Castle Point Astronomy Club
1969-2019 - 50th Anniversary Year
Castle Point Astronomy Club Diary 2008
by Andrew Mowbray

  Our Diary

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Wednesday 2nd January 2008

First meeting of the Year

As this was the first meeting back after the Christmas break, an informal coffee and chat evening was held.

Wednesday 9th January 2008

Observing Evening

As it was clear to start with, we had an observing night. It did cloud over during the evening, but we persevered and got some views through the breaks in the clouds.

Wednesday 16th January 2008

Andrew Mowbray - Strange things in the sky

The evening started with me giving a brief commentary on the Messenger mission to Mercury, which had made its first fly past the day before . I showed the first couple of images that had been sent back.

I them moved on to the main part of the evening, which was a talk by me on Strange things in the sky. Normally the Club does not discuss UFOs etc, not because of any intellectual snobbery, but because it is a subject in itself, and can be clouded by less than scientific points of view.

However it is the case that from time to time, as astronomers, we may see strange things in the sky. Moreover, we may be approached by other people who have seen them and want us to explain what it is . I therefore thought it would be useful to go through a variety of objects and phenomena that can appear strange if you don't know what they are.

Firstly I gave a couple of definitions. The first one was UFO. This  simply means Unidentified Flying Object , nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately when people here it, they automatically assume it must be a craft piloted variously by extraterrestrial beings, time travellers, creatures from other dimensions, or all manner of supernatural phenomena.

The second one was Alien. This can mean:

People always tend to assume the last one though

If you do see something strange, as an astronomer, you should be able to observe and record it in sufficient detail to be able to go away and find out, what it is, if you can't work it out straightaway. However, if someone else reports it to you, they may not have observed ti in such a manner. If is there fore important to find out when it was seen, where,  what it looked like, how many where there and how big was it. The state of mind of the observer is also important.

To illustrate this, I told a true story that I had been involved in. During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, increasing numbers of UFOs were sited. The reasons for this is a how subject in itself, but it did prompt a large amount of media coverage, speculation and literature. This is highlighted by such books as Erich von Däniken's "Chariots of the Gods" in which he claims Earth has been visited many times by aliens. All I can say is that as well as being a prolific author on the subject, he has also spent time in prison for fraud. However such books fuelled the speculation and in 1977, the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was released which rally set UFOs into the public imagination.

In 1978, I was living in a Chingford, a suburb of North East London, near the borders with Essex. During that summer there were lots of sightings of strange lights, landing at night on the reservoirs in the Lea Valley to the west of Chingford. There were also reports of craft ascending from near these reservoirs in both daytime and night time. There is no public access to these reservoirs and nothing was obvious as an explanation. People therefore assumed that these were UFOs landing and taking off form a secret base on the bottom of the reservoirs.

As it was the summer silly season and real news was in short supply, the editor of the local newspaper decided to hold a UFO watch. It was to be located at a place called Pole Hill, a high point on a ridge above Chingford which has superb views over London and the Lea Valley. It is also part of Epping Forest so is public open space and ideal for a gathering. Pole Hill also lies on the Greenwich Meridian and has a Obelisk which was use to north align the Bradley Transit telescope at Greenwich. In 1850, the meridian moved 19' to the east as ti was set by the Airy transit telescope, which is 19' east of the Bradley one at Greenwich. The new meridian is roughly marked by an Ordnance Survey spot height, but this is just cociendence.

I did not live very far from Pole Hill so on the Saturday night in question in August of 1978, my dog and i went up to the top of  the hill whilst it was still daylight. It was he most crowded I had ever seen it, with all sorts of eccentric characters present. Two of them approached me and asked where the nearest pub was. I told them, but asked if they were afraid they would miss any UFOs if they were in the pub. They replied that it was currently far too early for UFOS to be seen and they always saw them better after they came out of the pub!

