Saturday, 6 December 2014

December 2014 - Quiz Night

Just 25 of the faithful tonight - does the thought of quiz night frighten a few away?
Here is a view of Jim getting ready for the regular "What's Up in the Sky" feature.

Of course - like the proverbial "changing of  the light bulb" jokes - it takes 1 to do it and 4 to supervise!!

The laptop was in update mode again which caused some confusion/merriment during the evening.

Jim enlightened us as to the current planet/moon situation and gave an insight into some forthcoming comets that may well be a treat in January.

Before that of course we have the regular Geminid meteor shower - sadly this year our viewing will be hampered by the full moon.

The Geminids are an exception to the "normal" showers which result from the Earth passing through cometary debris. The Geminids result from the asteroid Phaethon which was only discovered in 1983. It's most remarkable distinction is that it approaches the Sun closer than any other asteroid. At perihelion it is only 13 million miles from the Sun - less than half on Mercury's perihelion distance - which means temperatures rise to > 1000 degrees F.

Following tea and the proverbial mince pies we moved into "the quiz".

We had 25 multi-choice questions this year so that, instead of a team effort we covered this individually.

Some questions were strictly astronomical - dealing with Copernicus and Kepler's Laws - so required some knowledge or a good memory from earlier lectures!

Others were the "read the question carefully" type.
"How many stars are there in the Solar System?"
"Did the Sun exist 5000 light years ago?"
"What constellation is the closest of all to Earth?"

Surprisingly - it appears that no-one fell into the trap though ripples of laughter were heard when the questions were read.

Rob, our resident physicist, achieved a score of 24 and a few others reached the 20's so perhaps it was not as straightforward as I originally thought.

Still it was meant as a "bit of fun" and was received as such.

This month we had a visit from Mark Griffiths, a free-lance journalist, who once worked for the Pembrokeshire Herald.

Mark has been "threatening" to visit us for photographs for some weeks and this meeting he finally made it.
He has been commissioned to do a piece on South Wales life and has visited a number of local groups in his research.

This is the man - he took many pictures of us so I couldn't resist capturing him before we left.
Looks as if he had no objection to that.

We tried for a little viewing through the cloud cover.
In fact while the meeting was going on Mark was photographing Rob in the car park.

Rob had brought one of his  big 'scopes along for the photo-shoot and Mark did say that he would send us some of his pictures so we hope to show some of them at a later date.

A good meeting to finish the year - it was good to read expressions of appreciation on the forum also.

In 2015 we hope to have some of our "regulars" back - Gladys and friends, Brian and Liz etc.

The January theme is "Astrophotography, mainly without a Telescope" - to be covered by Dave Lewis.
We look forward to that.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

October Meeting & FAS

In the beginning......

We did have some problems early on - the laptop wanted to install updates which went on and on and ...........

We are wiser now and we won't let it  happen again.

As is our custom we began with a review of "What's Up" in the October sky.
Jupiter is the planet of the month - shining at magnitude -1.9 it rises at around 2:30 BST. Later in the month early risers should be able to see the equatorial bands in the atmosphere and the four Galilean moons as they weave their way around it. 

The Moon has good things to offer currently - best seen just before Third Quarter, Mons Piton is an isolated lunar mountain located in the eastern part of Mare Imbrium, south-east of the crater Plato and west of the crater Cassini.  

Deep sky the Andromeda galaxy, M31, is well placed for viewing as is M33 the Triangulum Galaxy, arguably the most distant object visible to the naked eye at 3 million light years!!

The constellation of Cassiopeia has many great sights to look for including the Heart and Soul Nebula, the Dragon-fly cluster, 2 Messier objects and 2 supernova remnants!!

Finally Mike made mention of the Orionid meteor shower peaking on the 21st.

Following refreshments Andrew delighted us with his information on astrophotography.

Numbers had increased from the setting up period - we counted 38 with a number of apologies for absence. Over 40 would have been within our grasp for this month with several there for the first time.
From the emails to the website and postings to facebook we know there is great potential out there.

Andrew demonstrated how even with a DSLR great shots can be taken but for quality imaging the equipment list and software requirements increase.

One point stressed several times was the need to learn how your kit works in daylight as by torchlight and in the dark we are destined for frustration and likely disaster also.

Andrew did comment that if the weather was more agreeable he would cut down the theory side of his presentation - move outside and give a practical demonstration of how good results can be achieved.

Perhaps something for another occasion.

On Saturday I went to the FAS convention and AGM and just to mention a few hilights:

 This is the venue - the University of Birmingham - they even have their own railway station, the University!!!

A good place to get lost especially as my car park was about a mile away.

Some of the talks were extremely topical - especially one to do with "Solar Superstorms".
Some feel that the threats from space threaten life on earth , others view it as the proverbial "storm in a teacup"
This particular image interested me:

Note the caption at the bottom left - Aurora reported as far south as ....Honolulu. Imagine that - on the beach and witnessing an aurora.
Though nothing, as yet, compares to the 1859 Carrington event, there have been a significant number of notable storms - 1921, 1956, 1972, 1986, 1989, 2000, 2003.
One probably occurred on 23/07/2012 but missed Earth.
Interestingly, and showing just how topical this subject is, just a few days ago the Met Office opened a new forecast centre dedicated to "space weather". Read all about it here -    

Another really interesting talk was given by a 3rd year PhD student Maggie Lieu.
Her talk was on "Human Exploration of Mars."

