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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.