I then described the various objects that can appear strange in the sky. I started with natural ones. The first one I mentioned were the Moon and Planets. The Moon can appear strange under various circumstances, especially when it is low to the horizon, obscured by cloud, or eclipsed. The planet Venus is frequently mistaken for a UFO and Jupiter, Saturn and Mars could be as well. Meteors  and comets can also be mistaken for UFOs.

Other natural effects include aurora, sun dogs, wild birds, lenticular clouds, mirages, St.Elmo's fire and ball lightning. Explanations for all of these can be found on the Internet.

I then covered man made objects which include aircraft, contrails, aircraft tailing banners, aluminised balloons, weather balloons, hot air balloons, helium balloons, air ships, blimps, Zeppelins, toy hot air balloons, solar power airships, fireworks, flares, the ISS, satellites, space junk, iridium flares, Thai Lanterns, laser shows, searchlights and fakes.

I finished by mentioning that the UFOs seen over the Lea Valley in the 1970s had to causes. The lights on the reservoirs was apparently the secret testing of model submarines and the ones going into the sky were test firings from the many military research establishments in the area at that time. It is not unknown for the military to use UFO  stories as cover for their tests. The stealth bombers are a good example of this.

Wednesday 23rd January 2008

Beginners' Evening

Mike started the evening off by introducing a video that had been done by Ed's wife during our recent visit to the Greenwich Observatory. After the video, Mike did some news stories on various types of black hole that had recently been discovered. He also mentioned an  asteroid 2007 TU24 which comes within 1.4 lunar distances on the Earth on 29th January 2008.

After the break I did a presentation of Mercury which was a recap of my previous talk followed by new pictures from the Messenger probe which which made its first flyby on 15th January 2008. It will make two more flybys before going into orbit in 2011.

Wednesday 30th January 2008

The Martian Chronicles

Tonight members brought in their pictures of taken during the current Mars opposition. These included photographs, sketches and paintings. All in all, it was a nice record of the planet's current passage though the sky.

Wednesday 6th February 2008

Winter Picture Roundup

I was away for this one so no report I'm afraid.

Wednesday 13th February 2008

Beginners' Evening

Mike started the evening by going through the arrangements for the forthcoming open evening.

George then did a presentation on Cosmic Jets and Disks. He discussed star formation.  Gas clouds collapse and start nuclear fusion to form stars. The Orion nebula is a good example. The nuclear fusion starts when the gas is squashed enough. E=mc2 shows how a small amount of mass conversion creates an enormous amount of energy.

Converting hydrogen to helium makes most of the energy. Conversion to heavier elements also takes place, especially when the hydrogen in a star runs out.

Black holes produce almost 10 percent

The star SS443 is a rare example of an eclipsing x ray binary, one of the stars is normal, the other one is a black hole. A jet of material shoots out from the system as a result. It makes two cork screws of radio disturbance. The jets are made of plasma. As they move in the stars magnetic fields, they make a current.

He then did a demonstration with a Victorian toy, the  Crooks radiometer. It shows radiation how radiation pressure works. He shone a light onto a rotating set of blades inside a glass vacuem and the pressure of the light pushes them around. (Actually it is a trick, but it shows the idea.). Objects move along magnetic lines to form jets. Computers can now model it. Can also model solar system formation.

The Earth's magnetic field creates plasma and energy and throw it out along spin access.

In neutron stars, they shrink and strong magnetic fields get huge bursts of radiation.

We have tried to duplicate the processes on Earth. Russians did a fusion test. The Japanese had a magnetic train which squirted out charged sea water as a propellant .

Magnetic loops on the Sun, winding up and unwinding, cause sunspots and solar flares.

He also mentioned how there has been agalxay found which is sending a jet into another one..

Eddie then showed his Mars rotation animation. He took 44 avi files over many nights to get around 110, 000 frames. Some of them were good and some were bad and he had to sort thought to find the good ones. He stacked them and then made these frames into a movie of one complete rotation of the planet.

He used program called Iris. It takes the time of an image, knows what Mars was doing at that point, and then projects it to a partial cylindrical projection. He needed enough of these to cover the whole globe. He then used Photoshop to paste them all together. He then matched colours and quality. There was a loss of some data at the poles so he smoothed them out.

