Castle Point Astronomy Club
Castle Point Astronomy Club Diary 2004
by Dave Stratton
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  Our Diary

By Dave Stratton

22nd December 2004


15th December 2004

Mike -

8th December 2004

Dave Smith – Beginners’ Night – Image Processing

Mike kicked us of this evening by telling us of his plans for our new programme. Full no doubt of wondrous items of delectation for nutters like us.

He also reminded us of the fact that at that very moment Ted (our Treasurer) was on the wing to Las Palma. We do hope the locusts do not eat him. Mike showed us a book bought along by Terry, which was excellent value & rejoiced in being neither a hard back nor a soft back but an admirable mix of the two a soft hard back. We are so lucky are we not?

Dave got started by saying how sorry he was about our inability so far to get the solar observing sessions going for the simple reason that the Sun has been avoiding us. Perhaps the answer is a very very long telescope. (Suggestions on a post card please).

Dave announced that he intended to tell us about image processing following on from his recent talk.

He said he liked to use Paint Shop Pro, this was very much less expensive to buy and rather easier for ordinary mortals to use.

Dave used Andrew’s recent pic of the Moon taken through the eyepiece with a DC. Dave showed that by using long/strange words like Histogram & Unsharp Mask and of course pressing a few buttons you could substantially get a better image. His advice was just to play with it. He insisted it was easier that it looked.

He showed us a movie clip of the Sun to demonstrate how the image changed over time. Fascinating!

He then moved on to talk about a new bit of software he had discovered called Registax V 2.1.130. This was available on the web free of charge. It is used to stack images such that the quality of the finished item is better than any of the individuals. Dave gave us a demo using images of Saturn. He selected the best pictures, which then had to be accurately aligned & stacked. He then used something called a wavelet filter to sharpen the finished result.

So you see it is as simple as that. If you do not agree just talk to Dave.

After this ‘beginners’ stuff it got a bit complicated with talk of Salt & Pepper filters and GIMP 2, this is yet another chunk of software available free from the web.

It was a great talk but difficult for me to do justice to in writing. That’s my excuse anyway.

1st December 2004

Mike – Comets

Well we were fooled tonight. We arrived all keen to be educated into the mysteries of 3D Stereoscopy. I wish I could tell you what that is but I can’t. It seems that our trusted team of learned gents - Mike as mentioned above & Ron have had a bit of a build up of senior moments such that their talk has gone into our next programme. Which by the way Mike tells us is looking good.

So Mike has valiantly stepped into the breach with a word or two about comets and some good old-fashioned slides displayed with splendid effect by our trusty old projector.

He began by pointing out how unlucky we are to live on the top half of our world. Apparently comets as they hurtle in from the outer reaches of the solar system tend to approach from below the planetary plane thus we only get to see them as they pop up for the very last bit as they whiz around the Sun.

Mike said there was a good comet approaching that would be well up for our next Open Night.

Mike explained that the nucleus of a comet may be up to 25 miles across whilst the coma which we see as it approaches the Sun can be 1million miles across. Mike showed a super slide taken by the Giotto space probe (this was a European project) that on 14th March 1986 went through the coma of Halley’s Comet and imaged the Nucleus. Mind blowing – super pic. Mike explained that the nucleus has many jets of material being boiled off the surface by the Sun’s energy. This fills the area with small, perhaps pea-sized debris. The spacecraft is travelling at 68.4Km/sec. Thus it has to protected from impact damage. It was achieved by putting a shield in front of the entire craft. The camera looked to the front by means of a mirror peeping around the edge. The damage to the mirror has helped us understand the type & size of the material.

Mike had a whole range of slides some representing comets seen way back - in for instance 1066. Halley’s comet is featured on the Bayeux tapestry. At that time and for many years to come comets were regarded as harbingers of doom. In Harold’s case perhaps it was true.

Mike showed a lovely shot taken with a very simple device called a Scotch Mount. This needs a screw to be turned a t the same speed as the second hand of a watch to keep the camera aligned with the object. It may sound unlikely but it works and there was the image to prove it. It showed the white curved dust tail which points away from the Sun but appears curved due to the changing direction of the comet as it curls round the back of the Sun. Mike’s pic also showed the ion tail which is much fainter & blue and exactly pointing away from the Sun.

Mike explained that as comets travel on their orbits due to the heating by the Sun they leave a trail of debris along the track of the orbit. This gradually gets spread around the orbit and whenever the earth passes through this track we stand a reasonable chance of seeing a meteor shower. In the case of the Leonids there is a chance of a meteor storm every 33 years. This might give peak rates of 60,000 in 40 minutes. Eddy Guscott said he had once seen 2/300 in 20 minutes. However he and his friend had to chase them all the way to Stonehenge to get a clear sky.

My added that some comets only appear the once and are thrown back out and never come back whilst others return much more frequently. He said the short period comets do not last long because each close approach to the Sun removes lots of material so the Comet gets used up. Whereas the long period comets can last for many thousands of years.

Mike mentioned that we are planning another session of solar observing this Saturday at the club. Also Dengie peninsular in the evening. Contact for both is Dave Smith.

Brian showed us his home-made devise for holding a digital camera onto a scope. He’s a genius.

Ted said he was off to the Canaries to mount the volcano and hopefully get some clear skies. He was hoping to avoid the recent plague of locusts. We look forward to seeing his images when he returns.

Angela asked for a recommendation for an Astronomy Yearbook. The general view was that the Astronomy Now publication at about £5 was very good value.

Last but not least Dave Smith announced that he had a very sturdy Mount plus tripod for sale at £80.

Another splendid evening. Thanks Mike.

24th November 2004

Dave Smith – Beginner’s Night

This evening was there was no chance of doing any observing so it was our traditional stand-in for this all too common happening.

Mike acted as Chairman and began by showing a copy of Island Times, which is the local paper for Canvey Island. The front page, no less, was greatly enhanced by a photograph that included our very own Gerald who was assisting Ted in a recent event at a school on Canvey.

Mike then showed us his own creation of the recent conjunction of Venus & Jupiter in early November when Venus swept down passing Jupiter it was a super demonstration of how quickly the inner planets move.

He also showed us Jim’s superb shot of the Horsehead & Flame Nebulae. Jim said it was the result of about 2 hours of exposure. We also saw his magnifique aesthetic image of the Plaedes showing the blue nebulosity illuminated by the bright stars. This only took 1.5 hours Jim said.

Mike then introduced Dave Smith our Observing Director who announced that he would be introducing us to the new improved Virtual Moon software, then extend Tim’s talk last week by talking about the mounting of camera to scope plus doing a comparison of Starry Night Pro & Sky Map Pro.

Dave opened the Virtual Moon Atlas and demonstrated a virtually flawless ability to make it sing. He always does this whilst simultaneously denying that he is any sort of expert. He took the opportunity to show us the very difficult to see dish in the Ptolemaeus crater. He advised that he had recently managed to see it when the seeing was just right. He also showed us the Catena Davey crater chain.

He added that this can be downloaded free from the web but if members not blessed with broadband would like a copy Dave can supply for the price of a disc.

Dave then skipped to the camera theme. He pulled his own Pentax film camera from his vast black bag. He admitted that he took frame 5-an image of a comet-so long ago that he could not remember it’s name. He discovered digital. However he used the SLR to show how the camera could be mounted to a scope. He said the simplest way was to sit the camera by way of its tripod mount onto the scope, set the scope on any star, train the camera on the area to be pictured then track the star by continuously moving the controls. It works he assured us but admitted a guided instrument was a deal easier.

He explained that the better alternative was to remove the lens and mount the camera by way of a suitable adaptor attached to the body using the lens mounting, direct to the eyepiece holder on the scope. This places the film at the perfect position. He said that a bright object was needed for best results and opined that slide film was better than print.

Dave then withdrew his Nikon Digital Camera. He said that the beauty of these was that there was virtually no cost involved in image taking so click away. He has had a fair amount of success with just holding the camera to the eyepiece. This needs a bright object of course. You can see the object on the camera screen so you know what to expect. IE no waiting for processing.

He said that the lens cannot be removed on a typical digital but on his the lens is threaded so he uses a modified telescope eyepiece with a matching thread to mount the camera directly. This provides excellent imaging capability.

At this point Dave produced his latest toy – his very own Coronado Solarscope. He had been so impressed by out club’s latest acquisition that he has snapped up his own which was on special offer. About a sixth of the price of our one but he is impressed with the performance.

Dave then suggested that we set up weekend solar observing sessions soonest so the membership could have the opportunity to experience the wonder for themselves.

At this point we stopped for coffee and Mike took the chance to tell us about his talk the previous week to a bunch of Mormon ladies in Southend. Mike said he had given a short talk on the Cosmos, which was very well received. This was followed by some sort of telescope ballet where our colleagues Ted, Andrew & Gerald had there scopes slewing together.

Dave set to with his copy of Starry Night Pro, (this came free with the solarscope). As usual he wowed us. It could show loads of little blue dots circling the Earth. These were artificial satellites. Simply click on any one and it would explain what it was. He also found the ISS. The software contained a ‘Go There’ feature so that we went to the ISS and saw the Earth rotating beneath Wonderful stuff. Dave also showed a comet, which will be well placed for our Open Night in January.

Excellent. And we moan when it’s cloudy!!

17th November 2004

Tim - Basic Astrophotography

10th November 2004

Observing Evening

It was really touch and go tonight. When we arrived the sky was clear – I know it’s difficult to believe but it was true. It was very shortly after 20.00 and there we were looking through scopes.

There were lots to choose from. From tripod mounted bins (100mm) belonging to Mick through to a 12inch Dob owned by Robert. Robert had a wonderful toy it was a red light ball a tad bigger than a tennis ball it could be charged up and gave a most gratifying red light.

Eddie Goward was happy to demonstrate his finding device. It was so simple, consisting of a 5mm hole at the eye end and a 15mm hole 200mm away. You simply lined up the two holes and Bob’s your uncle. Well it worked for Eddie but like most tools they have to be got used to.

Of course within 30 minutes the sky had clouded so Dave Smith began getting his fill-in talk kit ready but then it cleared so out we went again.

Mick had a problem with the clamp screw on his bins so that got a good review by the brains available and a fix was designed. You never know it might even work.

We left much pleased with a good evening.

3rd November 2004

Mike & Steve – Collecting Astronomical Ephemera

Some of us knew Steve was into collecting stuff, but Mike’s involvement was fresh data. Fortunately the title protected us from anything sordid as it restricted the matter to that pertaining to astronomy.

Steve in his role as Chairman introduced the talk and handed over to Mike.

Mike began with postcards. He had scanned them into his laptop so we viewed them via our digital projector.

As we are used to with Mike he wowed us with a quick fire images skilfully enhancing each excellent screen with his typical stream of wordage. The cards were from places as diverse as Spain & Russia and depicted subjects such as the Moon, Sun, comets & Planetariums in Moscow.& Germany. For good measure the Radio Observatory in Paris was included.

Mike then smoothly moved to stamps. Again these were scanned in so we were not suffering dusty old books - we saw them up to 3 feet across. The detail on the stamps was wonderful. They stood the increased size with no ill effects. The first ones were largely Russian featuring the many lunar satellites. The early communication satellite Telsar was featured. Some members of the audience gave their ages away by humming the once familiar tune. Or so they said because I couldn’t remember it myself. Luna 16 was featured which returned the very first samples gathered automatically.

Mike continued with depictions of Viking mission to Mars & Pioneer to Jupiter. Then skipped to Laika the Dog. This set included the ESA Giotto mission on a German stamp.

Then we had a series covering Uri Gagarin. In this group some of the stamps were in sets where although each stamp could stand alone the unseporated sheet made a larger image. This lot included stamps from Korea, Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, Japan & the USA. The latter covered the Apollo missions and the link-up with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Mike moved on to Astronomers with Galileo Galilei, Kepler, and Isaac Newton. There was one featuring Copernicus, which was possibly the best stamp of all. He also had Tycho Brahe who saw a Supa Nova from Denmark. India got included here with an depiction of Halley’s Comet. There was a series from Australia showing Aurora, also a total eclipse from Woomera. Grenada also crept in just before Mike got to a stamp showing the Observatory at Dundee, which was particularly interesting because the stamp included Patrick Moore’s signature.

Mike finished with a flourish with a couple of stamps showing a Dalek and the Clangers. I thought the latter were the Wombles but was assured they were the Clangers. I must have led a sheltered life.

Steve got his turn now. He began with trading cards these are small paste-board cards which years ago were given away with items that were sold in cardboard packages such as cigarettes. Steve explained that initially the cards were plain and were included simply to stiffen the package and help protect the goods. They progressed to sets of cards that carried an image on the front with the explanation carried on the reverse. The manufactures quickly realised that there was a serious business opportunity here to make the sets collectable. So folk would scurry off trying desperately to get the last few. Steve said some of the complete sets had significant values. Steve had several sets cunningly mounted in large frames with glass front & back mounted on cut out cards such that the reverse could be seen as well.

Steve passed them around after describing the contents to us. There was a bewildering amount. So he passed them around in opposite directions. In case we got complacent he switched to sets of loose cards some of these were really quite excellent. A joy to behold.

I’ve got to confess here that to look at the cards and keep notes was beyond my capabilities. All I can say is you should have been there.

Just when we thought we could relax Mike produced a Lilliput Lane model of an observatory. Yes the same as normally sticks to cottages. Steve - not to be outdone - dug deep and produced two cows, yes cows there were about 4 inches high, beautifully made of porcelain. One was known as the Infinity Cow the other was called Moon Walk this took the form of a cow in a space suit.

The finale was Steve’s book dating from 1780 (I think) about astronomy of course. Steve read a short bit showing the quaint language in use at the time. Think if the work to produce a book way back then.

Superb stuff.

27th October 2004

Beginner’s Evening

Well this evening began badly. We were supposed to be observing but as usual (if not always) we were victims of our latitude.

Steve introduced Mike who had stepped into the breach has he has done so many times.

Mike mentioned the Solar scope, it had been on display during the Castleview School event. Sadly not looked through only at due to the weather.

This led Mike into his talk for the evening, which was all about the Sun - our very favourite star. Young Mr Seal, one of our only set of identical twins, who happen to be Sun enthusiasts, quickly pointed out that the Sun is 886,000 miles in diameter when Mike tried to get away with an approximation.

Mike had a superb DVD containing movie clips of the many stunning features on the star. Explaining the mechanics of the whole, which to say the least, was a bit complicated. The debate about how long a photon of light takes to get from the core to the surface varies from a million yeas to a few hundred thousand. Fortunately it’s only nuts like us that care a jot about such data. And I feel that some of us may be in the latter camp as well.

The images were courtesy of the satellite SOHO which sits at Legrand point number 1. This is the point where the Earth and Sun’s gravitational fields exactly match. Therefore an object can be held in orbit around the point with minimal fuel usage.

As always with Mike’s talks the images were superb and he so eloquently explains every feature of interest. Sadly my written words can only give a flavour.

Mike handed over to Terry at the end who gave details of the total eclipse of the Moon due in the early hours of tomorrow the 28th.

And so ended yet another splendid evening whose only shady spot was a bit of complicated equations that Mike delights in tormenting us with.

20th October 2004

Dave Smith – Measuring the Universe

This evening was quite amazing - Dave explained how from way back in history when folk began to wonder about such things as how big was the Moon, the Earth & Sun. Plus of course how far away they were. He first outlined the work of Eratosthenes who in around 200BC measured the size of the Earth from the relative shadows cast by sticks & the Sun shining to the bottom of a well. Also fellows walking very long distances and comparing angles.

He then explained the work of Aristarchus who had previously found the relative sizes of the Earth and Moon by observing the curvature of the Earth’s shadow on the Moon during a Lunar Eclipse. Also mentioned was his attempt at estimating the relative distance to the Sun by observing when the Monn was precisely at first and last quarter and using some elementary trigonometry.

To measure the distance to the nearer stars use is made of parallax. They were viewed from the Earth from opposite sides of its orbit so that the base line was at maximum and their position relative to the distant stars is measured.

Dave also had a mercury vapour lamp which he got us to view through a spectroscope. He had bought along a box of these so we could all compare the spectrum with that given by say a fluorescent tube. This lead to a discussion of the relationship between the spectral type of a star and its intrinsic brightness via the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. For many stars this leads to a measurement of their distance from us. A very neat simulation of how to collect and analyse the spectrum of a star was demonstrated. (Simulation from CLEA Gettysberg College)

He then explained how a particular type of star, a Mira variable star, could be used to deduce the distance to a galaxy. Examples from the Hubble Space telescope were shown.

