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Stargazey Pie, July 2005

Antony McEwan's monthly digest of HAS happenings.

Someone (and I can’t remember who) once defined astronomers as people who owned thousands of pounds worth of telescope equipment and went out observing with a pair of £50 binoculars! This was somewhat disproved at the July meeting, which was designated Equipment Night 2005.

July 2005 meeting . Equipment Nights usually attract a fair number of members, and the July 2005 one was no different. They came from all over the world, crowding in to admire, ask questions about and discuss the equipment on display. Once the ‘scopes were set up in the auditorium and the 7.30pm start time arrived, Chairwoman Pauline Macrae announced this months notices before declaring the free-roaming evening officially open.

  • Star-Party & BBQ. The Highlands Astronomical Society’s first social (as opposed to ‘sociable’) event will take place on Saturday August 27th and will be a combined barbeque and star party at Simon Urry’s house at Muiryden on the Black Isle. The arrangements have now been finalised and all the information is in a letter from Simon in pdf format that has been attached to this newsletter. Simply open the attachment to read it. Instructions on how to reach Simon’s house are included, along with numbers to call if you get lost! If you are unable to access this file, please let Pauline or myself know and we’ll pass it on to you. The Chairwoman has guaranteed good weather, so best locate your wellies and waterproofs…

  • SXR208! Yes, you read it right- SXR208! Amazing! For those of you not familiar with SXR208, it is a course being run by the Open University, of which a major part is a one-week residential school at the Observatori Astronomic de Mallorca. Facilities at the site include seven small domes with fully networked telescopes, a laboratory, computers with data-analysis software, and a state-of-the-art planetarium. Before attending the one-week holiday, sorry- residential school, students will study the course text which provides a general introduction to observational and experimental work in astronomy, as well as other fundamentals and assignments. Courses start in July 2005 and March 2006, with the Mallorca sessions taking place in September 2005 and April 2006, and cost £560 or £585 excluding flights. More information on the course can be found here, and you can check to see if you think you would be up to the challenge by following this link and then clicking on SXR208.

  • Moon Trees. The pockets of astronaut Stuart Roosa on Apollo 14 contained a number of seeds. Those seeds were part of one of the first biological experiments in space (at least by Humankind) and have since germinated and been distributed all over the World. On Wednesday 20th July at 9pm, a radio programme entitled ‘Moon Trees’ on Radio 4 will document NASA scientist Dr David Williams’ search for these trees, and reveal just what happened to them. I wood-n’t miss it for the world!

  • Summer Meteor Project. The Scottish Astronomers Group is keen for astronomers to record their observations of several summer meteor showers this year. In July the Alpha Lyrid, Alpha Cygnid and the Delphinid showers should be fairly productive, but their meteors are usually just beyond the range of naked eye viewing. For this reason the SAG are encouraging astronomers to use binoculars or wide field telescopes for their observations. These should then be submitted to the SAG. To this end I am organising meteor observing sessions on the nights of 14th/15th and 15th/16th July. They will start at 23:00 BST and finish around 03:00 BST. These will be very late night sessions, but already some members have put their names down for them. If you are interested please send me an email, phone me, or leave a message on this post on the message board. More information is also on the Document Library onthe website. If you are in any doubt as to whether the events will go ahead, you canphone me (number on contact list), but if it is raining it is safe to assume it to be a no-go.

  • Beasts in the Sky. If you happen to be in Grantham, Lincolnshire, between now and 3rd September, you may wish to visit the Grantham Museum. Artist Peter Rollings is showing an exhibition of constellation illustrations that he made on his quest to re-familiarise himself with the constellations. The resulting collection is considered to be the most complete of its type in the world! The museum is open from 10am until 5pm Monday to Saturday and entry is free.

  • Pennies From Heaven- Part 2. After the May meeting a £5 note was found. Do any of you remember losing this? If so please contact Pat Williams, otherwise it will be contributed to club funds.

Eyes on the Skies. Our latitude is against us this month! Long light nights are not the best times to seek out Deep Sky objects or even the harder to find dimmer planets. There are still some things to look for though- it’s just a matter of selecting suitable targets for the conditions (or moving south).

The Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair is plain to see now, and it is possible to trace out the outlines of their constellations Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila. This area of sky holds added interest this month, as there are several summer meteor showers whose radiants are in the constellations Lyra, Cygnus and Delphinus. See the Notices above for more information on this project.

