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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.