Castle Point Astronomy Club
Castle Point Astronomy Club Diary 2003
by Dave Stratton
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By Dave Stratton

17th December 2003

Christmas Social

Ted excelled himself with the eats for this year´s social we had a good turn out with plenty to scoff for all but with not too much wastage. Can´t be bad.

There is nothing this club likes better than a good chat & not necessarily about astronomy. We simply do not get time in the normal run of things. Some blighter always wants to talk to us about this or that. I believe they are collectively referred to as ´speakers´. I thought these normally went around in pairs and were stuck to the sides of radios & tellies. Anyway there were no interruptions this evening we just got on with the exchanging of cards & thoughts.

It was especially nice to see Jen & Paul along again. They have just been the once before but enjoyed it sufficiently to write & let us know via e-mail. They bought their telescope along because, would you believe it, it was a super evening for stargazing. So the likes of Tim & Chris offered advice & encouragement until we got them in out of the cold. We also had Michael along who has probably been 3 or 4 times before. He seems very keen I reckon he will join us soon.

All too soon it was time to go home or to the pub as the need takes you. So with much wishing well and Christmas good cheer we departed not to meet again officially until January 7th.

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year to one & all.

10th December 2003

Mike - Beginner´s Night

I think Dave Smith must be getting his breath back this week because we had got used to having clear nights, but this week he failed miserably so Mike stepped into the breach with a degree of planning such that he was equipped with slides (yes good old fashioned slides) which work a bit like a magic lantern show on a screen when light is shone through them.

Mike had decided to give us a bit about Mars seeing as the Mars Express bearing Beagle 2 is getting closer to its Christmas Day rendezvous every minute.

Before he got started Mike reminded us that Ed had brought his Astro Mags along again for the taking. Also that Brian was awaiting club pictures from long ago. Mike even had an example an image of very young people on a south coast beach including an almost childlike Father Bernard Soley & Royston Dean.

Mike began by mentioning the 1976 Viking probe and Monica Brady´s comments about the lack of evidence for life on the red planet. Andy (our previous secretary) asked Mike if he could remember whom it was who secured Monica to give us a memorable talk some time ago. (It was of course Andy himself).

Mike got started on his subject for the evening, which was the Pathfinder Mission which was launched from Cape Canaveral on 4th December 1996. Pathfinder was the most sophisticated of a new range of cheaper & faster missions built at a fraction of the cost of the Viking probes. It cost less that a feature film of the time.

Mike started by showing slides of the amazing airbag technique to cushion the final stages of the landing on 4th July (What a splendid day for an American endeavour). This involved a heat shield decent followed by a parachute, during the final stages the air bags were inflated and the Lander was lowered on a long tether then solid fuelled rockets stopped the decent at a height of 30 metres the parachute was detached and the Lander fell to bounce many times on the airbags - !6 times & 1 kilometre in all. The air bags then deflated in a controlled manner to bring the Lander upright; the petals opened and all that was needed was the Sun to rise to start working. The first images were returned within hours to enable the precise landing position to be calculated.

One of the delights of the mission was the inclusion of the Sojourner rover, which by means of a ramp was able to descend and trundle freely about the Martian surface. There were some technical issues, which prevented this happening on day 1 but these were very fortunately soon overcome. The Lander base station was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station to honour that prestigious space scientist who actually died during the mission - Carl would have been so delighted with its success.

Mike showed slides of the testing of the various stages including images of Mars as Pathfinder closed. Then we got to see the images secured on the ground. The initial ones were panoramic shots from the Lander using the camera located at the top of a 1.8m mast. The terrain was extremely rocky and various rocks were given names by the scientists these were a trifle bizarre such as Spock, Barnacle Bill, Mermaid & Yogi. I´ll stop here but I guess you have the picture.

Sojourner was also equipped with a camera so study of the rocks and their surroundings was possible from various viewpoints. On Sol 30 (30th Day) Sojourner took an image of the sunset. The Martian sky is odd in that the daytime sky is pink whilst a blue colouring marks dawn & dusk i.e. back to front to our earthly view of the sky. There were noted to be many different kinds of cloud. Also evidence of very strong winds - scouring of soil about the various rocks.

The images were all excellent particularly one taken of the Twin Peak feature on the horizon which was photographed using a multiple image technique and we saw the image before & after processing. Wonderful stuff.

This was an excellent talk. Several of us had seen parts of it before and were basically familiar with the result but it is such a stunning technological achievement it will stand the test of time.

3rd December 2003

Mike - Frantic Fill-in

This evening started out well. The hall was moderately filled with expectant faces looking forward to an interesting talk on an unpublished subject. The hall was abuzz with animated conversation in other words a normal situation. Then our nasty chairman put a stop to the fun by announcing we had failed to secure a speaker. He had not turned up. Let us hope no catastrophe has been endured.

Steve went on to say he was wheeling in our very own Mike who when he is not being our secretary or standing in for Steve manages to give a passable talk at the drop of a hat. In a very few seconds he rummaged in his case and came up with some Internet downloads from Astro News.

Mike opened with a story about the Pleiades star cluster, this is a 400ly group of 7 or 8 naked eye very young blue stars which are actually part of a cluster of about 500 stars. Through a scope & a time exposure photograph the stars seem to be enveloped in a beautiful cloud of nebulosity. The news was that conjecture had it that the am cloud was not actually related to the cluster of stars but that they just happened to be in the middle of it right now & at some point in the future this would not be the case. But the good news was that there was another cloud some way off which would fill the bill in due course. So we can rest easy tonight folks.

The next subject was the Sun which has been much in the press recently because despite the fact that it is past the 11 year cycle of activity maximum it has been not too quietly doing its nut by being very active. Exhibiting whopping great sunspots and Colonal Mass Ejections (CMEs) with abandon in the order of twice the norm. This has caused some problems here on Earth and with satellites in orbit. But has given some splendid Aurora. These have not been overly enjoyed by ourselves because of cloud but there are plenty of pics about to prove it

Mike reported that the Japanese were having little luck with their Mars probes; the last three have been launch failures.

However the Mars Express containg the precious Beagle 2 is well on its way, due to arrive on Christmas Day. We understand pictures have been sent.

There was news of Eta Carini, which is the largest known star in the galaxy. It is 100 times larger than the Sun but a massive 1,000,000 times more luminous. If it replaced the Sun it would extend beyond Jupiter´s orbit. It is surmised that when the star gets to the end of its life it may go Hyper Nova, which means it will be emitting GRBs (Gamma Ray Bursts). Lets hope its not looking our way when it blows.

Apparently Interferometry which is a science involving fringe patterns of light waves, used originally to check with enormous accuracy if flat surfaces were flat, has now been developed to allow radio telescopes to massively improve their resolving ability. Getting down to a few arc seconds or .005as i.e. .005 Astronomical Units, which is the distance of the Earth to the Sun.