A complete map was then produced.  They were then reprojected on to a globe to 360 images with 1 degree difference between them. These were joined together to make the movie. He is now looking using the data to look at Mars from any vantage point in space.

Wednesday 20th February 2008

Mark Gallaway - T-Tauri -A story of Stellar Teenagers

Mike started the evening with a brief report on the Open Night at Hadleigh Country park which was held last Saturday. We had wonderful clear skies and as a result, despite it being very cold, we had over five hundred visitors.

We then moved on to the main talk of the evening. We were fortunate to have Mark Gallaway, a former member of CPAC and now a researcher at the University of Hertfordshire,  give a talk on T-Tauri stars. He explained the history of these erratic variable stars and then went on to explain how they are very young, small stars which have an accretion disk round them and give off jets of material and radiation,. Their behaviour is also similar in terms of its physics to active galactic nuclei.

Wednesday 27th February 2008

Beginners' Evening

Tonight we had a demonstration by Ed, Mike, Terry and myself on how to polar align a German equatorial mount. We also showed how to use the setting circles. A webcam attached to the screen was used for the close up work.

Wednesday 5th March 2008

Dave Smith - Astrophotography

Dave started by demonstrating what a digital single reflex lens camera was and how to use it. They can be mounted on a tripod or slaved to a telescope. He demonstrated the various shutter speeds and ISO speeds that can be used.

He then demonstrated how to use software to enhance photographs and being out detail.

It was a very interesting practical demonstration.

Wednesday 12th March 2008

Beginners' Evening

Mike went thorough a series of news items. One of these was the Peruvian meteor. this has now been confirmed as genuine and appears to have come through the atmosphere without burning up which is very unusual. It may have changed shape during re-entry into a long cone shape which may explain why it did not burn up. It is a cause for concern as it seems much smaller items than previously thought can come through the atmosphere. It was suggested by Dave that has it had landed high in the Peruvian Andes, it had a lot less atmosphere to come through.

Mike said the Cassini probe had approached within 50km of Enceladus today at 1900GMT. It was going to try and scope material from the volcano like features on that Moon around Saturn.

A death star had been found. this was 8000 light years away and positioned in such a way that if it went supernova, which is a possibility, it would irradiate the Earth with a gamma ray burst which would be very bad news for us.

The operation of the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity is being run by an all woman team at NASA this month, This is the first time this has happened.

Mike rounded the evening off by looking at what was currently available for viewing in the night sky.

Wednesday 19th March 2008

Claire Reed - Preserving the past

Mike briefly went through the open night. It rained!

Then Claire Reed, a colleague of Mike's, is the Conservation Officer for the Southend Museum Service. Her job is to look after all the exhibits, both on show and in storage at all four of the Borough's museums. These are the Central one, Southchurch Hall, Priory Park and Beecroft House in Westcliffe. As tow of them are listed buildings, she gets involved in the preservation of the buildings themselves as well.

She described the various threats to artefacts from light, pollution, corrosion and insects. She ahs to look out for the signs of these and take measures to prevent or cure them. She also restores old objects which have been neglected, have suffered damage or have been broken and she showed us pictures of some of our work.

All in all , it was a very entertaining evening.

Wednesday 26th March 2008

Beginners' Evening

Mike went through some news items tonight. We then had a discussion about our favourite moments in astronomy. This included eclipses, meteor watches and the first time people looked at different objects.

Wednesday 2nd April 2008

Andrew Mowbray - Neptune

Tonight I gave a talk on the planet Neptune. I went through how it was discovered, its weather, composition, interior, its moons and its rings.

Wednesday 9th April 2008

Beginners' Evening

Tonight Mike went through some news items. He reported on Kelling Heath which was cold with snow on the Monday just after he left. There was some clear seeing though.

He reported that the object known as the Omega Globular Cluster may be a stripped galaxy. He showed pictures of  a proposed mobile moon base.

