Welcome to the Cockermouth Astronomical Society website. Hopefully you'll find all the information you need about our society and astronomy in West Cumbria here. If not contact us.

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Saturday, December 23

and a Merry Christmas from them . .

A quick message from Stuart and members of the Eddington Astronomical Society at Kendal.

Best wishes to you all as well.

Merry Christmas

Best Wishes for Christmas to all our CAS News readers. I hope you have a great time and maybe even get some clear skies as well ?

In the mean time here are a couple of recently released images one from Hubble and one from the European Southern Observatory. Both show fantastic detail if you download the highest resolution images, or you can follow the links to a zoomable version on the relevant website. Enjoy.

Hubble Image of Star-forming regions in the Large Magellenic Cloud

Image Credit: NASA/HST [Large Version / Zoomable Version]

ESO Image of Tarantula Nebula

Image Credit: ESO [Large Version / Zoomable Version]

Friday, December 22

Shuttle returns safely

The Shuttle Discovery has returned safety to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida after spending 13 days at the International Space Station. The landing had been delayed due to weather conditions at all the possible landing sites (a familiar problems for anyone trying to fly from the UK at the moment!).

The mission was another success for NASA with extensive rewiring work being carried out at the space station and a cargo of key supplies delivered. There was also an exchange of ISS crew members with American Astronaut Sunita Williams joining the space station.

Thursday, December 21

Looking back . . .and forward

It's that time of year when we look back at the year just gone and look forward to a new year. As far as CAS is concerned I think it's been a pretty successful year, perhaps we could have been luckier with the weather at a few of our events, but hey . . . this is Cumbria! Seriously though, this has been our first full year without Stuart at the helm, and I must say a big thank you to the rest of the Committee; Robin, Caroline, Bill, Jeremy, Tony and most recently joined Wes. They have really put a lot of work into getting the society where it is now, and particularly planning where it is going to go, but more of that later. I must particularly thank Bill for his continuing support in bringing the equipment we need to run the meetings, I know work commitments prevent him getting to as many meetings as he would like but he does a sterling job for us.

In 2006 we've also had quite a few new people giving us talks for the first time, Caroline, Dennis and Jeremy all gave us some interesting talks on their own particular areas of interest. And Robin of course has been keeping us up to date with his latest projects.

We also launched the new website and CAS News blog earlier in the year and that has been successful with approaching 200 posts during the year, almost 1,000 visitors and over 20 people receiving the blog by email. A lot of work goes into maintaining that, and I think the stats show that people find it useful. As I've said many times before, I think it would be a benefit if more people add their comments to the blog, but that's up to you . . . .

Regular observing sessions have had a mixed year to be honest. Over 50% of the sessions have been clouded out and those that did go ahead have been relatively poorly attended. However those that have attended have really enjoyed them , myself included. For that reason we'll continue them next year, we are an astronomy society after all!

And so on to next year . . .

Our aim will be to provide something for all members no matter what level of experience you have. To that end we have made a few changes;

Firstly we are trying to get more expert specialist speakers to come and talk to us. If you have a quick look at our 2007 Programme you will see Robin has already arranged for two speakers to come.

We also want to put more emphasis on what members have been up to and encouraging people to give feedback on what they've been observing. Our second change is a meeting format that will look something like this;

7:30 – 8:00 Brief news updates, aiming to stimulate discussion or invite comment, rather than inform in detail.

8:00 – 8:30 The forthcoming night sky. Guidance on what to look for; where it is; what it is; how to see it. Provide star chart and observing tips handout for non-Internet members. Suggest target object(s) for imaging. View members’ images of previous months target objects(s).

8:30 – 9:10 Main Talk. Aiming ultimately to be 50% guest speaker; but may not achieve that high a proportion in 2007 due to short notice.

9:10 – 10:00 Open forum and refreshments. Chance for members to ask questions; share observing experiences or make suggestions.

Finally we want to introduce a formal membership scheme for the society. At the moment we operate a 'pay as you go' type scheme, where people just turn up and pay £1 to cover the cost of the hall etc, meaning each month we just about break even. In the future we want to expand our range of external speakers and improve our society equipment to provide real benefits to members. We can do this by raising more money from members or by applying for grants for equipment etc. To do either of those we really need a formal membership list and scheme.

From January 2007 we will introduce a formal membership scheme alongside our 'pay as you go' scheme. There will be two categories of CAS Members;

Full Members: Pay an annual membership fee of £15 per year (£10 if you sign up in January or February 2007), or £5 per year for children under 16. Full Members will be able to borrow society books and equipment. Full Members will also be eligible to vote at Annual General Meetings and hold office in the society. A formal membership list will be held and membership cards issued annually (membership will run from January to December).

Associate Members: Pay on a per meeting (pay as you go) basis to cover the cost of hall. The standard rate will be £1.50 (or 50p for Children under 16) for each meeting attended. Where we have external speakers at a meeting it may be necessary to increase the charge for that meeting to cover costs. Associate Members will not be eligible to borrow society equipment, vote at Annual General Meetings or hold office in the society.

Refreshments: The provision of refreshments at meetings seems to have been as success during the last few meetings, so we will continue to provide them. In order to cover the additional costs over and above room fees we will ask for a donation of 50p for refreshements from both categories of members.

That's quite a bit of change for us to bring in next year, but hopefully people will start to see the benefits in terms of a bigger variety of speakers and topics and more society equipment available to people. As always we welcome your comments, requests and ideas, either via a comment on this post, by email or just talk to us at the next meeting.

Wednesday, December 20

Light Pollution - Christmas Star Count

Light pollution has been steadily on the increase everywhere and it has been particularly noticeable in Cumbria which traditionally had some of the darkest skies in England.

To raise awarenes of this problem and help protect this neglected part of our environment, the British Astronomical Association is organising a Christmas Star Count. Taking part is easy. Just count the number of stars you can see within the constellation of Orion one evening over the next few moonless nights (20-24th December) or if it is cloudy try again on 14-21st Jan 2007. Full details, including where to report your results are given on the BAA website. Why not report them here on CAS News in the comments too?