Maggie is shortlisted for Mars-One which has the vision to colonise Mars from 2025.
This is to be a one way trip for those involved - they don't come home, ever. 
4 persons per year are proposed for this - 2 male & 2 female. The final number visualised is 40 people - 20 men and 20 women.

Because skills of participants are lacking they all have to be briefed on many subjects vital to their future  including plumbing, electricity, medicine etc.
Communication time is between 3 minutes and 22 minutes. Imagine - you say "Hello Mum" and 3 minutes later the reply comes back!!

 Next year Maggie will find out if she has a place but currently she is very much living the dream.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

July Meeting- The Moon

A good attendance for our final meeting before September.
We had 31 in attendance including a couple - Mike & Linda from Newcastle Emlyn (?) I think it was.
We also had a space scientist - Philippa Berry, from Roch, - with us and we are currently in the process of encouraging her to talk to us on her specialist subject - satellite altimetry - in the new year.

Kim started the evening off with the "What's Up in July" feature - here he is looking suitably focussed prior to the delivery of his material.

At this time of year the sky is never really dark so aside from planets Mars & Saturn before midnight and Venus just before dawn viewing is an unsocial hours experience.

Kim commenced with the Moon which, in most months, is a stunning sight visually.

A focus was on the Cygnus constellation high in the sky at this time and visible for many months to come.

Kim hilighted some of the more obscure features of this grouping - the Blinking Planetary (not a euphemism he said!!) was one.

Getting pictures of the meeting is challenging - you lose friends when you point a camera at them - but I caught a number in the tea-room without their spotting me.

  New member Linda is in the foreground (left) with Mike across the aisle.

 To the right more studious members are concentrating on the business at hand.

 The main lecture this month was on the Moon and delivered by Mike.

Much of this material was drawn from:
 world of

Here we have a better picture of those in attendance.

There is a link to the presentation below and notes to accompany the slides (where there were some) are also printed below for reference.

Slide 3 – The Moon is the 5th largest moon in solar system - behind three of the Galilean moons of Jupiter (Ganymede, Callisto and Io) and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. To put its size in perspective, the diameter of the Moon is approximately the same as the distance between London and Cairo.

The distance to the Moon is known accurately due to reflectors that were placed on it during the Apollo missions. The reflectors, part of the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment, allow lasers to be shone onto the Moon and the time taken for the laser light to get there and back can be measured. It is then possible, using a simple equation, to calculate the distance to the Moon.

Slide 4 - Information first gathered during the Apollo era suggested that the Moon was formed when a Mars-sized body hit the Earth during its early history. This impact occurred after the Earth's iron core had formed. Rocky, iron-poor material was ejected into orbit and then coalesced to form the moon. Recently, the Lunar Prospector spacecraft has confirmed that the Moon has a small core, supporting the Mars sized impact theory.
Similarities in the mineral composition of the Earth and the Moon indicate that they share a common origin. However, if they had simply formed form the same cloud of rocks and dust, the Moon would have a core similar in proportion to the Earth's.
Slide 5 -

Man's limited knowledge of the Lunar interior comes primarily from seismic monitoring of lunar quakes, and from tracking spacecraft orbiting the moon. During Apollo missions 12, 14, 15, and 16, sensitive, seismic instruments were placed upon the lunar surface. These instruments detected mild moon quakes, some of which originated in the upper mantle and some deeper within. They also recorded occasional impacts (some natural and some man made) on the lunar surface. By monitoring how the quake/impact shock waves, of varying frequencies, propagate around and through the moon, scientists obtain a hint as to the nature of the lunar interior. 

Slide 16 -  Van Gogh sold only one painting in his life.

From Don McLean's song 'Vincent' (Starry, Starry Night) (Based on the Painting), to the endless number of merchandise products sporting this image, it is nearly impossible to shy away from this amazing painting.

The Starry Night, 1889, painted in Europe and showing a C-shaped crescent, so this must be pre-dawn, not the evening sky. Or did van Gogh get it wrong?

Slide 17 - Although there is a full Moon every month, it revisits the same point in the sky on the same date only once every 19 years. 

The Dutch master painted Moonrise or Rising Moon during the summer of 1889 while staying in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France. But the exact moment depicted in the landscape has eluded art historians.

To solve the mystery, the team travelled to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in June 2002 and identified landmarks in the painting. These include an overhanging cliff that obscures a wedge of the luminous orange Moon, and a distant double-roofed house.

Based on these, the team worked out where van Gogh was standing when he painted the canvas. They measured the compass direction along which the Moon appeared to him, and the height of the cliff above the horizon.

Using lunar tables and astronomy software, they then calculated the time and dates at which a rising full Moon would appear above the horizon at that spot: 16 May and 13 July 1889. Because the wheat in the painting is golden and harvested, it must be the July date, they conclude.

Slide 26 - Scientists investigated Shackleton Crater, which sits almost directly on the moon's south pole. The crater, named after the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, is more than 12 miles wide (19 kilometers) and 2 miles deep (3 km) — about as deep as Earth's oceans.

The interiors of polar craters on the moon are in nearly perpetual darkness, making them cold traps that researchers have long suspected might be home to vast amounts of frozen water and thus key candidates for human exploration. However, previous orbital and Earth-based observations of lunar craters have yielded conflicting interpretations over whether ice is there.
 Click on link below for presentation
  Moon Presentation

Our next meeting at Letterston will be in September but keep watch on the forum for news of our Solar day at Newgale - currently scheduled, weather permitting, for Saturday August 9th at 12.00 hrs with the possibility of a further event to view the Perseid meteor shower which peaks on the 12th.