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Highlands Astronomical Society

Stargazey Pie April 2006

For members of HAS, the AGMs are one of those little certainties in life, that occur with the regularity and inevitability of an atomic clock marking the passing years of the Society’s existence. They are certainly not to be feared or avoided, for not only do they allow you to hear of the Highlands Astronomical Society’s progress through the previous year, with regard to activities, finance and achievement, but they also have another more subtle appeal: there seem to be more seats and biscuits to go around at the AGM’s… Of course, before we get the biscuits we have the monthly notices, read out by Chairwoman Pauline.

Charity, Charity, all is Charity. Now that the Highlands Astronomical Society is a registered Charity, it means we can reclaim income tax from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in respect of members’ subscription payments, and any gift that you may make to the club, under the Gift Aid Scheme.

What this means to HAS: This allows HAS to increase its income each year. E.g., if your subscription was £20 we can reclaim £5.64 from HMRC. On last years total £1000 received from subscriptions, we could have reclaimed an extra £282. Not bad going, and no bank robberies required!

We are therefore encouraging all members who receive any salary from which income tax is deducted (a salary, pension, savings or other income) to sign a declaration form stating that you wish to make your subscription payments to HAS from May 2006 as donations under the Gift Aid Scheme, and to confirm that you are a UK tax payer.

What this means to you:
Gift Aid doesn’t cost you anything.

In order to comply with the terms of the Gift Aid Scheme it is necessary that you or your spouse or partner pay sufficient income tax to cover the tax being reclaimed on the subscription paid.

If you are a higher rate taxpayer you can make a claim on your self-assessment form for the difference between the basic rate and higher rate of tax.

If you cease to be a taxpayer, or require any further information or advice, please contact Pat Escott, our Treasurer.

Our thanks go out to Simon Urry for his work investigating the Gift Aid Scheme and how we can make use of it in the Society. Simon will be available for questions regarding this at the May meeting, or you can feel free to telephone him- his number is on the programme.

Summer Stars in Yorkshire. The Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society are having their Sixth Summer Star Festival from Friday 25th to Monday 28th August at Adderstone Field, Dalby Forest, in the North York Moors National Park. Being a National Park, it is supposed that there will be no light pollution so the skies should be swarming with star to point your various lenses, mirrors and pupils at. The cost is £17 per adult (16+), £10 per 11-15 year old, £5 per 5-10 year old and free for those stargazers aged 5 or under. Pauline has further information and a booking form if you are interested.

Edinburgh Science Festival. This will take place in Edinburgh, from April 5th to 16th at various venues. Click here for a pdf document with a map of the venues and a full list of the talks being presented. Four talks of particular interest will be:

‘Robotic Space Missions’ , by Dr Ashley Green, Robofesta Research Fellow. Sat 8th April, 6pm – 7pm.
‘Titan: The First Results from the Huygens Probe’ , by Prof. John Zarnecki. Sat 8th April, 8pm – 9pm.
‘The Centre of our Galaxy, Black Holes, Rare Stars and Cosmic Mayhem’ , by Prof. Michael Merrifield, Astronomer. Friday 14th April, 6pm – 7pm.
‘The Edge of Darkness: Pluto and Beyond’ , by Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons, solar system Astronomer. Sat 15th April, 2pm – 3pm.

These four talks all take place at the Royal Museum & Museum of Scotland, Chambers St, and priced at £7 per ticket (or £5 for concessions).
They certainly sound like a good excuse to go and visit Edinburgh this month, but be sure to take lots of spending money with you!

When clouds are good. There is some debate about this item, but it is thought that when we are at solar minimum, as we are at the moment, Noctilucent Clouds are at their maximum. To help answer this question, the Scottish Astronomers Group is encouraging the practical observing and gathering/sharing of NCL observations in the form of photographs. The website for NCL observers is run by Tom McEwan, a SAG member, and can be found here. Bill Ward, president of SAG, is hoping as many SAG members as possible will take part in this project, and would like to know if you would be interested in attending a special SAG meeting about it. Please contact Pat Williams if this appeals. We should be used to standing around all night staring at clouds, having spent many winter nights doing just that….