More information on light pollution and how to prevent it can be found on the BAA Campaign for Dark Skies and Campaign to Protect Rural England websites.

Remembering Sagan

Today marks the 10th anniversary of astronomer Carl Sagan's death. I'm sure, like me, many CAS News readers will have been influenced by Sagan's excellent talent for communicating science to the public. Through projects like the Cosmos TV series in the 1970s he reached audiences of millions around the world.

My main memory was Carl's lectures as part of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1977. He did a series of talks on 'The Planets' and included a life size replica of a Viking lander in the lecture. That series, and reading the excellent book 'Cosmos' definitely inspired my interest in astronomy at a early age.

His books and quotes continue to be an inspiration to many. In an era where astronomers have confused the public over planetary definitions, and the main PR is done by pictures from space probes, rovers and space telescopes, we could use more people with Carl's skill with words. Perhaps one of the most famous quotes highlighted this Voyager image of a distant Earth in his book Pale Blue Dot.

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives." Carl Sagan

Perhaps a ideal quote to remember Carl by, and reflect on as the rest of us prepare to enter a new year.

Update: You will find lots of posts dedicated to Carl Sagan today as part of a Blog-a-thon to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Of particular note is the Planetary Society of which Carl was one of the three founder members.

Tuesday, December 19

CAS Programme 2007

Below is the latest version of our 2007 programme. This post will be updated automatically if we change the programme so check back here for the latest version.

Monday, December 18

An updated layout

If you look carefully you can spot the difference !

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that I'd 'upgraded' the blog. At first you probably didn't notice the difference, but now I've made some more obvious changes. Firstly each post has one or more labels to identify it, you can click on a label to pull up all posts on that topic for example you can select all posts about CAS Meetings. You can also see a list of all labels in the sidebar and select from there. That might help you sort the wheat from the chaff, not that I consider my stuff chaff. . .

Also the archive of posts appears as an expandable list in the sidebar. This allows you to select posts by date as well as topic. Hopefully that will be more useful as we approach 200 posts in the blog.

As usual if you have any comments leave them against this post.

Thursday, December 14

Amazing Mars image

Another amazing image from Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter has been released. This image shows layers in the polar ice cap. The layers are exposed on the side of a canyon eroded into the ice cap and show different colours due to the different amounts and types of dust incorporated into the ice layers, this image is in false colour to bring out the subtle differences. For a more realistic colour version check out Stuart's colourised version. Either way you look at it, it's a fantastic image.

Tuesday, December 12

A new look at Cassini images

We've not seen many spectacular Cassini images in recent weeks on CAS News. If you are missing those why not track down a copy of December's National Geographic magazine. It features an excellent article on Cassini with some stunning pictures from NASA's probe. As always with NG the pictures are amazing, I'm not sure what they do but they look even better in the magazine than they do on the PC screen.

Monday, December 11

Shuttle mission ongoing

The shuttle Discovery launched successfully early Sunday morning UK time. It is now on its way to the International Space Station and will dock later this evening.

Once there its mission will be to perform some tricky rewiring of the ISS.

Unfortunately there are only a couple of opportunities to see the ISS and Shuttle from Cockermouth over the couple of weeks.

Saturday, December 9

NASA is go for a night launch

NASA has cleared the shuttle Discovery for a night launch tonight. The launch should take place at at 2047 local time in Florida (0147 GMT on Sunday). BBC News has a summary of the story.

Blog 'upgrade'

CAS News has been 'upgraded' in the background to the lastest version of blogger. There are some technical advantages to this which you probably will not notice, and some like category labels for posts which you may notice.

In the short term there are a couple of issues to resolve. Firstly during the upgrade some of the posts have been re-issued, which means they will appear on the RSS feed, and hence appear at the top of the CAS News section on www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk, and also will probably be on the CAS news by email. That should be a one off, and things should return to normal tomorrow.

Secondly other blog contributors, Robin, Bill and Jeremy will need to re-register to post again. For most of you visiting CAS News there should be no difference.

Friday, December 8

Shuttle launch delayed

The planned Discovery shuttle launch has been delayed until Saturday now due to clouds over the launch site during last night's launch window.

CAS Christmas Event

Following some quick feedback on options at our last meeting we elected to go for our traditional "meet up for a pint and a chat" event in the Tithe Barn pub in Cockermouth. The time and date is Wednesday 13th December at 8.00pm (although I won't get there until about 8.30pm)

It's literally just turn up and see who's around. Hope to see as many of you there as possible.

Thursday, December 7

Modern Astronomy Evening Class

Adult Education Class in Modern Astronomy
Keswick School starting January 2007

This course is once again being sponsored by Keswick school and is therefore free to participants. Numbers are strictly limited so early enrolment is advised.
The course starts on Monday 15th January 2007 and runs for 10 weeks on Mondays 7-9 pm at Keswick school.
Enrolment is through the Cockermouth Adult Education Centre 01900 823389
If you have any questions about the course content you are welcome to contact me robin@cockermouthastronomy.co.uk

Have you ever wondered……
How this Universe we live in got to be the way it is.
What tools modern astronomers use to explore it?
If you have, then this course is for you!

In the span of a single lifetime our understanding of the Universe, its scale, the way it has evolved and the nature of the objects it contains has changed dramatically. At the same time a revolution has taken place in the way amateur and professional astronomers go about their business.

This 10 week course seeks to make these developments accessible to the casual stargazer or anyone with a curiosity about how our universe works. The course will include practical studies involving the use of professional data from the internet and the remote operation of a large telescope based in a mountain top observatory, as well as a hands on local observing session using a computerised telescope.

The course is designed to appeal to both beginners and those with some background in astronomy. Astronomy is a technical subject however and students will find it useful to have a basic familiarity with using computers and the internet and some basic maths and science knowledge. Additional support is available to those who might wish to explore the course in greater depth.

