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Sunday, January 29

CAS January Meeting - 31st January 2006

Just a reminder that our January meeting is this coming Tuesday (31st), 7.30pm at St Joseph's Church Hall in Cockermouth.

It promises to be a packed evening with the following planned;
  • Adaptive Optics - Robin
  • News round up - Chris
  • What's in the sky - Bill
  • CAS Websites - Chris
We'll also be discussing our programme for 2006, and looking for ideas from you.

Following a suggestion at the CAS Christmas Do, a few of us will be retiring next door to the Kingfisher pub for a chat and a drink afterwards, everyone is welcome to join us.

See you there.


Addendum [30/1/06]: Of course if the weather stays clear like it has been the last couple of nights, we will delay the pub visit and go to the Memorial Gardens for a quick observation session, so bring telescopes or binoculars if the weather looks good.

International Space Station visible this week

If you are an early riser, you can see the International Space Station (ISS) pass overhead in the Cockermouth Area over the next week.

Starting early tomorrow morning (30th January), ISS will pass over head at 07:14 in SSE direction reaching magnitude 1.7. It starts to become visible just a couple of minutes before that and disappears from view by 07:17.

As the week progresses the passes get earlier. For full details of the passes for Cockermouth follow this link to Heavens Above. If you are observing anywhere away from Cockermouth the timings and visibility may be different, so go to the Heavens Above main page and enter your own location there.

Observing Evening - Caldbeck 28th January 2006

(Click on the links for more from nineplanets and SEDS)

Half a dozen hardy souls made it up to a frosty observing site and were rewarded with some excellent conditions.

Seeing was nice and steady, giving good views of Saturn just a couple of days past opposition. The Cassini division between the A and B rings was obvious and subtle bands of cloud could be seen on the planet. In contrast, Mars was disappointing, with very little to be seen of the surface features so clear a few months ago. Although still high in the sky, it is getting very small now it is well past opposition.

Decent transparency revealed the winter Milky Way in all its splendour with Cassiopeia high overhead and Orion standing tall in the south. This meant that a tour of the deep sky favourites for this time of year was suitably impressive. The Orion Nebula (M42) of course, bright in binoculars and in the eyepiece, with the trapezium stars bright and clear and nebulosity spilling over the edges of the field. The Pleiades (M45) beautiful in binoculars. The Crab Nebula (M1), still glowing brightly nearly a thousand years after the supernova explosion which produced it. The closely paired galaxies M81 and M82 (M82 - The Cigar, in particular looked good with plenty of detail visible in its active core. A look at the Rosette Nebula (NGC2244, Caldwell 49/50) revealed signs of the nebula surrounding the star cluster but proved much too big for my lowest power eyepiece to do it justice.

After a couple of hours or so enjoyable observing and some good crack, a chilly east wind finally got the better of us and we retreated in search of some warmth!

Saturday, January 28

Lego Universe!

Kids fed up with the Christmas Lego?
Too much time on your hands?
Why not build a Lego Universe? Here is a start for you.

Click here for the movie and more pictures!
(Just the pictures for non broadband users)

What next - Lego Mindstorms GOTO telescope control?

Roving Mars - IMAX Movie

Late last year a few CAS members met up with a few members of the Eddington Astronomical Society for a trip to the Bradford IMAX cinema to see Magnificent Desolation, a fantastic 3D IMAX film about the Apollo moon landings. That really was a great inspirational film. See the review on Stuart's Cumbrian Sky here.

Now another space related IMAX film is on its way. Roving Mars is, not surprisingly, about the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The rovers have been 'roving' for around 2 Earth years (just over 1 Martian year), well beyond their original planned mission duration.

The film is essentially a documentary of the mission to date including design and build of the rovers, launch and landing. It includes pre launch footage, interviews with key mission staff, animations and actual pictures from Mars.

To be honest, the movie sounds like it's not quite as breathtaking as Magnificent Desolation, see this review at Planetary Society Weblog, but is still recommended viewing. Perhaps we should organise another Bradford trip.

Something to discuss on Tuesday night, at our January meeting ?

Friday, January 27

Weird and wonderful . . .

Thanks to CAS Member Dave Moll for this interesting snippet . . .

Shortly astronauts onboard the International Space Station will open the door and throw an old space suit out into space! They are not just getting rid of rubbish, the suit will be packed with a simple radio transmitter allowing amateurs to 'listen' to the suit as it orbits the Earth.

To quote the NASA web page . .

Using a simple police scanner or ham radio, you can listen to a disembodied
spacesuit circling Earth

Don't believe me? (and frankly I was skeptical). Check out the NASA web page here, which will hopefully anwser the obvious question . . WHY?

NASA - SuitSat

Here's a picture for you skeptics out there.

Image: NASA

Thanks to Dave for tracking this down and letting me know. I'm sure there's lots of other stuff out there. If you find something out there that's interesting, educational, fun or downright wacky let me know and I'll pass it on.

Thursday, January 26

CAS Newsletter by email

How do you want your CAS News ?