Saturn is now beyond our reach for observing, and Jupiter is getting pretty low in the west. Mars will be the next ‘showcase’ planet to look forward to seeing, but that will not be ideally placed until the autumn. Until then there is always the Moon to observe, and the summer months are an ideal chance to make a start on the Lunar 100 list, or perhaps for the final drive to finish it off! Information on this observing project is available from Pauline, or from the society website’s document library under ‘Astronomy Projects’.

The Moon passes close to several bright objects this month, starting off with a beautiful grouping of the New Moon, Venus and Mercury on the 8th. It will then pass by Jupiter on the 13th, Spica on the 14th, Antares on the 18th, and Mars on the 27th, but the latter will take place in the early hours of the morning.

Overall then, July is a fairly quiet month. A good time for checking out your telescopes, binoculars and eyepieces, cleaning what needs cleaning, re-collimating and tweaking as required, and getting ready for the splendours to come later in the year. And if you happen to have binoculars or a wide field scope to try out, the summer meteors in the middle of the month may be the ideal opportunity- weather permitting!

The Main Event. I arrived early at the Green House on Tuesday 5th July. I knew that space would be at a premium for displaying my telescope to best effect, especially when compared with all the super-sophisticated and well-cared-for equipment that regularly appears at our Equipment Nights! The seats in the auditorium had already been rolled back by Marie Hunter (Assistant Centre Manager) and Fiona Clarke (receptionist- thanks Fiona and Marie), and so we had a very large area in which to display our telescopes, eyepieces, binoculars, and other bits and bobs that we wished to share with the membership. As usual for these events there was a wide selection of telescopes on show, including a small reflector on alt-azimuth mount, two fork-mounted GoTo Schmidt Cassegrains, two GoTo ETX Maksutovs, two 4” refractors on EQ mounts (both long and short tube versions), a 6” reflector on EQ mount, and a trio of very fine Dobsonians in small (3.1”), medium (8”) and Ginormous (12”) sizes! Several of these ‘scopes are being used to generate truly excellent Astro images, many of which can now be seen on the photo gallery at our society website. Others are being used purely for observational astronomy, and I imagine that all of them are providing their owners with a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment.

After Pauline had read out the notices the general idea was that the telescope owners would be on hand to answer questions about their equipment and give advice if required. The formula worked and there were soon small groups of people clustered around each of the telescopes, inquiring about their advantages and disadvantages, performance, cost, portability, and many other aspects of owning the various ‘scopes. The owners were heard to give enthusiastic, encouraging, and more importantly, in-depth answers to many questions, which is one of the key points about these Equipment Nights: You don’t just get to see and touch the telescopes, you also get key information about ownership of them as well.

Half way through the evening Maarten de Vries hosted a short breakout session, described as a ‘Your first steps with a telescope’ guide. This was enthusiastically received by a number of those present who picked up some tips on alignment, balancing and pointing their new toys (Oops! I mean pieces of scientific equipment)!

Mercifully there were excellent cups of tea and coffee on hand (but not beside the equipment!) that helped to slake the thirst generated by the warm evening and large attendance, so thank you to the ladies who arranged that and kept us from drying out! Thanks also to everyone who brought their pride and joy with them and allowed it to be pored over, making 2005’s Equipment Night another in a very popular and successful series. Long may they continue, and I wonder what fantastic new pieces of equipment will be being shown off next time around? I’m particularly looking forward to the release of a new series of cloud-filters, or perhaps an inflatable heavy duty EQ mount…

Farewell! Gordon Walker, one of our keen observing members, is moving on. He has taken a permanent teaching post at Kenmay Academy in Aberdeenshire. This will make travel to the HAS monthly meetings and observing sessions a little daunting, although he does hope to join us at the SAG weekend at the Thistle Hotel, September 23rd to 25th. We would like to wish him the very best of luck with his new batch of little monsters, and hope that he fulfils his sky-watching ambitions with one of the astronomical societies in his new area! Thanks for observing with us Gordon, and hope the clouds in Aberdeenshire are as interesting as the ones up here!

For Sale. Need something new in your life? The new ‘Buying and Selling’ forum on the Message Board of the HAS website has seen a lot of activity recently, so if you are in the market for a particular item or looking to sell something on, please drop in and take a look around the posts. You can even place a Wanted advert if you’re keeping an eye out for something.

Next Time. The next meeting will take place at the Green House at 7.30pm on Tuesday 2nd August. Please arrive in good time for a sharp start! It is listed as an ‘Open Night’, which means there will be a number of smaller presentations, including John Rosenfield’s ‘Moons of Mars’ talk. Eric Walker will project some of his Astronomical images for us, and there will be plenty of opportunities for discussion. I wouldn’t mind betting there’ll be a quiz too…

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