He said that cosmic ray detectors were now being placed on computer chips. Cosmic rays can cause chips to temporarily lose data so the detector will warn them and tell them to repeat the instruction. There was a brief discussion about whether if lead shielding could stop it

Mike reported that  a new extra solar system has been found. It is half the size of our one.

We then had a look around the spring sky.

Wednesday 16th April 2008

Ed Goward - Light Pollution

Mike started by giving a brief account of the Open Night which took place last Saturday night. Despite the weather being partially cloudy, we still had 150-200 people turn up.

Ed then gave us a talk on light pollution. He went through ways of reducing it in an urban environment. He including using screens, negotiating with neighbours and positioning your scope where it will get the least light. He said you also set up your scope to be as easiest to use as possible in the daytime, so when night arrives, you won't waste time in setting up.

He showed a light pollution map of the area. Around here, the limiting magnitude is 4.25, which means you will just about see the brightest stars in Ursa Minor, (The Little Plough). He then said that it you still wanted a darker site, you could try the Club's Dengie dark site. This is only available to Club Members and can only be used by prior arrangement. Here the limiting magnitude is 4.75 which means you will see thousands of stars.

For darker skies still, (5.5), try the Kelling Star Party in Norfolk. Another place to try is the Field View Bed and Breakfast in Norfolk, which is set up for astronomers or Maddog Wells in Wales, another specialist place.

Wednesday 23rd April 2008

Beginners' Evening

Mike went through some news items.

A statue of Leika the first Russian dog to go into space has been unveiled.

Off course Soyuz capsules, may cause problems for ISS supply flights.

Steve Hawkins has been speaking. he has said there is a need to embrace space flights. He dismisses UFOs as work of cranks and weirdos..

An ancient out burst of the black hole at centre of the Milky Way galaxy has left echoes of it which reached Earth in ancient times.

Andy then did an update on the cosmic ray detector in chips mentioned two weeks ago. A computer chip has been developed that can tell when it has been interfered with cosmic rays and repeat the instruction. It has been asked why can't they be shielded with lead?

Primary cosmic rays, rarely reach the ground, only secondaries. The Earth's surface does get some though.. They are fast moving ions and electrons. Ninety percent of them are protons. Somehow they get very high energies, but no one knows how. They can get a mile underground, so lead no good as a shield.

How much energy do they have? Up to 10x20eV, so one proton has equivalent to tennis ball moving at 180mph. Their penetration power due to structure of material and what happens on impact. The cosmic ray doesn't actually hit the particle on the ground. It goes straight through as a lot of room in an atom as they are essentially empty space. They interacts with particles by force interaction, therefore lead can't block it.

Mike then did a me and my gear section on his binoculars. He had come back to them as they are wind proof and easy to use. 15x70s can be used without a tripod on a sun lounger. At Kelling Heath he looked at star clusters etc and found them very good.

Wednesday 30th April 2008

Astronomers'' Question Time

Tonight I chaired an astronomers' question time. The panel consisted of Pete, George, Mike and Eddie. We had questions on quark stars, the difference between seeing and transparency and quite a few other things.

Wednesday 7th May 2008

Andrew Mowbray - Jupiter

Tonight I did a talk on the solar systems biggest planet. I covered everything from Galileo's first observations, right through to the latest probes.

Wednesday 14th May 2008

Beginners' Evening

Tonight Mike did some general news items. The first one was news on Jupiter's rings. The strange effects in them are aused by static on particles passing into the shadow of planet and then out again.

He played an audio clip of the sounds of Saturn. These were radio emissions recorded by the Cassini probe converted to audio frequencies. They sounded very strange.

He then talked about Bigelow who are a private company that launches its own inflatable satellites called Genesis. The main scheme will launched in 2011. They currently have test ones in orbit.

He then talked about whipped cream in space. Experiments were carried out in orbit using a substance similar to whipped cream which is a flow shearing liquid. No one was sure how this works so they did tests on it in orbit using Xenon which an inert gas. The one slight problem was that the data was on the Columbia space shuttle. The hard drive from this shuttle has now recovered so the data has been retrieved.