It was reported that the some stars such as the Pleiades might be spinning very fast & be oval as a result. Algol in Persius is suspected of having a 2-day orbit of its unseen companion.

Further to an earlier report that there was probably thick ice in deep craters at the Moon´s poles. Recent Radar probes deep into the lunar surface have failed to find any evidence. In contrast mercury is believed to have ice in its polar craters.

At this point we enjoyed a short interlude about the merits of Quantum Physics with regard to astronomy. This mainly involved me refusing to accept that there we live in a multiverse. Which basically means we live in one universe of an infinite number of universes such that there is an infinite number of other yous & mes sitting listening to similar stuff in church halls elsewhere. This I must add is all because someone in 1908 set up an experiment involving fringe patterns of light in virtual darkness & got a result. So therefore we live in a multiverse!!!!!!!!!!!

We got back to more serious stuff with the news that Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky and the first to be photographed appears in more recent images to have a disc around it, which may contain planets.

Mike had finished his news items at this point and asked members to share their recent observational results:-

Jim advised that he had been playing with his new CCD camera. The results to date were confusing because he tried a minute on Persius, which was encouraging whereas 3 minutes was poor. Therefore more playing is required.

It was reported that Venus was currently on view in the evening, in the West naturally.

Mike advised that he had got a copy of Red Shift 5. He said it was promising but proving difficult to use. There may be a talk in this in the future.

The Heavens Above website was mentioned after Robin reported the he had experienced the sight of an iridium Flare accidentally. The aforementioned site gives adequate detail to enable all satellites to be found.

Mike mentioned our forthcoming Open Nights and the fact that Tim´s excellent live camera images of the Moon have now been augmented because Tim had made himself a remote control so members of the public will be able to move the scope without touching it. Wonderful stuff.

Robin mentioned the recently suggested Sidewalk Astronomy. This is an idea from the States, as you might imagine, where Scopes are set up on the pavement & the public invited to have a look. This is a great way to advertise ourselves, get the public interest & raise funds. Robin said we should go for a quarter moon time so as to have this as a major object without it drowning out other things.

Robin also announced that the battery packs that he was getting a while ago are now available again but even cheaper.

Well that was unplanned. A very enjoyable event masterminded by Mike.

26th November 2003

Observing Night

Well I never. Dave Smith must be getting exhausted. He has managed yet another clear night for us on the correct day.

We had a good hour of fairly good sky before the cloud crept in. Saturn was excellent a made several folks´ evening. Particularly Jen & Paul for whom it was their first visit. They came equipped with a 6inch Newtonian reflector. They were not familiar with it yet but as usual there was lots of advice & practical help and in a veritable jiffy it was on Saturn. They were so pleased I think it stayed there for the duration. We also had Bruce who has been a couple of times before. However this time he requested an application form. Can´t be bad.

We had a good range of scopes available from a birding scope to Ed´s 10inch side mounted Newtonian so there was ample opportunity to compare instruments.

After the cloud forced us inside to partake of refreshment & warmth, a very good chat was had by all with subjects varying from alternative teas to Ted´s 16inch refurbishment to study of a star atlas in a successful attempt to understand how one of our number managed to allegedly see all of Cassiopeia in his scope. Dave Smith spied a small cluster with a very similar shape.

19th November 2003

Ron - Retro Astro Photographs & More

Mike did the honours in Steve´s absence i.e. he stood up front & announced things - Namely: -

Mike finally introduced Ron who was giving the talk as above. Several of us had been discussing the possibilities of the subject because the title did not give much away.

Ron set out by talking about strange Astro photography such as the one he & Andy had achieved some time ago which sounded quite simple i.e. to take a photo centred on Polaris which had the shutter opening at specific times and periods such that the streaking of the stars revolving about Polaris would spell out in Morse code the letters POLARIS. This involved having a camera with an automatic shutter release controlled by a tape recorder, if I remember rightly. The task was fraught with difficulties but was achieved in the end.

Ron said he had long been fascinated by pinhole photography and set out some long time ago to take a picture of an object in space. He said he had decided to concentrate on the moon, as it had to be bright, whilst the sun did not have sufficient surface detail. He showed us a wonderful home made camera, which used 120 film. It was 400mm focal length with a pinhole of 0.65mm. The camera was a veritable work of art being made entirely of cardboard. Sturdily made & good to look at. The image of the gibbous moon however was disappointing. It was the moon all right but small & lacking definition.

Ron moved swiftly on saying that as he clearly needed more size he would extend the camera. Simple enough! This time it was 1000mm with a 0,95mm hole. In answer to a question he said that simply letting the cone of light through the hole travel further before striking the film increased the image size. It´s obvious if you think about it. He also said he was using a chart he found in a book that specified the size of hole needed for as given focal length. This time the image was bigger with a tad more detail which encouraged Ron to extend again.

This one was 2m long with a 1.94 hole. This was now quite a substantial/impressive beast. The image was bigger but still fell short of being good.

Ron was getting in his stride now he went to 4m with a 2.7mm hole. Ron showed a wonderful picture taken with a normal camera of his latest try mounted on Ted´s 16inch to provide guidance and support for the first 6 feet or so. At this length the shutter release, which was at the front end, was difficult to reach so Ron had devised a remote shutter release, which was impressive in its own right. The results this time was bigger again but still failed to show craters.

Ron was really going now with scarcely a pause for breath he built a 7m, Yes 7 meter. Her had a photo taken in daylight to prove it. This was so long it drooped despite e being made from special thin card. Therefore Ron developed a cantilever device that attempted to hold up the front end. Despite the valiant efforts, which included a steel pole strapped to the side this one was a failure in the camera stakes but would make a wonderful sculpture. Ron in its defence said that one reason for the problems was that the cantilever support could only work in one plane so it would start off OK but as the time exposure progressed the 16inch of rotated in two planes thus causing the cantilever to be offset. So despite a brave effort it was back to the drawing board.

Ron said that he realised that a change of direction was required so he decided to fold the camera up by adding 2 mirrors. He promptly produced this device, which had a focal length of 6.8m. This was clearly much more robust & compact compared to the 7m but was still rather larger than Ron. The image of the moon was larger still but still not of sufficient quality. Ron also showed a picture of Jupiter, which required a 20 min exposure. Which he was quick to point out could not be recognized but it was a good try. We certainly saw a bright lump as apposed to the fuzzy blob we are so familiar with. He also showed a sun image, which had a sunspot group. Being Ron he did the decent thing and pointed out that the other sunspot groups on the image were in fact spurious marks & should be ignored.

He made it clear he had not given up on this endeavour but considered he needed to do work on the choice of hole diameter to arrow in on the ideal size for the work. He also said that the actual manufacture of the hole was crucial, the ideal hole being completely clean with a knife-edge, which is of course very difficult to achieve.