Starry Night Pro. Society Chairwoman and all-round software-junkie, Pauline Macrae, has recently obtained the super astronomical software package known as Starry Night Pro. This is great software, and has such inbuilt features as telescope and eyepiece field of view indicators; advanced sky-mapping capabilities with the latest comets, asteroids and NEO’s plotted; and the ability to control most makes of computerised telescope from your PC (or Mac!). Pauline also has some information about this package, so if you’d like to find out a little more about it before purchasing, Pauline could be the one to ask!

Venus Express News. ESA’s latest mission to Venus will be making its orbit insertion manoeuvres on April 11th, and you can watch the ESA’s coverage of the event here live between 8.10am and 9.15am BST. Also, it was good to hear about the successful orbit insertion of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter around the red planet.

New Stargazer. On 1st April, one of our members, Les Gamble, became a father to little Rosie Jean. Baby and Mum (Mel) are doing fine, and we at the Society would like to offer our congratulations to the family. The Committee would also like to point out to Les that our Junior Member subscription rate is only £2 per year…

The Bit after the Beginning.

After the notices had been announced, we had the reading of the Secretary’s and Treasurer’s reports. The Chairwoman’s report had already been sent out to members in advance of the meeting, so comments arising from this were also invited. Reading of the minutes from the 2005 AGM followed, along with discussion of several points raised by those present. It was all fairly amicable, with the various reports being accepted and our current Secretary, Pat Williams, also being accepted for her second term in office. Our Treasurer, having served one year of her two year term, remains Pat Escott.

It was proposed that in future all AGM papers be sent out to members by email or posted about a week ahead of the AGM, so that members have time to read through them and consider any questions relating to them ahead of the actual meeting. Copies of these reports will also be projected at the meeting to accommodate those who forget to bring their printed copies along, or who can’t work their email, don’t have a printer, have temperamental computers, or find envelopes too challenging. (I fit into most of those categories.) There was also mention made of putting these documents on the website, and this is something we will certainly look into in the near future.

It was decided to keep the subscription rates the same this year, and a question was raised about the importance of the Society’s role with the Child Protection issue. Pauline responded, saying that it is now a legal requirement for such a policy to be in place. The Child Protection Policy document was drawn up a number of years ago, but last year we had to implement a number of other procedures required by the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003, which came into force in April last year. If we had not done so our club would not actually be legal. It is also important because we want to encourage young people to join, so it is now considered both morally and legally an essential part of our Society.

Dave Hughes asked about the progress of the proposed astronomical ‘Woodhenge’ at Abriachan. This was to be an endeavour undertaken with the Abriachan Forest Trust when it was realised that the land at Abriachan that they offered to us a few years ago was not really suitable as a location for the Society’s observatory. Dave Hughes suggested that it would be a good thing to revitalise interest in this project, and also that when two charitable organisations (like ourselves and the Abriachan Forest Trust) work together on a project, it can improve both the chances, and amount, of funding available. Before going any further, it should be pointed out that a ‘Woodhenge’ is exactly the same as a ‘Stonehenge’, and would have astronomical information and pointers incorporated into the design. Except it ‘wood’ be made of wood, not stone. If you wood be interested in this, Dave is the person to contact.

There was more of this sort of thing, but I think this covers the most important points, which is to say, these are the points I woke up for. If you wish to find out more about the events you missed, you could contact Pat Williams or Pauline with your queries.

The very final point, voiced by Arthur Milnes, was a vote of thanks for the splendid work that the Chairwoman, Secretary and Treasurer have carried out in the past year, and for the work they will continue to do. All members present heartily agreed with this, and I’m sure that those of you who were absent do as well.

Then we had tea, biscuits and chatter.

A Ride on Hubble.

Following the tea-break, we had some time to view part of one of Pauline’s DVDs that had been released by one of her favourite scientific magazines last year, covering the Hubble Space Telescope’s achievements of the last 15 years. As well as showing some fabulous HST images, it also used computer graphics to model some of the outstanding processes taking place in our universe, from star formation to the collision and merging of galaxies, to the various ways that stars die and the formation of Black Holes (if they really exist).

