath the surface. A watch was planned by the local paper, on Pole Hill which is on the Greenwich Meridian on a Saturday night in early August fo that year. Andrew was there, but the aliens were not! Locals gathered on the hill and a couple of eccentrics approached asking for directions to the nearest pub. Andrew asked if they didn't want to wait in case any UFOs appeared. They replied that they always saw them far better when they came out of the pub!

He said that natural objects like the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can often cause concern and a special one is the moon in eclipse when it becomes red! Meteors are another common sighting and of course comets such as Hale Bopp.

Comet Hale–Bopp is a comet that was perhaps the most widely observed of the 20th century and one of the brightest seen for many decades. Hale–Bopp was discovered on July 23, 1995, separately by Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp prior to it becoming naked-eye visible on Earth. Although predicting the maximum apparent brightness of new comets with any degree of certainty is difficult, Hale–Bopp met or exceeded most predictions when it passed perihelion on April 1, 1997. It was visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months, twice as long as the previous record holder the Great Comet of 1811. Accordingly, Hale–Bopp was dubbed the Great Comet of 1997.

Comet Holmes is a periodic comet in the Solar System, discovered by the British amateur astronomer Edwin Holmes on November 6, 1892. Although normally a very faint object, Holmes became notable during its October 2007 return when it temporarily brightened by a factor of about half a million, in what was the largest known outburst by a comet, and became visible to the naked eye. It also briefly became the largest object in the Solar System, as its coma expanded to a diameter greater than that of the Sun.

Andrew said that the Northern Lights were rarely seen at these latitudes, but if the faint green glow is seen it can look weird. We saw a diagram with which he explained how our magnetic field largely deflects the solar wind around the Earth, but some is funneled down at higher latitudes.

A sun dog or mock sun, formally called a perihelion in meteorology, is an atmospheric optical phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to the left or right of the Sun. Two sun dogs often flank the Sun within a 22° halo. The sun dog is a member of the family of halos, caused by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere. Sun dogs typically appear as a pair of subtly colored patches of light, around 22° to the left and right of the Sun.

Geese can sometimes look red as the sun strikes them from below in the late evening.

Lenticular clouds are caused by uneven ground formations can look like giant flying saucers.

Mirages are another common cause when distant objects – even cities can appear upside down or the right way up - these are caused by layers of air at different temperatures.

St. Elmo´s fire is a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere. St. Elmo´'s fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. The phenomenon sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms and was regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light, accounting for the name. Sailors may have considered St. Elmo´s fire as a good omen.

Ball lightning is an unexplained and potentially dangerous atmospheric electrical phenomenon. The term refers to reports of luminous, spherical objects which vary from pea-sized to several meters in diameter. Though usually associated with thunderstorms, the phenomenon lasts considerably longer than the split-second flash of a lightning bolt. Many early reports claim the ball eventually explodes, sometimes with fatal consequences, leaving behind the odor of sulfur. Andrew said that a relative of his had a scorch mark on a wall that was caused by this phenomenon!

Manmade objects get a look in too: - Stealth bombers like the B2 and F117 as when they were first seen they were secret – who knows what is secret today? Aeroplane contrails can be puzzling, aluminized balloons, hot air and weather balloons and of course air ships.

Fireworks and distress flares – some have parachutes so stay &‘still’.

Satellites like the ISS which can be seen daily at various places and iridium flares which are common but it is rare to see them accidently.

Chinese or Thai lanterns can look very odd floating along especially if there are lots of them. Laser beams and searchlights confuse.

Andrew returned to the Chingford story to finish. He researched the matter and discovered that rockets were being launched from a local research facility and also top secret submarine models were being tested in the large reservoirs in the area at night!

The Truth is Out There


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