He even had an image of a Supa Nova explosion SN1987A where a ring of debris cast off by the star was illuminated by the brilliant light of the explosion. It was seen to light up from the side of the ring closest to us and then travel round to the back. Delightful to observe. Dave explained that it would of course be lit simultaneously being a fairly uniform distance from the star but is seen to illuminate as described because the light from the side nearest us has less far to travel. Therefore the time difference to illuminate the rear gives the diameter of the ring when the speed of light is factored in.

The grand finale was an account of the Lunar Parallax Demonstration Project which was organised by Pete Lawrence, of Selsey and in which Dave was a contributor. Details of the project can be seen on Pete’s website

Dave also introduced us to delightful bit of software available for free. This takes the form of a virtual telescope where the size and power can be changed and the view compared. We have Vernon to thank for this. Well-done Sir.

13th October 2004

Beginner’s Evening

We’re getting used to this type of evening now, it should be observing but the weather precludes such activity. So we repair to the comfort of the hall for an action packed evening of talk. It’s just as well that we amateur astronomers are mentally challenged, as we would not accept this cheap entertainment otherwise.

Eddy Guscott got us started with a tale about a weekend to Cambridge for the principle purpose of Astro photography. Eddy said the site had great promise. The weather was OK. The difficulty was completely unplanned (no irony intended) he had forgotten to bring any film. We have all been there in as much as we forget the one thing that makes the event possible. He said that he saw Jupiter on the horizon. It was horrid. What more do you want from an Astro event. You have to be brain dead to have an interest in Astronomy. So why do we do it. Answers on a postcard please.

Mike asked if anybody had done any observing. (Optimism is such a difficult word). I got into the act here and volunteered the sight of the new moon and Venus - quite stunning in an understated way. Gerald said he had seen some good sunspots.

On the subject of the Sun there is a splendid day planned at the planetarium this coming Saturday which is to be supported by several members - to look at the Sun through our newly acquired solar scope.

At last we got to the principal culprit of the evening. Dave Smith our so-called Observing Director. Clearly he is inadequate. He could not arrange a clear sky for toffee.

The punishment is very simple we have to listen to him talk to us. There is something wrong there but given time perhaps I’ll work it out.

Dave started with a shot of the full Moon. It was quite stunning. We have all seen the moon before but what was different? W puzzled until some bright spark determined that the image showed no shadows. Brilliant!! It was a contrived image, better than the real world could do. How about that?

Dave mentioned that on the 28th there is a lunar eclipse. Well worth a look even if this in the early hours.

Dave then spoke about the Moon occulting stars. This should happen all the time but in practice with the stars that we can see naked eye this is quite a rare event. But if an occultation is on - well worth a look because the most amazing thing is that the star just goes in an instant. There is no dimming at all just a gone. It is a fundamental demonstration of how far away the stars really are. We all know that they are even further away than Romford but you do not often see the proof.

He moved on to one of his favourite subjects the Lunar 100. You cannot blame him - this is quite splendid. It is a list of things on the Moon. They progress from very easy to very hard. No 1 is the full Moon. No 2 is Earthshine. As you would expect they get harder. He took us to Ptolemaeus Crater. This has a so-called Ghost Crater. It can only be seen when the light it just right at an angle across the surface. Therefore very hard to spot in a scope. Therefore a challenge to weird folk such as we. He then introduced us to No 51 the Davy crater chain just to the right. This is a series of 5 impact craters whose origin is presumed to be due to a fragmented comet.

Then he showed us the Gylden valley, which is presumed to originate from a very large impact to the North with resultant ejecta. He then went to No 47. These are a series of dark spots on the crater floor.

If you find this fascinating see a doctor or come and join us. Otherwise just get on with your life.

Dave then moved on to Sky Map Pro. He showed us a view of the sky as we should see it if we did not live here. The idea was to expound the thought posted recently that if you count the stars contained within the square of Pegasus you get a good idea of the seeing. The big snag here is that you have to be able to see Pegasus before you can start to play.

Dave took us through the splendours contained. They included the splendid double Albirio in Cygnus. Then the Dumbbell Nebula this was punctuated by a superb pic from Eddy Guscott.

Dave then had us transfixed with a M56 &71 two stunning globular clusters. Also M38 in Auriga. Swiftly followed by M36 & 37 & NGC 1499 The ????? Nebula.

Then we had M33, which is good in bins but difficult ina scope. This was swiftly followed by M31, M32 & M110.

Dave said that this programme was very good and contained 15769 pictures. Some of which were not the best. But still impressive.

Last but not least we had Dave’s pics of the Sun taken at KH with his digital camera lovingly pressed to the club’s Solar scope. The images were amazingly good considering the lack of proper kit.

Last of all Dave showed that picture manipulation was not that difficult. Well not for him anyway.

Well you cannot take everything on board can you?

Fascinating stuff. Thanks Dave.

6th October 2004


Well we had the above a tad belatedly because two of our officers namely the Chairman & the Secretary were significantly delayed due to pressures of work allegedly involving a horde of scouts in the planetarium. I should point out that they both work in the Southend Planetarium so it is just feasible that the story has a ring of truth.

It gave us time to have a darned good natter. This is so often denied us, as we have to sit still and pay attention to a load of very excellent speakers.

After the business of the AGM we got to have coffee and an impromptu sub committee meeting in the kitchen where various matters of great import were aired.

Then we repaired to the pub which is the habit of many a year.

29th September 2004

Mike – The Discovery of Neptune

Mike has stepped in at the last minute due to Tim being in some far off, hopefully exotic, location on business.

Steve took the floor first to announce that he had secured a green laser pointer from Ebay. Two of these were on our first, unsuccessful, Awards for All attempt. Steve said it was a good buy at £45 as they normally cost over £100. It will be used to point objects out in the night sky.

Mike got started with an announcement offered by Terry to the effect that the HST has a power supply problem. The plan is to put matters right by remote control using robotic equipment. The cost estimate is $1 to $2.3 billion. The US government has just cut NASA’s budget by $1 billion!!

Mike then showed us some excellent shots taken at KH by Peter who is a relatively recent addition to the club following the closure of SEE Astro. Club. We had the M1 Nebula, Then M27 the Dumbbell Nebula, The Horsehead Nebula and lastly the Double Cluster. The colours in the nebula shots were excellent. Well done that man.

Mike at last got to his chosen subject, which he admitted was a recycling job that he had put together some time ago.

He put up a picture of Johannes Kepler who way back in 1596 had been seeking a formula for relating the orbital radii of the planets. Various clever folk had a stab at this until Bodes Law was established. This said that if the radius of the Earth’s orbit was taken as 10 then Mercury was 4 (Actual 3.8), Venus 7 (7.2), Earth 10, Mars 16 (15.2), n3 - This is the planet that was predicted to be between Mars & Jupiter – 28, Jupiter 52 (52), Saturn 100 (95.5), n6 196.

Mike admitted that the formula had to be fudges a fair bit to make it work for Mercury but apart from that it was not bad.

It had been realised for some time that the orbit of Uranus was being affected by something unseen beyond its track.

Uranus was first spotted by William Herschel in 1781 but was thought to be a nebulous star or a comet. It was realised that the orbit could not be that of a comet. A calculation of the object’s orbit by Fixmillner in 1783 found a Bodes Law figure of 192 or 19.2 AU which is pretty much in line with the prediction for n6.

Lots of clever people became involved with trying to gather more information about this object. It was even realised that back in 1769 Lemmonier had observed Uranus 6 times in 9 days but failed to recognise the significance.

John Couch Adams wrote in 1841 that he intended to begin the search when he had finished his degree. He wrote to James Challis who in turn wrote to Sir George Airy the Astromer Royal at Greenwich. Adams had finished his research by October 1843.

There then followed the most amazing misfortune and bad luck, which stopped the data getting to the right people for years. Part of the issue was that Airy was a very important man and the people doing the work were not. Airy consisede his prime role for the Admiralty was to establish precise positions for stars to assist the ships of the realm on the high seas.

Meanwhile in France one Urbain LeVerrier had at the behest of the Director of the Paris Observatory been tasked to look into the matter. He used quite a different technique to Adams. However in June 1846 he gave a presentation to the French Academy of Science, which gave a position for the unknown planet very similar to the one predicted by Adams.

I’m cutting the story very short here to say that Neptune was found and the glory went to LeVerrier despite the fact that Adams found its position a few years earlier. There was much recrimination amongst the principals. However it is wonderful to report that Adams & LeVerrier got on very well when they finally met in 1847.

Mike then proceeded to show us via the splendid Starry Night software where the two planets mentioned above were to be located. Uranus appearing as a blue/green disc and Neptune to the west as a small blue disc. Many of us admitted to having seen them. Mike dropped a snippet in here to say that Uranus was unique among the planets in having a name of Greek origin all the rest are Roman.

We then saw something quite amazing. Mike set the date on the software to 27th January 1612 when Galileo had sketched a ‘star’ next to Jupiter. He saw it again the next night (28th) and it had moved. He had not appreciated the significance. But Starry Night showed with complete ease that Neptune was next to the Jovian giant on the dates given. Well I never!!

Mike then skipped to Toutatis the close approach asteroid, which this very day was at its very closest at 1million miles. He also mentioned that this evening Adam Hart-Davis was presenting a programme to cover the event.

And so another super evening drew to a close. Excellent stuff.

22nd September 2004

Beginner’s Night

We kicked off tonight-in fine style with Brendan telling us how he has revised the Yahoo group system to overcome the issue with unwelcome attachments to our group mailing list. There was a problem when people sent attachments to memos. Brendan gave an excellent short demo of how members can log onto the new system via a password so that attachments can be posted on a site that is linked to our website. It looked very elegant and should certainly solve the concern.

Ted then announced that he was seeking retired volunteers to assist in giving a day to a Canvey school who were much interested in our pet subject - the date is 27th October.

Mike said there was a lecture on SETI in Greenwich shortly. See him for details.

Ted volunteered that the recent apparent positive reception from the SETI research was looking more & more doubtful. Surprise Surprise.

Mike said that if we could contain ourselves for a short while then we could get our hands on issue 76 of the FAA Newsletter. He left them at the front.

Eddie Guscott passed to the front a CD with some superb images that he had captured recently. They included: - M82 the Starburst Galaxy, NGC 253 Sculpture Galaxy & the Helix Nebula. We certainly have some talented people.

Brian got in on the act with some very different images from KH. These took the form of a kind of time sequence movies. He had set up his CCD camera during an observing session and just snapped away but whilst looking at us not the sky. Fascinating.

Dave Smith finally got he floor. (In his post as Observing Director he is tasked with keeping us from being bored on cloudy days. But we spent 50 minutes on the above.

He set off by showing us his computer’s wallpaper pic of Sammy who is a Black Winged Stilt that Dave went to see on the Sunday whilst at KH. I should say that Dave is a bird watcher.

He then showed us a superb bit of free software that is available from the internet called Picasa. Simply search under this name. It is excellent it shows every picture stored on your computer as thumbnails. They can be enlarged with a click and even modified in simple ways. Well worth a look.

Dave had a series of snaps from KH showing us doing the usual fun things one of which was Brian’s attempts to give away some things like a loft ladder & five very small alloy wheels and sundry brass ornaments. The result Ted said was £6 donated to club funds. Well done that man.

Dave had many images of the instruments at KH the biggest of which was Jim’s 20 inch, Dob. He had an image of a 42-inch job found on the internet. Amazing..

He at last got down to that which he had prepared. This was an A to Z of Astronomy. We had seen a talk at KH given by one Bob Mizen - first class. So Dave had concocted his own.

A Superb idea. He puts up the pic and we all talk about it – fabulous.

He started with Adromeda, Betelgeuse, Copernicus, Dumbbell Nebula, Epsilon Lyri, Flame Nebula, Globular Cluster M13, Hubble pic of Stephan’s Quintet (failure at KH for us lot), Iridium flares (yes flares and both in the same frame –), Jupiter, King Cobra Cluster M67, Little Dumbbell M76, Mercury, Nebula Eskimo (artistic licence), Omega Centauri, Plato (crater on the Moon), Quasar, Ring Nebula, Saturn, Trails from Kilamanjaro, UV image of the Sun, Veil Nebula, Wild Duck Cluster, X-Ray pic of the Sun, Young Stars forming in the Orion Nebulae & last but not least ZAGUT a crater on the Moon.

We whizzed through these as I have done here but it is a brilliant idea and hopefully can be used again & again. Dave showed in each case where to find the item using the appropriate software and also some superb images some his own or from the members and others from the Internet.

15th September 2004

Mike – A Round Up of the Summer

Mike began by asking the house for their highlights.

Eddie Guscott got us started with his views of the Perseids from his holiday location in France apparently seeing in the order of 50. He also got some good CCD images.

Eddie was at Kelling Heath and very much enjoyed the sky there – seeing Mercury rise on three occasions plus a superb fireball that lit the ground plus the Helix & Sculpture Galaxies.

Mike chipped in with his experience with the Perseids when there was lightning all around the horizon. He also mentioned the Optics week at the Museum when the solar scope was used and admired by the public for the first time.

Robin also mentioned the Kelling Heath visit with amazingly transparent skies particularly on the Monday evening.

Mike then moved us on to good things to see in the sky at present.

He began with Vega, Deneb & Altair - The Summer Triangle – These are always the first stars to show themselves each evening. Next came Cygnus, closely followed by the North American Nebula, the Ring & the Dumbbell Nebula. All these were identified for location and illustrated with superb photographs courtesy of a laptop & our digital projector.

Mike then showed us the constellation of Draco which contains the Cats Eye Nebula. The picture here was absolutely superb being taken by the HST.

We then had M13 the Andromeda Galaxy in Pegasus, Then NGC 891 another excellent galaxy, which has an amazing dust lane along its length that can be seen in larger instruments. This led naturally to our own example of this that can be seen next to Cygnus known as the Cygnus Gap and can readily be seen from a good site. Not this one unfortunately. It was on view for those at Kelling last weekend.

Mike mentioned the Stephan Quintet; this is a group of five very distant galaxies. This was set for us as a target by Mike but illuded all of us. The Go To equipped were not powerful enough & the bigger scopes could not be aimed well enough.

Mike changed tack here and moved to the Asteroid Toutatis. This is 5km across and will be within 900,000miles of Earth later this year. It crosses our orbit every 4 years. It warrants close scrutiny as it may well come much closer in the future. ESA is soon to practice changing the orbit of an asteroid, we wish them well.

Mike also mentioned that he was in possession of a list of ISS passes in the near future. And also had a superb set of 5 DVDs of the NASA missions that was available to all.

Eddie Guscott mentioned that he used the square of Pegasus as a measure the seeing on a particular night as follows. Three stars seen within the square was OK. At Kelling Heath he counted 11. Whilst he was on vacation he saw 17. When we went out to have a quick look at a few things from Mike’s talk we argued as the whether we could see one or none. What a place to have an Astro. club!!

Great stuff Mike.

8th September 2004

Observing Night

Well it was great to get back to our first planned observing session with an evening when we can do just that – observe. The sky was not stunning but it was OK. (Beggars can’t be choosers).

We had quite a struggle with the dreaded security light on the Church Hall, which we were determined to sort out. The problem is it is placed just too high to allow interference. After several attempts with a chair & long gardening implements and combinations of these without success. Terry who is possibly our shortest member, but certainly not lacking on the ingenuity front, solved the matter by moving his trusty steed (A Triumph motor vehicle) to a position under said offending lamp and gained height immediately by leaping onto its roof. The matter was solved without harm in a trice. Well done that man.

We had three newish people along. Tom who is a member of the congregation of a sister church of our one, he came to our last meeting in June. Similarly Peter who lives locally and has decided to join us. He is a local teacher and has a bunch of very keen boys who a nuts about our pet subject. Peter has already arranged to borrow a 6inch Meade Newtonian from us to show his pupils the local night sky. We also had Michael from Grays on his first visit.

There was quite a lot for them to see including Uranus & Neptune, which was squeezed in just before it set behind an annoying tree.

There was also time taken to swap notes by those of us venturing North to Kelling Heath, to a gathering of similar minded folk as ourselves, for hopefully a surfeit of observing from a nice dark place.

1st September 2004

Welcome Back Coffee Evening

Well strange although it may seem we have once more endured the withdrawal symptoms of missing our regular club nights for 6 weeks on the trot. There have been the distractions of Crazy Golf and Bowling on the Pier and of course the trusty old pub for the less energetic among us.

This evening was not well planned and was perhaps a foretaste of the splendours to come as we certainly had coffee & even tea but unfortunately no milk. The complaints were few however.