Subjects to be explored include:-

The scale of the Universe – finding our way around
The modern astronomer’s toolkit
The evolution of the Universe
The life and death of Stars
Our solar system
Life in the universe

Wednesday, December 6

The big news from Mars

The NASA press conference today confirmed what many of the rumours were saying, NASA has found strong evidence for the very recent presence of liquid water on the surface of Mars. Mars Global Surveyor images have shown the formation of gullies in places where there were clearly not just a few years ago. Perhaps the most likely explanation for the formation of the gullies is liquid water.

There's plenty of images on the Malin Space Science Systems website. Also check out the BBC News story.

The MGS team have also released some excellent images of recent impact craters on Mars.

UPDATE: The Planetary Society website has an excellent article about this news story, and further comment on Emily Lakdawalla's blog.

Some news at last!

As you've probably gathered from the lack of posting over the last few weeks there has been little news around. Today that seems to have changed with quite a few things happening over the next few days.

Firstly the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team have released some more spectacular images of landers on the surface of Mars. This time they are the Spirit rover and the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers.

NASA has also announced plans for a lunar base to be constructed on the moon (obviously) once the next generation of launch vehicles are available to take astronaunts back to the moon. Read the story on the BBC News site with more details on the plans at Universe Today. You can also read some comments from some of the top space bloggers at Bad Astronomy and Cosmic Variance.

Rumours are that although it looks almost certain that Mars Global Surveyor has been lost, the MGS team are preparing to announce some important news of discoveries on Mar tomorrow (Wednesday). Not sure what it is but Stuart has some ideas. Watch this space.

Also this week should see the launch of shuttle mission STS-116 to the international space station.

Tuesday, December 5

Jodcast - Audio tour of the December sky and more

You are probably already familiar with the idea of the Podcast where you can download an audio piece from the net and listen to it at your leisure either on the PC or on your iPod. Well the Jodrell Bank Observatory now have a Jodcast with astronomy news and interviews and a tour of the night sky for each month. So, in the same way as Dennis gave us a guide to the winter sky last meeting, you can stand in your garden with the iPod and have your own personal monthly tour from Jodrell Bank's Ian Morrison. There are also links to other astronomy related Podcasts and their main website has been given a facelift too.

Monday, December 4

Binoculars going cheap!

It's become an annual event now. The discount supermarket Lidl is again selling Meade/Bresser 10x50 binoculars. This year the price is down to £10 again (was £15 last year). Several CAS members have these binoculars now, and have found them very useful. Although the quality may not be up to a £100 plus pair, they are very useful and an excellent instrument with which to start astronomy.

They will be 'in store' from 7th December, and may go quickly. Full details on the Lidl website.

Shuttle Launch this week

This week should see the next launch of the space shuttle Discovery. The shuttle is due to launch at 9.35pm local time, unfortunately that's 02.35h in the morning for us in the UK. If you've already got into the nocturnal habit watching the cricket, then you could watch the launch on NASA TV.

Image Credit NASA: Crew of STS 116

The mission is another construction mission to the International Space Station. Full details of the mission are available on the NASA Shuttle website.

Wednesday, November 29

CAS Meeting Report

Our main talk was Dennis Kelly giving us a fascinating insight into how he learned his way around the night sky, focusing on the winter constellations. Dennis also demonstrated some of the simple concepts he had picked up from his astronomy studies, including how to calculate the distance to some well known stars using the apparent and absolute magnitudes.

After a quick news round up from Chris, we discussed the committee's plans for improvements to the society meetings next year. These include more external speakers, Robin provided details of two university astronomers already booked for 2007. We also discussed a revised membership scheme. I'll post more details on that later.

Monday, November 27

November CAS Meeting

Don't forget our next CAS meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday 28th November at St Joseph's Church Hall in Cockermouth. The meeting starts at 7.30pm

This month CAS Member Dennis will be giving us a talk on "The Winter Sky" and building on the recent astronomy course he has done, will be showing how to use basic principles to calculate the distances to nearby stars.

Thursday, November 23

Grasmere Festival of Stars

Don't forget this Saturday 25th November is the Grasmere Festival of Stars observing event. We need your help in showing the night sky to members of the public who will be enjoying a public talk from Stuart in the early evening. The event will be held at the sports ground just outside Grasmere village. We really enjoyed the event last year, and found the observing site to be excellent.

If you can help by bringing a telescope along, please come along. We will be setting up from about 8.30pm. If you are intending to come could you let me know via email; chris@cockermouthastronomy.co.uk . I can also provide some more detailed directions if you need them.

Thursday, November 16

Mars Global Surveyor update

You may have picked up news items about NASA losing contact with the Mars Global Surveyor probe, which has been orbiting Mars since 1996. Contact with the probe was lost about 2 weeks ago. A full update on the problems and potential solutions is available on the Planetary Society website, and makes interesting reading.

Tuesday, November 14

Observing Event

This weekend is our next CAS Observing event. Weather permitting we'll meet at Big Wood at around 9.30pm. As usual is the weather is poor on Friday night we will try again on Saturday. For more information check out our observing FAQ.

We also have another opportunity this month at the upcoming Grasmere Festival of Stars on Saturday 25th November at the sports ground in Grasmere.

Note change of time to 9.30pm to allow more chance of seeing Leonid meteors later in the evening.

Thursday, November 9

Cassini looks into the eye of a monster storm

Image Credit: NASA

NASA's Cassini probe orbiting Saturn has been literally looking into a monster hurricane type storm in Saturn's south polar region. The storm is huge, 5,500 miles across, with the eye of the storm over 900 miles in diameter. The winds have been measured at speeds of up to 350 miles per hour.

The images below show the scene at different wavelengths and clearly show the structure of clouds circling within the storm. Scientists have not seen anything quite like this before. The storm is centered on the south pole and doesn't appear to move from it, unlike hurricanes on Earth. There's clearly much more to be learned about the ringed planet.

Hubble and Spitzer team up

Image credit: NASA/ESA

This latest image of the Orion nebula is a combined effort from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. Hubble provides the visible wavelengths, while Spitzer provides the infrared wavelengths, as shpwn in the image below.

More details on the Spitzer website including a video demonstrating how the image was made.

