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Monday, December 31

Comet Tuttle - 29th Dec. 2007

Tuttle is getting steadily brighter but remains just sub-visual magnitude (to my eyes anyway) at the moment.

There is no apparent tail discernable even on long exposure photos.

It's moving at a real pace, as evidenced in this shot, which combines 6x 2 minute exposures. The motion of the comet against the stars is clear if you look at the nucleus closely.

Saturday, December 22

Mars thunders past M35

Mars is a spectacular sight at the moment as shown in this shot close to M35 in Gemini.

Not quite so spectacular is my first webcam image of Mars...hmmm well here's to practice!

Comet 8P/Tuttle

The next comet to look out for is Comet 8P/Tuttle, currently placed just north of Cassiopeia but heading south at a good rate of knots.

It's not particularly bright at the moment, I would estimate about Mag +7. It's not that easy to spot even with binoculars initially but hopefully this will improve over the next couple of weeks.

This shot was taken in the early morning hours of 21st December with Cassiopeia low on the horizon. It was a desperate shot in the knowledge that the clear nights were soon to disappear.

Tuesday, December 18

Merry Christmas and Happy 2008

First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all CAS Members and others who read CAS News on occasion.

It can't have escaped your attention that posts to CAS News have been a bit thin on the ground lately. That really reflects the fact that I've been busy with other things over the last few months. I also haven't managed to organise a Christmas 'Do' for a variety of reasons. Apologies if that was the highlight of your social calendar for the festive season.

Anyway, lets looks forward to 2008. I can't promise that I'll have any more time available any time soon, but I can try and plan it better. So my thoughts are that I'll try and do at least one post a week which summarises that best of space news, society news and observing information. I'll make best use of resources out there by linking articles by the many space bloggers who have far more time, enthusiasm and talent that I have, to ensure you are kept up to date.

I will of course welcome any contributions from other members and anyone who is particularly keen is welcome to contribute to the blog directly, just email me at chris@cockermouthastronomy.co.uk

We next meet on Tuesday 25th January when amongst other things we'll discuss our society plans for 2008. In the meantime enjoy the festive season and the current spell of clear (but COLD!!) nights.

Best Wishes,


Tuesday, December 11

Comet Holmes

A beautiful (freezing) night last night (10th December) and comet 17P Holmes is still putting on a fantastic display for us.

Compare the size of this with the image a few posts ago (8th November)! It's now full frame on the Canon (approximately 2 degrees across I think).

750mm f.5 with Canon 300D. 11 x 2 min exposures @ ISO1600.

Monday, November 19

November Meeting Cancelled

Unfortunately we have had to cancel our November meeting as I am unavailable and our other planned speakers are also unavailable due to other personal commitments. I know this is a disappointment, but given that the society relies on a small number of volunteers all of whom have other commitments there is always a risk this will happen.

Our routine meetings will start again on January, and we will be seeking to get things on a more stable footing. So please consider whether you could help the society in some way. You don't need to be able to stand up and give talks there are plenty of other ways you could help.

We still aim to have a December social evening, just an informal get together down a local pub. I'll post something soon so watch this space. I'll look forward to seeing some of you then.


Thursday, November 8

Comet Holmes pics at last

I finally managed a good view of the comet tonight and wow what a comet! I've never seen such a beautiful glowing comet "snowball".

Three pictures attached taken tonight at about 10pm.

55mm canon telephoto showing Comet Holmes and Double Cluster in Perseus

200mm canon telephoto of Comet Holmes

750mm (6" f/5 refractor) and Canon 300D

Don't give up on comet Holmes yet

Our impromptu comet watch may have been clouded out on Tuesday but the comet is still there and clearly visible to the naked eye.

I've just been observing it from the back garden and it is an impressive sight in my 15x70 binoculars. The comet has definitely got bigger since I last saw it. It's still bright, but the brightness is spread over a larger area, hence it's more difficult to see even though it has the same magnitude.

Apparently the cloud of the debris around the comet is now around 70% the diameter of the sun!

Saturday, November 3

Comet Holmes Spotted At Last!

I have been waiting over a week for a break in the weather to spot this comet and finally I got a glimpse of it tonight through the haze and bonfire smoke. It certainly is big and bright, easily spotted naked eye as a fuzzy blob and rivals the full moon for size in the ubiquitous Lidl 10x50s.

I took a couple of quick snapshots of it with the Canon 350d plus 80-300mm zoom pigybacked on the main scope. We are seeing it almost end on as it speeds away from us so there is only the merest hint of a tail. Very different from its reported almost star like appearence a week ago.