Ron at this point moved to another field of pinhole photography. This was, he said, a pinhole mirror. This had to be seen to be believed it was a piece of optical flat mirror blacked out but with a clean pinhole in the middle. This was mounted on a plug in domestic timer such that the mirror was mounted on the bit that rotates. This arrangement allowed the mirror incredibly to track the sun. Ron announced this as if we all did it every day. He had projected the sun into his bedroom (as you do), which was a distance of 70feet. He had a photo of the image which for reality purposes had an edge clipped by the curtains. Well we wouldn´t have believed it otherwise.

Ron then showed a rather splendid old camera, which he said, was an MPP 5x4inch large format camera. He had of course fitted a pinhole ILO of the lens. He produced the result, which was a wonderful picture of Ted, which had required him to not move for 70 seconds. Quite an achievement for Ted & for Ron.

Ron moved swiftly on to tell & show us his next venture, which was to try for a 130 degree panoramic. The results were really very good. We saw Ron´s old factory site also several images of our lot at Thetford last year. These required all involved to sit very still.

The next attempt was for three 120-degree panoramics taken simultaneously with a single camera. I should say here that all the camera Ron showed were exquisitely made still using cardboard & a hot glue gun & black spray paint for the inside surfaces. The picture was another from Thetford, which Ron showed as individuals & then them stitched together in Photoshop. Needless to say very impressive.

Ron then moved to a 360degree panoramic shot which was taken by a pinhole device that directed the light through a vertical slot which was rotated thus exposing the film which was mounted on the inside surface of a drum. An old tape recording machine afforded the rotation via an intricate series of pulleys & belts. Ron said one rotation took about 90 seconds. He showed two photos of his factory site. Amazing.

Ron´s penultimate camera was a stereo job, which was just too good to be true. The results were quite stunning. Ron showed the pairs of images on screen, which if viewed from directly in front would merge to form a 3D image. In case this wasn´t enough Ron had made a viewer, again of course from cardboard, into which the prints could be placed to be seen in all their glory.

The final camera was definitely deserved of the adage ´last but not least´ it was a 20x16inch large format job. This one just couldn´t manage with the trusty old 120 film. Ron had to use bromide paper (whatever that is). The camera itself was spectacular but the images were something else. Ron showed several but the best was without doubt some pictures of a beautiful old American car, which was nearby his factory. It demonstrated so well the ability of pinhole camera to have incredible depth of field. The camera had been positioned about 2feet from the car but it was all in perfect focus.

Well at the end I think we were overwhelmed by the endeavours of this man, which are quite extraordinary. Most people would be proud of any one of them but he has achieved so much. The time, the skill, the practicality & of course the imagination.

12th November 2003

Observing Night

were blessed with a sky that could be looked at. The seeing wasn´t wonderful but beggars can´t be choosers and lots of folk had bought their instruments along so we had an evening of observing.

We had an excellent range of machinery from Jim´s marvellous 20inch Dob. to a 4inch refractor that Ted was managing. Gerald had two instruments with him - his Meade 8inch Schmidt Cassegrain & an ETX.

Mars was on view still, not too large now, but interestingly showing a marked gibbous shape which is not often seen on objects further away from the sun than we are. Saturn came up after a little while currently residing with the twins in Gemini. Saturn is a wonderful object to view despite being very low in the sky & the far from good seeing it remained very watch able. Lots of its moons were on show particularly through Jim´s machine.

It was helpful to two newcomers Trevor & Bruce who had both been along before Trevor recently & Bruce a while ago. They were able to spend time talking to the guys about their different scopes. Trying to understand the strong points & weaknesses of each. Always good fun but also frustrating because of course each puts their own choice forward as the bee´s knees. Trevor seems to have made his mind up to join us despite his earlier visit being the night of the recent quiz with NE Essex AC.

5th November 2003

Mike - Rockets

What a cracking subject for a date such as this. We waited in anticipation for the man of the evening to appear. Ted announced that he was running a little late and Andy was bringing him. When in due course he arrived - breathless and advised us that his tardiness was due to some unknown person helping themselves to the complete wiper arm assemblies from his car. He therefore had to seek help to arrive at all. He hastily set things up, the screen, digital projector, CD of pretty pictures to illustrate the talk only to realise that amongst the confusion of his leaving home the laptop had been left behind. However showing amazing fortitude in the circumstances he got on with it recommending that we make use of our imaginations.

First off Mike asked Dave Smith to tell us about the Lunar eclipse due this weekend beginning at 23.32UT until 03.04 on the night of 8th/9th November.

Apparently the Greeks had a wooden bird, which was driven by a jet of steam - early jet propulsion.

It should be born in mind that this talk was punctuated throughout by the most amazing bangs from nearby, courtesy of the local population who were celebrating the date in the usual fashion. Owing to this pandemonium Steve & Lesley who had brought their dog Robbie along and left him in the car decided to fetch him in case he was disturbed. Several Oohs & Aarhs greeted him because he is a delightful creature.

Mike advised that the Chinese discovered gunpowder, which was originally used to make banger/bombs out of metal tubes which were thrown on a fire to explode them, until the end came off one and it shot off out of the fire. So the rocket was discovered.

In the 13th Century the Chinese name for gunpowder was ´Powder Against the Wind´. Isn´t that nice?

Rockets were developed as a weapon of war. Islam had no fewer than 22 recipes for gunpowder.

A Chinese gent by the name on Wang Hoo tried to get launched by fixing 47 rockets to a chair and getting someone to light them whilst he sat in the chair. He died unsurprisingly.

In the 16th Century a German Johan Schmidt (I think) invented a two-stage rocket.

Our very own Isaac Newton determined that every action resulted in an equal & opposite reaction. Thus explaining the reason rockets worked at all.

Rather surprisingly we Brits didn´t get involved until 1780. Then we developed rockets with weights of 18, 25 & even 300lb. These were used against the Americans in 1812. There is a reference to this in their anthem The Star Spangled Banner.

In the 19th Century the Italians started launching small animals into the air aboard rockets. (It should be pointed out that Leslie covered Robbie´s ears in case he got upset).

They were also used to get lines aboard stricken vessels at sea. Indeed this is still practiced today.

WW1 saw rockets used from biplanes to shoot down balloons.

A Mr Goddard in 1926 developed a liquid fuelled rocket engine, which ran on Liquid Oxygen & Gasoline. It had a burn time of 2.5 seconds.

A Russian invented the concept of steerable rocket engines in 1891 whilst in prison.

In the late 19th Century an Italian conceived that liquid fuelled rockets could explore space.

In WW2 Werner von Braun helped the Germans develop the V2, which of course was used against us. His motto was ´I aim for the Stars´. Mr Braun elected to go & work for the Americans after the war not fancying the Russians for some reason. The rest as they say his history.

The Brits developed the Atlas, Titan & Blue Streak rockets which foundered principally for lack of funds. NASA was set up. The Russians launched Laika the dog (Shush) and then Uri Gagarin. This action was instrumental in starting the ´space race´ resulting in a man on the moon in 1969.