He mentioned a lens less telescope. An array of grids can be used which will focus onto a point. The array of grids would be mounted on one space craft and the sensor on the other. The two craft would be a long way part giving an incredible focal length. it has been shelved as it not yet practical. It could be put on the Moon.

He then did an item about compact galaxies. Images from the Hubble of very old galaxies which are small, but have same mass as ours so must be very dense have been released.. There are far too many of them to be able to have become the ones we have now so it is a puzzle.

He talked about detecting extra solar planets. Finding Earth like ones may be achieved by looking for the light of their star glinting off their oceans..

He then did two items on aliens. Firstly why is it only the USA that have a SETI programme? It could be due to uncertainty avoidance. Countries that have a low measure on this are willing to take on ambiguous projects.

The second item was the release this week of  UFO documents by the National Archive office. Most can be explained, but there area few puzzles in there.

Wednesday 21st May 2008

Spring Picture Roundup

Tonight we had a good selection of members' pictures on display. As well as the regular contributors, there were some new faces amongst the photographs and drawings. Well done to all those who brought along their images. Many hours work obviously went into them.

Wednesday 28st May 2008

Beginner's Evening

This evening several of us brought along our laptops. We then loaded on a program written by Mike which simulated galaxies colliding. We all ran various simulations to see if we could get patterns that looked like pictures of real galaxies. A few fo us managed to achieve it.

Wednesday 4rh June 2008

Mike Culley - Astro Quiz

I was away for this one!

Wednesday 11th June 2008

Beginner's Evening

This evening we had a "Me and my scope" session. Two newcomers had brought along a Bresser F13 refractor on an equatorial mount which they anted advice on. Tt had standard 25mm, 9mm and 4mm eyepieces with it and a 2 times Barlow.. Mike hosted the evening and various Members present offered advice on it..

The equatorial mount. was set to 51 degrees, our distance north from the equator. The mount was then pointed at North to align it. It can then be pointed at an object. They centred the finder scope. It was noted there wad no auto off for the red dot finder. They were advised to sight to fixed object the finders cope on a distant fixed object to align it.. The sight on an object and use the slow motion drive to follow it.

A sand bag can be hung on the tripod to balance it. it was noticed there is some play in in the tripod.

After the break, Eddie did a section on the film "The Dish" which was set in the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. It was used to send back the Moon Landing pictures. Neil Armstrong over rode the flight plan for the first moon walk and did it first. They should have had a sleep first. When they first started tracing it at Parkes the Moon hadn't risen. By the time Armstrong had got out, the Moon had moved into field of view of the telescope. They had to track it during a storm. Eddie showed a clip of the film.

The picture did not come from Parkes straight away. It came from Goldstone and Honeysuckle Creek. Parkes could not talk direct to Houston as they were on different radio nets. He played audio and video clips of the different feeds.

his all gave quite a different view of the Moon landings.

Wednesday 18th June 2008

Prof. Malcolm MacCallum - Gravity Waves

This evening we had a talk on gravitational waves and the methods being used to detect them. Prof. MacCallum discussed the theory behind them and the various methods being used to detect them. I won't attempt to explain it all here. You should have been there!

Wednesday 25th June 2008

Beginners' Evening

First up tonight I told a story of  some flying saucers that had been videoed by a member of the public over Merseyside. They had been reported on the BBC website. After viewing the footage, I decided they were Thai lanterns, which are small hot air balloons that are often released at this time of year. i e-mailed the BBC and told them. I had no reply, but later in the day the story disappeared off the front page of the site!

MIke mentioned that to cover costs, Members will now be charged on nights when there is an outside speaker.

Mike then read out some news. The first item was lunar explosions. Quadrantid meteors had been seen hitting the Moon. Comet Enke has been seen dropping bits on it too. This phenomenon can be seen by amateurs.

He then did an item on Salty Mars. Water is needed for life on Mars, but rocks are very salty ,so life is unlikely even in the past.