Tuesday, November 7

Telescope for sale

We have been contacted by a guy in Workington, who has an Orion SX150 (6" Newtonian) for sale. The scope is about 12 years old; but looks to be in good condition. It is on a pedestal German equatorial mount, fitted with a drive motor (untested), and comes with a 9mm 1.25" eyepiece. The finderscope needs some repair (right-angled eyepiece holder broken off), and the scope needs collimating.

Anyone interested should contact Chris or myself for contact details.

Solar Transit of Mercury 8th November

Anyone remember the last time Mercury crossed the Sun? It was on 7th May 2003. Several CAS members set up telescopes and watched the show from the Memorial Gardens in Cockermouth (This is one of my images from the event) Well it happens again tomorrow. It starts after sunset from here unfortunately but you can watch it live on the internet from the Kitt Peak observatory in the US from 19:00 to just after midnight our time.

(Or if they are clouded out you can always try here in Japan where it will happen during their morning!)

Friday, November 3

Comet Swan

With the moon waxing towards full, it's not an ideal time to observe Comet Swan - but at least we've had a couple of clear nights.

The following pictures are based on the same raw data (50 frames of 30secs @ ISO1600), with image alignment on stars in the first picture and on the comet nucleus in the second.

Notice how far the comet has travelled across the background stars in only 25 minutes.

Wednesday, November 1

New Discovery Missions being considered

NASA has recently announced a number of potential Discovery missions which are being considered for approval. The Discovery class is the least expensive type of mission that NASA operate with a cost cap of $450 million. A number of proposals have been developed by various science teams. Three have been selected for further funding to work up the options. Following that, one more may be selected as a 'real' mission. The three missions being considered are a sample return mission to an asteroid, a probe to study Venus' atmosphere in more detail, and a mission to map the gravity of the moon and provide more details of its internal structure.

Also being considered are three proposals to use NASA existing probes for a new purpose. This concept sounds really interesting. Examples are reusing Deep Impact, which sent an impactor smashing into comet Tempel 1 last July, to visit another asteroid or even use its camera to look for extrasolar planets. Another example is using the Stardust probe to fly by comet Tempel 1 to look at the crater caused by the Deep Impact mission. These inventive uses for existing probes sound like a lot of common sense, lets hope they get approve.

Lots more details on these proposals over on the excellent Planetary Society Blog.

Hubble Serving Mission

Yesterday NASA Administrator Mike Griffin announced that approval had been given for a final serving mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. This means that the space shuttle will make one last trip to HST in 2008 to carry out repairs and upgrade to the space telescope which is already over 15 years old.

Image credit NASA: Artist impression of next servicing mission.

Among the planned work is fitting of a new wide field camera system, adding a new spectrograph and replacing the batteries and gyro systems that keep the telescope orientated correctly. In addition repairs to some of the existing systems will be attempted.

Hopefully those upgrades will allow Hubble to continue to operate until the Next Generation Space Telescope (James Webb Telescope) is launched. That's no earlier than 2013. In the meantime we can look forward to many more spectacular images from Hubble.

Tuesday, October 31

October Meeting Report

A great meeting tonight. It was really good to see so many people bringing along their telescopes of all shapes and sizes. Certainly more than we've had before and so many I think we actually ran out of space in the hall!

Thanks to Phil for the photographs

After a news update and a quick summary of telescope basics, much of the evening was spent in huddled groups discussing telescopes and accessories, what and how to upgrade, how to take photographs of the night sky, and much more. I'm sure that was really useful to many people, probably more so than the talks.

Thanks again to everyone who brought a 'scope along, and a special thanks to Caroline again for sorting out the refreshments.

The next task for the Committee is putting together a really good programme for 2007. We'll be meeting soon to discuss that, and would really appreciate your suggested for things we should be doing as a society.

Impromptu Comet Watch

If it happens to be clear this evening, I will arrive early (about 18:30) for the meeting with the hope that Comet M4 Swan may be visible from the hall car park. (45 deg high in the west at 18:30 dropping to 35 deg by 19:30) If it is not visible from there then check for me in the memorial gardens.

Here is hoping for clear skies!

Sunday, October 29

Janus and Saturn

Image Credit: NASA

I love these 'moon in front of planet' pictures. This latest one is of Saturn's moon Janus transiting the planet as seen from NASA's Cassini probe.

Friday, October 27

CAS October Meeting - 31/10/06

Our October meeting is on Tuesday 31st October at 7.30pm in our usual location. This month we are holding an equipment evening (something we've done successfully before). That means you are welcome to bring your telescopes along to show others. We'll be having some short talks on the basics of telescopes and how to choose them, as well as a look at some of the modern developments in amateur telescopes. Hopefully we'll have a good selection of telescopes of different shapes and sizes for people to look at.

If you already have a telescope, we'll take a look at a few 'upgrades' you could consider to get more out of you telescope. There will be plenty of time for answering any of you questions on choosing and using telescopes.

We will of course have our usual new round up, and refreshments. I look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, October 26

Spirit celebrates 1000 days on Mars

The Spirit rover has just completed an amazing 1000 days on Mars on 26th October. That's far more than the planned 3 month mission duration and an amazing achievement by the engineers and scientists involved in the mission.

Image Credit NASA: McMurdo Panorama (Click for larger version)

NASA has just released a new 360 degree panorama of the area around "Low Ridge" where Spirit has been spending the Martian winter. The image is the largest taken to date, as the press release puts it;

"The panorama was acquired using all 13 of the Pancam's color filters, using lossless compression for the red and blue stereo filters, and only modest levels of compression on the remaining filters. The overall panorama consists of 1,449 Pancam images and represents a raw data volume of nearly 500 megabytes. It is thus the largest, highest-fidelity view of Mars acquired from either rover"

It took the rover, and team 119 sols (martian days) to take all those images. Check out the press release and related links to download the full size (12 MB) version.

NASA's Messenger probe completes Venus flyby

NASA's Messenger probe, currently taking the long way to Mercury, has just completed a successful flyby of Venus. For full details see the Planetary Society Blog, where it's great to see Emily Lakdawalla back in the driving seat after her maternity leave.

Wednesday, October 25

Comet M4 SWAN brightens unexpectedly!