The clear sky was very welcome. It wasn’t dark at the outset but we enjoyed spotting and identifying the stars as they appeared. Gerald even managed to get Neptune in his scope. It was fairly low down in the murky bit of the South East. It appeared as a rather weak star - a tad fuzzy, some thought it had a bit of blue about it but this was possibly wishful thinking.

Mike had bought in the newly acquired Solar scope (Courtesy of Awards for All) which had been in use at the Museum for an Optical event they were staging. It was being returned to yours truly who is partway through making a proper mounting for it in readiness for the forthcoming club trip to Kelling Heath on the north coast of Norfolk.

Brian came in clutching a heavy lump of iron, which I’m hoping to turn into a counterweight.

We had a good turnout with a couple of new faces so let us hope have we have another year to rival the last.

14th July 2004

Brendan – The Cassini-Huygens Mission

Andrew took the floor first to talk about last Saturday the 10th when there was a village fair at the church. We were represented by Ed Goward, Gerald, Ted, Terry and of course Andrew. The display in the kitchen of the church was very good with loads of super pictures supplied by Ted. There was also a telescope set up inside to give people an idea of what we do. Andrew said there was plenty of interest from the public and he had photos to prove it. What is more we had two people along tonight Terry & Phil who saw the display and decided quite independently to see for themselves. Phil is a member of the congregation of St. Michaels so let’s hope he enjoyed the evening.

We received a thank you from the church people so I think this will become a feature of our calendar.

So well done CPAC and the a. m. in particular.

Steve introduced Brendan in due course. Brendan had his Dad with him. Or perhaps his Dad had Brendan with him. Anyway it was a delight to have them both. Mr Murphy senior admitted to me that he was responsible for Brendan - now that is an onerous thing. He managed to keep smiling despite this hindrance.

Brendan started with a clip of the actual launch. This was stunning - taken at extremely close range, actually within feet of the vehicle. Brendan was actually present for the launch and showed us his own photo of the momentous event on 15th October 1997. Brendan said he saw it from a distance of about 4 miles. He described the noise as felt as much as heard. So he has a special interest in Cassini.

The talk proper got going with Brendan taking us through the various instruments Cassini was equipped with explaining what they did and where they were on the craft: -

RADAR        Radio detection & ranging instrument. This will produce maps of Titan’s surface.

        Cassini plasma spectrometer. Measures the energy and charge of particles.

CDA        Cosmic dust analyser. Measures the size, speed & direction of particles.

CIRS    Composite infrared spectrometer. Measures the temperature of a surface or atmosphere.

INMS    Ion & neutral mass spectrometer. Analyses charged particles like protons & heavier ions.

ISS        Imaging science subsystem. A camera with wide & narrow capability

G        Dual technique magnetometer. Measures the strength & direction of magnetic fields.

MIMI        Magnetospheric imaging instrument. Produces images of particles.

RPWS        Radio & plasma wave science. Measures electric & magnetic wave fields.

RSS    Radio science subsystem. Measures the way radio signals are affected by passing through objects.

UVIS        Ultraviolet imaging spectrograph. Images the ultraviolet reflected from an object.

VIMS    Visible & infrared mapping spectrometer. Measures wavelengths in visible & infrared.

Brendan explained that the probe was named after Jean Dominique Cassini who discovered four of Saturn’s moons. The mission’s task is to explore Saturn, its rings, magnetic field & the moons particularly Titan the largest. It arrived on July 1st. Flight length was 2.2 billion miles. The cost was $3.27 billion. The vehicle is 6.7m tall by 4m wide. It weighs 5,712kg. The partners are NASA, ESA & The Italian SA. In total 17 countries are involved.

The Huygens probe, which will land on Titan, is named after Christiaan Huygens who discovered Titan & realised that Saturn had rings. Huygens will be released from Cassini on 24th December 2004. It will slowly move away and the two vessels will track one another as they approach Titan. Huygens will land on 14th January 2005. (NB it will take 21 days following separation to actually reach Titan). The instruments carried are: - Imaging equipment, Doppler wind experiment, gas chromatograph & mass spectrometer, Atmospheric structure experiment & a surface science package.

Brendan also gave us some facts about Saturn itself. It’s the 6th planet from the Sun. It lays 890million miles from the Sun, about 10 a u. It is amazingly twice as far away as Jupiter. 31 moons are currently known, as are 7 rings. The Saturnian year is 29.42 of Earth’s years. The rotational period is surprisingly short at 10.5 hours. It has a volume of 764 times the Earth but the mass is only 95 times the Earth. It would ‘float’ on water.

The probe has already provided some stunning photos of Titan during its approach. These have already shattered some theories about Titan’s makeup. There is a possibility that Titan may share some geological activity with the Earth. These pics were taken at 2110,600 miles from Titan. However in October it will approach to 750 miles.

Cassini has already mapped the interaction between Saturn’s Magnetosphere & Titan’s Dynamic atmosphere. It is thought that Titan is losing material from the top of its atmosphere to Saturn.

Data received from Cassini during the orbit insertion manoeuvre which involved passing through the ring plane showed some 100,000 impacts with smoke sized particles.

Brendan explained that Huygens is dormant for the first 6 months it will only be communicated with monthly to verify the health of the payload and to perform periodic maintenance & calibration.

Hygens is equipped with the following instrumentation:

ACP    Aerosol collector & pyrolyser. It will take samples twice during the decent thought he atmosphere to analyse the aerosols collected.

DISR    Descent imager & spectral radiometer. This includes upward & downward looking photometers & a device to sense the Sun to determine probe spin rate.

DWE    Doppler wind experiment. Determines the wind velocity & direction starting at 165km up right down to the surface.

GCMS    Gas chromatograph & mass spectrometer. Establishes the composition of the atmosphere.

HASI    Huygens atmospheric structure instrument. Measures the physical & electrical properties of the atmosphere.

SSP        Surface science package. Determines the physical properties of the surface.

Brendan explained that the mission had made much use of the flyby technique where following initial launch the craft skims past a planet in such a manner as to gain velocity. Cassini sped past Venus twice, Earth once and lastly Jupiter. During the Venus flybys the craft has to do a full orbit of the Sun to get back into position. The spacecraft will log 3 billion miles during its 6.7-year cruise.

Brendan added that the craft contained 7.5 miles of cabling with 20,000 connections. 300,000 photos of the Saturnian system. Huygens will take 1,100 during its decent to titan. In total 300 gigabytes of scientific data will be returned to Earth.

The talk was illustrated with wonderful shots taken during the approach together with some very amusing graphical displays, which it may be better not to admit to on paper.

Well-done Brendan.

I trust his Dad felt justified & suitably recompensed for his efforts in times past.

7th July 2004

Nick James – Communicating with ESA’s deep-space explorers

Mike repeated the need for volunteers to be available on Saturday 10th July to participate in the first ‘Village Fair’ from 13.00 to 16.00. We have been asked by St Michael’s Church, our landlords, so we should make every effort to put on a show. We have been allocated the kitchen so the amount of space is clear. What they are expecting is quite another matter. Those giving their time should remember to be there early enough to set up before 13.00.

Mike then announced our guest speaker - Nick James of BAE Systems Chelmsford. Nick has previously given us an excellent talk on Gamma Ray Bursts. This time he is to tell us something about what he does for a living.

Nick explained that communicating with space probes was a crucial part of the missions because it was the way the craft were directed after launch and data retrieved during the mission. As the craft are small the aiming of the dishes is of paramount importance.

He began with the ESA Rosetta mission. The original task was to rendezvous with Comet Wirtanen (46P). The plan was to orbit the comet & land a probe on the nucleus. It was launched in March 2004 on an Ariane 5 launch vehicle. It would need tracking & communication out to 6 a.u. Nick explained that one of the most important aspects was to know the distance to the probe. As the craft nears the comet the acceleration caused by the gravity of the comet enables the mass of the nucleus to be calculated.

Nick explained that to conserve fuel the mission utilised the flyby technique where the craft after launch completes a large elliptical orbit way beyond that of Mars returns and grazes Earth at a distance in the order of 200km in the same direction as Earth in space such that the acceleration gained & then lost as the craft continues on its way results in a net gain due to the Earth whizzing through space during the manoeuvre. This is followed by a Mars flyby & then another past Earth. This as you can imagine takes a long time.

Nick was using PowerPoint to illustrate the talk via our digital projector with some delightful slides showing the am procedure, Young Jamie our newest member with his dad Charlie was very fascinated by this aspect. Nick also had slides of the various launch vehicles and spoke about their strengths & weaknesses. He had a shot of Wirtanen & the actual launch.

Unfortunately for very good reasons this was not to be. The launch was delayed which meant 46P would be too close to the Sun so a new target was picked. This was Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P). Nick showed off a bit here and said it twice. But then reverted to ‘67P’.

The itinerary is wonderful so I will give it in appropriate detail: -

2004 March 2        launch

2005 March           First Earth flyby

2007 February      Mars flyby

2007 November     Second Earth flyby

2008 September     Steins flyby    2.1a.u.

2009 November    Third Earth flyby

2010 July              

Lutetia flyby    2.7a.u.

2011 June             MCC burn     5.3a.u.

2014 May              Rendezvous 67P     4.1a.u.

2014 November    Lander delivery    3.0 a.u.

2015 August        Perihelion    1.24 a.u.

2015 December    End of mission    2.0 a.u.

As you will see the probe has to meet the comet when it is way out on its elliptical path.

Nick explained that 67P presented some issues because it was much larger than 46P this would present problems for probe orbit insertion and the Lander procedure. The comet also appears to be more active which may make the rendezvous more dangerous. (So remember fingers crossed in about 10 years.

He also mentioned other ESA deep-space missions. Mars Express (known as MEX) launched June 2nd 2003. This successfully arrived at Mars last Christmas. Nick made the point that although it was a great disappointment that the Beagle 2 bit failed, the mission as a whole has been a success. He showed us some superb pics which were gathered by a scanning technique that works like a scanner in that the width of the image is fixed but the length is as long as you wish, it’s extended as the craft orbits.

Smart-1 is another ESA project. Launched August 22nd 2003 on an Ariane 5. It is on its way to the Moon. However the route chosen must be pretty because it will take 17 months to get there. Nick showed a schematic of the route, which includes 8 flybys.

The next mission planned is the Venus Express (VEX) this will be a Soyuz launch planned for November 2005.

Nick got onto his main theme by explaining that to maintain constant contact with probes the ideal situation required three ground stations positioned at regular intervals around the world. The craft are equipped with fixed Low Gain Antenna (LGA) and often a High Gain Antenna (HGA) as well. Sometimes the HGA dish is steer-able & sometimes fixed. This means that the craft has to reorientate itself to target the Earth for communication purposes. Therefore having to stop the task in hand.

Nick showed the familiar shots of a Mission Control Room but said that this was mainly an impressive thing for the media - the real work was done out of sight.

He told us about a new 35m dish currently being installed. Including a lovely little episode where an orbiter was being tracked around the Earth. The telescope cannot go completely over the zenith. So has to stop and rotate 180 degrees. It had been set up wrongly such that when it rotated the cables in the stem that are wound around to allow for rotation. However it turned the wrong way tightening the cable. It must have been quite exciting on the day.

To determine the distance to a probe the technique used is called Long Baseline Interferometry. This is where two ground stations link with the probe at the same time. Each station is equipped with an atomic clock so that the time of incoming signals can be recorded precisely. The time difference enables the calculation to be done providing the exact length of the baseline between the two stations is known. Unfortunately due to continental drift and the odd earthquake the length has to be redetermined fairly regularly.

The direction of the craft is established using the Doppler effect. This involves using a model of the Earth’s spin. A signal is sent & returned by the craft after amplification to the source. Amazingly allowing an accuracy of a few metres.

Nick covered much more than I can in this format. There was something called VLBI, you may be able to guess this. But you won’t Practical DDOR.or IFMS. Or will you?

Nick finished with a mention of other craft tracked such as Cluster, XMM, Integral, Artemis, Envisat all in Earth orbit. Stardust, which is 1.0 a.u. distant meaning RTLT is 32 minutes. Ulysses at 4.8 a.u. RTLT 80 minutes, Cassini at 7.3 a.u. RTLT 122 minutes and lastly Voyager 2 at 72 a.u. with a whopping RTLT of 10 hours. I’m sure you can work out RTLT!

A snippet or two to finish. Nick said that Voyager 2 was only above the horizon for 10.5 hours. So on the day the signal had to be sent just after it rose. Just imagine the jubilation when the reply came.

Saturn was the other side of the Sun at the moment of insertion into orbit therefore could not be contacted It was all done automatically. Super stuff.

Thanks Nick.

30th June 2004

Mike – Naked Eye Astronomy

Yet another frantic fill-in from Mike. Unfortunately Brendan’s talk on Cassini has been postponed.

Andy is still having a clear out and begged to be allowed to advertise his latest piece of ‘junk’. This turned out to be a Pentax 200mm telephoto lens, which he was giving away for a trifling £30.

Mike announced that the Cassini Probe was about to get to Saturn.

He mentioned the Village Fair that is being held on 10th July at the church. The Church has asked if we can have a display in the kitchen. Mike himself is unable to make it but it looks as if there a several volunteers able to assist. It will be good for our present good standing with our landlords.

Mike got into his theme for the night, which was the excellent amount of observation that can be done in summertime with just our unaided eyes. Principally meteor showers, comets & satellites.

He began by discussing the asteroid belt between Mars & Jupiter. By rights astronomers would expect a planet to be in this area. It is possible that the asteroid s there are the remains of the planet. It is when these asteroids have their orbits disturbed by perhaps Jupiter’s gravitational pull and get ejected out of the belt that they stray into the Earth’s path and we get them as meteors.

It is thought that the Martian moons Phobos & Deimos are captured asteroids. They are not in stable orbits and will eventually crash into Mars.

The first asteroid was discovered by Guiseepe Piazzi on 1st Jan 1801. Needless to say a lot more have been discovered since. They tend to have rotation periods of 2 – 12 hours; some are known to have tiny satellites in orbit around them.

Most meteorites are dust-like but occasionally a bigger one gets here. Meteor Crater, Arizona is about 30,000 years old. Mike showed a map of known meteorite falls in the UK.

Comets are named after the Greek word kometes this means Hairy Star. Comets have extremely elliptical orbits when they are nearing the Sun they develop tails, which Johannes Keplar suggested in the early 17th Century may be due to the pressure of sunlight. This of course is pretty much the case. They are now known to have two tails. A white one, which is made up of dust - this is often curved. And a much fainter plasma one this pointes directly away from the Sun. Mike showed a picture of Comet Hyakutake with spectacular tails.

Edmund Halley was 39 when he began to take a keen interest in comets and began to calculate their obits. He realised that comets that had been observed in 1531, 1607 & 1682 shared many striking similarities. There were small discrepancies, which he put down to perturbations caused by the giant planets Saturn & Jupiter. He predicted that the comet would return for Christmas 1758. The Comet did return but very sadly Edmund had died in 1742 16 years earlier. On Christmas night 1758 Johann Palitzch found the comet in the area of sky Halley had predicted.

In 1950 J Oort suggested that comets originated from a cloud of bodies between 50,000 & 150,000 AU from the Sun (About a light year). There could be as many as 200,000 million of them. More recent thinking is that this Oort Cloud may well be the home for long period comets. It is thought that short period comets come from the Kuiper Cloud, which is 40-60,000 AUs out. Halley’s Comet by the way is a short period comet.

Comets get consumed each time they approach the Sun. They were formed at the same time as the rest of the solar system and remain in deep freeze until disturbed. They have perhaps 100 to 1000 perihelion passes. As they approach the Sun they give off a lot of gas & dust. The dust gets distributed around the comet’s orbit and will remain long after the comet has gone. It is when the Earth passes through these paths that we get a meteor shower.

The visible comet is a cloud of gas called a Coma which surrounds the nucleus. The Coma can be very large. One recorded in 1811 had a diameter of 2.000,000km (larger than the Sun) and a tail 160million km long.

Mike explained that current thinking tis that the mass of a nucleus is 1 billion to 1000 billion tons it is composed of frozen water & dust.

Giotto was despatched to intercept Comet Halley in 1986. It passed within 600km. It was gathered that the nucleus revolves in 52 hours and is 15 X 8 X 8km with a density of 0.1 to 0.2. The surface was found to be dark - albedo of 2 – 4%.

Although the particles actually travel parallel to each other, Mike had an excellent pic from space showing this fact. However when we see them they appear to radiate from a central point. This is known as the radiant & takes its name from the constellation in which it appears. The particles are travelling at speeds relative to the Earth of 25,000 to 160,000mph.