He then did item item on Dust. Due to dust, galaxies are only half as bright in visible light as they could be.

He mentioned that the shape of the our Galaxy is believed to be a barred spiral. The Sun is in between arms.

He mentioned a Pulsar which behaves in an unusual way

He finished by saying that a Buzz Lightyear figure has been sent to the ISS. It will be used to introduce fun elements to space into USA education.

Ed Goward then did an item on Barnard's star.

He hot interested in it last year when he got a copy of the Sky and Telescope Pocket Star Atlas just after it was published. He saw Barnard's star and decided to find it. It is magnitude 9.5 so he should be able to see it.

Edward Emerson Barnard lived from 1857 to 1923. He lost his father before he was born so he started work at the age of nine in photographer's shop. He built his first scope, then went for bigger and bigger ones. He got 5" refractor which cost two thirds of his annual income. Found two comets before he was 25. He then went to university and found ten more.

He then joined Lick Observatory. It had the new 36" scope which was the biggest in the world at the time. He found Jupiter's fifth moon which was the last one to be found visually. He also found many other things.

In 1916 he discovered the star with the largest proper motion. It was much smaller than Sun. It is a red dwarf  of low mass and temperature compared to the Sun. It is 5.9 light years and is the closest star we can see in North. it was named Barnard's Star after him.

It moves across the sky at10 arc seconds per year. This is an apparent distance of the size of one and a half Jupiters every seven years. It is approaching us at 87 miles per second, but will eventually veer off.

It could have planets around it. All of the constellations would look the same from there bar one. The Sun would be in Orion.

In 1960s thought they had found planets but probably due to errors. Where is it? Eddie handed star charts on how to find it.

Wednesday 2nd July 2008

Paul Hewett - Using gravitational lensing surveys to help understand what dark matter might be

This evening we had a very interesting talk on gravitational lensing and ho wit might be used to detect dark matter. First Paul explained how gravitational lensing worked. Light rays are bent by large gravitational masses such as galaxies or black holes. Objects behind them can therefore appear as a ring around the object or on either side. Distant objects can also be brightened by the effect as light going in other directions is bent towards us. Einstein predicted this effect and it has now been observed. By using this, dark matter may be seen to be bending light as well.

Wednesday 9th July 2008

Beginners' Evening

Terry started the evening by showing a solar viewing video that he had prepared for Saturday's Village Fayre at the Church. It included some stunning shots of the Sun.

Mike ten demonstrated his image souvenir program which can capture web cam pictures of objects and produce a certificate. We will be using it on Saturday at the Fayre..

The dates for next year's open nights were provisionally set. as 31st January 2009,  7th March 2009 and 4th April 2009.

On 20th August there will be a meeting at Southend Museum. The rest of the summer programme was set and can be found on the programme page.

Suggestions for programme items for next year were then asked for and debated. Suggestions included:

Wednesday 16th July 2008

Summer Picture Roundup

Once again we had a fine selection of astronomy pictures and drawings from a wide variety of members. The evening included a report on the Village Fayre held last Saturday at the Church where we had a good response from the public.

Wednesday 3rd September 2008

Social Evening

The normal informal gathering that we hold on the first evening back after the summer break.

Wednesday 10th September 2008

Beginners' Evening

There was just a little to much high cloud around for an observing night so we retired indoors.

Mike welcomed us all and gave out the programme for the second half of the year. It was noted that the A.G.M. had been moved to the 8th  October and was not as shown on the programme.

He then gave a round up of the Committee meeting and handed out the FAS newsletter.

Ed announced that there were books and magazines up for grabs in the kitchen..

Mike then did some astronomy news.

He announced that Alexander Courage, the creator of the Star Trek theme has died. Apparently Gene Roddenberry had written lyrics for it which were never used, but entitled him to half the royalties for it!.

The Sun has been very quiet, but is now showing some activity. It could be the start of the next cycle.