Mike finished by mentioning the Chinese man in space a few weeks ago and opined that this may, if we are lucky, see the space race getting a new boost as the Chinese have said they aim to get a man on Mars. Watch this space. (No pun intended).

We then repaired to the field beyond the car park where Mike further entertained us with a very commendable bunch of rockets of the firework variety - so we joined in the general Chaos that reigned this evening. When we thought it was all over Steve produced a giant of a rocket from his car, which blasted off in the general direction of Rayleigh until it burst with a very nice display including bangs.

And so an excellent evening drew to a close with much thanks to Mike for his endeavour.

9th October 2003

Quiz Night

CPAC -V- North Essex Astronomical Society

2nd October 2003

Mike & Steve - Beginners night

Sadly it is cloudy so we are not out enjoying the night sky. Instead we are in the warmth of our clubhouse anticipating not getting cold.

Mike set the ball rolling by telling us about Kelling Heath (following his recent visit there to recce the place) which is the new venue for the Skycamp. He showed a map of the site & some photos so that we could get a feel for it. He suggested a ´best spot´ and recommends early booking to avoid disappointment. The pitches are numbered 371 to 381. The start dates for your diaries are March 19th and September 10th 2004. Yes there are two sessions planned.

Steve told us a mythological story concerning Queen Cassiopeia who apparently was of the opinion that she was good looking & that her daughter Andromeda was even better. It was rather more involved than I have indicated here but there were lots of long names in it. If you want more - TURN UP.

Mike then told us about various objects well worth a look in Cassiopeia. He also gave out star charts to help locate the objects:

Mike moved on to Persius:

Mike moved to Pegasus.

Steve read a story concerning the Golden Fleece, which follows similar logic to that which I have indicated above.

Mike rounded things off by reminding everybody that now was a good time to observe sun dogs which can be seen 22 degrees each side of the sun if the conditions are right. They are caused by light refracting through ice particles suspended in the atmosphere.

A very good evening enjoyed by all present.

15th October 2003

AGM

8th October 2003

Mike - Thetford Astrocamp

This was an Observing/Beginner´s Night, which was cloudy as usual but Mike had put together a talk on our recent trip.

First things first however - it was a delight to welcome Ron back into the fold after his week in the tender care of the National Health Service. He looked great - well - as well as he should at his age.

Mike had a wealth of pictures, which were displayed superbly via a laptop & the digital projector & screen. I´ve added the screen because we managed with a table on its side last week when Ron let us down.

Mike showed us what was dubbed as CPAC Alley; we pretty much filled one aisle of the field. We were all together except for Brian who normally takes virtually everything he owns with him including for example his slide off roof observatory and needs lots of electricity to make things work. Therefore he was ensconced up in the posh end with his hook up.

We saw delightful images of the task of blowing up Jim´s bed (that is with air not explosives) this was accomplished with much effort & kit including Tim´s very nice battery pack. We also saw Ted´s set up which as usual was very impressive. We also had pics of Robin checking out the weather via his mobile a laptop & the Internet. It only worked on Friday though, Saturday it rained.

There were of course pictures of all the kit we had brought along which was undoubtedly the best effort to date. We held our own with the rest of the field easily. Mike also had a range if pictures from around the field showing the amazing collection of weird & wonderful instruments there.

We also heard about & saw evidence of Brian finding out how strongly he had made his observatory with his nose unfortunately. We also saw a rather ruthless streak in Brendan when he wiped the floor with Dave Smith & Jim whilst playing Astro Monopoly. We also saw an alarming number of people running around clutching beer in glasses, cans & bottles. Whatever next?

After Coffee we had a splendid selection of pictures taken during the event by Brian, Jim, Dave Smith & Ted. Ron also got in on the act with his just developed slides of the wonderful aurora that they were blessed with last year.

Unfortunately this is the last time the event will be at Thetford, next year it is moving to Kelling Heath on the North Coast of Norfolk. Dates available at present are 19-21st March & 10-12th September 2004. Mike is planning to visit the site during a trip to Norwich he is planning soon following which we will learn rather more

We had seven new people along tonight with one couple & a man becoming members. Great isn´t it?

All in all this evening was absolutely first rate, well done to all involved.

1st October 2003

Mike - SOHO

Tonight´s talk was billed to be ´Image Manipulation and Enhancement´ by Ron Mansfield. Ron has surpassed himself & all others by coming up with the best excuse for not giving a talk that we have ever heard. He is in hospital - he was taken very poorly during his journey home from Thetford last weekend with severe stomach pains, which we now know are due to gallstones. The Good Samaritan Andy came to his rescue and delivered him home from where he was rushed into Basildon A&E & given morphine to control the pain. He eventually got his scan and was allowed home on Friday having been fed by drip since Sunday. His first food was on Friday. He is due to have his gall bladder removed later in the year. So we wish him well.

He also screwed up a committee meeting on this Sunday, which was scheduled to be at his home. It never rains but it pours as they say.

As it says at the top Mike stepped into the breach and gave an excellent talk about the Sun with the aid of a CD about SOHO, which is a satellite sited at the Lagrangian point No 1. This is the location between the Earth & the Sun where the gravity of each is in balance.

Mike set off by telling us about the photosphere, which means literally sphere of light. This is the surface that we see; it has a temperature of 6000K and the corona, which amazingly is at 1,000,000K. We heard about prominences, flares and coronal mass ejections. All was shown with super pictures, some moving, from the CD.

Mike also mentioned that many of the astronomers experienced flashes in their eyes (with them closed) that they were all afraid to report in case it turned out to be some medical deficiency that would ground them. It was late in the programme when the more experienced guys let it slip. Apparently the flashes are caused by Neutrinos, these are strange particles, which have the ability to pass through virtually all substances including the human body without affecting it. The only way man has found to detect them is with a tank of dry cleaning fluid at the bottom of an Australian gold mine. But in space Astronomers were seeing them first hand. How about that?

Mike also showed a clip of a comet, which flew past the Sun, whose tail did not point away from the Sun; it is thought that it was going too fast.

Great stuff. Interestingly we had David & Pauline visiting tonight who hale from North Essex AS famed for not winning our fabulous trophy in the dreaded inter club quiz. They have decided to join us as well. Isn´t that grand we must be doing something right.

24th September 2003

Observing/Beginner´s Night

This is the second night so far when we have managed to do some observing on an observing night - How about that? The seeing was good for the location but not actually very good, nevertheless there were several newcomers along who were thrilled with the opportunity to see through such a variety of instruments. We had two 12-inch Dobs courtesy of Matt & Robert and Andy´s birding scope & everything in between - Excellent.

Not too much to write about but that´s not too bad from my point of view.