When they reach the atmosphere they begin to burn up at heights of 50 to 70 miles.

Mike had a super picture of a fireball taken in the Czech Republic on 21st Jan 1999. It covered 71.1km in 6.7seconds. It is thought that the few hundred-gram meteorite probably reached the ground.

Mike then moved to a remarkable phenomenon where meteor trails can be used to bounce radio signals. Such that stations normally well out of range can be received. Alternatively the interference caused by the trail can be recorded and used to determine if a shower is taking place. Mike had lots of images of the echoes produced together with actual sound recordings.

Mike moved on top satellite viewing, he had some absolutely amazing images of the ISS passing in front of the Moon & the Sun. These were movie clips but he was able to isolate the station flashing across the disc. An amazing amount of detail was visible.

He explained that details of the passes can de obtained from the NASA website. In addition there is a superb site called Heavens-Above, which has precise timings for loads of satellites. You put in where you are and the precise times are given together with altitude brightness rising & setting etc.

There are also the Iridium flares, which are the result of the Sun reflecting off the sunlight gathering arms of particular satellite group. They rotate and will send a brilliant flash of light. Again the full details are available. But they only last a very short time so you need to be precise. So don’t blink.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what Mike had to tell us this time at least I hope you have the flavour.

23rd June 2004

Mike – Astro News & Beginners Night

Ted got the floor first with the super news that our lottery application to “Awards for All” has been successful. We have been given what we asked for namely £3820. This is to buy a small scope with Hydrogen Alpha filter for solar observing together with a binocular viewer and appropriate eyepieces to enable us to extend our plans with outreach astronomy. Exciting times - so key members of the committee will be tasked with doing the final research to arrow in on the purchases. The money will be in our account during 2nd week July and we have a year to use the money - somehow I don’t think it will take any time at all.

Ted also announced that he had received a letter from our only overseas member - Derrick Bevan. Derrick was a member for about three years following his wife’s initial interest until he emigrated to Spain some three years ago. We see Derrick from time to time when he is in the area but it is great that he keeps in touch. His reason for writing was to share with us his excitement at seeing the Venus Transit from his solarium. He had included two excellent photographs just to prove the point. The letter will be circulated on our group mailing list very soon.

Mike announced that Brendan’s talk on the Cassini Mission has been postponed until after Nick James talk.

Mike began with an ESA release discussing whether Earth’s Ocean water was sourced from comets. The Ptolemy experiment on Europe’s Rosetta probe may well find out. It is strongly thought that comets are in effect frozen reservoirs orbiting the Sun. It is hoped that Ptolemy can analyse the mix of isotopes found in Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (I want to know why people called Dave Smith can’t find comets) As we are used to now the news was accompanied by some super pics.

The next item from Astrophysicists at Stanford concerning the spotting of a rather large black hole. It is apparently 10 billion times the mass of our sun. The very good news is it’s a very long way away - being formed when the universe first began to light up. The black hole is currently busy eating up the galaxy it’s in the middle of. This generates enormous power. If some of the matter misses the event horizon it can be spewed out in the direction of Earth they are then given the name ‘Blazar’.

Mike’s next item was quite a change it turned out to be a very cool diminutive star that is just 8.5% of the mass of the Sun. Barely the size of Jupiter. It has been classified as L-type. It has been given the name 2MASSW J0746425+2000321. I give this in case it comes up in a quiz sometime. The star is a binary and has been observed for 4 years by the ESO vlt Chile, The Keck Hawaii & the HST. The mass was able to be measured because the companion a brown dwarf is only 6.6% of the Sun’s mass.

The last but not least item before we broke for coffee was some wonderful pictures from the Cassini probe which is fast approaching Saturn. The image showed the rings in extraordinary detail together with a moon Enceladus (310miles) below the rings & Janus above but we could not see Janus for some reason. The image was taken on 11th May from 16.4m miles from Saturn. It will actually go into orbit on 1st July. We should have some fair to middling pics then.

Mike was using his Starry Night software for this section. He started by explaining that although the constellation he started with, Cygnus, was on the Milky Way we could not see it because the software had some limits set into it such that unless the Sun was 18 degrees below the horizon it would not be shown as in the real world we wouldn’t see it. (Chance would be a fine thing living where we do.) Anyway he cheated by simply moving us to somewhere south. Low & behold the Milky Way appeared.

Mike alerted us to one of his favourites at the head of the Swan, Albireo. This is a super double star with yellow & blue components.

We then moved to Lyra with Vega dominant. Mike drew our attention to Delta Lyrae, which is another yellow/blue double with a tiny star cluster between. (Mike was using a mix of photographs & drawings to illustrate the points.) Mike took us to M57 the Ring Nebula. This is known as a planetary nebula. In fact it is the result of a Sun-like star coming to the end of its life. What we see is a ring of material that has been blasted off. Amall scope will see a smoke like ring. Better jobs will see the tiny mag 14 dot in the middle which is all that remains of the star itself.

Mike took us to the asterism of stars known as the coathanger. This is best seen with low power or bins. Fascinating stuff. He also showed us M27 which is a similar binocular object.

It is interesting to note that Messier put his list together so he would not waste his time by looking at them in his long search for comets. We however are perfectly happy to see them & use the list as a reference manual.

Mike showed us his own pic from the Dark Site of lovely bit of the Milky Way called the Southern Star Cloud rising in the South. Below it is the Teapot constellation. This contains wonderful things like the Triffid & Lagoon Nebulae. These items sre rather low in the sky. Bernie chipped in from the floor that he had seen the M7 cluster, which is below the Teapot.

Mike told us about Patrick Moore’s Summer Triangle formed by Deneb, Vega & Altair. These are always the first stars to pop out as the evening draws in.

Mike moved to Scorpio, with Antares & the nearby globular cluster.

Then we had Hercules with mention of M13 & M92 also globular clusters. Mike threw in here a small a side about the mythology of the Hercules Constellation.

He went back to Cygnus and explained that there was a large dust lane obscuring the Milky Way in this area known a s the Cygnus Rift. Superb pics of course.

The final item in response to a comment from Bernie again, that green stars were a rarity. Mike agreed but said there was one to be had in Libra.

He also mentioned the Double-Double in Lyra. All these items were demonstrated by the deftness of Mike’s fingers on the controls. My copy works at a quarter speed.

Well-done sir.

16th June 2004

Mike – Astro News

This evening we should have had a talk by Steve Payne one of the very bright people in our group. Steve is a scientist and his talks are always fascinating. Unfortunately he is currently suffering from a bug that prevents him talking for more than a few minutes at a time. We wish him better soon.

Before Mike could get started Andy asked if he might give a short commercial. He has available two items for sale:

The first is his very excellent 15/60 X 63mm zoom binoculars they come complete with tripod mounting, a set of bader filters and a case. Price £50.

The other is an Olympus OM1 SLR camera & case. It is equipped with a special focussing screen to deal with Astro subjects plus 2 cable releases, a T ring adaptor & a 50mm lens. Andy added that the beauty of the beast was that it was a totally manual job not needing a battery. Therefore ideal for astronomical work. It comes with instructions for the price of £130.

Mike put together something to stop us talking together too much from the recent Astro news as available on the Internet.

Mike opened with a stunning picture of the Pleiades star cluster via his laptop and our digital projector. This he told us was from the HST and was part of a study to establish the long debate concerning the exact distance of the Seven Sisters. This has been causing ongoing controversy over the past 7 years. It all started in 1997 when ESA’s Hipparcos satellite found the distance to be 10% closer than the traditional estimates which were based on comparisons to nearby stars. If Hipparcos was correct then the stars were too faint for the these Sun-like stars to be at that distance.

The HST was wheeled into the fray and used its Fine Guidance Sensors to establish that the old estimates were essentially accurate and the Hipparcos results in error by some 40ly. Giving the actual figure at 440ly.

To put things in perspective Mike explained that if our eyes were in the same league as the Hubble Sensors we would see a penny 16,000ly away.

Mike’s next item was a magnificent image of the Trifid Nebula M20. This is so-called because the area is divided by three huge intersecting dust lanes, making it one of the most recognizable star birth areas in the Milky Way. It is 9000ly away in Sagittarius.

The image showed in great detail the central area near the intersection of the dust lanes where some young very bright O-type stars are releasing a flood of ultraviolet radiation, which is influencing the structure & evolution of the surrounding nebula.

The star group is illuminating a dense pillar of gas & dust to the right producing a bright rim on the side facing the stars. At the tip there is a complex filamentary structure which shows a bluish colour indicating oxygen.

There was much more but as they say a picture is better than a 1000 words.

Mike moved to W49B this is a Super Nova remnant, which is unique being within the Milky Way. These are the source of Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). It is a barrel-shaped nebula located about 35,000ly away. Up until now the nearest GRB was several million ly away. Most are billions of ly distant. As these are the most catastrophic explosions known perhaps it is just as well.

According to the collapsar theory GRBs are produced when a massive star runs out of fuel & collapses to form a black hole surrounded by a disk of very hot magnetized rotating gas. Much of this is pulled into the black hole but some is flung away in opposing jets travelling at near the speed of light. Anyone in the way of one of these would see a blinding flash lasting a minute or so equivalent to ten quadrillion Suns.

Mike went on to show us galaxy images from the Spitzer Space Telescope. The SST uses infrared imaging to see through dust, this makes the appearance of galaxies different and has meant that the categories of galaxies may have to be reviewed in the light of this. We saw images of NGC 1961 & 5746.

Mike moved closer to home now with news that the Mars Opportunity is to drive into the Endurance Crater. This is the size of an average stadium. Opportunity has been examining the rim for several weeks and will soon be directed into the crater. This has to be done carefully because there is a real risk that it will be unable to get out again. But the benefits of being able to examine the deeper strata are very valuable.. There is hope that layered rock will indicate the earlier existence of water.

The Mars rovers Sprit & Opportunity are now well past their sell by dates being a year old so everything learned is a bonus.

Mike moved on to the Cassini probe to Saturn, which has recently done a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Phoebe. The images reveal a heavily cratered surface with a great deal a variation in brightness. It is thought that Phoebe may be ice rich.

Cassini passed 1285 miles from the moon on June 11th. The only previous was Voyager 2 in 1981 but this was about 1.4 million miles away.

The pictures were totally amazing.

On June 16th Cassini was scheduled too conduct a 96-minute burn to allow orbit around Saturn on June 30th. During the 4 year planned tour Cassini will complete 76 orbits and execute 52 close encounters with 7 of Saturn’s 31 known moons.

Well if this was a hastily prepared fill-in think what he could do given time. Wonderful stuff Mike.

PS It looks like Andy may have scored twice with his selling pitch. Terry left with the bins and Matt the camera. Deals not clinched I understand but it’s a good start.

9th June 2004

Mike – The Venus Transit

Unfortunately the scheduled speaker this evening, the prestigious Chris Badderley, was unable to attend due to a family bereavement.

We were therefore able to indulge ourselves by pooling our experiences with the Transit of Venus.

Mike got us started with the revelation that the Evening Standard was the first newspaper with a picture of the event. This was published shortly after the affair had finished.

Mike introduced Terry first who proudly told how his approach was ‘Cheap & Cheerful’. He made full use of any astro kit he possessed plus incorporating a rather large cardboard box together with a small telescope which was mounted on his only purchased item. This turned out to be a rather splendid cymbal stand that he had spotted in a sale & acquired for the princely sum of £20. The box was mounteerd on his regular telescope tripod. He also had a camera mounted on another tripod to record the event. He also needed the assistance of a friend to help with the not inconsiderable workload. He had an excellent array of super pictures.

Mike explained with the aid of various pics that himself, Steve Camplin, Robin, Paul & Andrew had a pitch outside the Central Museum where they managed to attract over 450 members of the public. Mike said one of the highlights for him was the discussion he had the pleasure to witnessing, of matters astronomical, between a rather outlandish young chap & a rather sophisticated elderly lady.

Apparently there was a Canadian gent present equipped with his own scope mounted on a home made tripod that appeared to be borrowed from someone’s staircase. Nevertheless it worked.

Mike invited Jim to talk us through his pics. Jim had been trying to see the so-called ‘Black-Drop’ effect that had been getting a lot of attention in the media prior to the transit. This had apparently been a major handicap in 1882. The phenomena took the form of a flowing together of the black shape of Venus with the black surround of the Sun making precise judgement of the time of second & third contact difficult.

Jim advised that he had tried all ways to get the effect without success. He was very much of the view that it was the result of poor optics that was all that was available for earlier events. He was able to simulate it but only by defocusing the view or manipulation the image via processing.

This view was shared by most if not all present. It will be interesting to see what the experts have to say.

There were very few sunspots in view so Jim had included some splendid spots taken a couple of years ago

Dave Smith said he had viewed the event from Maldon where he & his colleagues had been joined by better than 500 members of the public. This means that CPAC had helped 1000 people to see this rare happening.

Dave showed a pic of Venus 80% on the Sun, with the portion of Venus not yet on the disc apparently outlined by a very faint line though the blackness. It certainly looked real to me.

Ted got in on the act in no uncertain terms with pictures of his kit rather precariously set up on his roof. It was a flat roof – he is not that clever. He had two telescopes - each with cameras one was a good old-fashioned film job the other was fitted with his CCD. He was attempting to take images every 10 minutes with both sets of kit. He was gracious enough to admit that he had problems with his TV aerial getting in the way plus having rather too much to do in the final stages. Sounds like he could have done with Terry’s friend. Needless to say we had a surfeit of excellent images.

Someone commented from the floor that in 2073 there would be an Earth & Moon transit visible from Mars. Now that would be fabulous.

Andy got in his twopennorth with the news that at Canewdon they had the incredible age span of 80 years the youngest being 8 the oldest 89.

Brian had been doing his own thing in trying to understand the ‘Black Drop’ effect. He had tried to process his images. At the ends of the day he was unconvinced it is a real effect.

Extraordinary, With Mike’s help we climbed from the depths of a veritable black hole into a very entertaining review. We would have done this in due course anyway but it was very good to do it whilst it was still so fresh in our minds.

2nd June 2004

Allan Chapman Talk – The Transit of Venus

This evening took the form of a talk given by Allan Chapman, who has graced us with his presence at least twice in times past, in Bournemouth. This was recorded and is presented via the magic of DVD. Mike & Steve managed the event.

Before we got started Ted made an announcement to the affect that our very own Nik Szymanek has been awarded a prize. I have been in touch with Nik who has kindly provided the following information:

It was given by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and comprises of an "amateur achievement award for 2004". It's been awarded due to the image processing of amateur and professional images as well as the public outreach stuff that Nik does. Nik also advised that the only other Englishman to have received it was George Alcock, of comet and nova fame, back in 1981. He’s been invited to Berkeley, California, next month to receive the award as well as an engraved plaque and a $500 dollar prize. The University of Herts, where Nik has a part-time job, will cover the price of the flights for him.

I think I can speak for us all at CPAC to say that we are immensely proud of Nik and agree that the award is much deserved.

Allan began by explain that with Mercury orbiting in 88 days, Venus in 224 & Earth in 365 there were clearly going to be times when the two inner ones would be in between ourselves & the Sun. Unfortunately this does not occur each orbit due to the planes being tipped relative to each other. These events are therefore rare. The last to happen was December 1882. Therefore no one alive today will have seen one. The next is on June 8th and again in June 2012 so some of us may see two although the latter will not be visible from UK. The next one visible from our shores will be in 2247.

The transits occur in pairs 8 years apart then a gap of 123 years. Previous opportunities were 1639, June 1761 & 69, Dec 1874 & 1882. Only 5 have ever been seen at the date of this talk.

Johan Kepler predicted the transits but never saw one, as they were not visible from Europe. Mercury has more transits but it is very small & therefore difficult to observe.

Why you may ask to we want to see a transit. The reason is so that we can establish how far we are from the Sun. The Sun’s diameter is known. As Venus crosses the disc the time taken can be noted and mathematics used to do the relatively simple calculation. This will give the distance from the Earth to the Sun (known as the Astronomical Unit). Once this is known the positions of all the other planets can be deduced providing the period is known using the Universal Theory of Gravity.

One unfortunate fellow in Nov 1631 knew that one was imminent but he did not know the day so he had to watch all the time. He was not best pleased when his assistant fell asleep so he missed the start.

Astronomical objects often occult other objects. The Moon for instance will frequently occult a star. When this happens the star disappears in an instant. However Venus, which has an atmosphere, does the occulting there is a blurring of the edges of the discs known as the ‘black drop’ effect. This sadly makes precise measurement difficult.