An Asteroid Impact is believed to have altered life on Earth when it exploded over Canada 12,900 years ago spreading dust and causing a mass extinction. It spread diamonds, gold and silver as far as the USA. Indians traded with them 2500 years ago.

Noctilucent Clouds have been seen after sunset. They are a very recent phenomenal, possibly due to volcanic dust. They are getting stronger and spreading south. They have been seen in Iran. The AIM satellite is monitoring them. They are caused by ice crystals and have been seen 50 miles up from the ISS.

Mike reported that some tough critters have been found. These are bacteria that can suspend their life in outer space and return to life on Earth.

The ISS fired its rocket engines on 28th August to avoid space junk. This is the first time in 5 years. It also has a computer virus, carried up on a USB stick. Fortunately, it is not on any critical systems.

He showed some pictures of clouds on Mars taken from the Phoenix lander.

He said that lakes on Titan have liquid ethane in them.

The brightest star in the Galaxy has been seen in the infra red. It is 26,000 light years away.

On 9th October 2007, Puppis Nova became a bright X-ray source. Observers say a very faint visible star there. It was a a nova.

NGC 6791 has three different natural clocks in it. this has caused a dispute on its age. It is near the Ring nebula.

The Orion Nebula has new born stars in it. Binary stars should form at same time, but these haven't. It may knock out star age measurement.

A Galaxy Zoo object has been found. It is a very big  green object, next to a galaxy. It has made the Dutch school teacher who found it famous.

Some of us went to the dark site a few weekends ago. It was a very good evening, especially for  Binocular users with reclining chairs!.

As the sky had now cleared a little, Mike took the laser pointer outside to show some new members the sky.

Wednesday 17th September 2008

Mike Culley - The Literary Astronomer

In a change to our advertised event which had to be cancelled due to the speaker being unable to attend, Mike jumped into the breach with an evening on astronomy in literature.

He first discussed Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" where the hero visits Liliput, Brobdinag and Laputa. It has references to  Mars and comets. He mentioned that the inhabitants of one of the fictional lands used telescopes and predicted the two Moons for Mars before their discovery. He did this by logical deduction

Mike then discussed "The Jewel of Seven Stars" by Bram Stoker. It was all about bringing mummies to life. One version has footnotes by Mike Culley!

He always used similar plots for all his stories. This one had a strong Plough theme. An image on a box of the Plough has magical powers when exposed to real Plough and helps raised the mummy.

He finished with "Two on a Tower" by  Thomas Hardy. This has been discussed before. I will let you find the previous entry!

Wednesday 24th September 2008

Beginners Evening

Quite a few of the Members had already departed for the Star Party at Kelling Heath, but some of us stayed behind to hold the fort.

Andy Turner did some current news items during the first half of the evening started with some news items. In the second half I gave a guided tour of the night sky using the Starry Night Backyard planetarium software. I also demonstrated how the software worked.

Wednesday 1st October 2008

Dr Carolin Crawford - The Phoenix Lander and Mars

We were fortunate to have Dr Carolin Crawford make another visit to the Club tonight. She started by discussing Mars and the chances of finding life there. She then discussed previous missions and their findings.

There are currently two rovers and one static lander on Mars, as well as satellites in orbit. All of these are working together to map the whole surface and alo look for water and possibly life. The two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity have been active for four years. Ty landed near the equator on opposite sides of the planet and have been sending back data and pictures on the terrain and rock formations.

The Phoenix lander is the latest probe to land. This landed in the polar region and can dig up and analysis the surface. It has discovered water ice and is currently in a race against time to obtain as much information as possible before the Martian winter arrives and freezes it forever.

She finished by discussing the future missions that are planned including a sample return (to Earth) and possible manned missions. She said it was vital that the issue of any life on Mars was settled before humans go and contaminate it.

The talk was accompanied by superb illustrations and was a very enjoyable evening.

Wednesday 8th October 2008

A.G.M. - Observing Evening

We started the evening with the Annual General Meeting. this took a few minutes. We then went out side to do some observing.