17th September 2003

Tim - A Walk Through Time

Before Tim got introduced Mike announced that Colin Pillinger of Beagle 2 fame is talking to our chums the Southend Astro group at Southend Library on 2nd October at 19.30. We are all invited to the free evening but they need to be aware of numbers so let Mike know if you plan to attend.

Tim apologised for the change of subject, which was due to be on CCD imaging: due, he explained, to having not acquired sufficient pics yet for his requirements. However he assured us we would not get away with it - he would give it later in the year.

Tim got going by taking us back to 31s May this year, which was marked by Mike gallivanting off to the far north in an attempt to see the annular solar eclipse along with the likes of Patrick Moore and a TV crew. Needless to say he had to make do with an excess of drinking because it was clouded out. Tim was happy to report that he & his brother set out for Felixstowe at about 03.30 and set up their gear on the side of Ferry Road. The event was only a partial at this lower latitude but it wasn´t cloudy and Tim´s images were very acceptable. They even included shots of the local police who evidently had nothing better to do, plus one or two of Tim having a paddle.

Tim then went on to the Mercury transit of the Sun on 7th May. This event lasted most of the day and many of our throng got pictures. Tim was making the point that lots can be gained by the close observation of occultations, which help our understanding of the topography of distant objects. The important feature to note is the precise time of the various stages of the event such as first contact etc.

To be able to do this requires an accurate means of measuring time. To this end we are much at an advantage these days because of the ready availability of precise time from such devices as the Speaking Clock, which Tim advised has been with us since 1935.

Tim gave a super demonstration of one of the ordinary looking clocks available these days which are controlled via a radio signal broadcast from Rugby, which is itself derived from an atomic clock.

Tim showed how all that is required is to activate the clock (put a battery in it) and within a couple of minutes the hands move all by themselves to the correct time. Although we have possibly seen it before it still made a very good demo. Especially when Tim moved it away from his laptop, which was evidently interfering with the signal.

Tim then got rather technical with a type of super radio that he could pick up the 60 Mghz wavelength broadcast and connected a lead to his laptop so that a super moving image of the signal was displayed on the screen via of course the trusty digital projector. Tim explained the detail of the screen showing how the gap between the signals varied and this was the means by which the clocks were able to set themselves up.

Somebody pointed out that the Speaking Click was known as ´TIM´ for the early part of its existence due if I remember rightly because this is what you dialled on the good old finger in the ring phones of yesteryear.

As a footnote it worth noting that the turnout was very good & included three new faces who all thoroughly enjoyed this talk

10th September 2003

First Meeting of the New Session

Well we seem to have got off to a flying start. We had best part of 40 people present including 9 new faces & our only overseas member Derrick Bevan. We would generally be pleased to see 15 on the first night.

Mike told us about the success of the National Astronomy Week efforts at the museum. Those of us who helped out would have witnessed the strange population of alien beings that were born out of the ´Design an Alien´ contest which the kids enthusiastically took part in. Mike said they had sequins everywhere including the planetarium. Mike recommended viewing the museum´s website at southendmuseum.com for lots of pics of the events.

Mike also reported on the Open Night at the country park, which as most of us know was clouded out but remained a success with people happy to place a contribution in our box.

Ted advised that at long last he has received his wondrous prize for winning the Sky at Night photo contest. It is unfortunately not signed by Patrick but is emblazoned with a rubber stamp of his name.

Ted also told us that the club had been unsuccessful in its first attempt to get a grant from the lottery but we have been invited to try again which of course we will.

Mike then asked the audience to give their astronomical experiences over the break. Somebody asked about the apparent black band over the Thames. It was generally agreed that this was due to there being no lights on the water whilst the shores are as we well know well endowed with the nasty things.

Ted said his own efforts had been purely to get used to his new camera, I´m sure somebody believed him.

Mike recounted his & Robin´s efforts from his window, which overlooks the A13 and was witness on this occasion to somebody decorating the verge after apparently too much partaking.

Dave Smith reported he was pleased that he took his birding scope to Sri Lanka. Unfortunately finding that most of his fellow holidaymakers wanted a look as well.

Andy said he had indulged himself by looking at as many of the stars identified to date as having extra solar planets. He reckons to have seen 22 so far of the 100 or so known to date. As most will know Andy has customised his copy of The Sky by plotting them all.

Gerald said that he has been using his filter equipped LX 90 to plot sunspot positions; he intends to continue with this so it should be interesting to see the results.

Derrick recounted his frustration in Spain in trying to find a nearby Astro club. He reckons the Brits out there try to outdo each other with the brightest & most numerous exterior lighting set-up.

23rd August 2003

Open Night at theHadleigh Castle Country Park

We had an almost splendid event this time, everything was beautifully organised. We all turned up with a splendid array of instruments to view pretty much anything the sky had to offer. At 20.45 all the scopes were set up with only one early couple hoping to see something. It wasn´t dark at this point but there was enough blue sky to make several shirts as mum used to say.

As we waited patiently for our first patrons to appear the sky got steadily worse until about 21.20 when you were lucky to see any stars let alone the summer triangle (not all at once anyway). We had an amazing number of visitors who remained extremely happy despite seeing very little. They were all offered the chance to put a contribution in our box to be split with the country park people. We even had some notes -1 tenner & 2 fives. Some even opted to contribute after seeing not-a-lot. A great many said how impressed they had been with the people manning the scopes finding them very patient and informative. (Whom were they referring to?).

So it turned out to be not a good event but were we downhearted. Well not too much. Better luck next time eh?

The country park people told me they are planning to change the name so it will be known as the Hadleigh Country Park i.e. leaving out the word Castle which this time as always caused unfortunate numbers to turn up at the wrong place. Let´s hope it works.

Mars will have to be seen another day.

23rd July 2003

Mike - Beginners Night

This night is sadly our last meeting here at the clubhouse until 10th September. But never fear the summer programme is planned as follows: - 30th July - Pub, 6th Aug - Crazy Golf, 13th August - Pub, 20th August - Crazy Golf, 27th August - Pub, 3rd Sept - 10 Pin Bowling. NB - The bowling must be booked through Mike.

Mike proudly announced that in last Thursday´s quiz against North Essex AS we managed to win with a most excellent score of 89 against their 40. Which means that we retain the magnificent trophy. Yours Truly made the trophy from a bit of Ted´s old apple tree. A return match is planned for 29th October on a Wednesday. Two of their members turned up tonight which was splendid.

Mike passed round a sheet requesting members to indicate their availability to assist himself and Steve at the Museum´s endeavours for Natitional Astronomy week. 

Mars is fast getting nearer so Mike asked for members who have had a go. Ed said he had seen a polar cap & noted the disc was not full. Dave Smith reported that he had a good image with his birding scope. Tim said he pointed his 4-inch refractor but was disappointed with the image although the polar cap was visible. Our guest from North Essex advised that he had taken a small scope to Greece and managed an excellent 200 mag. image. Mike said we should take every opportunity to look because Mars tends to suffer from dust storms when at perihelion.