Comets can be fickle things and M4 SWAN is no exception. A couple of days ago it brightened dramatically about fivefold and is now reported easily visible with the unaided eye and showing some blue colour in binoculars. See the Society for Popular Astronomy for more details, including curently a nice image from Pete Lawrence on the home page.

Note that this comet is on what is known as a Hyperbolic orbit which means after visiting our part of the solar system, it is heading off into deep space, never to return so if the weather allows, catch it while you can!

Friday, October 20

Comet M4 Swan and other images

Thanks to Robin's post last weekend, I managed to get a glimpse of Comet M4 Swan as it was winging it's way towards the north-east horizon.

The following image is a composite stack of 10 x 30second images at ISO1600 taken with 6" f/5 achromatic refractor and Canon 300D:

The tail was not visible with binoculars or through the 150mm refractor, but does start to show on this relatively short exposure. Pushing the image shows it up slightly more:

Some other images I was able to capture last weekend with the clear skies were...

M45 (Pleiades)

M27 (Dumbell Nebula)

Fingers crossed for the Orionids this weekend.

New CAS Website available

The revised CAS website I mentioned a while ago is now up and running. It's the same address www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk but the whole thing have been given a bit of a facelift. I've added the CAS news blog feed to the front page (although there seems to be a problem with images at the moment?). A lot of the society information has been updated, and a couple of new reviews and links added.

Now it's over to you. Firstly I need to know if anything about the site doesn't work for you, I've tested it on a couple of systems but could do with more feedback. Secondly I need you contributions. As I've said many times, this is a society website, not my personal website, so if you contribute anything, please get in touch.

Wednesday, October 18

CAS Observing Evening - October 20th / 21st

As well as being the peak of Orionids meteors this weekend, it is of course our next CAS observing evening. So we have the chance to get together and observe the spectacle. Weather permitting we'll meet at our new site at Big Wood near Highham Hall at about 8.30pm (although we'll have to stay much later to see the meteors at their best). If it's cloudy on Friday we have a second chance on Saturday.

For more information check out our observing Frequently Asked Questions.

Orionid Meteor shower this weekend

This weekend, weather permitting, we should see more meteors or shooting stars than normal. The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks over the weekend. The basic tip for observing meteors is simply go outside and look up. No telescope or binoculars are necessary, in fact they are no real use for meteors. For more details on how to observer I'll simple refer you to Stuart's article on Cumbrian Sky.

If you fancy having a go at photographing meteors check out this advice on Space.com.

Fingers crossed for clear skies.

Monday, October 16

More lakes on Titan

Recent radar images of Titan's north polar regions taken by Cassini in early October have provided more evidence of lakes of liquid hydrocarbons. The darker areas in these images indicate flat surfaces, which scientists believe are liquid, most probably methane. The image below shows a lake at the top left which looks similar to Lake Powell in Utah in the US.

Image credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA - Lake Powell photographed from the Space Shuttle

The scale of the Cassini image is 190 miles wide by 60 miles, so the lakes are on a large scale compared with Earth's lakes. The next Cassini flyby of Titan is due on 24th October.

Martian Dreams

If you haven't already checked out Stuart's new website Martian Dreams have a look. It's the new home for all Stuart's Mars images.

Saturday, October 14

Comet M4 Swan now visible in binoculars

Comet M4 Swan is now visible in binoculars in the North West in early evening from around 20:00 BST. Look out for a fuzzy 6th magnitude "star". Currently between The Plough and Bootes, Heavens Above has a finder chart which is updated daily. I took this image, which is a total of 37 minutes exposure, Saturday night. Notice how the stars have trailed as I tracked the comet moving through the field of view. The height of this image is about 1/2 degree. I could not see the tail visually in 10x50 binoculars or the 80mm refractor, only in the image.

Thursday, October 12

Saturn's rings as you've never seen them before!

This recent release from the Cassini team shows a composite of 165 images taken, at various wavelengths, from behind the planet. It shows incredible detail in the rings which is simply not seen in the more usual direct sunlight images taken from the 'front' of Saturn.

There plenty more about this image (and a slightly different version) on the planetary society blog and of course the Cassini website.

Tuesday, October 10

Hubble proves planets form from dust

The Hubble Space Telescope has been observing nearby star Epsilon Eridani (10.5 light years away). The star is similar to the sun and is known to have a dust disk which was discovered in 1998. There is no dust closer than about 35 AU from the star, leading to the conclusion that planets have formed in this region and cleared it.

In 2000 a team of scientists announced a suspected planet the existence of which has finally been confirmed, after years of debate, by the Hubble observations.

Image Credit NASA: Artist impression of Epsilon Eridani b

The planet, Epsilon Eridani b has a mass of 1.5 Jupiters and orbits at a distance of 3.3 AU from the star. Another planet Epsilon Eridani c has been postulated but not confirmed.

The Hubble observation has now shown that planets form from dust disks. Something we all thought we knew, but apparently this is the first time a system has been known to discover both a dust disk and a confirmed planet!

Interestingly, because Epsilon Eridani is so close the Hubble team think they may be able to see it when it makes its closet approach to its star in late 2007. Watch this space . .

Friday, October 6

MRO's view of Opportunity and Victoria

NASA's MRO team have just release these images of Victoria crater taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbit with the HiRise camera.

As well as being simply a fantastic image of Victoria crater, the camera has also captured the rover Opportunity perched on the end of the crater overlooking Duck Bay.

This really is amazing, getting new images from the rover and the orbiter within days of each other. If you look carefully your can even make out the rover tracks where it has approached the crater edge in one location, then moved further along.

As Mars is due to pass behind the Sun, as seen from Earth, very shortly we won't here much more from the rovers for a month or so. One radio communications are up to full speed again, we can expect more amazing images. Until then just look at this one.

Thursday, October 5

Hubble finds distance exoplanets

A survey of the galactic centre region carried out using the Hubble Space Telescope has found another 16 possible extrasolar planets. The survey, called SWEEPS (Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet Search), used Hubble to look for the tell-tale dimming of stars as a planet passes in front of the star. This is the so-called transit method.