This has to be one of the most remarkable unexpected astronomical events of the year. I am surprised more has not been made of it in the press.

There is a possible break in the weather Monday/Tuesday night so look out for it at that firework party and if anyone fancies an impromptu comet watch, I will be in the Memorial Garden Cockermouth Tuesday 6th from 8-9pm with a small wide field refractor, given clear skies. e-mail me if you plan to join me.


Saturday, October 27

Amazing pictures by Robert Gendler

If you want to have a look at some stunning pictures, visit Robert Gendler's home page (http://www.robgendlerastropics.com/).

The level of detail is incredible and shows how the processing and combination of many hours worth of data can bring out the true size of familiar nebulae.

Wednesday, October 24

Naked eye comet suddenly visible !

A surprise naked eye comet is apparently visible in the northern skies at the moment. Up until yesterday Comet Holmes was magnitude 17, yesterday it apparently brightened unexpectedly to magnitude 3 (that over 400,000 times increase in brightness!). Astronomers have no idea what is going on, the comet was closest to the sun back in May and is moving away from the sun now.

Stuart has all the details and finder charts over at Cumbrian Sky. Have a look and see if you can see anything.


Tuesday, October 23

Supernova remanants

A more elusive jewel in the sky is the large and faint expanse of the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. This comprises of NGC 6960 (close to the bright star 52 Cygnus), NGC6992/95 (the brighter eastern region) and NGC 6974/79 (the fainter upper central portion).

This is the remnants of a supernova event that occurred between 5 and 30,000 years ago, depending on who you believe.

It is located approximately 1,400 light years away and covers approximately 3 degrees of sky.
This image is a composite of 19 exposures, ranging from 60 seconds to 5 minutes each at ISO1600. The image was taken using a 200mm f/5.6 telephoto with a Canon 300D.

Perseus Double Cluster

Currently well placed for observing is the beautiful double cluster in Perseus, properly known as NGC 869 & 884. This area is rich in open clusters and wonderful chains of stars, well worth a browse with binoculars or a low power eyepiece.

They also come out incredibly well on relatively short exposure photos, such as the one below taken on the 18th October 2007. This is an average of 4 x 2 minute exposures at ISO 400, at prime focus of my 6" f/5.

The clusters are a few hundred light-years appart, at a distance of over 7000 light years from us. They are both quite young at 5.6 and 3.2 million years old.

Monday, October 22

October CAS Meeting - Look ahead

Our next CAS meeting is on Tuesday 30th October, that's next week. Our October meeting is traditionally given over to an 'equipment night'. Over the past few years we have concentrated on a beginners guide to telescopes and binoculars. This year we are trying something a little different.

The theme of the evening will be observing equipment & projects. The idea is that as many people a possible bring along some equipment to either show others or ask others about, if you have new equipment you need advice on.

Examples might be; a photography set up you are using, a new telescope you are struggling with, some DIY upgrades you've made to your kit etc. The more the merrier.

Please give it some though an if possible email me ( chris@cockermouthastronomy.co.uk ) to let me know if you are bringing something.

Of course we will also have the usual news round up and refreshments.


Friday, September 14

Iapetus flyby pictures

There are quite a few images from the recent Iapetus flyby available now, and they are stunning. Emily Lakdawala has a great collection at the Planetary Society weblog including this mosaic of the satellite as Cassini moved away from it.

The bright areas are thought to be ice common in the Saturnian system moons, like Enceladus for example. The dark areas are ice covered with some dark deposits. More detailed images show the dark material lying in craters and channels etc on the surface.

Monday, September 10

Close Encounter

As I write this Cassini is conducting it's closest flyby yet of Saturn's mysterious moon Iapetus.

Iapetus is a mystery for two reasons; firstly it has one dark hemisphere and one light hemisphere (visible at the top is this photo) giving it the nickname of the Ying-Yang moon, secondly it has a massive mountain range around it's equator. This mountain range makes it look as if the moon is constructed from two hemispheres joined together (a bit like an easter egg). This of course is highly unlikely to be the real reason, but that's one of the things this current encounter should help to solve.

During this encounter Cassini will fly within 1,000 miles of the surface of the moon, much closer than the previous closest approach of 80,000 miles in 2004. Emily Lakadawala has posted an article with all the details on the Planetary Society website and will be giving regular updates on her blog.

Friday, September 7

Carnival of Space

Check out this week's Carnival of Space, the weekly round up of the best of astronomy and space blogs, over at Universe Today.