Jeremiah Horrocks of Toxteth & his university friend Will Crabtree from Salford predicted the 1639 transit. The day was cloudy at 3.15 the start time; happily it cleared 45 mins before sunset. Both the friends saw the event separately from their respective locations. They were both very surprised by how small it was. Its brilliance had led them to believe it to be a much larger planet.

Very sadly Jeremiah died in 1641 aged 22ish, Will died shortly afterwards in 1644 he was some 10 years older but for two brilliant people it was a great loss to science.

In 1662 in Poland a tribute was published to JH. This is why we know a little about this great man who became famous some time after his demise.

Edmond Halley was fascinated by the phenomena of transits - he never saw a Venus event but did see a Mercury transit from St Helena. He however made a very astute observation. Namely that if a transit event could be seen simultaneously from different latitudes then the data would be much more useful and allow for more accurate calculations to be made. Halley desperately wanted to see the 1761 event but died 19 years too soon in 1742 - aged 86.

Great plans were made to see the pair of transits in 1761 & 1769. However hravelling across the globe was very difficult then. Especially when England & France were at war, which was quite often in those times. So some great men made astonishing journeys to record matters. Our own James Cook managed to get to Tahiti for the 69 event. It was a major achievement in its own right just getting there. This had to be done at least a month early to allow time for the pendulum clocks to be set up from Sun observations, to enable the event to be timed. Cook’s trip was successful. On his way home he mapped the coasts of New Zealand & Australia. As you do.

Some of the people had horror stories in places like Pondicherry on the SE coast of India where the English & French could not agree who had jurisdiction and kept coming to blows.

However at the end of the day the results were accumulated and the calculations were commendably close to those we use today.

By the time the 1882 transit occurred America could join in and excellent observatories were in place in many places over the globe. This together with fast steam ships and the telegraph made even more accurate studies to be made.

This was a very interesting talk given by one of our greatest exponents of verbal communication. The great pity is that we can no longer afford his fees.

26th May 2004

Brian – The History of CPAC

Mike got us going with news about the discovery of a meteor crater off Australia, which happened 251m years ago. It is big enough to have caused the mass extinction of 90% of species. There would also have been lots of volcanic activity triggered by the upheaval.

He also revealed that asteroids change colour as they age. Apparently getting redder. The Lowell Observatory has found asteroid 2004 J56 that has the smallest orbit known to date. It has a 6-month period and was first seen between Earth & Venus.

Mike also showed us Jim’s super image of the North American Nebula.

Brian set the scene for his bit by firing a crossbow (albeit a toy one) across the room. He also showed us a red road traffic lantern and a candle disguised as a stick of dynamite. Heplained that way back in 1969 - when unbelievably the club was started. Things like these were the order of the day. As were incredibly long scarves some with pockets ala Dr Who. Brian showed lots of pics of vibrant young things doing daft antics in many different places. There were pictures of a very young (Father) Bernie and Brian himself because they are easily the longest serving members.

It must have been grim in those days because Brian clearly had to defend himself with a rather fearsome catapult.

The now famous Heather Cooper was in several images. One in particular showed her in a most unladylike pose atop another member (of the male variety). I think we could well raise some funds with clever use of blackmailing techniques.

We saw Ian King a great friend of Nik Szymanek (who was along for the fun). It was taken so long ago that Ian had a full head of hair. We are so used to his shiny pate that it was quite shocking. Ian was sporting a bow tie. Oh how the well-dressed amateur astronomer has changed!

We saw a very young Mike - he volunteered the info that he was just 13 when he joined.

Brian introduced us to many characters, which the longer serving reprobates fondly remembered with many an anecdote or two to add flavour to the pic. There was one young man called Roger who apparently favoured wearing odd socks. Another called Martin (alias Worm). Most of the images seemed to be taken whilst they were on outings. Very few of them were conventionally posed, they were draped over various bits of this & that like for instance cannon. If they couldn’t find anything else they made do with nothing but the floor. A surprisingly small number had the principle occupant of the frame upright.

Brian changed theme with a pic of his first telescope an F8 Newtonian. Then we were shown his famous Bicycle telescope. As the name suggests the scope was largely made from a bike. The wheels were the setting circles. This unlikely contraption was actually seen by the great Patrick Moore who was heard to utter “Oh my goodness”.

We saw images of Brian’s garden which had a small pond at the time and a dome. There were lots of shots of people like Brian, Mike & Ian trying hard to flatten the original dome which was made of fibreglass. They appeared to fail in this endeavour but had a great time trying.

There were mood shots of the dome with a 12inch Matsutov inside.

Brian next set were about the new dome which replaced the original. It is worth noting that Brian’s pond had expanded rather a lot over the years it is now enormous virtually the full width of the garden with some very large fish within.

There were pictures of several of us (I can say us now because I’m in this lot helping fix the top on the dome). The top of the new dome was made by a chap called Roy Rooks, who was a member for a while and managed to help a great many of us with his skills with metal. He also made the superb stainless steel stands that are to this day gracing the approach to the Planetarium in Southend Library.

The next lot of pictures showed that the club was the proud owner of a Dalek. This was a full size job complete with the requisite set of offensive weaponry. It also boasted a seat inside and a special voice changing device so it could say EXTERMINATE in the proper manner. The Dalek was photographed in lots of venues where it was used to promote the club and as could be imagined was a great hit with the youngsters.

Royston Dean, who now runs his own group after splitting away from the group some time ago - several of us were with this group before joining CPAC, was in several of the images

There were some pics of a very young Simon Cordell with an early computer complete with loads a wires and a soldering iron. Apparently if you managed to get it to boot it was regarded as a successful session.

We saw lovely images from outings to wonderful locations:- Such as Winchester, Cambridge, Hertford, Thetford & Herstmonceux.

At the end Brian’s laptop suffered from some sort of malfunction. Mike came to the rescue with a flurry of Brian’s images of Comet Neat showing a small nucleus, plus another showing an extra tail at right angles to the main tail, the Pelican Nebula and the North American Nebula.

This evening was outstanding I have been unable to convey the fun & laughter it generated.

We had a chap called Martin who had not been before and I attempted to apologise that it was not what he might have expected but he stopped me and insisted that he had enjoyed it immensely.

Great stuff Brian.  Next week we have hints & tips on observing the Venus transit and the following week we have the great Chris Badderly talking to us about galaxies.

19th May 2004

Sian – Space School

The main event this evening was young Sian Cleaver’s presentation of her five day Easter holiday visit to the Space School at Leicester University.

Sian said the aim was to broaden knowledge & interest in the space industry - especially ESA but also to have fun. It is sponsored mainly by the British National Space Centre but also by National Space centre, QinetiQ, ESA & the University itself.

The week was filled with lectures, a visit to the EADS Astrium and even a simulated Mars mission. The school was split into two groups the 14 - 18 year olds (Sian’s lot) and for the first time a junior bunch of 11 - 13s.

This was Sian’s first trip away by herself so she was just a tad nervous but she soon made friends. She said it was nice to meet like-minded people. One statistic I found surprising was that of the 20 in Sian’s group 16 were female. I expect the 4 lads did their best.

One of the highlights was a competition to build a rocket from only paper & straws to take a payload of crème eggs as high as possible. Sian admitted that her team’s efforts were not the best but what the heck they enjoyed it.

The best trip was to the Astrium, which is where the ESA satellites are constructed; including Beagle 2. The products have to be built and tested. Sian was impressed by the people working there.

Another trip was to the National Space Centre. This involved taking part in a mission to Mars. Sian got to go on the spaceship & to have a go with a robotic arm. But the bit Sian enjoyed the most was a session in Mission Control on Mars sitting before a big screen. Just like Houston.

Another project was to build an actual flying rocket to transport an egg into the air & back via parachute without breakage. Unfortunately the project stalled due to a better offer to go bowling. This was followed by a fizzy pop party back at base.

The rocket was finished the next day and after some teething problems got launched the parachute deployed and got it back down but unfortunately it was slightly broken.

Sian’s enjoyment of the week was very evident. She issued a recommendation to anyone interested to go but the sting in the tail was that candidates had to be between 14 – 18. Never mind.

The whole presentation was punctuated ably by Sian’s Dad who did a splendid job showing pics of the various bits via our trusty digital projector.

Mike followed with an account of last Friday’s trip to our Dark Site. The seeing was pretty awful by all accounts. The principal hope was to view Comet Neat, it was allegedly in Cancer. The problem was they could not see Cancer let alone anything contained therein. It was eventually spotted with bins and a very great deal of waggling about. Mike insisted Jupiter was OK but admitted that Saturn was mushy.

Dave Smith was IC for the Saturday trip. He fared even worse with thick cloud. They got a few 2-second glimpses of Jupiter & a couple of stars. You have to be made of strong stuff to be an observer round these parts.

Brian advised that he had got a reasonable image of the comet, which we hope he distributes in the usual way. Dave Smith said he had found it quite easily with his bins.

Mike advised that we should look out for Venus which is to be occulted by the Moon on 21st. He warned that we should be very careful not to accidentally look at the Sun, which would be quite close in the sky. He suggested we stand in the shadow of a building to remove the risk. Venus is always see able during daytime but very difficult to find but this would not be an issue for this event because it would be close to the Moon.

Mike also mentioned the Venus transit of the Sun on 6th June from about 06.10 to 12.30. He will expand on the safe viewing of this nearer the time. Mike & Steve by the way will be getting paid overtime to show this event to the public outside the museum. It’s all right for some!

Mike then gave a demo of some Astro software highly recommended by Terry. It is called Cartes du Ciel. Mike had a lovely time playing with the features whilst Terry gave appropriate advice from the side. Terry said it was available foc from the web but as it was a slow download he said he was prepared to provide copies for those interested. Apparently one of its strengths is that the database can be added to at will. Sounds like you have to be clever to do that so I’ll stand at the back of the queue. Dave Smith mentioned that it was by the same author as the Moon maps.

Mike mentioned briefly that plans are in hand for a club visit during the summer break. The Science Museum got mentioned a few times. This has been done before but it is such good trip for my money we could make it part of the calendar.

Ted said the awaited Hertford Uni. trip looked possible in September.

Next week we have Brian on the ‘History of the Club’ this will be embarrassing for some and I predict a delight for all.

12th May 2004

Dave Smith – Beginner’s Night

Mike got us going with some topical news about Comet Neat, which will be close to Preseppe soon & the excellent news that young Shan who has recently been to a Sky Camp will tell us all about it this coming Wednesday.

Dave began with a commercial for the Society for Popular Astronomy which issues a newsletter of interesting events. It is available free of charge on the web simply go to SPA ASTRO.

Dave gave an example of a newsletter that contained details of an occultation of Venus by the Moon on 21st May. Beginning at 12.15. This will be a splendid opportunity to see both objects together. As Dave pointed out although Venus is perfectly visible in daylight it can be difficult to find but not so if it is close to the Moon.

Dave went on to explain that you could join SPA for about £12 per year then you get a rather good magazine as well.

The area of sky chosen this week began with Bootes. Dave used his excellent Skymap Pro to show the area and indicated where the globular cluster M3 was. These are very beautiful objects like mini galaxies but in spherical form that orbit our galaxy. They are actually star clusters but very regular in form. Dave also pointed out NGC 5466 another globular.

Then he showed us a related coloured double star. It was wonderful to see photographs of the objects contained within the software. With the double when the data was called up it could be seen that the distance of the two stars was the same therefore they are together in the sky as opposed to line-of-sight objects.

Dave then moved to Hercules. This boasts possibly the best Globular of them all – M13. We were shown the picture as previously but this time there was a bonus because Dave had an image taken by Eddie Guscott from the SEE Astro group, which has unfortunately folded. We are expecting Eddie and some of his friends to join us soon.

The next globular was M92; this some would say challenges M13 as the best. They are relatively close in the sky so have a look and let us know your favourite.

The next item Dave showed us was NGC6210 this is a rather weird looking planetary nebula. Swiftly followed by Alpha Herculae, this is a nice coloured double star. Then Dave tried to show us Delta Herculae but the software let us down because it only contained the one star. Never Mind.

Dave asked if anybody had a favourite object or area they would recommend. The aforementioned Eddie suggested the galaxy cluster just to the right of Hercules. The area was shown as empty of galaxies but Dave was able to demonstrate the power of the software by zooming in and there they were. Wonderful stuff.

The next suggestion took us to nearby Lyra this contains the wonderful M57 Ring Nebular. This has the appearance of a smoke ring but Dave had a superb Hubble pic of the object. It was stunning.

Dave then moved to his favourite object the Moon. He mentioned the 100 things to see on the Moon this starts with the moon itself then earthshine No 3 is seas & mountains. No 4 starts to get specific it is the Apennine mountain range. All the items were demonstrated with abandon by Dave with great dexterity using his various bits of software concerning the Moon all of which are available to members free of charge all it costs is a blank CD rom. Just see Dave.

Dave showed us the crater Archimedes. This is unusual because it does not have a central mountain as most craters do. It is flooded with laver like a mini sea. But there are no breaks in the walls so the lava must have come up from below the crater. Dave mentioned that due to the lava the bed is only 1 mile below the lip of the walls. Only 1 mile - it would dwarf Ben Nevis. Everything is relative, the shear scale of things in the universe is for me the most fascinating aspect of them all.

Dave gave us some interesting comments on how to judge the age of craters because as you get closer in the more are seen right down to microscopic jobs. He explained that when craters overlap one another the later event intrudes on the earlier event. It’s pretty obvious but perhaps grasping the simplest things helps understand the whole.

We finished with Dave zooming in to one lot of central mountains we had a very good free-for-all discussion about trying to work out exactly what we were seeing - to understand what actually happened. Excellent stuff.

5th May 2004

Robin Cordell – Images & Computing

Robin, once upon a time, was chairman of this club. I confess this was before my time. He left some long time ago and to our delight has returned to the fold.

As we waited for 8 o’clock. Robin took the time to show off his super screensaver which takes the form of a map of the world showing all the time zones broken down into countries. The Sun & Moon were shown, together with the bit in daytime & the bit in night time. It was in real time & the whole picture was moving as the time changed. It included the international dateline. If the cursor was put on a country the time & date there were shown. Robin was delighted to tell us that when the Moon was in eclipse on Monday evening the moon image was shown in a double ring representing the umbra & penumbra.

Robin had the usual set up these days of a laptop and our digital projector. As he got himself set up he was explaining that there was some ‘frightening’ maths in various places but he said he would warn is immediately prior to its appearance so we could shut our eyes or throw something as the need arose.

He started off by putting up some pretty frightening words like:- GIFS, JPEGS & BMP. Some of us knew what they were, some thought they knew others knew they didn’t.

He explained about pixels, the way the image is scanned to divide it into ‘slices’, & ‘chunks. He explained that pictures need large file sizes. When colour is used 3 images are taken in red, green & blue (RGB) this of course makes the file size 3 times bigger. He demonstrated with his wallpaper image on the screen, which was a star field with a size of 1024 x 768 making the file size 786,432 pixels or bytes. This would take a 56K modem 3 minutes to transmit in B & W. Whereas the colour image would take over 9 minutes If a High dynamic range system was used the time would rise to over 20 mins.

Clearly there was a need to squash the images down to make file size smaller & therefore speed up transmission.

Robin mentioned that there was a method called ‘lossy’ compression which enabled a noble 100 times reduction & one called ‘loss-less’ which allowed 50% reduction. The problem with lossy was that the reduction once made was final & permanent.

In 1987 JPEG came up with a method using lossy, which does something clever with luminance & colour. At this point we had the excitement of learning how the DP behaves when it loses power. It went black! Robin had inadvertently trodden on the wiring set up which he was having to step over continuously. Having recovered we heard how the system simplifies & discards certain information & compresses the remaining information loss-lessly.

Robin gave a demo using a JPEG which had been copied several times both using lossy & loss-less. The lossy image quickly deteriorated into large square blocks whilst the loss-less remained good.

Robin went on to say that there was a newer JPEG2000 available, which used Wavelet Transforms. Mercifully for us this was too difficult for him to explain so we moved on. He said the 2000 version was rather better.

BMP    Not compressed. Good for storage of a master file but large.

JPEG    Good for compressing, therefore reduces file size for distribution however does not contain all the original data

GIF    Can only handle 256 colours. Good for animation. Very good for distribution of graphics. Poor for colour photos.

TIFF    This is obsolete but still used. File size is large but allows some compression.

PNG    This is a new system, which is due to replace GIF & TIFF.

Future    Fractal system looks very interesting this has a method of anticipating what is missing from an image & putting stuff in, in an intelligent way.