In this survey 180,000 stars were studied in a region of the sky in the constellation Sagittarius 26,000 light years away. This is looking directly at the central bulge of our Milky Way galaxy. All the planets are Jupiter mass or greater, and some are unusual in than they orbit their stars in less than one Earth day! This has never been seen before and has lead astronomers to propose a new class of planet known as Ultra-Short-Period Planets (USPPs).

The planets are not confirmed yet so you won't find them on the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, further observations are needed to measure their mass. However, this discovery provides yet more evidence to consider in revising our views on how and where planetary systems form.

Wednesday, October 4

Coming soon . . . .

I've been working on a facelift for our main website [www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk] over the last week or so. Thanks to those of you who sent comments following my last post on the subject. Here's a sneak preview of the new look website;

I hope to go live with the revised site over the next few days. The main changes are a simplified navigation system with everything in one of five main sections. I've also included the latest blog entries from CAS News directly on the front page so you can read the full articles there. I've removed some stuff that simply wasn't being used.

The most important thing about any website is the content, and although I've updated some information, and added a couple of new reviews, much of it is the same. That's where I need your help . . . .

This is after all a society website, not a personal website, so it would be really good to have some contributions from society members. I'm not asking for long articles, just a quick review or website recommendation etc would be great. Have a look at the type of things that are there now, you'll get the idea. As always any ideas, comments suggestions etc will be gratefully received.

LiveLinks live again!

Not that anyone spotted they were missing, but I've managed to get the CAS LiveLinks working again. If you look over on the sidebar on the right hand side (assuming you're looking at the blog and not an email or RSS feed), then you'll see "LiveLinks" just underneath "Links".

The idea is that I can post a link and short description of a website of interest without having to prepare a full post. That should make it easier (for me at least) to keep you up to date with the latest news. I'll also include the feature on the relaunch of our main website.

Monday, October 2

The view from Victoria

I hope you're keeping up to date with developments at Victoria crater on Mars. It's a topic I've not been covering much because Stuart is covering it so much better than I could over on Cumbrian Sky.

I know many of you will be following Stuart's entries with as keen an interest as I am. If you haven't I suggest you check out his latest pictures.

New Horizons looks at Jupiter

NASA's New Horizons probe is well into the first year of it's 9 year journey to Pluto (and beyond!). It has recently been scanning the road ahead with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera and sent back images of it's next target Jupiter.

Image Credit: NASA

This image was taken almost a month ago now, when New Horizons was 180 million miles away from Jupiter. It shows Jupiter's moons Europa and Io, and their shadows crossing the planet in the northern hemisphere as seen from the probe. The spacecraft will be sending back more detailed images as it gets closer to the planet in January and February next year.

Meanwhile Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA's new probe orbiting the red planet, has finally started sending high resolution pictures. The images are available at the MRO website.

Friday, September 29

UK lead team finds new exoplanets

As Robin mentioned on Tuesday night, an international team of astronomer lead by the UK have recently discovered two new extrasolar planets. The project is called superWASP, WASP being "wide angle search for planets". The instruments used are essentially a collections of camera lenses, mounted on a telescope mount. This allows the team to image a very wide area of the sky each night. The data is stored, and then analyzed for changes in the brightness of individual stars. Instruments like the one shown below have a field of view 2000 times greater than a 'normal' telescope.

Image Credit: SuperWASP project. Image shows one of the imaging instruments comprising 8 cameras

The planets are discovered using the transit method, detecting the drop in brightness as a planet passes in front of its star, as seen from Earth. The existence of the planets was then confirmed by a French instrument called Shopie, using the doppler spectroscopy method to detect the 'wobble' in the parent star caused by the planet.

The planets discovered orbit very close to there stars and are 'hot jupiter'. The planets have been named Wasp-1b and Wasp-2b, and are thought to be among the hottest planets yet found with temperatures around 1,800C.

Wednesday, September 27

Opportunity really is there now!

Thanks to Stuart for keeping an eye on this for us. Opportunity is now returning some real images of Victoria crater, and it looks really impressive.

Image Credit: NASA (click image to enlarge)

The rover took this image from a distance of about 6m from the edge of the crater. By the end of today, it should be right at the edge. Check out the full NASA description.

September Meeting Report

Last night's CAS meeting was a great success, and it was great to see a few new faces. Chris gave a news round up covering subjects as diverse as the Smart 1 impact on the moon, the Atlantis Shuttle mission, new planets in other solar systems and new names in ours, space tourism . . . the list goes on.

We then had a short break with, for the first time, tea, coffee and biscuits. Thanks to Caroline for organizing that. The availability of refreshments did seem to encourage a bit more discussion among members , which was good to see.

After the break Jeremy Hunt gave us an excellent talk on "an introduction to astrophotography". This was an excellent talk covering the basics, illustrated by Jeremy's excellent photographs and providing some useful tips along the way. I'm sure there was something for everyone.

Links from the meeting.

We talked about observing the ISS from Cumbria. At the moment the ISS makes early morning passes over Cumbria at around 0500h - 0630h each morning. For specific timings head over the www.heavens-above.com or if you live in Cockermouth this link has the location already set.

For more up to date images on Mars rover Opportunity approaching Victoria crater keep an eye on Stuart's blog Cumbrian Sky where he's keeping a very close eye on progress.

Our October meeting is dedicated to telescopes and equipment. At the meeting we hope to have a range of telescopes on display, and will be covering the basics of choosing and using telescopes. Ideal if you're thinking of buying a telescope for Christmas.

Tuesday, September 26

Betelgeuse faintest for over 60 years?

For night owls and early risers, the winter constellation of Orion is already prominent in the south east. Followers of the brightness variations of Betelgeuse may have noticed that the famous pulsating red supergiant star (left shoulder of Orion), is somewhat dimmer than usual. Results logged with the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) confirm that indeed Betelgeuse is currently around half a magnitude fainter on average than last season and may be the dimmest it has been since at least the 1940s
Read more about this fascinating star on the AAVSO website here.