Lots of good articles there, and you may find a new blog or two that you've not seen before.

Friday, August 31

Cave on Mars

A recent picture from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera has revealed details inside a cave (or pothole as I would call it) on Mars. The cave was revealed in previously released images HiRISE images when the camera was looking straight down. Nothing more that a black hole with no discernible features was seen.

Image Credit: NASA / JPL / U. Arizona

This latest image was taken from an angle and shows one wall of the pit illuminated by sunlight. This provides some details on the cave which is approximately 150m in diameter. For more on this try Emily Lakdawalla's post on the Planetary Society Blog.

August Meeting Report

Just a small group gathered for our August meeting. We covered the latest news from Mars with Chris giving a round up of all the current Mars missions and a look forward to future missions. Including details of NASA's Mars Phoenix mission currently on it's way to the red planet.

Following the refreshments break there was time for a quick news round up including a look at the latest astronomy features of Google Earth, known as Google Sky.

Our next meeting is on Tuesday 25th September. Also look out for details of our observing events which will restart soon, now that the nights are drawing in . . .

Monday, August 27

August Meeting

Don't forget we are having a meeting this month, tomorrow night usual time and place. The subject will be an update on the various Mars exploration missions currently at Mars and planned for the future.

There will also be the usual news round up and plenty of opportunity (excuse the Mars pun!) for discussion.

See you there.


Wednesday, August 15

Just a fantastic picture . . . .

I make no apologies for stealing this post from Stuart over at Cumbrian Sky, so some of you may already have seen it. But just in case . . .

Image Credit: NASA

There's not much I can add except thanks to Stuart for pointing it out, and US tax payers for paying for it !

Full resolution version available here (3MB download!)

Sunday, August 12

Amateur Telescope Making on a Grand Scale !

If you are thinking of building your own telescope then a Dobsonian design is a popular choice, though not usually quite as large as this monster built by Dr. Erhard Hänssgen in 2002. With a 42 inch diameter mirror, it is thought to be the largest portable telescope in the world (The secondary is as big as the main mirror in my telescope!). It may not hold the title for much longer though as there is an even bigger one under construction!

Saturday, August 11

Heads Up for the Perseids

The dark skies are back and I hope you managed to make good use of the of the odd clear night this week. Sunday night is the expected peak time to catch the Perseid meteors but there have been a few around already and you will probably see a few any evening over the next week or so. The picture is of a bright one I was lucky to catch in my wide field spectrograph a couple of years back. What ever happened to those balmy summer evenings.... sigh...

Friday, August 10

See the shuttle from a different angle

I found this new photo application a couple of weeks ago and was impressed by it. However it wasn't really astronomy related.

Now it is . . .

I'm talking about Microsoft's demonstration technology called Photosynth, which allows a collection of related 2D images (simple digital camera images) to be mapped to a 3D model. This allows you to select different viewpoints of a scene as well as zoom in and out and up and down etc. It really rather impressive (on a broadband connection as least!). Anyway the latest examples are definitely worth checking out; the shuttle Endeavour on the launchpad and inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Anyway I think it's a pretty amazing concept, and I'm sure you could think of lots of practical uses for it. In the mean time just enjoy the tours.

If you want some more info on how this works check out this video and others like it on youtube.

Tuesday, August 7

STS 118 prepares for launch

The next shuttle mission, STS 118 is preparing for launch tomorrow. The mission involves further construction work on the International Space Station, including the delivery and installation of a third truss. However, most importantly the mission will be the first space flight for astronaut and teacher Barbara Morgan who was the back-up for Christa McAuliffe who was tragically killed in the Challenger disaster 2o years ago.

Although originally selected as part of the "Teacher in Space" programme which was cancelled after the Challenger disaster, Morgan was eventually selected for full astronaut training in 1998 and is now a "fully fledged" astronaut.

Image Credit: NASA

More details on the mission on the NASA mission site. Endeavour is due to launch on Wednesday 8th August at around 23:36 BST.

Massive galaxies collide

Fraser Cain over at Universe Today has a story on the merger of four galaxies to form one of the universe's largest galaxies. There also more on the story on the BBC News site and in the original NASA press release.
Artist impression of 4 galaxies merging. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Galaxies aren't born, they evolve, getting built up through a succession of mergers over billions of years. In most cases, this process is slow and steady, with galaxies tearing apart their satellite neighbours and gaining mass. But in one cosmic collision seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, 4 extremely massive galaxies are coming together at the same time in a cosmic pileup.

