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.