He then gave a very useful bit of info by summarising what the various formats were good for.

Web/Distribution     Use GIF or JPEG

Master storage        Use TIFF or PNG

Robin explained that the principle was simple if the image is only going to be looked at small (i.e. compressed) is good. If the data has to be processed or the picture printed, the file size needs to be big.

If this does not help you to understand the various imaging systems - it is not Robin’s fault -it is a combination of my inability to read my notes and absolute proof that you should come to our meetings to experience the excellence first hand.

28th April 2004

Frantic Fill In

Mike got us started with a review of the Open Night, which was a success after 5 duds due to the weather. Ted had been given a bag of money to count which is estimated to be in the order of £200 this will be split between the Country Park and us.  Mike thanked everybody for their efforts and said he had received feedback from our guests that they were impressed by the enthusiasm of the astronomers.

He also showed some shots of the scopes being set up. There were rumours of Brian’s instrument being on fire this was variously put down to mozzy deterrent and/or some home made candles Brian was experimenting with.

Two of the scopes this time had web cams. Tim on the Moon & Robin on Jupiter. They were a favourite for the public.

The Queues at the scopes were something to be seen. At about 21.30 I counted 45 people waiting to see Jupiter through Jim’s 20inch.

One area of disappointment was that as we started in daylight and people began to arrive well before darkness everybody got onto the Moon, Venus & Jupiter. This meant that none of the many Go To instruments could be set up so the deep sky stuff was not possible. The public however did not mind.

Andy announced that he had been advised that Hailsham Astro. Club had David Scott (Astronaut) giving a talk about the Moon on 13th May at 19.30 to which we are invited. Details available to all interested.

Mike then gave us some titbits from the Astro News group: -

•    Apparently Jupiter’s spots are to disappear due to temperature changes. The planet is nearing the end of its 70-year cycle. Never fear the Red Spot will remain.

•    Superb Hubble pic of a ring galaxy AM06 44-741. The feature is the result of a galactic collision. The ring is currently 50,000ly across and full of star-forming regions.

•    Wonderful set of four images of Saturn taken in different wavelengths by the Cassini probe.

•    There was allegedly a picture of Sedna. All that could be said was it was not even a fuzzy blob more a handful of fuzzy pixels. However in the background was a view of the rest of our system, as it would appear from there. It seems amazing but it included Saturn & Jupiter seemingly awfully close to the Sun.

•    Apparently there will be a comet visible due West on 15th May at 23.00 in Cancer. It will be between Leo & Gemini on 3rd May.

•    On 4th May there is a lunar eclipse. The moon rises in eclipse and reaches totality at 21.01.

Mike then showed us an eyepiece he had equipped with cross hairs. He said that when he first tried using stuff like human hairs he found them grossly too thick. He eventually tried spider web. He said it was important to use the guy threads not the web bits that are sticky. He had used super glue to attach the threads to a small steel washer then glued this into the eyepiece. It was superb - appearing just as you would expect it to. It was even illuminated with a red LED. What a clever fellow!

Now it was Dave Smith’s turn. You see it was his fault we were not out observing this evening. As the Observing Director it falls to Dave to organise the weather.

Dave handed out star charts showing Leo & the Plough. He began with Leo giving his suggestions of the interesting stuff to see in these constellations.

He started with NGC 4567. He was using Skymap Pro software to show the location of the object that impressively included pics of most items. This one was a colliding galaxy well worth a look.

He spent sometime on the Virgo cluster which is to the left of Leo as a demonstration of the software. He explained that there are so many objects there that you have to ‘dive in’, as it were, to expand the picture one or more times. Then the screen has hundreds of galaxies showing. It really was something.

Then he moved to the Plough picking the Owl Nebula first M101. He showed the contained picture then by way of comparison showed us Jim’s recent image, which had no trouble holding its end up.

Then we had the Whirlpool Galaxy M51. Swiftly followed by M109 a spiral, M108 an edge-on, M81 a spiral & M82 edge-on. Then we had M63 the Sunflower Galaxy a spiral, M94 another spiral, Then NGC 3184 another spiral. Steve Payne chipped in that some time ago this galaxy had a super nova that he had seen. How about that?

Dave then changed tack and moved to the Moon. He explained that similar to the Messier objects a set of 100 objects to be seen on the Moon has been put together. He handed out some colour pictures of the Moon showing the location of the features. Number 1 is the moon itself. Dave advised that they get harder as the numbers climb. They are easy to find in an atlas either book or software because the grid reference detail is provided the clever bit is seeing them in the sky.

Wonderful. Who needs clear nights with this sort of information?

21st April 2004

Steve Camplin – Star Tales

Mike got in first with some last minute notes for the coming weekend’s Open Night. We are anticipating a good event - the forecast is good. The last 5 have been failures in this respect so we need a change of luck.

Steve sat down clutching a bunch of paper that betrayed the fact that he had done some work on this talk. I can tell you that it was some 30 pages long.

Consisting of        747 lines of type


277 paragraphs

38,024 characters (incl. spaces)

31,407 actual characters

6755 words

Steve had decided to make a change from the science we normally enjoy and give us a taste of the mythology of the heavens. To give an idea I quote literally here one of his opening paragraphs: -

“And believe me, these stories have got more sex, violence, intrigue and bloodshed in them than you’ll find in fifty omnibus editions of “Eastenders”, “Coronation Street”, “Dallas” or “Neighbours” rolled into one - I hope nobody here is too sensitive”

People like us are of the view that the Universe was created by some cosmic event, which may or may not have been a very large bang. The constellations we very occasionally see in the sky are random groupings of stars in our galaxy. Steve’s talk gave an alternate view as to how 22 0f the 88 constellations came to be.

To give you a feel for the talk because there is no way I can write a précis of it I’ve picked out some key words.

Kill     appeared      22 times

Head                        14        (As in beheading)

Skin                          5

Cut                           4

Stone                       4

Illicit                         2         (As in illegitimate)

Infidelity                  2

Death                       6

Strangled                 1

Slay                          3

Zeus                        55

Zeus therefore is a key character most of the dastardly deeds are his doing.

It was a very good talk full of humour and drama.

I’ve picked out my favourite paragraph to give an idea of the fun but also to show the type of names Steve was wrapping his tongue around.

“Under Athene’s guidance, Perseus flew to the slopes of Mount Atlas where the sisters of the Gorgons, called the Graeae, acted as lookouts –a job they weren’t really qualified for as they only had one eye between the three of them, which they each used in turn.”

If you would like a copy of the full text let Steve or me know.

PS I admit to being a tad surprised that Steve can remember Dallas – he must be wearing well.

14th April 2004

Observing Night

At last, or so it seems, we have a clear night. Everybody was unseemly eager they had their scopes out before the Sun had set at 19.56. So we only had Venus for the first 20 minutes until we spied Jupiter soon followed by Saturn. The evening was only moderately good but it was amazingly still. Therefore the views of the gas giants were exceptionally good. The Red Spot on Jupiter was there to see. Not easily - it must be said - because it is rather pale these days and can hardly be called red. The better scopes were able to pick it up very well early on but after about an hour the sky began to deteriorate with a high mist becoming a nuisance.

We had a good selection of instruments along from Merv & Maz’s 2inch Tasco to Vernon’s 10 inch equatorially mounted Newtonian. Vernon joined this evening by the way. Merv & Maz (brother & sister), have been along several times now, I must talk to them about joining they will save a fair bit as it will only be about £8 for the rest of the year for them both.

Several of us had a go at getting something out of their scope but it wasn’t easy. These bottom end telescopes have a lot to answer for because they really are quite difficult to use & must put many folk off astronomy for good.

One young lady Dalia has been a few times before was along with her friend Binnie. Dalia told me she was intending to join herself next week. Dalia happens to be Egyptian. On one of her previous visits I learnt this interesting fact. Andy who was standing nearby chipped in that he had only met one other from that neck of the woods and that was in Keddies. Dalia was thrilled because the lady was her Mum who served on the perfumery section. However we must consider what our Andy was doing on such a counter.

Matt S had a big fat file with him that turned out to be his plans to make an equatorial mount for the tube from his 10inch Dob. He showed me the sketches. Very professional they looked too. The end result will weigh in at about 100Kg just for the mount. Matt is determined to be able to take pictures therefore needs a driven scope. He has already purchased the motors & gearboxes. He is hoping to have it ready for the next Kelling Heath in September. He will need a fair wind & a bit of luck but let’s wish him well.

7th April 2004

Ron – Image Manipulation

Dave Smith got in first with a commercial. He wants to sell his small equatorial mount atop a super tripod with bags of vertical adjustment price £110. Also his 200mm reflecting scope tube assembly.

This is the one included in his talk a while ago price £650. Dave can be contacted direct or via our website.

Mike got in with a snippet about Titan with several pictures taken in infrared. Titan was also in the news because it passed in front of the Crab Nebula which has a pulsar X-ray source in its midst. This enabled its atmosphere to be examined by X-rays. What an opportunity.

Ron in due time got the floor. He had an impressive set up including the new digital projector also linked to a monitor. Apparently this was the first time it had been tried. Needless to say it worked perfectly enabling Ron to be looking at us whilst he spoke instead of at the projected image.

Several of us had urged Ron to keep it simple this time so that we stood a chance of understanding & learning a little of what he had to give. The earlier time he totally wowed us with a mind-blowing talk but this time we wanted to learn how to use the software he was using - Photoshop.

Therefore he started off with the allegedly simple process of adjusting contrast & brightness.

As usual there are several ways of doing this but the one Ron preferred was to go into ‘Image’/adjust/curves. It was amazing - by simply clicking with the mouse the line could be dragged & the change to the image seen ‘live‘ on the ‘preview’. You just played with it until you got what you wanted.

His next topic was resizing. This involved selecting ‘Image’/ image size then reducing picture size to get a resolution of 300. He also showed how to crop an image using the cropping tool. This is a simple procedure but seriously limits how much you can blow up the image.

Ron next gave a mind-blowing demo of the tools residing on the LH side of the screen. It all seemed very logical and straightforward, when he said it, but when I sat down to write it up it no longer made sense. It was certainly entertaining & fascinating.

Ron then went on to more complicated areas specifically perspective. He used a picture of a tall building taken up close so that it appeared to taper too much towards the top. He showed by the simple procedure of selecting the image then doing a bit of fiddling with this & that the top of the building got wider then he cropped it to tidy things up & there you are. (I’m not by the way).

He the moved to filters, using a picture of a building he demonstrated a number of the many filters that were available, showing how you could transform the visual appearance instantly.

This was followed by a look at colour correction using a picture of the Sun with sunspots taken through a baada filter. This has the effect of making it appear to be B&W. With diligent use of the colour correction sliders the image can be restored to the yellow/orange that we expect.

Then we moved to colour modification which involved choosing Image/adjust/variations, which gave a super screen filled with the image to be manipulated surrounded by other pics with subtle variations of colour or light/darkness. The original could be varied by adding a colour and seeing the effect instantly.

Ron then went on to image sharpening. To achieve this he confusingly used a technique called unsharp masking. All I can tell you is that it worked but don’t ask me how.

He then gave a demo of stitching several images together to make a panorama. This was quite brilliant but beyond me to recall here.

I’m stopping here because the hole I’m digging is getting rapidly deeper. The subjects covered included wonderful words like reinvert, lassoing, cloning, stacking and layering. It was all superbly done and wonderful to be there but utterly impossible for me to give a proper insight to. If ever there was a reason to join us then this is it.

31st March 2004

Mike – Frantic Fill-In

This was a rather odd date because when the faithful checked their programme not only was there no entry against the date but the date itself was not in evidence. OOPS!! Hence the heading. However all was not lost: -

Mike began by relating the sad demise of yet another Open Night. It was disappointingly cloudy - apart from fleeting glimpses of the moon - nothing was seen. We had a splendid turn out of members, most equipped with scopes and a considerable number of public. All of whom were chatted to with enthusiasm. Two scopes were set up as discussion exhibits. It was strangely successful. We are all crossing our fingers and hoping our last opportunity this season on 24th April will be favoured with better weather. Bernie our tame priest has offered to see if he can exert any influence.

Mike had our new digital projector set up and started with a shot from the Mars Express of a Martian volcano also the news that Methane gas has been detected in the Martian atmosphere. This is very exciting because the prime source of methane is from living things. If we can avoid lavatorial jokes then we can move on. Methane is a relatively short-lived gas so its presence is a very positive find. It can be produced from volcanoes, hence the picture, but they have to be active. As far as we know those on Mars are inactive.

Mike said the Americans have announced that the probe they are to launch to Mercury has suffered a 10-week delay. Extraordinarily this will result in a two-year extension of the travel time. The planets really are whizzing along their orbits this is simply a demonstration of the fact.

Mike showed us a super photo of an exploding white dwarf star.

The next pic was right in our backyard so to speak. Some chap in the States called McNeal has discovered a new nebula in Orion surrounding a sun-like new star using a 3inch scope. Apparently he is a enthusiastic amateur who has made a study of the area so it was easy for him to spot a change. He advised the learned-ones who are very interested. It is known as the McNeal Nebula. The chance to study a star-forming region does not happen very often. So well done that man.

The next pic was obviously of Saturn but there was something different. It was kind of ‘moving’, Mike invited us to comment. Andy got it; it was getting bigger & rotating. It was a sequence of 5 days worth of pictures taken by the Casssini probe, which is approaching the planet. Excellent stuff.

The next pretty pic came from the Chandrac X Ray satellite with a shot of an exploding star. A dramatic image.

The next pic really was close to home it was wonderful star field taken by Brian, with his CCD camera, of the area of Gamma Cygni. It was a stack of several images. Brian commented that he was showing this one because it had come good after not a lot of work. Other times he works hard with not as much reward. The joys of astronomy!

After coffee Mike changed gear and explained that he had a set of DVDs of the whole of the Apollo missions. It included all the film taken by all of the cameras on all the missions. What a lot of stuff.

We set off with some views of Apollo 15 with footage of them using a special scoop for gathering rock samples. It was like a sieve so that the fine material would fall through. In answer to a question from the floor Mike explained that the outer layer of the spacesuit has a layer of Kevlar to protect against micrometeorites.

It was fascinating viewing. Following encouragement from the audience we saw a launch filmed by about 8 different cameras all showing simultaneously.

What a good effort on Mike’s part.

We did well in the hall tonight. This was the last meeting in the small room, which is excellent news. But we have worried over whether we would get everybody in. We tested it this time we had no less than 39 people including 5 guests. Not one more could have been accommodated we were very lucky.

24th March 2004

Mike – Kelling Heath

Mike reminded us about the Open Night this weekend and set to with abandon allocating objects to anybody unwary enough to look vaguely interested. The planets on display include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn & Jupiter. So fingers were crossed.

Dave Smith advised that there was to be an occultation of Venus by the Moon on 21st May at 13.00. So make a note.

Mike was giving our very own digital projector its first outing. It seemed to do everything that was expected of it. So congratulations to everybody especially Gerald.

Mike started off with some mood shots of the Kelling Heath area. It is apparently very rural, quiet & peaceful. I expect our lot put a short-term stop to that.

Mike said there were lots of good facilities including decent places to eat and of course drink. Even a swimming pool. The weather was blustery to start; with early on Friday evening a clear sky. The view through Jim’s 20 inch of M42 was stunning.

The pics of the site showed the pitches to be generous. Mains power is available if required. This meant that kettles & even electric blankets were the order of the day/night.

The weather began to deteriorate, the wind got going, Mike showed a wonderful movie clip of somebody’s ‘specially robust’ observing tent being wonderfully distorted by the gale. Several tents were damaged during the weekend.

So it was evident that from an astronomical point of view it was not wonderful but a good time was had by all.

Mike showed some of Jim’s shots of M3 globular cluster & M51 galaxy. These were taken after he got back home to SWF.

Dave Smith had supplied Mike with a 360 degree panoramic shot taken from the Eagle lander on Mars. It is incredible that we can get this quality of image from a robot on Mars.

Mike spoke about the Ulysses probe, which was launched way back in 1990 to study the Sun. It is still active and on course to have a look at Jupiter.

P.S.  The Open Night was clouded out. Two brief glimpses of the crescent moon were all we had. An amazing number of the public turned up. Let’s hope we fare better on 24th April.

17th March 2004

Andy – Extra Solar Planets

This fooled most of us who were expecting Ron to be talking about Image Processing. If we had been taking notice we would have been fully aware that the two had swapped for no doubt very good reasons.

Steve got us to order by asking if we considered Sedna (the 10th planet) to be a planet as it’s so small. The general view was that it’s round therefore it’s a planet. So there!!