Mike said that he envisaged a club project to take photos of the Martian moons Phobos & Deimos. They are very close to the disc and can only be seen by using an eyepiece with an occulting bar. Mike has acquired several old eyepieces and he & Ron are to collaborate to suitably modify the eyepiece. The occulting bar must be placed at the point of focus of the eyepiece so not all are suitable. However it looks as if some of those available will do. Exciting Eh? Phobos whizzes round in only 7 hours so it is entirely possible to see it merge with the disc & reappear in the same observing session.

Mike asked the assembly to mention their personal favourite objects. He started the ball rolling with his own, which is Delta 1 & 2 Lyri, best viewed with low power or Bins. Brian said for him it was Epsilon Lyri. Dave Smith opted for M57 the Ring Nebulae also in Lyra. Andy said for him it was the Milky Way seen from a suitable dark spot with no optical aids at all. Matt S said it was the Double Cluster for him. Ron opted for the Coat Hanger, which he said was good in Bins or with low power in a scope. Andy came again with the nice asterism in the lower part of Auriga. Robin said his favourite that is unlikely to be repeated was the fireball that Brian did not see during a meteor watch because he was attending to his camera at the instant. Robin (new member) said he liked the Summer Triangle afforded by Vega, Altair & Deneb. Mike said he enjoyed the Iridium Flares, although they are man-made they are fascinating. Details can be found on the heavensabove website. Gerald said he had been intrigued to see the stars in full daylight having set his GOTO up the previous evening and left it running, apparently for instance all the stars of Cassiopeia were on view, so not only the bright ones. Gerry said the other interesting thing was that he was seeing stars normally only on view in the wintertime.

As always - a very interesting evening with Mike managing things apparently effortlessly from up at the front.

16th July 2003

Roger Payne - Insects of the Southeast

Outside speakers on consecutive weeks - whatever next?

Roger, who is a colleague of Mike & Steve at the museum, started off with a possible explanation for the remarkable & worrying decline in some garden birds in recent times. Roger is of the view that the real decline has been in the insect world, which of course are staple diets for a great many of our feathered friends.

Roger explained that the change in insect numbers is largely due to radical changes in agriculture. 50 years ago most farms practiced a mixed type of endeavour. I.e. it was a mix of crops & animals. They provided for themselves & the surplus was sold to the market place. The techniques employed we would call organic today. Very few weed killers & pesticides were used. So it was great news for creepy crawlies of all types. The current practices are heavily into mechanisation. Hedges have been grubbed up to make for bigger field more easily managed with machines. This has particularly affected the SE because this area grows a lot of crops whilst the NE is more into animals.

In addition GM crops have made a major impact because they allow more herbicide spraying which kills off more of the weeds, which are of course the food plant of the insects. Therefore there are fewer insects.

Roger showed stunning slides of various insects, which have declined in the last 40 years or so. They include the glorious Deaths Head Moth the Cockchafer & the Scorpion Fly, which apparently has large clasping genitalia & needs to give his partner a gift (which it steals) to encourage mating.

Roger explained that beetles have biting mouthparts whilst bugs have sucking ones. We saw pics of Shield Bugs whose defence mechanism is to smell horrid if squashed, this is fine for the species but not much help to the individual.

Dutch Elm Disease has caused a big problem because they provided an excellent habitat for a range of creatures. Roger went on to say that hay meadows whilst being rich in flora are not a good habitat because they get cut too early before the insects have finished their cycle. Although the edges were fine. Grazing meadows/pasture, which is continuously eaten and manured results perhaps surprisingly in a very rich flora, therefore attractive to insects.

One very good area in the SE is the high area covered by Brownfield sites. These are areas typically where buildings have been demolished and the ground left vacant. This type of terrain provides a desert like habitat, which is quickly colonised by plants, followed shortly by the insects. These are often of types not normally in the SE. It is interesting to note that SE Canvey Island has two unique insects.

Roger then moved on to our largest insect, which is the Great Bush Cricket, this rejoices in a very loud chirping sound. He also showed the Rosells Bush Cricket that has such a high-pitched chirp that older people may not be able to hear it at all. Then we had the a butterfly, the Essex Skipper which is famed for being the most recently discovered butterfly, at St. Osyth no less. He mentioned our largest moth, which is the Emperor Moth (a member of the Silk Moth family). The Wasp Spider also got a mention.

Roger progressed to insects that are suffering great hardship in this area due to the lack of grass eating animals, namely the Dung Beetles. These little treasures take away balls of the stuff to bury and lay their eggs in.

Roger also covered water insects with the Water Boatman & Pond Skaters.

Some insects are doing well; one such is the Wood Ant, which lives in very large ant hills. These are even bigger than can be seen from above ground because they actually go down a long way. They may contain 500,000 individuals. Perhaps surprisingly their principal food is honeydew from Aphids. There are even unique insect types that are found nowhere else but living in the ant nests.

Roger also mentioned heath land & commons, which are very important habitat that are now getting fewer. Luckily there are several examples in this area. The area boasts many wooded areas. In the past for many centuries these were managed to provide a valuable source of material for building boats, housing & of course fuel. This management gradually decreased after the turn of the 20th century, virtually stoppined dead by the 1950s. Fortunately in the last several years various areas are being managed again typically by coppicing, this is a way of taking timber from the wood without killing the trees and has the enormous benefit of enhancing the local habitats by providing many different types.

I found it very difficult to keep track of this splendid talk but hopefully this will give some indication of an excellent presentation given by someone who clearly has a great interest in his subject.

9th July 2003

Neil Bone - Meteorites

Well it was great to welcome old members Ken Hallett & Nik Szymanek. Ken was kindly picked up by Dave Smith because of his great interest in the subject tonight, Ken has entertained us several times with his talk on meteorites. Nik has also amazed us on more than one occasion with his thoughts on the Cosmos & how to photograph the contents.

Neil began by explaining that the word meteorites or more correctly meteoroids were originally so called simply because they were things seen in the atmosphere, the name meaning ´things in the atmosphere. As in meteorology.

The larger types are seen as fireballs, which emanate from the asteroid belt between Jupiter & Mars. They can sometimes be visible for several seconds perhaps fragmenting often leaving a trail in the sky, which can exist for several seconds and very occasionally several minutes. Fireballs are rare.

Neil went on to explain that most meteoroids are debris from comets. As the comet leaves the asteroid belt and moves nearer the Sun it warms and begins to emit its tail & pea sized debris (as much as 3 tons per second. Therefore each time a comet approaches the Sun this happens and the debris is ejected either in front or behind the comet but remaining in its original orbit. The more often a comet returns the more debris is created & eventually this will fill the entire orbital path. This is why the more common meteor showers are so predictable. The date when Earth crosses the track is the same each year.

