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Highlands Astronomical Society

Stargazey Pie, September 2005

Welcome to the September issue of Stargazey Pie, the newsletter of the Highlands Astronomical Society, especially for all those who have missed this month’s meeting, including Antony, who is presently enjoying himself in a warm but light polluted area of England.

September 2005 meeting: Unfortunately our speaker, Alyson Calder, was unable to be with us because of work commitments. However, she has agreed to give her talk in May of next year, and the DVD due to be shown at that meeting was promoted to centre stage at this one instead. We also had the excitement of an Extraordinary General Meeting in order to update the Constitution.

  • There are still places for the SAG Weekend if you would like to attend. Please contact Pat to arrange your booking and to let her know if you can help on the day.
  • An observing session will take place on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th September at 9pm. It is still fairly light at this time of year but we should be able to see the brighter of the deep sky objects and possibly Uranus and Neptune. Stay beyond 10.30pm and the sky will dark enough to see the fainter objects. Mars will be an easy target once it has risen at about 10.00pm. Contacts are:

Friday 9th September: Maarten

Saturday 10th September: Trina

  • An annular eclipse takes place on Monday 3rd October starting around 8.50am BST, with mid-eclipse around 10.00am and ending at about 11.15am. However, we will only see a partial eclipse from our latitude, the size of which decreases the further north and east you are. In the hope we may see something, feel free to meet up at Culloden Battlefield car park any time during the eclipse. This will be the last annular eclipse visible anywhere from Europe until 26th January 2028 although total and partial eclipses will still be seen. The next total eclipse will take place in March 2006 but will only be seen as a partial from Britain. Remember not to look at the Sun unless you have eclipse glasses. Only use a telescope or binoculars with approved solar filters.
  • On Saturday 15th October there is the second UK Space Medicine Day. This will take place at the National Space Centre in Leicester. The programme is available from Pat.
  • The Poetry Society has launched an online poll for the nation to vote for the poem they would most like to send into space to be read in 100 years time. The winning poem will be announced on 6th October – National Poetry Day 2005, and will be displayed at the National Space Centre, Leicester. The Poetry Society is inviting everyone to vote for the poem they would most like to send into space by either nominating their own favourite poem at or by selecting one of eight poems chosen by members of the Poetry Society, which are:
  1. ‘Earthwalk’ – John Agard
  2. ‘Homesick for the Earth’ – Moniza Alvi
  3. ‘Night Feed’ – Eavan Boland
  4. ‘Do You Think We’ll Ever’ – Sheenagh Pugh
  5. ‘Forever Roman’ – John Hegley
  6. ‘Human Beings’ – Adrian Mitchell
  7. ‘The First Men on Mercury’ – Edwin Morgan
  8. ‘Promising’ - Eva Salzman

The full poems can be found on this page.

  • If you wish to see a copy of the most recent SAG and FAS Magazine please contact Pat (Email Pat here).

BBQ: Many thanks to Simon Urry (and his wife, Tracey) who, on the 27th August, held the first social event in the form of a BBQ and star party in his garden. It was extremely well organised with rolls, juice and crockery provided; there was a trampoline for the youngsters and even the lawn had been cut just before our arrival. A number of members managed to attend on a rather windy day, which proved very good for kite flying. The weather was variable but the large stable block at the end of the garden provided shelter and allowed the food to be cooked successfully on the BBQ. Eric Walker had brought his large binoculars complete with solar filters to observe the Sun when it made an appearance but unfortunately it was too cloudy for the star party to go ahead. However, Maarten entertained the troops with a preview of the new observatory and demonstrated some astronomical software on his laptop.

Extraordinary General Meeting: An EGM was called in order to update the Constitution so it would be accepted by the Inland Revenue and in return they would (hopefully) grant us Charitable Status. In order to make this process more efficient, a draft Constitution was sent to all members so it could be perused and commented on as necessary, reducing the time spent on it during the meeting. Thank you to everyone who contacted the Committee. Only a few articles needed to be altered but one point, in particular, sparked a lively debate. If the Inland Revenue approves the Constitution it will then be sent to every member.