Wednesday 15th October 2008


Tonight we held a debate on the changes the hobby has seen over the last thirty years and what we expect to see for the future. All took part and it was a very thought provoking evening.

Wednesday 22nd October 2008

Observing Evening

We went outside and observed.

Wednesday 29th October 2008

Kelling round up

Members showed the pictures and photographs that they had taken at the Autumn Star Party at Kelling Heath in Norfolk. These included pictures of possibly the world's smallest portable 12" Dobsonian.

Wednesday 5th November 2008

Autumn Picture Roundup

Terry did an item on planes and the now long gone Southend Airport Museum.

Chris, Pete and Eddie then showed some of the astronomy pictures that they had taken this Autumn.

Wednesday 12th November 2008

Beginners Evening

We started with me showing a video that Ron had sent me of the Hadron collider. This explained how it worked through the medium of a rap song,. Very humorous.

George then showed us pictures had taken. These included pictures of the Moon, Orion, Cassiopeia, the Double Cluster and the Andromeda Galaxy using an 18mm lens. He had also got a £4 web cam from Tesco and took pictures of Moon with it using anETX 70.

Kevin went to Slovenia in the summer and took some pictures of some anti hellion rays in the sky opposite the Sun. He also did a sketch of a meteor fire ball which had been very slow and bright. He sketched the Jupiter shadow transit in the summer from Danbury church. He also sketched the Milky Way from Kelling Heath including the Cygnus Rift and some strange arms. His paper got wet and dirty. He showed a drawing of the Club Members at Kelling  and one of the Veil Nebula

After the break, Andy did a talk on dark nebulae. They were originally thought to be voids in the Milky Way out to the edge. Beyond them was believed to be the endless empty Universe. Up to the end of the 19th Century they were known as rifts or voids. They now are known to be dark clouds of dust. Nebula means mist and E.E. Barnard started to call them this. They are also called dust lanes. They can be very long. There are large discrete clouds of dust in them.

They are also known as molecular clouds. They are very cold , less than 50K. Stars that are about to form in them can be down to 5K. They can be up to 1 million solar masses and 300 light years across, but they are very thinly dispersed. There are a 100 different types of molecules in them. H2 molecules are the most abundant. That and Helium make up 95% of them. They also contain enough alcohol to fill all the oceans on Earth. The Horse Head nebula in Orion is an example of one. The dust grains have a silicate core with CO and water in them to give colour as H and He transparent. H does not emit as a molecule but CO does and has constant ratio to H so they can be mapped in radio.

Wednesday 19th November 2008

Andrew Mowbray - The Outer Limits

This evening I did a talk on the Outer Solar System. This included the Kuiper belt objects such as Pluto, Eris and Chiron. We then looked at where the Voyager probes currently were on the edge of the Solar System. They have been going for over 30 years and are still active and doing science on where the solar wind slows as it reaches the edge of the solar system. I then finished by lookning at the Oort Cloud and the possibly that the Sun as a distant large and cold companion.

Wednesday 26th November 2008

Beginners Evening

I was away for this one so I don't know what happened.

Wednesday 3rd December 2008

Dan Andrews - Planetary Landers

This evening we were visited by Dan Andrews of the Open University at Milton Keynes. He is involved in the building and testing of components of probes that sent to other planets and moons in the Solar System. He started by giving a brief history of planetary exploration. He then explained the clean room procedures needed to ensure that no contamination gets into the probes. This is to prevent us taking bugs to other planets and also to prevent said bugs from damaging the instruments onboard the probe. He also explained how they miniaturised, built and tested them.

He brought along some examples of instrumentation from probes. This included a mass spectrometer. These devices would normally fill a room, but they had miniaturised it to the size of a DVD Recorder. He has now found commercial applications for this device on Earth as well.

It was a very entertaining and informative evening given by a very knowledgeable presenter.

Wednesday 10th December 2008

Beginners Evening

I was away for this one so I don't know what happened.

Wednesday 17th December 2008

Christmas Social

It is near Christmas and we were all social. Nibbles and drinks were enjoyed by all!

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