Mike reminded us that our next Open Night was 27th March, asking for a show of hands for those able to participate.

Andy got the floor at last equipped as usual with a few well-chosen slides and no notes. But of course he is now a celebrated author - no less - having at last fulfilled his commission and had an article on Extra Solar Planets (ESP) published in April’s Astronomy Now.

Andy mentioned that he got started on this particular topic after being given a book by Alan Boss on the subject by Mike who would take no money from him despite having parted with the whole of £1 for it initially.

He said that the search for ESP began as long ago as the 16th century. It seems a fellow had the scandalous thought that stars were suns & probably had planets going around them. These ideas were a tad too radical for the times with the result that he got burnt at the stake.

Then in 1857 along came Edward Emerson Barnard from Nashville Tennessee. Who was blessed with the most exceptional eyesight. During an orientation of Saturn that displayed the rings edge on and virtually invisible he saw some brightness either side of the planet. This was not noted by any of his contemporaries but was confirmed by a probe in 1970 as being a phenomenon associated with diffuse material in the Cassini Division & Crepe ring.

He got his first job at the age of 8 in a local photo studio. The enterprise used a solar projector, which was on the roof and had to be guided by hand cranking throughout the hours of daylight. He did this task perfectly for several years without ever falling asleep. It was during his long walks home after dark that he first began to study the beautiful sky.

During his career he became famous for discovering comets -17 in all. He won the $200 Warner prize no less than 5 times. He also found the star named after him, which has the highest proper motion of any star at 10.3 arc seconds per year.

Andy bought Peter van de Kamp into the story who was also interested in nearby stars. Andy explained that any two gravitationally bound bodies are simultaneously orbiting about their common centre of mass, or barycentre. In the case of the Earth Moon system this point is actually inside the Earth. Therefore, while the Moon describes a large circle around the barycentre, the Earth more or less wobbles on the spot. Each object in such a system is said to be on a reflex orbit, which in the case of stars with planets will cause a wobble to be exhibited by the star. By careful measurement of a star’s position over time, such a wobble may be detected thereby revealing the presence of an invisible companion, such as a planet. Such positional measurements are termed astrometry. The first major success of astrometrics was when Bessel discovered the white dwarf companion of Sirius in 1844, nearly 20 years before it was finally observed visually.

By as early as 1944, Peter van de K suspected Barnard’s star of having a companion of about 60 Jupiter Mass (JM). Then in 1963 he revised this to 1.6JM. Then, in 1968 he further revised this to 1.7JM at 4.5 AU but with a highly eccentric orbit. He then realised that 2 planets: 1.8JM @ 8AU with 12 year period & 1.2 JM @ 4.7 AU with 26 year period, both with circular orbits fitted his data equally well.

In 1973 John L Hershey working on Barnard’s star concluded that there were no planets - the wobble was put down to glitches in equipment.

Peter van de K had his final word in August 1975 with the figures at 1JM @ 2.7AU & 0.4JM @ 4.2AU. Unfortunately this remains unconfirmed and is now generally considered to be highly improbable. (The truth is out there).

In 1984 Donald McCarthy using infrared speckle interferometry studied VB 8 & 10 from a catalogue of 12 stars, both of which showed astrometric evidence of companions. Observing at infrared takes advantage of the fact that a star will outshine a Jupiter-like planet by a far larger amount at visible wavelengths than at infrared wavelengths. This can make it 1,000 times easier to image a planet in infrared compared to visible light. Speckle interferometry is a technique that removes much of the image degradation caused by turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere.

In July 1991 Andrew Lyne at Jodrell Bank found a 10 earth mass planet around a pulsar. This was deduced by noting that the pulse arrival times fluctuated, which could be explained by the pulsar approaching & retreating due to the presence of a 10EM planet. However the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun had not been factored in. Sadly, when this was done, the 10EM planet vanished. However, in 1992 Alexander Wolszczan and Dan Frail found not one but two planets around the pulsar PSR1257+12. Their’s was no mistake.

Andy then told us about the use of Doppler shift spectroscopy to measure the radial velocity of stars. A blue shift indicates a star approaching us, & a red shift one that is receding. If a star’s radial velocity continually cycles between a blue shift and a red shift the only explanation can be that the star has an invisible companion forcing it around a reflex orbit. Measuring the magnitude of the radial velocity enables an estimate of the planet’s mass to be calculated.

In 1995 Michel Didier & Mayor Queloz observing 51 Pegasi identified this 1 solar mass star as having a 0.46JM planet orbiting in just 4.231 days i.e. very close to the star. There was much speculation about how it came to be there. It was unlikely to have formed at this location so was presumed to have formed further out and migrated in.

Spectroscopy was then able to detect radial velocities of 12 meters per second (now as little as 3 to 4 metres per second), which is the speed Jupiter induces in the Sun and therefore should be very capable of finding Jupiter sized planets with Jupiter sized orbits around other stars. Geoff Marcy & Paul Butler had started a long-term study expecting periods of 12 plus years (like Jupiter). They were not best pleased when they heard of the 51 Pegasi find with a radial velocity around 60m/s and a period in days ILO years. Subsequent analysis of their data showed they had recorded several stars with similar radial velocities so they were pipped at the post, although 51 Peg itself was not included in their survey. They had several stars with radial velocities around 60m/s recorded as early as 1987.

Andy showed an HST pic of an object designated TMR1C that was thought to possibly be an ESP but which is now known to be a background star.

In 1999 the first multiple planet system was identified. Then in 2001 the first multiple with circular orbits.

To date 111 ESP from 0.11 to 17.5JM have been found going around 100 stars. Andy pointed out with a set of diagrams showing the way the measurements are taken that the sizes given may be incorrect because the actual angle of the plane of the orbits is not known relative to the Earth. It is possible that the planets are much larger than the figures given.

As I said earlier all without notes. Genius perhaps.

10th March 2004

Beginner’s Night

It’s a dreary evening out there so we are inside yet again anticipating something of interest.

Mike kicked off by reminding us of the ‘Treasures of a Saxon King’ exhibition in the old library at Southend on Thursday 11th to which we are all invited.

Mike then showed us Jim’s pics of Jupiter, which he had sent around to our group, which were excellent showing the red spot very well. It’s actually a rather pale pink these days. Then Mike showed us a stunning view of Saturn taken by the Casini probe, which is due to arrive in June. He then seemed to be proving that there was life on Mars after all with what appeared to be a rabbit. But it was not to be, this time anyway, as it was allegedly some debris from the landing, which is blowing about in the wind.

It was the Hubble’s turn next with its latest stunner, which is termed Ultra Deep Field. This shows an amazing number of galaxies going back 13.3 million light years i.e. most of the way back to the Big Bang.

Mars had another go with some unusual shots by the resident probes of the Martian moons Deimos & Phobos eclipsing the Sun or at least passing in front of it.

Then some super shots of a star exploding showing the gas & dust being illuminated by the light pulse travelling further out with time.

He then explained that if you wanted to see a white dwarf star there was one to be found in Eridanus near Omicron-2Erid. In case you think this isn’t exciting enough there is a red dwarf in the same system.

Gerald got on his feet then to tell us about his Meade LX90 Schmidt Cassegrain telescope (8inch). Cost £1795.

He started with the tripod explaing that it made life easier later if you took the trouble to get the top plate level by careful adjustment of the legs before mounting the tube & fork assembly, this is held by a single bolt coming from underneath which also passes through a spreader plate to brace the legs.

He then connected the power lead from his leisure battery. He said the set-up included 8 C cells inside the unit but the bigger battery saved the little ones. The Auto-Star Go-To was then plugged in. Gerry explained that you needed to tell the system if you were using an external battery because there was a anti wrap feature to prevent the power feed being tied round the scope. On the C cells it would always take the shortest route from object to object. After installing a 26 or 32mm eyepiece he explained the set-up procedure. Starting by pointing the scope at the Pole Star then following a simple procedure with 2 prominent stars to let the computer know where the scope was.

Gerry pointed out that he used the scope in altizimuth mode but that a wedge was available that made timed exposures better because only one of the two would be required to track an object.

In answer to a question from the floor he explained that the central obstruction did not interfere with the incoming light. Brian chipped in that the obstruction (Which carries the secondary mirror) is deliberately positioned to be at the point of maximum out of focus.

Gerry said that one object the Go-To would not find is the Sun. Too Dangerous. This had to be found manually. However as compensation it boasted 30,000 objects in the database including artificial satellites. You can also add up to 200 of your own. Meade has a feature where new data can be downloaded direct into the handset. The database also included a ‘guided tour’ of the best things on view on the day. Gerry explained that after several months of use if the drives got sloppy there was a procedure to ‘retrain’ them.

Gerald then moved to his smaller instrument a Meade ETX90, which is a Matsutov, Cost £600. This has a very similar set up procedure to the bigger scope. The tripod has a built in wedge adjustment which can be set to the angle you require for the latitude. This scope again runs from the leisure battery or 8 internally mounted AA cells. Gerry explained that he uses this one a lot because it will go onto his car’s back seat without taking the scope off the tripod. He tends to ouse it for looking at the sun and sketching the positions of sunspots.

Dave Smith took the floor to tell about three rather large files, all of the moon which are downloadable from the Internet but because of their size it is a very long job even with broadband. But never fear all you have to do is let Dave have a disc and he will copy it for you. What an offer.

He demonstrated them all to us of course. The most recent acquisition is a Geological map of the moon. It can show the moon from any of 6 directions. Normal front view, back view, East, West, North & South. You can perhaps see why the file is large.

The other two are the Virtual Moon Atlas & The Rukl Atlas both of which we have seen previously. The VMA is as it says an atlas of the moon allowing you to move around areas of interest, centre them zoom in and see photographs. Pretty impressive.

The Rukl is a set of actual photos of the moon but without labels so you have to know your way around rather better. But in combination with the VMA it works very well.

Dave used both the VMA & Rukl now to show us an area shaped a bit like a diamond in the upper LH part of the disc. He explained that the area contained Aristarcus, which is the brightest spot on the moon, it can be seen when in shadow. (Try it & see). The VMA told us the crater is 24 miles across & 9100ft deep.

He then moved to Herodotus, which is next door and is 21 miles across & 4,400ft deep.

Dave then showed us the Vallis Schroter, which is a rille valley 6miles wide 97 long & 3,000ft deep.  Then we had a look at Prinz crater, which is 29miles across 3100ft deep and has been filled in with laver long long ago.

In the expert hands of our observing director it came alive. He keeps telling us he is very much a beginner himself - but I’m impressed.

3rd March 2004

Ted – CCD Adventures

This being the first of five weeks when we are relocated from our comfy little church to the adjacent church hall - we are very grateful to one Derek Owen who is caretaker of the church and realised that the car parking would be impossible with the normal Wednesday contingent plus the lent bible class lot. He thoughtfully opened the gate into the field to allow us to park in a proper manner.

Ted explained that his pictures were dating from the early 90s when he first invested in the delights of the new technology afforded by these new fangled thingamajigs - CCD cameras. They are similar to video camera in their operating system i.e. able to collect a lot of data quickly.

However Ted was quick to point out they do not exactly make things easy. He also felt that the title of the talk was perhaps a trifle ‘big’. He is of the view that he has not had that many adventures - but rather a lot of tribulation. Nevertheless he was happy to share the results with us.

He started with a view of the moon which was pretty good but explained that the field of view was very limited compared to film cameras. Perhaps a tenth the area of sky. So the view of the full moon was the result of lots of images stitched together with the might of Photoshop plus plenty of expertise from our Ted. Objects such as M31 the Andromeda Galaxy cannot adequately be imaged.

Ted was of the view that the fact that a lot of image processing was necessary was a distinct advantage as it had improved his skills in this department no end. (Every cloud has a silver lining). Ted showed us many moon pics all of which were first class ending with a superb crescent moon.

Then Ted moved to a wonderful image of M13 a globular cluster. Followed by M27 & M42.

Then we moved to the planets with images of Mars & Saturn, which were recognizable but not good. Ted explained that the ploy for this type of object is to take a lot of images & stack them, but back in the dark days of 1993 he was simply not aware of this.

He gained however some grainy shots of the Jupiter impacts of comet Schumacher-Levy that was a major accomplishment to record this amazing phenomenon.

He also showed some passably good images of a couple of comets which were nicely, or not depending on your point of view, framed by his neighbour’s tree branches.

Ted sadly reported that by 1997 he had become less than enchanted with CCDs and was firmly of the view that film was very superior. He was also having problems with the drives on his 16inch scope and took to going off to Las Palma to get some decent sky and take some decent proper pics.

However he then acquired a new CCD camera with a wider field of view (FOV). He rapidly showed images of M13 & the Dumbbell Nebula. He started to get involved with doing FOV & tracking tests.

He realised that the 16inch needed a proper refurbishment. This included renewing the bearings that the instrument is mounted on. These as you may imagine are pretty substantial. He is happy to report that this work is now in its final stages.

Ted said that he began to get involved with taking colour images which necessitate taking images through colour filters red, green & blue (RGB) this involves taking separate images through the various filters & then combining them. He was not overly impressed with his results. Then one of his pals & a friend of the club Nik pointed out the that he had the filters mixed up & more importantly he had used a piece of plain glass in lieu of an infrared filter which is crucial to the process.

It was wonderful of Ted to share his experiences with us warts and all. Just think how good he will be when it is all put together.

25th February 2004


Well Dave Smith excelled himself tonight. We had a pretty good night out in the yard. A total of 18 instruments were in use from low power bins to the club’s own extra big ones - both tripod mounted through to Jim’s 20inch Dobsonian. With no less than three 12inch jobs on the way. Two were Dobs owned by Matt S & Robert the other Dave Smith’s conventionally mounted, which we saw in some detail two weeks ago in the hall.

The Moon was a delightful crescent with both Saturn & Jupiter ideally placed. There were plenty of star clusters but deep sky was marginal as the seeing was not very good but we were definitely not complaining. Beggars cannot be choosers as they say.

John Horwood joined us from the church to liase with us over the use of the alternate room starting March 3rd. He seems to enjoy the event and looked through many of the scopes spending the whole evening.

18th February 2004

Mike – The Sky at Many Wavelengths

Ted announced that an object near M78 in Orion had been spotted and was thought to be a super nova it was mag 15/16 so telescopes will be required.

Ted also responded to a question from the floor that dates for the Hertford Uni trip were still undecided but was likely to be either 5th or 12th as previously advised.

Steve reminded us of the invitation to members and their immediate family to a private viewing of the archaeological finds in Southend for 11th March. We will get an idea of numbers next week.

Mike started off with a graph, which depicted the various electromaghgnetic radiations of which visible light is but a small fraction. There was a load with longer wavelengths such as infrared & radio and a similar bunch the other side with shorter wavelengths such as ultra violet, X-ray & shortest of all Gamma-ray.

Mike’s first slide was superb - a whole sky picture in visible light. It took the form of an oval with the Milky Way domination the centre horizontally showing the central bulge also showing the Large & Small Magellanic clouds - our sister galaxies & the Andromeda Galaxy our closest neighbour. Large areas are dark where dust is obscuring the view. The remainder was studded with sporadic stars.

Mike advised that the Milky Way was 100,000lys (light years) across and we are roughly on the central plane about 25,000lys in from one side. This means we have to look through a whole lot of stars & dust to see anything of the rest of the universe.

Mike said that the slides were all of the same format but were taken with varying wavelengths to show the amazing changes.

The next slide was the Radio Sky. This survey was taken using the wavelength 73cm. The brightest horizontal band showing the most intense radio emission. Above the plane of the galaxy there is a very large feature known as the North Polar Spur, which is thought to be the remnant of a super nova explosion about 300,000 years ago.

Mike’s next slide was of the 21cm wavelength, which is mainly the due to the element Hydrogen which is both the simplest & the most abundant. This wavelength is of particular use because it allows astronomers to decipher the structure of the galaxy. One fact that has emerged it that the galaxy rotates at different rates at different distances from the centre.

The next slide shows the Microwave sky at 12mm wavelength. This data was collected using high altitude balloons launched from Brazil & Palestine. At this wavelength it is seen that the central plane is no longer so strong. This time the dominant feature is that the graph is asymmetric. The upper RH is strong whilst the lower LH is weak. It is thought that this may be a effect of the motion of the Earth against the background. The difference in the picture actually represents a difference in temperature of 3 thousandths of a degree Kelvin between the upper RH & the lower LH.

The next slide is of the Infrared Sky. Taken at wavelengths between 100 & 12 micrometers. A micrometer is 1 millionth of a meter. A third of the radiation of our galaxy is emitted in the infrared. It comes predominantly from the interstellar dust. The emissions are interesting in that they are not restricted to the plane of the galaxy but glow from all over the sky.