"Most of the galaxy mergers we already knew about are like compact cars crashing together," said Kenneth Rines of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. "What we have here is like four sand trucks smashing together, flinging sand everywhere."

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Saturday, August 4

Phoenix is on its way to Mars

NASA's Phoenix probe successfully launched today and is on its way to Mars. It's due to arrive in May 2008 and will undertake analysis of the polar region of Mars, the first probe to do so. There;s plenty of information on the mission around on the web including this excellent taster video on youtube.

[If you're reading the email CAS News you'll have to follow the link above or go to the CAS News blog to see the embedded video].

Also this video includes more details of the mission and of course there's plenty of details on the mission website and also the Planetary Society website.

Thursday, August 2

Mars Rover Update

By now you've probably heard that the Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit are suffering due to a massive dust storm on Mars. The image below shows just how much the light has dimmed over a period of just a few Sols.

If you want to find out much more about this story and what the rovers have been up to over the last month check out this comprehensive report on the Planetary Society Website.

Meeting Report - July 2007

We tried a new concept for our July meeting; projects meeting. Basically this means we had no planned talks for the evening and members were invited to bring along something they had been working on, or needed help with, or wanted to show others, or anything really . . .

The meeting was a great success and an ideal opportunity for members to hold more informal discussions on topics of interest. Robin demonstrated his latest acquisition, a digital SLR which he had operating on a small equatorial mount and using PC software FocusAssist and DSLR Shutter.

Chris demonstrated some astronomy podcasts including Chris Lintott's Living Space Online. He also demonstrated software for easily reading lots of blogs, Google Reader.

Members were also asked to provide advice on equipment and setting up and polar aligning telescopes.

All in all and interesting and worthwhile meeting, which I'm sure we'll do again in the future. Thanks to Ian for doing the refreshments this month.


Friday, July 27

July meeting - Project Night

The meeting next Tuesday 31st July will be an informal one with no main speaker and plenty of time to chat. So if you need help setting up your telescope or you are after some advice about honing your observing skills or perhaps just want a chance to show off your latest bit of kit or browse our extensive library then this is your chance. Usual time and place - all are welcome as always, young and old, beginners and experts.

See you there!

Thursday, July 12

Visit the Galaxy Zoo

This is a fantastic idea. You get to take part in some real research by helping to classify distant galaxies.

The Galaxy Zoo scheme is operated by a group of astronomers including Chris Lintott and has received loads of publicity over the last few days. BBC News covered the website, and their's more details on Stuart's Cumbrian sky and the Bad Astronomy Blog, to name just two.

I've registered and passed the short tutorial / test, now I'm addicted classifying one galaxy after another, some of which (so the tell me) have never been seen by any other human before.

Now I really must go to work !


Saturday, July 7

Is this where ex PMs go on holiday?

You might think inflatables are more at home on the beach but not any more. Bigelow Aerospace have just launched Genesis II, their second blow up spacecraft. While not quite as big and bright as the International Space Station it is still spottable with the naked eye and will be making some high passes visible from here just before midnight over the next few days. See Heavens Above (where-else!) for full details of where and when to look.

Friday, July 6

Real science and science fiction

Stuart over at Cumbrian Sky has been getting quite excited about Dr Who and his companions, even the Bad Astronomer has been getting in on the act. If like many of us you like a mixture of real science and science fiction you might like this video covering a recent visit of Dr Who / Torchwood's John Barrowman (Cpt Jack Harkness) to the CERN facility to look at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

As well as plenty of coverage of Captain Jack, there's also a fair amount about the experiment itself including some pretty impressive animations. There'll be a test on quark-gluon plasma at the next meeting !

P.S. First time I've tried embedding a YouTube video so here's hoping it works for you. If not try this link.


Thursday, June 28

June Meeting Report

Our June meeting consisted of a fascinating talk from Dr Keith Robinson on "The Colourful Universe". Keith took us on a comprehensive tour of colour in the universe and how astronomers use the colour properties of light to determine much information about distant stars.

Despite the talk covering many more technical concepts than the title might imply, Keith's clear concise explanations and obvious enthusiasm for the subject ensured that everyone got something from talk. Even those with science degrees were left thinking "why hadn't I thought of that before", myself included.

Also at the meeting we took the opportunity to present Stuart Atkinson (our founder and now Secretary of the Eddington Astronomical Society) with Honourary Membership of CAS as a token of our appreciation of his work for the society for over 15 years.