They are seen as shooting stars, they travel at 11 to 75 Km/sec. They burn up at about 80 to 100 Km from the ground. When the Earth moves through the path of a comet we stand a chance of seeing meteoroids. Meteoroids are seen to radiate from a point source in the sky but they actually travel in parallel paths. The radiating effect is due to perspective. This phenomenon can best be seen in photographs.

The debris eventually becomes very dispersed and ends up as the dust, which causes the Zodiacal Light.

Neil explained that one of the best bits about being interested in Meteoroids is that the kit required is very minimal. He listed them as: - eyes, seat, note pad, lots of pencils (in case you drop it or break it) and a red light.

He went on to talk about capturing them on camera. Apparently 400-asa film is fine with your SLR set to f2.8 and equipped with a dew cap if possible. Camera is best mounted high to keep it away from the dew. He suggested exposure times of between 10 to 25 minutes dependent of course on local conditions. Unfortunately he pointed out this set up only works for the brighter meteors.

Neil showed us shots of his set up together with a ring of cameras, which can be equipped d with a rotating shutter such that the image is punctuated so that its speed & orbit can be precisely calculated. Another extra is to place a prism in front of the lens so that the spectrum is obtained then the composition can be established.

Following ´tea´ Neil said that lots of individuals & clubs supplied him with the data they collected from meteor watches which he analysed to establish trends for magnitude & hourly rates. He explained that there could be a very large variation. He gave some details for the Leonid shower by way of an example for hourly rate:-

Two fellows called McNaught & Asher have devised a way of predicting the hourly rate & so far they seam to be getting it right.

Neil finished his very enthusiastic talk by telling us that the Earth receives 60,000 tons of meteoroids each year.

2nd July 2003

Mike - Mysterious Mars

This is a talk that apparently Mike has given to the club previously that I do not remember, he is going to give it to a group at the museum on 30th August and we are privileged to hear it first.

This really was multi media. We had the digital projector & a laptop providing the wonders of PowerPoint. Plus a mini hi-fi for sound.

Mike kicked off with the Egyptians who knew Mars as the Red One. The Babylonians in 1700 BC called it the Star of Death. The ancient Greeks knew it as the God of War. Apparently Antares in Scorpio means Rival of Mars.

Mike explained that the word ´planet´ means ´wanderer´. This is a reference to the fact that all planets have from time to time - retrograde motion when compared to the stars, which always move in the same direction. This apparent backward motion was a great puzzle to early observers who came up with various theories to explain it.

Copernicus came up with the theory that the sun was at the centre but had the planets describing small circles as they progressed about their orbits. Tycho Brahe, who lost a bit of his nose in a duel over a mathematical issue set out to prove that the Earth was in fact the centre. He thought the sun went around the earth but with the outer planets going around earth & inner planets going around the sun. (I might have this reversed - take it up with Tycho). His helper Johannes Kepler had some weird ideas about the solar system involving geometric shapes. Rather weird but very nice.

Mike said that some early observers found similar features on Venus & Mars. This may have been due to inadequacies of the optics. However 350 years ago Hyghens made a sketch showing the distinctive triangular shape of Cirtis Major on Mars. Mars has a similar day length to Earth. Giovanni Cassini noted ice caps at the poles.

Jonathon Swift´s Gulliver´s Travels contains the information that Mars has two moons at 3 & 5 planet diameters distance. This was written before Phobos & Demos were discovered but is remarkably accurate.

William Herschel noted seasonal changes, which he reasoned must mean there is an atmosphere - perhaps earth like.

The moons were actually discovered by Azaph Hall in 1877 with Mars at opposition.

Schapperelli thought he saw channels. This was picked up by Percival Lovell who when reading a translation of the Italian (the Italian for channel is cannali) latched on to the thought that canals had been seen. The important difference here is that Schapparelli was referring to channels meaning rivers/ gorges etc. But Percy only read canals and so a lot of hysteria ensued.

E E Barnard, an accomplished observer, saw plenty of detail including craters but no canals. He was largely ignored.

Mars really grabbed the public imagination:- H G Wells wrote The War of the Worlds in 1897. The subject was a Martian invasion of the Earth. Holtz wrote the Planet Suite. Wills Cigarettes produced special cigarette cards. Perhaps best of all was when Orson Wells frightened American folk with his spoof live radio broadcast. (This was where Mike used the sound bit of the presentation. He had clips of music and lots of illustrative bits from Orson Wells´s broadcast.

Then Mike moved to more recent history with the Mariner probe finding craters but of course no canals. So E E Barnard was right. Mariner also saw dust storms enormous valleys & giant volcanoes. Further probes included Viking 1 & 2 in 1976 and then Pathfinder with the Rover. Truly magnificent stuff. Now we are all looking forward to Beagle 2, which is due to arrive on Christmas Day. What a present that will make. All these probes are American. The Russians were desperately keen to get to Mars but for lots of reasons they never made it. Mike´s final point was to remind us of the incredible fact that from Orville & Wilbur Wright to Mars was less than 100 years. Amazing.

Splendid stuff Mike.

25th June 2003

Mike - Beginners Night

The nights are drawing in. HOORAY!!

Jim announced that the Christmas Do would be on Friday 28th November at 20.00 at the Chichester. It will consist of a meal & disco. Please see Jim or myself for details including menu. The price is £35 each. NB booking must be in by 20th July so please do not hesitate.

Mike advised that as part of the National Astro. Week there was to be a special programme on 23rd August involving Jodrell Bank & the Isaac Newton Telescope on Las Palmas.

He announced some Astro. News items from the web which included info re the recent Columbia disaster which is currently thought to be caused by foam from the external fuel tank which dislodged during takeoff and struck the leading edge of the left wing. Also a seven-year mission to get close to a comet. Plus an article about Gamma Ray Bursts which attempted to explain them.

Mike then got on to his main theme which was to pull together two recent talks. The first by Anthony Seal on the Sun & yours truly´s one on magnetism.

He started by explaining that the sun has a very powerful field & one way this is manifested is in prominences which are caused when the magnetic field is distorted by the sun´s differential rotation this has the effect of a loop of the field coming outside the surface which causes matter to condense and fall back to the surface which is what we see as a prominence. This apparently also has the effect of interrupting the cell action in the surface layers causing a static area that cools, hence a sunspot is formed. These of course come in pairs - where the other end of the loop returns to the surface.

Sometimes the loop busts open, which allows the material to be dispersed into space, if this reaches the Earth then we can see the resultant aurora.

Mike also showed a magnetomer, which had been made by James. Basically this was a magnet suspended in a bottle with a reflective surface attached, which is used to measure changes in the Earth´s magnetic field. These are detected by shining a laser at the mirror such that it is reflected on to a scale thus you can detect changes such as when an aurora is likely & also lightening to say nothing of passing cars etc. A very nice piece of kit which I will certainly be making of a summer´s evening´s

He told us about a super website called heavens-above which gives all you could ever need to know about all the satellites (except the military ones) complete details of the name, magnitude, precise rise & set times together with direction & altitude. All you have to do is look. Mike gave out copies of the data for today´s date. Super stuff.