A Preview of our Proposed New Observatory: Maarten showed us a computer model of the proposed new ‘eco’ observatory. It consists of two parts. The 4 m dome is octagonal in shape and resembles a real observatory. It rotates like our current observatory and also has an opening in the roof. Alongside is a building, which will house the computer, accommodate our equipment (in a secure store) and provide shelter during the cold evenings.

One important feature is a toilet, which will use filtered rainwater, and by bringing in drinking water we will not need to pay for a water supply. Electricity, in the most part, will be provided by solar power with a back up generator when necessary.

Equipment will consist of a Schmitt-Cassegrain telescope - probably a 12-inch Meade, an Astrovid Stellacam II video system with focal reducer for wide field viewing, eyepieces, filter set, five 7 x 50 binoculars, a PC with two 17-inch flat panel TFT screens and a wireless bridge to the Visitor Centre. Other equipment can be bought at a later date when it’s required.

Because of the steps leading up to the area on which the dome is placed, disabled access will be via a connection between the telescope and computer, allowing images to be viewed on the 17-inch screens within the building.

Both dome and building will be easy to construct and a lot of the work can be done by members thus providing a chance to become involved. The costs will be considerably reduced, therefore precluding the need to become a Limited Company.

One of the most important considerations was the ongoing cost. This observatory, plus its ‘eco’ features, makes it affordable to run.

The Main Event: This was in the form of a NASA DVD kindly lent to us by Andy Ferguson. The DVD consists of a collection of stories gathered over the last 50 years of NASA and American space exploration using original film and soundtrack. It lasts just over 11 hours but since most people had work or school the next day it was decided to watch just one episode – Apollo 16 – “Nothing So Hidden”.

On 16th April 1972, the fifth lunar landing mission was launched. On board were John Young, Mission Commander; Charlie Duke, the Lunar Module Pilot and Ken Mattingly, the Command Module Pilot.

All went well until the Lunar Module undocked from the Command Module in preparation for landing on the lunar surface. It was then that Ken Mattingly, when preparing for circularisation burn, found there were apparent uncontrolled oscillations in the main engine backup control system. Until the problem was rectified, the landing couldn’t go ahead. After careful consideration by Mission Control and the use of simulator tests and other data, it was found that the oscillations would do no harm while the engine was running and the mission was able to proceed.

Apollo 16 landed in the lunar highlands, a region not yet explored on the Moon. The central highlands looked like certain terrain on Earth built by volcanism and it was hoped the Apollo 16 crew would find the, so far elusive, volcanic rock.

On 21st April, after a good night’s sleep, Young and Duke set foot for the first time on the surface. They planted the American flag then began their planned experiments. One of these was the deployment of an ultraviolet camera, which provided the first astronomical observations from the Moon. The photographs taken included the Earth’s upper atmosphere and the halo around galaxies.

Other experiments included placing a series of sensors on the soil and firing explosive charges in order to map the lunar sub-surface. The astronauts also drilled a hole for the heat flow pole but the experiment had to be aborted because a foot got caught in the cables, breaking the connector to the heat-flow electronics package.

The rover allowed them to collect samples from over a wider area and conduct more experiments, including measuring the strength of the Moon’s magnetic field. The astronauts enjoyed putting the rover through its paces bouncing high every time they hit a crater and skidding as though on ice during sharp turns.

On 22nd April, daytime temperature reached 135 F. The journey in the rover took both men 4 km south from the landing site up the side of Stone Mountain. Many samples were taken from the largest rocks to the smallest of soil particles because it was here that the geologists hoped to find evidence of volcanism. None was found. In fact many of the rocks looked as though they had been thrown onto the mountain from the South Ray impact.

The rover was deployed again on the following day this time driving 5 km north of the landing site to North Ray Crater – the largest lunar crater to be sampled by man. The walls were very steep and when the astronauts peered over the edge they were unable to see to the bottom. Close by, they made one of the most spectacular discoveries on this mission; a huge bolder, subsequently named House Rock.