Keith was the third guest speaker to talk at CAS this year, and as usual these things don't happen by themselves. So, thanks to Keith for coming and his wife Liz for driving him. Thanks also to Robin for making all the arrangements and providing a opportunity for people to view the sun's spectra through his spectrograph before the meeting.

Friday, June 22

June CAS Meeting - "The Colourful Universe"

Our June meeting is this coming Tuesday (26th June) usual time and place. This month we are delighted to have Dr Keith Robinson of The University of Central Lancashire to talk to us about "The Colourful Universe". As usual we'd like a really good turn out for our guest so please remind other members if you get chance. Of course the talk is open to members of other astronomical societies. Admission is free for full CAS Members and £2 for anyone else.

On the subject of colour, don't miss the opportunities to observe the colourful spectrum of the sun (weather permitting of course). Robin will be setting up his spectrograph outside the church hall from about 7pm. The talk will start at around 7.30pm.

Hope to see you all there.


Thursday, June 14

Eris more massive than Pluto

Recent calculations add insult to injury . . Eris is not only bigger but more massive than Pluto. Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer) has the full story.
Artist concept of Eris and Dysnomia
Artist drawing of Eris and Dysnomia. Remember, the camera adds ten pounds. Copyright Robert Hurt, IPAC

Eris was discovered a few years back, and observations indicated it might be bigger (that is, have a larger diameter) than Pluto. This is pretty hard to do, because it didn’t look like much more than a dot in telescopes; the diameter had to be inferred by its known distance and its brightness. If it’s made of something dark (like organic chemicals, common on distant objects), it must be big to look as bright as it does; if it’s made of something reflective (like snow or ice) then it’s smaller. Subsequent Hubble observations indicated it was indeed bigger than Pluto, and the former ninth planet took one more body blow.

Now it’s known that not only is Eris bigger, it’s more massive. About 30% more massive, in fact.

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Wednesday, June 13

Does Saturn have more active moons?

We've all heard of Saturn's active moon Enceladus with it's geysers spraying water vapour into space. Well evidence is emerging that tow other moons may have some form of geological activity. The report from Space Spin has the details.
clipped from spacespin.org

Saturn's moons Tethys and Dione are flinging great streams of particles into space, according to data from the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini mission to Saturn. The discovery suggests the possibility of some sort of geological activity, perhaps even volcanic, on these icy worlds.

The particles were traced to the two moons because of the dramatic movement of electrically charged gas in the magnetic environs of Saturn. Known as plasma, the gas is composed of negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions, which are atoms with one or more electrons missing. Because they are charged, the electrons and ions can get trapped inside a magnetic field.
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Tuesday, June 12

Living Space - the latest astro podcast

Remember a while back I told you about the Jodcast, well here is another astro - podcast which is worth a listen. Called "Living Space" it is a collaboration between Chris Lintott and Harriet Scott of Heart FM and aims to cover the latest news from the worlds of astronomy and spaceflight.

Saturday, June 9

Meetings update

At the May meeting Bill bravely tackled the subject of Dark Matter. Usually the cause of much heckling from certain members every time it is raised in meetings, Bill revealed several pieces of strong evidence for it's presence and indeed explained how the very structure of the Universe depends on the way this mysterious substance behaves. However, despite knowing many of its properties and eliminating many possible candidates, we are still no nearer understanding exactly what it is!

The next meeting is 26th June when we will have our third guest speaker of the year -Dr Keith Robinson of The University of Central Lancashire who will be giving a talk entitled "The Colourful Universe" If you have ever wondered what is behind all the wonderful colours you see an astronomical images then this is your chance to find out!

As an added bonus, if it is sunny, I will have my spectrograph set up outside from 7pm before the meeting So if you have not had a chance to view the solar spectrum in glorious high resolution, be sure to arrive a few minutes early.

See the ISS and Space Shuttle Tonight!

Thanks to Stu over at Cumbrian Sky for the "heads up" on this one. Tonight (Saturday 9th) you can see the International Space Station closely followed space shuttle Atlantis pass over within minutes of each other. (ISS 22:45 and Atlantis 22.59 at their highest due South but they will be visible in the West a few minutes earlier, before disappearing off into the East) Watch out for more good passes on Heavens Above.

This stunning picture of the ISS was taken from the UK by Mike Tyrrell using an amateur telescope. Visit his website for more amazing images.