It really was a rollercoaster ride through the universe, which included incredibly detailed shots of Mars that Hubble has captured, the beautiful images of planetary nebulae (which were compared to butterflies- no two the same -) and the awe-inspiring deep field pictures that show hundreds of galaxies all together on one image. The pictures alone were enough to stir our minds and souls, but the accompanying voiceover was also very well done and served to keep us informed about what we were seeing on the screen. It discussed the ways in which Hubble has contributed so much of what we know about the universe and our place in it, as it has seen objects so far distant, and therefore so far back in time, that entirely new theories about the age of the universe have been postulated.

It was also very interesting to see some demonstrations of Gravitational Lensing being used. This technique for using the gravity of super-heavy objects such as galaxies, galaxy clusters or other phenomena, to bend light waves and act as a lens when viewing objects even more distant than the ‘lens’ object, was mentioned in last month’s presentation by Jane Greaves, when she talked about the techniques used for detecting extrasolar planets. It’s nice to get a sense of continuity between presentations every now and then!

It seems a shame to think that Hubble will soon be decommissioned, but there are going to be newer, more advanced space telescopes taking over Hubble’s work. It has achieved so much, even after a shaky start when its faulty optics had to be repaired by a NASA Space Shuttle repair mission.

The DVD was really quite spectacular, and so we thank Pauline for bringing it in and allowing us to watch it (in a probably entirely illegal fashion) to wind down the AGM of the Highlands Astronomical Society, April 2006.

Eyes on the Skies.

I’m going to make a real effort not to mention Saturn again. Okay?

Now you’ve heard the term, ‘April showers’? Well it could an astronomical slant, as the night of April 22nd sees the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. The Lyrids will be active for a few nights before and after this date, but for us in Europe the time of highest activity will be the hours before moonrise on the night of 22nd and early hours of 23rd. The Radiant, or visual point of origin of the meteors, is at a point close to the bright star Vega in Lyra, so will be easy to spot. The meteors should radiate from this point, and may travel in any direction across the sky. Traditionally the Lyrid meteors can be quite fast-moving, and they sometimes produce numerous fireballs, so it could well be worth a late night out to see some natural fireworks. It is hoped that at maximum, there could be between 15 and 20 bright meteors per hour. The other bit of good news this time round is that on the 22nd the Moon will be a crescent in the morning sky, and will not rise until 5.00am so should not be much of a problem at all.

At this point there is no official HAS observing event for the Lyrids, but as always, if there is sufficient interest in ‘doing something’ about it then please feel free to get in touch with Dave Hughes, who organises the Society’s observing schedule, or myself. This doesn’t just apply to this particular event. If something is going to happen that you particularly want HAS to get involved in observing, please get in touch and let us know about it.

Can I mention Saturn now? Oh. Sorry.

The constellation of Virgo is getting slightly higher in the sky, trailing behind Leo in the southeast. This part of the sky contains an enormous number of galaxies, visible in telescopes of various apertures. Unfortunately, if you wish to hunt some of these down, you will have to stay out late, as sunset is getting later and later with each passing day. If you have the time and a clear moonless sky (and do not need to get up for work) then it would be great to take your ‘scope and favourite book of star-charts out, and seek out some showpieces from Messier’s list of nebulous objects: M49, M60 & 61, M100… there are many more to choose from.

Now before I run out of time, on the other side of the sky just now there’s a really nice ringed planet, called Sa….

Next Time.

The next meeting takes place at the Green House on Tuesday 2nd May, starting at 7.30pm. Dr Alyson Calder, who intended to give a talk on Space Medicine, has had to cancel, so we have some volunteers from our own ranks who have stepped in to fill the gap with some mini-features. Details are sketchy at present (that is, unknown to the masses) but perhaps some leaks will occur between now and then. Keep an eye on the website just in case. Speaking of that, please pop into the message board occasionally too to see what’s being discussed, and remember to round off your visit with a trip to the Image Gallery.

Until the next meeting, Dark Skies to All!

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