The next slide showed the X-Ray Sky. X-rays do not penetrate the atmosphere. These studies must be done from rockets or spacecraft. X-rays are divided into two subdivisions based on their energy. Low energy is known as soft & the higher energy ones hard. The map shown was the soft variety and was the result of 10 rocket flights over 7 years. It showed a general increase in intensity towards the galactic poles.

The last slide showed the Gamma-ray Sky. These are the most energetic form of radiation and similar to X-rays can only be studied from space. The study took 6.5 years to complete using an ESA COS-B satellite. Unfortunately the resolution was crude.

After coffee Mike moved on to some pretty pictures starting with a shot of Venus in Gemini explaining that Venus shows phases like the moon but is very bright so it is best viewed through a filter. It is bright enough to be seen in full daylight when a filter is not needed but there is the risk of accidentally picking up the sun so great care is needed. Mike showed an infrared image, which showed the chevron like patterns typical on the cloud layer.

He then moved to Orion probably the most interesting constellation because it contains so much. Betelgeuse, which is so big at 250million miles in dia. that if Earth was orbiting it we would be inside the sphere. Mike also showed the various areas of nebulosity including Barnards Ring & the Horsehead Nebula. He then showed a magnificent image of M42 followed by a detail pic of the trapezium.

The next was Canis Major including Sirius and the M41 cluster & the Beehive cluster.

There was much more but I ran out of notepaper - you should have been there.

Splendid stuff Mike.

11th February 2004

Beginner’s Night

Steve announced that an exhibition of the recent archaeological find in Southend was being set up shortly and the organisers worked for the Old Library i.e. with Steve & Mike. They had kindly offered a private viewing for members & their partners on Thursday11th March at 20.00. Excellent news.

Ted said that the dates he had for the Heretford Uni trip were 5th or 12th of March both Fridays.

Dave Smith got the floor at last to amuse & entertain us owing to his failure to provide a clear sky for observation.

Dave’s subject was ‘Observing Equipment’. There has been a great deal of chat on our chatroom recently on this subject so Dave had decided to show his own. To this end he was pretty much surrounded by the wealth of kit that he has accumulated in a relatively short time.

He listed each:- the smallest was his tripod mounted Swarovski 80mm HD birding scope & eyepiece which cost £1400.

The next was a Vixen VC200L mounted on a GPDX mount cost £2200, Mount alone is £700.

The last was another Vixen 300mm OTA cost £1010. Rings & plate for this added £83.

Then add a Skysensor 2000 Go To for £900.

Finally a field tripod for £360.

He added his favourite & the one he used the most was the Swarovski, which is substantially the smallest. The instrument is mounted on a speaker tripod with adjustable height and topped by a small mount enabling it to be moved equatorially. Dave pointed out that for the rather high sum of £45 he had acquired an adaptor to allow conventional telescope eyepieces to be used on the equipment.

Dave than assembled his GPDX mount to the tripod showing & explaing the sequence, then mounted the 200mm which is very like a Schmitt Cassegrain but lacks a corrector lens at the front, instead it has a smaller corrector much nearer the eyepiece. Dave explained that this arrangement meant that in use the dewing was significantly reduced compared to a Schmitt Cassegrain. The arrangement allowed a focal length of about 72inches from a scope that was less than 24inches long. The tube also featured a strap on the side which made it easier to handle.

Dave then connected up his Go To and went through the procedure for setting up, this included connection to a rather large leisure type battery.

Lastly Dave removed the 200mm & replaced it with the 300mm. The tube in this case is equipped with rings that allow the tube to be rotated to ensure the eyepiece of this Newtonian type reflector remained within reach.

Dave pointed out that the big advantage as far as he was concerned was the fact that the one mount was man enough to carry both of his tubes with the only change being the addition of some extra counter balance weights. And also meant one set of eyepieces did for three very different instruments.

Whilst we had coffee Dave allowed the assembled throng free range over his kit and valiantly attempted to answer their varied questions.

In the second part Dave got his laptop going via the digital projector to show us Skymap Pro, which is his preferred medium for finding his way around the sky.

He also showed the software included in our website which can be downloaded completely free of charge (well done Brendan).

Dave found for us several pretty pictures such as NGC 2392 the Eskimo Nebula, M35 an open cluster. Also mentioning Castor, which is a double star, which is difficult to resolve with smaller scopes. Adding that each of the components is itself a double.

Dave said that from a personal point of view if he was to look at M35 you just had to do M36, M37 & M38. All these points were accompanied by pretty pics some of which were his own.

Dave also used the Virtual Moon Atlas to show us the Alpine Valley, which is a long feature that was at one time thought to be a meteor graze but then a rill was spotted running down the middle which is thought to be of volcanic origin. He also showed us the Straight wall, which is 140km long and looks to be extremely steep but in fact has a angle of only 7 degrees so the slope extends for 23km.

Well an excellent run through of one man’s kit. It is probably the most difficult thing for any amateur astronomer to decide - which scope? It is certainly not to be rushed into. There are as many points of view as we have accomplished observers in the club.

Many thanks Dave Smith.

4th February 2004

Mike - Frantic Fill-In

A mention first for last week’s meeting (28th Jan) ice & snow ruled that day so Mike put out an email advising of the bad conditions recommending that we cancel. Ted who lives very close volunteered to come to see the brave hearts. The attendance consisted of Ted, Andy & Gerald plus several new members about 8 in all. Some of us can recall when this was a perfectly acceptable number on a regular evening. That was in the ‘good old days’. Apparently a good chat was had about scopes prior to an early end.

Also the Open Night scheduled for 31st January was a failure. We had an excellent turn out of members equipped with their kit it would probably have been a record but the weather ruled yet again. Several members of the public could not resist being there but apart from a 4 second glimpse of the moon it was not to be and the event was formally cancelled by about 18.15.

Back to the present this evening was supposed to be guest speaker but it just did not happen. So Mike -bless him - put together a slide show of Hubble pics of the Earth.

Ted begged the floor to announce a possible trip to Hertford Uni. to see their various telescopes. Ted advised that Nik Szymanek is involved with them in CCD imaging. There was a great deal of interest so it was agreed that we would make it a Friday & Ted will get some possible dates for next week.

Mike got the floor and gave a review of the sad Open Night and the hope that we enjoy better weather on the 27th March not looking too severely at Dave Smith.

He then set to with his preparation for the evening, which turned out to be a selection of splendid Hubble Space Telescope pics of the Earth. So instead of looking up it was the opposite.

It was also old technology i.e. a slide projector. Mike got started with a series of shots of the Namibian desert in SE Africa showing patterns of sand dunes. Rapidly followed by views of the Sahara then Australia. Mike finished with a dust storm in the Sahara. It was immediately obvious that it was difficult to understand what the features were - lots of fun was had guessing but Mike would come to the rescue with eloquent explanations from his crib sheet.

We then moved to Volcano calderas in the Galapagos Islands. Magnificent views of volcanic islands surrounded by coral reefs. We saw the Great Barrier Reef, which we learnt, is 25million years old & the largest structure made by a living organism.

Mike moved quickly on to round intrusions - where a massive granite structure has been pushed up through the surface of the Earth. Mike explained that these structures were often only discovered after the HST was in being because they are so large as to lack definition from the ground.

We saw impact craters in Australia & Quebec, anticlines & salt domes. Quickly followed by the Aswan Dam & Lake Nasser. Then Dendritic drainage patterns in the Yemen, Peruvian canyons, a river delta in Madagascar, The Sinai peninsular & Red Sea. Fault lines & Volcanoes then the Andes mountain range followed by a series of volcanoes including Tenerife & Nicaragua this last but certainly not least was erupting.

Excellent stuff enjoyed by a good crowd including Graham & Susan who were frustrated refugees from the Open Day.

21st January 2004

Mike & Gerald – Debate

Before we could get down to the business in hand this evening Andy pleaded to be allowed to share some momentous news with us. We grudgingly agreed. Andy took us back a couple of weeks to when he advised that he had been in touch with some boffins over errors in their quoted positions of many exoplanets. He had explained what he had done but did not say why. He now felt confident enough to explain that he was doing some research into these newly discovered phenomena for a possible article. This has now born fruit and he has been commissioned by Astronomy Now to write an article. They have seen his draft and asked for some modifications & additions. So we now have an author on the books. How about that?

Steve then got to announce the business of the evening, which was to be a debate between Gerald Costello & Mike Culley on the Motion:

“This house believes that a ‘go-to’ mount is better than a traditional alt-azimuth or equatorial mount, for a newcomer to the hobby of astronomy.”

Combatants had 15 minutes to state their case.

Gerald went first speaking for the motion.

He reluctantly admitted that a possible advantage of the traditional set up included a grass roots understanding, a cheap price and was definitely better if the enthusiasm was to wane after a short while.

Gerald, however, felt that the go-to along with running water & central heating was now a necessity for a better life. Whenever we look back to our childhoods things are remembered to be better but this is not really so.

The ‘Establishment’ tends to feel that traditional scopes are always better to aid the learning process. Gerald got into his stride here and asked what is wrong with the go-to. A new recruit needs to be encouraged, they want to see lots of exciting things quickly. Because of the area we live in the opportunities for observation are severely limited to perhaps 24 or so times per year. With traditional kit in a two-hour session one would probably find 4 or 5 objects. Whereas with a go-to after the 5 minute set up with only 1 minute to find each new object a great many could be seen with plenty of time to look & enjoy.

Gerald closed by stating that the go-to is a wonderful teaching aid providing the benefits of learning the positions of the constellations. The software included such wonders as ‘guided tours’ & ‘best of the night’ features’

Gerald ran out of time, which surprised him because he thought he would run our to things to say.

Mike followed speaking against the motion.

Mike’s opening remarks were very direct - in his view the go-to was not for beginners they were far too expensive and difficult for a novice to understand. Beginners should start off with the maximum amount of telescope for their money. Money for software was frivolous.

Beginners get a wonderful sense of achievement from finding an object themselves.

He used the analogy of a fisherman - comparing the pleasures of fishing with rod & line with the quicker strategy of using a hand grenade. The latter was effective but indiscriminate lacking the depth & joy of spending hours with the peace of rod fishing.

Mike felt that getting the next object with a click of a button was nothing compared to the intimacy of the deeper experience of hands-on astronomy. He recounted his experience at Thetford where the first night he used a traditional set up & thoroughly enjoyed himself. The second he used his go-to & whilst admitting to seeing a lot of objects he realised the shallowness of the experience. On the third night he used his binoculars finding this to be the best of all. There was a bonus here because he spotted a comet, which he did not expect to see. Later checking established that he unfortunately was not the discoverer but it still made his night.

Mike closed by stating that beginners just want to see the moon, Venus, Jupiter & Saturn the simple things they do not need the progression to difficult objects.

From his experience objects found in the traditional way will remain in the brain.

Mike timed it beautifully.

They then had 5 minutes each to reply.

Gerald said that clearly Mike had too much time on his hands and set about rubbishing Mike’s comments. Pointing out that a go-to could be set up very quickly indeed taking only 5 minutes. This maximised the amount of time left for simple observation with lots of time to look and compare various views. He felt that implying that beginners would be satisfied with 3 or 4 bright objects was untrue.

With respect to cost he said that a respectable, sturdy, small portable instrument such as the ETX 125 could be purchased for as little as £700 and should satisfy most people for the first 5 years of their hobby.

Mike set off by saying that some of Gerald’s remarks were inappropriate.

Mike asked what did we want from astronomy – we want to learn, understand & fully appreciate the subject. Mike likened the go-to to the Japanese tourist who ‘does’ London in 3 hours but fails to get a good knowledge of the city.

With the traditional approach the beginner will gradually really get to know the sky.

Mike admitted that after a thorough grounding the go-to had much to offer but he felt very strongly that it was not for the beginner.

The motion was then restated and to ensure there was no misunderstanding it was reiterated that Gerald was in favour of the motion & Mike was against.

The voting was very strongly if favour of the traditional approach; therefore Mike was declared the winner.

There was much more than I have indicated here including questions from the floor plus allocation of objects & duties for the rapidly approaching Open Night on 31st January.

It was another very excellent evening enjoyed by a good turnout including 3 new people.

14th January 2004

Dave Smith – Aids to observing the Moon

This evening was listed as ‘Observing/Beginners’ but due to the inclement weather we are indoors. Dave – who is our Observing Director, is just coming on stream to take some of the load off Mike when these fill-in talks become necessary. This is his first. Unfortunately I missed the first half hour so this précis will be lacking in depth.

Dave is rather keen on the moon and has gone to some pains to get from the Internet a program that can be downloaded free-of-charge called the Virtual Moon Atlas (VMA). It is very large so the download time is very long unless you have a broadband connection, which of course Dave has. By diligent use of the controls the width of craters can be measured. Or of course any other lunar feature. . He also gave a demonstration of a similar (reasonably priced but not free) program Lunar Phase Pro which he also uses.

The VMA includes a superb collection of photographs of the main lunar features. Each photo can be examined/enlarged. In this form Dave demonstrated how the system can show the libration of the moon to show the bits round the side. An amazing sight.

It is also possible to skip to the Consolidated Lunar Atlas (CLA), which is an actual photographic map that again shows the whole surface in great detail. Dave showed how to home in on the area of interest. He also gave a practical demonstration of how to see on the CLA features that are dependant upon how the light is striking the moon. For instance domes which are low inverted saucer shaped features not yet fully understood but thought to be volcanic in origin. They are so low that they can only be seen if the sun’s light is at a very low angle. Dave showed how the position of the terminator could be altered to provide just the right conditions to see the domes. Wonderful stuff!

Dave also told us about a site that provided an Astronomy Picture of the Day. Currently as you may imagine these are comprised of the absolutely stunning pics of Mars provided by Spirit. There is also available Lunar Pictures of the Day.

If you need details of any of these sites just talk to Dave.

If you thought it couldn’t get any better Dave also said he had copies of the free applications on CD. The important thing to remember is these views are utterly unaffected by clouds all you have to do is switch on the PC. How bad is that.

Well-done Dave - for a wonderful talk. It was enjoyed by an excellent attendance which included all 5 of the new people from last week plus Mike & Fred.

7th January 2004

Coffee Evening

Steve welcomed us all back for the New Year. It was certainly good to be back as many of us start getting withdrawal symptoms. Steve said Mike would be talking to us about the forthcoming Open Night scheduled for 31st January. However he could not resist telling us about Mike’s large Santa that had pride of place in an upstairs window. Takes all sorts eh?

Mike mentioned that he had provided himself with a most unusual present in the form of heated insoles for cold night observing. Apparently they run on 2 AA rechargeables & boast a duration of up to 6 hours. He passed them round for us all to see & be jealous. They have yet to be tried out. I’m sure we will be apprised of the outcome. Needless to say there were the usual run of jibes, as you would expect.

Mike asked if anyone had things to report over the festive season: -

•    Gerald mentioned that he was continuing his sun observations and advised that there was plenty of sunspot activity at the moment adding that on 7th December there were none at all.

•    Jim said he had imaged a distant comet with his new camera. He said it was currently very faint but would mature in a year to being mag. 0. Wonderful except that it will not be visible from here!!

•    Dave Smith suggested we use the link on the website to see some super pics of Mars from the latest probe there.

•    Andy announced that he had exchanged emails with a boffin on extra solar planets. Following his interest in this subject he had been perusing a website and noticed that the quoted positions given for some of the ESP’s was significantly different from his own understanding of the locations. So he plucked up the courage to tell Steve Voght of the Californian Carnegie website of his concerns. To his delight Steve agreed that he was right. So he went through the whole listing & advised of many errors which he was happy to report have been acted upon. Aren’t we proud of him?

Mike asked who was available for the open night. There was as usual a healthy response with 20 hands up with about a dozen bringing scopes. Mike said he would sort out allocation of objects nearer the time.

We went on cover subjects such as Dark Energy, images of distant galaxies, Beagle & Spirit Websites & a recent TV programme about a UFO sighting in Norfolk.

We ended the so-called formal bit with Brendan mentioning that he had secured recordings of all of Monica Grady’s Christmas Lectures. I had bagged first go at this as I had stupidly forgot to watch the first one; Steve C is next in line.

We then got down to the serious business of having a good chat plus of course the aforementioned coffee or tea etc.

It was pleasing to note that we had 35 people present, which must be a record for a first night back. Five of these were newcomers. Two had in fact been before and joined up there & then. The other three seemed to enjoy themselves so hopefully we will see them again.

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