Saturday, September 23

CAS Observing Evening Report

A select band of just four met at Big Wood last night for our September observing session. Luckily the weather co-operated and although things looked patchy as we were setting up scopes the sky cleared later on. For once it was quite warm all evening as well, although that wont last for our future meetings I'm sure!

We had some excellent views of some of the favourite deep-sky objects including; the Andromeda Galaxy, the Dumbell Nebula, the Double Cluster, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and several globular and open clusters. Most of the time was spent looking at the fantastic view through Robin's Moonfish ultra-wide angle eyepiece. It was also a good opportunity for me to try out my Telrad finder.

An excellent night's observing and some great conversation made it a very worthwhile night. Hopefully we can persuade a few more people to come along next time.

Friday, September 22

Observing Session Tonight

It looks as if the sky is clearing from the west this evening, so we may be lucky tonight. Definitely worth a try, so please come along about 8.45 ish. Hope to see you there.


Wednesday, September 20

September CAS Observing Session

Our monthly observing sessions restart again this month, weather permitting. The last few have been cancelled due to lack of a suitable observing site. Our last site at Calbeck was really too far for most people to travel.

After much deliberation we have decided on a site much closer to Cockermouth at Big Wood. That's about 10 mins drive from the centre of Cockermouth. For map of how to get there follow this link.

The observing session is planned for the 22nd or 23rd of September. That means that if it's clear on the 22nd (this Friday night) we'll meet up at the site. If it's cloudy, we'll try again on Saturday night. If it's cloudy again we give up for the month and try again next month! For more details on observing sessions check out this Frequently Asked Questions post.

These observing sessions are a great opportunity to meet other CAS members, discuss and try out equipment and learn from more experienced members. You don't need any fancy equipment to take part, ust bring what you've got; telescope, binoculars, your eyes, whatever.

Keep an eye on the blog on Friday, I'll try an post something if the session is on. If you here nothing, and it looks clear, just turn up. I look forward to seeing you there.

The observant among you will have noticed I haven't mentioned a time to meet. Lets say arrive between 8.45pm and about 9.15pm. It should be reasonably dark by then. - Chris.

Tuesday, September 19

Giant extrasolar planet puzzles astronomers

Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Scientist are puzzled by the latest extrasolar planet discovery. The is planet named HAT-P-1, after the telescope system which discovered it using the transit technique. That means it was discovered by detecting the dimming of it's parent star as the planet passes in front of the star blocking out some of the light. This technique allows the diameter of the planet to be measured as well as its mass. Using that information the planet's density can be calculated.

This particular planet has a radius of 1.38 times that of Jupiter, the largest planet discovered to date. However, it only has a mass of half Jupiter's, giving it a very low density. It's density is about half that of water, similar to cork ! This gives scientists a problem in explaining how the planet formed, as current models would require a much denser body to have enough gravity to grow to the observed size.

For an excellent insight into the latest theories of planetary formation, and extrasolar planet discoveries check out October's issue of Astronomy magazine, which is an extrasolar planet special issue.

Monday, September 18

A busy week at the International Space Station

It's busy up at the International Space Station at the moment. The Shuttle Atlantis has just undocked from the space station after a very succesful mission to install new solar panels on the station. The shuttle is due to land on Wednesday this week.

Meanwhile a russian Soyuz spacecraft lifted off this morning from Kazakstan, carrying new crew members. Among them is Anousheh Ansari, the world's first female space tourist. Anousheh has a keen interest in spaceflight, and was one of the people involved in the Ansari X-prize set up to encourage commerical space flight. During here trip to the ISS she will be writing a blog, which you can find here.

ISS is well placed for viewing from Cumbria at the moment. You can get details of the latest passes one the Heaven's Above website. The addition of extra solar panels should make the station even brighter and easy to see.

Thursday, September 14

Dwarf planet 2003 UB313 gets an official name

The Dwarf Planet 2003 UB313 (you know, the one that's bigger than Pluto) now has an official name, and it's not Xena. The IAU, which names solar system bodies, as well as demoting planets, has given it the name Eris. It has been named after the Greek goddess of discord and strife. That's very appropriate given the strife caused since it's discovery which eventually resulted in a change of the definition of a planet, and Pluto's ultimate demotion to dwarf planet status!

More details at the Bad Astronomy Blog .

Wednesday, September 13

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reaches final orbit

Image Credit: NASA

After about six months of 'aerobraking' NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) as finally reached its science orbit. This means that we should soon start to see some of the high resolutions images of the surface of Mars promised by the HiRise instrument. This is the most powerful imaging system sent to any planet.

Wednesday, September 6

Shuttle Launch Postponed

The launch of the space shuttle Atlantis has again been postponed. This time due to a malfunction of one of the shuttle's three fuel cells during a pre-flight check. NASA will probably try again tomorrow. See the BBC News article here .

Shuttle Crew ready for launch

Image Credit: NASA

The crew of the shuttle Atlantis are preparing for launch today. This mission will visit the International Space Station, and for the first time in over 4 years actualy add components to the space station. The main objective will be to add a new array of solar panels which will double the station's electricity generation capacity.

The launch is scheduled for 16:29 hrs GMT this afternoon. You should be able to catch the launch on NASA TV, and probably BBC News 24 TV channel.

Tuesday, September 5

Extrasolar Planet Update

While the debate continues to rage about how many planets there are in our own solar system, it is worth remembering that as of August 2006 there are well over 200 planets known to exist around other stars. When I did a talk at CAS in May 2006 that number was nearer 160! Each month more extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, are added to the list.

One of the most recently confirmed planets orbits the star beta gemini, that's the naked eye star Pollux to you and I. One of the Gemini 'twins', Castor and Pollux, the star is well known to many amateurs and is well placed in the winter sky. Next time you look at the constellation you can contemplate the fact that there are planets up there !

The planet has a mass of 2.5 times that of Jupiter and orbits at a distance of 1.64 AU from Pollux. Of course that may not be the only planet to orbit Pollux. The techniques currently used for detecting extrasolar planets are best at detecting larger planets, in close orbit around their stars. Hence the majority of planets we know about are so called 'Hot Jupiters'. As techniques improve smaller and smaller planets will be discovered, with the ultimate goal being to find Earth sized planets around other stars.