All too soon it was time to leave. Once the Modules had docked and the Lunar Module jettisoned, Mattingly left the safety of the Command Module, now 173,000 miles from Earth, and retrieved the film canisters containing thousands of high-resolution photos. As they journeyed home, John Young commented, “Think we’ve seen as much in ten days as most people see in ten lifetimes”.

The Apollo 16 crew always gave the impression that they were having fun even while working hard under difficult conditions. They often commented on the spectacular views of the desolate lunar surface, presumably impressed with its unobtrusive beauty.

A lot of science was carried out during the Apollo missions with an idea that one day there would be a base on the Moon. It seems this idea has come full circle.

Strathspey Binoculars: Fred Millwood brought along a pair of 25 x 100 binoculars and a tripod for us to look at. He and Jean had visited Strathspey Binoculars in Aviemore, and because the owner was unable to come to the Club, Fred suggested he could try out a pair of binoculars and talk to us about the sort of equipment they sell. The website, also offers advice on which binoculars to choose including a section for using them in astronomy. Quality and value are important to Strathspey Binoculars, and John Burns, the owner, welcomes visitors as long as you contact him first on 01479 812549.

Eyes On The Skies: September skies are full of promising targets for keen observers. The summer constellations are at their best placement now, with Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila all high up and easy to spot, and in the Northeast the rising constellations of Perseus, Auriga and Andromeda bring with them even more objects for you to aim your telescopes and binoculars at.

Had your fill of the delights of Lyra and co? Then let’s head over to Perseus and Andromeda for a look around. When looking at Andromeda from a dark site you may spot a faint elongated smudge against the sky background, even without any optical aid. If so you are probably looking at M31, the famous Andromeda Galaxy. It is of course a showpiece object in any optical device but shows best in wide field telescopes or binoculars as it is a very large object at about 2.1 degrees across. The Andromeda galaxy is thought to be between 2.4 and 2.9 million light years away so if you can see it without optical aid you are looking a looooong way out into space!

Not far from M31 is another large galactic target, but this one is much fainter – the Pinwheel Galaxy, or M33, which resides in the constellation Triangulum (The Triangle). M33 is big at 49 arc-minutes, or about 5/6th of a degree, but as its brightness is spread out over this large area, it can be quite hard to see unless you have a very dark sky background and a wide field low power view. It is quite magnificent in a 3-4 inch refractor, and bigger telescopes will show it off even better. Light pollution or Moon-glow can make it very difficult to find so don’t get too frustrated if you can’t see it first time out.

Perseus, of course, is home to the Double Cluster, which comprises NGC 884 and NGC 869. This pair of open clusters is situated about midway between Gamma Persei and the star Ruchbar, in Cassiopeia. Both clusters reside in the Perseus Arm of our galaxy, about 7000 light years away, and are separated from each other by a few hundred light years. They are about half a degree apart in the eyepiece, so are another wide-field object, and show dozens of stars in two fairly tightly packed almost circular clusters.

Mars is now beginning to entice us out of our houses in the early hours of the morning. It rises not long after 10pm at the beginning of the month, but will be best observed when it has climbed higher in the sky, by midnight or later. As the month progresses Mars will rise earlier and become brighter and larger, until by the end of the month the planet will be shining at magnitude –1.67 and will have an angular size of about 18 arc-seconds (about two thirds the angular size of Jupiter at the moment). Whatever size of telescope you own, Mars is worth a look. There is plenty of detail to tease out of the view, even with just a small refractor, and if you own a large reflector make sure it’s collimated now to get the best views possible of the red planet. If you’ve been to see the remake of War Of The Worlds, just keep telling yourself, ‘It was only a film….’

Thanks to Antony for writing this section before he went away.

Next Time. The next meeting will take place at the 7.30pm on Tuesday 4th October at the Green House when Alan Pickup will talk to us about observing satellites.


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