Many of the modern Go-To scopes can of course track the satellites providing the coordinates are known which of course Heavens Above can supply. So come on the clever ones lets have a picture of the Space Station.

Mike then moved on to talk about what there was to see in the constellation of Lyra.

Vega is the dominant star of course. Mag. 0, blue/white, 3 times as big as our sun but 58 times more luminous. Vega used to be the pole star and in 14,500 years it will be again.

He mentioned Epsilon Lyra, which is known as the double double, a good instrument will split both pairs. Brian advised that all four stars are different colours. Ed advised that if you have trouble splitting the DD then there was the Double DD, which was easier to deal with.

Mike also mentioned the Ring Nebula which is a planetary nebula & looks like a smoke ring. Also M56, which is a globular cluster.

Excellent, What would we do without him?

11th June 2003

Mike - Beginners Night

Mike came bounding back from the Orkney Islands as fresh as a daisy. Unfortunately the prime reason for his trip, which was to see the annular eclipse was thwarted by the weather. Great shame! He and many others including celebrities like Heather Couper & Nigel Henbest, despite getting up well before dawn, were not rewarded by the astronomy but were evidently warmed by the food & drink well before the sun appeared.

Mike had chosen to speak about Mars, which will be at its closest approach for 56,000 years on 27th August when it will be fairly low in the south. Brian said a good tip was to use as much power as possible because despite its relative distance it was still a small planet. He also suggested using filters to aid the seeing. An orange filter for detail & a blue for the polar caps. The apparent magnitude then will be -2.7. Mike advised that Mars enjoys a red sky with blue sunsets. The first shots of Mars sent back from the early probes were colour corrected to show a blue sky before the truth was known.

There were various ideas from the floor. It seems this is a case of big not necessarily being the best. A 6-inch refractor seemed to be the expert choice. It even seemed that bigger scopes would benefit from being stopped down. Apparently every edge that the light passes over has a type of lensing effect such that the light i.e. refracted reducing the contrast. Therefore the more edges there are the more disturbed the object experiences hence not good for small objects where detail is sought.Therefore if making a mask for a large instrument such as the very nearly ready 16 inch Dob, should have the aperture offset to the side such as to offer a full diameter without and intrusions from the side. I think the 16-inch will be getting a mask in time for Mars.

A question was asked about whether it was possible to see any of the moons. Mike advised that it was very difficult because they were extremely small & very close to the bright disc of the planet, i.e. in a low orbit. To see them would require a 36-inch scope equipped with an occulting bar eyepiece to block out Mars itself.

I think this may well present a challenge to some of our more skilled members equipped with CCD imaging kit.

In addition to the above Mike entertained us with a some electronic wizardry, which he asked me not to report on. You should have been there.

4th June 2003

Anthony Seal - Solar Observing + Tim's Eclipse Adventure

Things worked out very well for us this evening - the day had been wet & dreary but amazingly by 19.00 hours when we were scheduled to be observing the Sun it cleared. Whatever next?

We had Anthony with two scopes - his Pronto equipped with £3000 worth of Hydrogen Alpha filter plus a special filter on the front to reduce the power of the Sun and his Vixen with which he was projecting the image. We also had Eddie with another identical Vixen this one equipped with a bada film filter enabling direct viewing. A later arrival was Dave Smith with his Swarovski birding scope that also had a bada filter.

We enjoyed about 30 minutes of good observing before the inevitable cloud obscured the Sun apart from some odd glimpses. With the Pronto we were able to see prominences and faculi, which as always was fascinating. The other scopes provided more traditional views of sunspots & when Anthony explained we were able to see faculi with the bada film scopes.

We adjourned to the hall where Ted explained that he had still not got his ´book´. He also advised that the Lottery application has been sent off.

Tim set things off in the hall by telling - us with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation using of course the Digital Projector - about his late decision to go to Felixstowe at 03.30 to see the eclipse with his brother. Things went well from their spot beside Ferry road, Tim was able to show us several shots of the event together with lots of the Police who evidently wanted to be included. He images were first class. Tim celebrated by going for a paddle while his brother got on with preparing a fry up.

Then it was Anthony´s turn once more this time to tell us about Solar Observing.

He started with some facts about the Sun - It´s a G2 yellow dwarf, 5000 years old, 886,000 miles diameter, 28 times Earth´s gravity, 1.3 million Earths would fit inside it, escape velocity is 617km/sec. It is made up of 73.5 % hydrogen, 25% helium 1.5% heavier elements. (There was other stuff but it whizzed past too quickly.)

Anthony explained that the core is at 10m deg K, that it takes a photon up to a million years to get from the core up to the radiation zone then just a few days to get to the surface. He told us about super granulation cells which last from 24 to 200 hours and then the very top where the granulation cells last about 15 minutes. The temperature here is 6000 deg K. A sunspot has the penumbra at 200 deg less than surface whilst the umbra is 4600 deg K. Sunspots have an 11-year cycle. However there is also 22-year magnetic cycle plus a 26-year cycle which affects our weather.

He went on to explain how sunspots get the chevron type pattern after a few rotations, which is due to the equatorial section rotating faster that the polar areas. He also covered the fact that sunspots always appear in pairs with the leading spot being positive in the north but negative in the south. This reverses every 22 years. The leading spot is 3 deg nearer the equator at high latitudes, which increases to 11 deg nearer the equator. The depth of a sunspot is 20 miles & they are cone shaped.

All this was punctuated by superb pics via the digital projector plus informed sketches via the overhead projector.

Splendid stuff.

28th May 2003

Beginner's / Observing

This was one of those good old unscripted evenings when nothing much was organised so we all got to have a good old chat until it got dark enough to get the scopes out.

Steve reminded us about the partial eclipse of the Sun at literally the crack of dawn on Saturday 31st which Mike has gone traipsing off to the far north so that he can see the eclipse as annular. The Sun will rise in eclipse. If you fancy going to Scarborough you will be rewarded by the sight of two horns rising from the sea. A super photo opportunity. Let´s hope somebody takes the picture.

Ted advised that he has still not received his prize from the BBC. Also he told us about his new acquisition of a rather special CCD camera. He has decided to sell his old kit, which consists of two CCD cameras plus the supporting computer and associated hardware & software. He hasn´t come up with a price yet but talk to him if you are interested.

We had two fellows along David & Pat (not together) who have each only been once before so it was nice to be able to spend time with them. We also had Andrew decide to join us after only three previous visits.

We had a coffee break and then it was time to get the scopes out. It was a balmy evening, there wasn´t a lot to see Jupiter mainly which was interesting because one of the moons was right on the edge of the disc. Davis & Pat certainly found it very interesting.


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