The closest star known to have a planet is Epsilon Eridani. It is the third closest naked eye star to our sun, at a distance of 10.5 light years. In 1998 a dust disk was discovered around the star. Within about 35 AU of the star there was no dust, indicating the possible presence of a planetary system. In 2000 a planet Epsilon Eridani B was announced. This is a 0.8 Jupiter mass object orbiting about 3 AU from the star. A further planet Epsilon Eridani C has also been proposed, but as yet remains unconfirmed. Because of its close proximity Epsilon Eridani will be one of the first stars tobe investigated by the next generation of extrasolar planet missions, including NASA's SIM PlanetQuest , which should be able to detect any Earth mass planets orbiting the star.

The Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia is the place to go to keep tabs on all the known extrasolar planets. However it is not the most graphical of sites, if you want a more visually appealing site, with images and artistic impressions of some of these planets, check out Extrasolar Visions. Extrasolar visions even provides a view of the night sky from the planet in question. There is also plenty of information on the New Worlds Atlas , part of NASA's PlanetQuest site. PlanetQuest also has details of some of the upcoming missions to improve our knowledge of other planetary systems as well as a round up of the surprisingly large number of current exoplanet studies.

There's also an excellent summary of the various methods of detection, including the pros and cons, at the Planetary Society website. For information on the nearest stars to Sol and potential planetary systems check out Solstation .

Many thanks to the Eddington Astronomical Society for inviting me to talk at their meeting last night. I really enjoyed the evening. Hopefully this post will clear up some of the questions from the meeting and provide some follow up links.

Saturday, September 2

CAS Website Update - Your comments needed

I've not done many updates to the CAS website over the past few months, but I feel it is time to give it a bit of an update.

I'm looking for some feedback on what needs updating from you. I've got a reasonable amount of information on what the popular pages are and what is not used quite so much. You can expect some of the stuff to disappear. What would you like to see more of ? What doesn't work quite as you think it should ? What could you contribute?

To start you off, here are a few of my thoughts;

  • Update meeting reports to bring up to date
  • Change the links sections, add more relevent links
  • Add more reviews of websites, books, equipment etc
  • Details of our new observing sites

Let me have any comments as soon as possible.

Friday, September 1

CAS Observing Evenings - FAQ

When do they take place?

Observing evenings are held every month during the 'dark months'. That means we don't bother meeting during the summer when it doesn't get dark until very late. The evenings are planned for two nights in the diary, however we only meet on one of them.

In order to give us the best chance of observing under a clear sky we aim to meet on the first date, but if it's cloudy we meet on the following night.

The dates of the sessions are in the CAS Programme and are generally planned around the weekend before the new moon. This gives us the best chance of observing under dark skies without the moon causing a distraction.

Where do they take place?

At the moment our observing nights are at the entrance to Big Wood, near Higham. That about a 10 minute drive from the centre of Cockermouth. You can find a map and directions here .

Do I need to have a telescope to come to an observing evening?

No. We always stress that you don't need a telescope to look at the night sky. Our aim is that observing evenings are a social event and a chance for people to discuss astronomy and learn from each other. If you haven't got a telescope there will be plenty of people who have got one and will be only too happy to show you.

Please ask before you touch someone else's telescope. Set ups can be different for each scope, and someone may be in the middle of taking a photograph or something, even if it looks as if no-one is using the scope.

If you do have a telescope, but haven't had much success using it, don't be afraid to bring it along. You'd be surprised how many people struggle to find objects in their new telescope, you are not alone. Bring it along and someone will be happy to give you advice on setting it up, and finding your way around with it.

What equipment do I need to bring ?

The main essentials are warm clothing and perhaps a warm drink and something to eat. No matter how warm it may have been during the day and what the weather forecast says, if you are stood under a clear dark sky for several hours it will be COLD ! We don't want any hyperthermia cases on our hands.

It will be dark, so you may be tempted to bring a torch. If you do, please make sure it gives out a red light. It takes about 20-30 mins for the human eye to become 'dark adapted' for optimum viewing. A white light will cause you (and others) to lose that dark adaption. Using a red light avoids that, while allowing you to avoid obstacles and read star charts etc. You can buy special red light torches, but just cover a standard torch with some red plastic and tape it on to get the same effect.

How long will observing sessions last ?

That all depends on the weather, and perhaps most importantly how cold it is ! Normally people start to drift away around 11pm and only a few hardy souls make it past midnight. On a particularly clear night with plenty to see things may carry on into the small hours, but don't feel obliged to stay to the end if you'd rather be in bed.

How do I know if the session is on or not ?

Generally if it's completely cloudy then the session will not be on. Check the CAS News blog for an update on the evening. Or just turn up and see if anyone's there!

Am a complete beginner. What do I need to know before I come along?

There is no 'required level'. There will always be more experienced people that you can learn from, and you'll probably know more than you think anyway. It really is just a case of turning up, introducing yourself, and enjoying the view.

Etiquette for observing evenings

We don't have strict rules for observing sessions and keep things very informal. However a few common sense points of etiquette will help things run smoothly;

  • Ask before you use someone someone else's telescope.
  • Don't shine bright lights around where people are observing.
  • If you are arriving late or leaving early, try to avoid car headlight beams shining where people are observing.
Safety tips

Astronomy is not a dangerous sport, but there are a few things to remember;
  • It will be dark at the site and there will be plenty of things to trip over; telescope tripods, cables, storage boxes, carrying cases etc. Take care to avoid obstacles and try and leave space between telescope set ups if you can.
  • It will be cold. Make sure you dress appropriately.
  • If you unsure about anything, just ask. There are plenty of people there to help.

Getting up to speed with cosmology

If you are interested, but perhaps a little confused about cosmology then it might be worth checking out the September issue of Astronomy magazine. A wide range of subjects including gravity waves, particle physics, and dark energy are covered in a number of articles. All in all a good introduction to the subject. Also look out for a special edition called COSMOS due out sometime in October.