This CAS News blog seems to offer quite few advantages. One of which is that it gives you total control over how you get news about CAS. Up until now you've had no choice. You get the emails when I send them and you read them, ignore them, or delete them without opening (I suppose that is your choice !). I have no idea how many people who I send the email to actually want it or read it.

Now you have a number of choices. If you prefer email you can sign up to get the new items by email the day they are published (or the following morning usually).

Perhaps you are not a CAS 'regular' and hence don't need the updates clogging your inbox ? Maybe you're a past member who still like to keep in touch with what we are up to (if so it's nice of you to keep an interest), or maybe a member of one of the other excellent Cumbrian Astronomy Societies. No matter, you can just drop by this site from time to time to see what the latest CAS News is, and browse the archives.

Or maybe your interest has waned completely, and you ignore the emails (wait a minute . . . If that's the case you'll probably never get to it's site!). Anyway, if you really not interested, do nothing and the emails will stop shortly.

Whether you want to get the news from here at the CAS News site, from www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk or by email, or all three, the choice is yours.

Getting the news by email

It's easy to subscribe or unsubscribe to the 'newsletter'. Just enter your email address in the box in the sidebar . .

The emails are then provided by a service called FeedBlitz, which will check the CAS News blog for you and send you an email every day there is a new entry. The email will have the full entry, so you need never go back to the blog again. You can chose to get a text or HTML (formatting and pictures) email, and also subscribe to other news as well if you want. Maybe I'll cover how to do that in a future item.

If you decide you no longer want the emails, just follow the unsubscribe link in the emails you get. By the way, don't worry about your email address being spammed, feedblitz has a strict policy (I've been using the service to receive emails for some time without problem). I will be able to see your email address unless you choose not to let me when you sign up, but no-one else will.

You notice from the picture above there is also an option to subscribe directly to the rss feed. At the moment I'll leave that to you, but rss technology is becoming more popular and is really useful.

CAS Observing Night

Tomorrow night, if it's clear, we'll meet at our Caldbeck observing site for an observing night.

We've mentioned both Friday and Saturday night and a few people have been asking about how this will work, so here are the details.

  • If it's clear on the Friday night we will all meet up at site 3 (see the directions on the CAS Website). Aim to arrive between 8.00pm and 8.30pm.
  • If it is NOT clear we'll abandon the attempt on Friday, and try again on Saturday night. This gives us two chances to beat the Cumbrian weather.
  • However if it is clear on Friday we will NOT meet again on Saturday.

I hope that clears things up. I'll try and post something here and/or on the website letting people know whether it's on or off on the evening. However, work on the principle we'll be going anyway, unless it's raining or 100% cloudy.

We'll just see how it goes this time and report back at the meeting on Tuesday. See you there.

Wednesday, January 25

New extrasolar planet discovered !

Today is a classic example of the difficulties with the email newsletter. I get up at 6am to prepare the newsletter, send it out before going to work and then get home to discover an new extrasolar planet has been discovered and it's all over the news ;-)

Anyway, in case you haven't heard the news. Astronomers have announced the discovery of a new extrasolar planet. This one is unusual in that it's the smallest yet discovered with a mass of only 5 times that of the Earth. This is thought to be a 'rocky' Earth-type planet, and is the next step on the way to discovering other 'Earths' in our galaxy.

For full details see the press release at European Southern Observatory. There's also an artist's impression of the new planet there. (it's almost as if they've been preparing for this announcement !).

The other special thing about this planet it the way it was discovered. Extrasolar planets have usually been discovered by detecting the 'wobble' they cause in the motion of the star they orbit. In this case the planet was discovered by gravitational lensing. This effect, predicted by Einstein, is where light from a star is bent and focused by the gravity of another body (in this case the planet). This leads to an increase in the light from the star when the planet is in a certain position.

More details at our January meeting. That's this coming Tuesday in case you forgot.

See CAS Weblinks for more extrasolar planet related links.

CAS Newsletter moves to a blog

Ok. I'm trying something new here. To date the CAS Newsletter has been produced as a weekly newsletter. That seems to work OK . . But.

For one, I have to sit down and pull everything together on one day, remember what has been going on, what I'm supposed to tell you etc. Often I miss things.

Secondly, although some of you reply with comments, views or more news, not everyone gets to see those comments. And finally anyone else who wants to get information out to you has to send it to me first (and I have to remember to include it!).

So I'm trying this blog, which offers the potential for more regular updates, as things happen (or occur to me). Also CAS members can post comments on the items, so we can have a bit of discussion. Also the blog offers the option of other people (committee members, say) being able to fully contribute to the blog. On a more technical side I will be investigating RSS feeds and email summaries of the blog.

It might all be for nothing, but we'll give it a go. We've always got the email system to fall back on if all else fails.


OK another couple of potential advantages occur to me;
  1. I can go back and add things to items (like this) or more likely correct mistakes etc.
  2. You have a full searchable archive of all previous news items should you really want them.