Wednesday, May 23

Light Pollution Petition - Deadline 29th May

Final deadline to add your name to the light pollution petition is fast approaching if you want to add your name and have not yet done so

Tuesday, May 22

Venus & Moon @ the Keswick Mountain Festival

A lovely clear evening yielded views (for some) of Mercury followed by plenty of time to gaze at the spectacle of Venus and the Moon side by side. Later targets were Saturn, M44 and a fire down by the lake shore lit by some naughty campers.

Two pictures are attached showing the Venus/Moon conjunction and I'm looking for help identifying the UFO glowing brightly in the second picture.

Keswick Mountain Festival event report

Saturday's events at the Keswick Mountain Festival were a great success overall. Our "Ask and Astronomer" display in the Theatre by the Lake was well attended by society members, although it proved a little hard to find for members of the public.

After clouds and rain put a dampener of our first solar observing session the second session was much more successful with 30-40 people stopping to look at the sun through Robin's specially filtered telescope and spectrograph.

The highlight of the day was the talk by BBC Sky at Night presenter Dr Chris Lintott. The event was well attended with over 50 people joining us in the Methodist Church hall in Keswick. Chris gave a fascinating talk on "The First Stars" and gave an insight into how dark matter influenced the formation of the first stars and how these stars subsequently influenced the formation of the rest of the universe.

After the talk Chris answered questions from the audience which continued throughout the refreshment break. After a quick cup of tea it was back down to the lake to set up in Crow Park for the evening's 'planetwatch' event.

The weather co-operated for once and were were treated to some fantastic views of Mercury, Venus and the moon. Chris Lintott was there all evening mingling with the observers answering their questions and displaying his enthusiasm for astronomy.

A special thanks must go to Robin for organising the whole thing and arranging for Chris to attend. Also to Gwen for acting as Chris' driver and providing refreshments in the evening.

Thanks also to Stuart for coming through from Kendal to assist with the displays during the day and to all CAS members who made the day a success; Bill, Tony, Caroline, Wes, Dave, Jeremy and others.

Monday, May 21

Another Moon Occultation of Saturn

If you missed the the Moon passing in front of Saturn recently then there is another chance tomorrow (Tuesday) evening. It will be a little tougher this time as it takes place before the Sun has set. It should be visible in a telescope though and the Moon will make it relatively easy to find Saturn. According to Starry Night software, Saturn disappears behind the unlit edge at 20:00 BST and reappears on the sunlit edge at 21:08 as seen from here. The diagram shows the track to help you locate Saturn. Good luck and if you manage to photograph it, don't forget to bring the result along to the next meeting the following Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 16

Hubble images dark matter smoke ring

Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy has an excellent article explaining the background to this latest Hubble Image, and a good description of the Dark Matter concept.

Dark Matter is also the subject for our May meeting where Bill will be giving us a talk on the subject.

image of a ring of dark matter around a galaxy cluster

That image is of the galaxy cluster CL0024+1652 (go look at the higher resolution version — it’s very pretty!), a galactic city located a whopping 5 billion light years away! That means the light we see from this cluster left it five billion years ago, so we’re seeing this structure as it was when the Universe was just 2/3 its present age. Almost every small object in that image is a galaxy, and all of them are held sway by the cluster’s gravity, orbiting the center like bees flying around a beehive.

It has long been thought that every large object in the Universe is surrounded by a halo of dark matter — unseen, mysterious, yet profoundly influential in the life of normal matter. Dark matter (or just DM for short) gives off no light, and does not interact with normal matter directly– a cloud of it could pass right through you and you’d never know. But, like regular old matter, it has gravity, and that can betray its presence.

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Thursday, May 10

Keswick Mountain Festival events - 19th May

By now I'm sure you are aware that our next society event is at the Keswick Mountain Festival on Saturday 19th May. There are a number of events planned for the day some of which could use your help.

During the day (from 11am until 4 pm) society members will be on hand at the Theatre by the Lake to provide information about the day's events, the society and hopefully answer the public's astronomy related questions. Hence the session's title "Ask an astronomer".

Also during the day, weather permitting, we will hold two sun observing sessions on the lake shore near the Keswick Launch landing stages. These sessions will give people an opportunity to safely view the sun through special optical equipment. It's worth repeating our usual warning: NEVER look directly at the sun through any optical instruments (binoculars, telescopes etc) you can seriously damage your eysight! These sessions will take place between 11.30am - 12.30pm and 2.30pm - 3.30pm.

The main event of the day is a talk by BBC Sky at Night co-presenter Dr Chris Lintott. Chris will be giving an illustrated talk on "The First Stars". Chris will explain how the first stars in the Universe formed and the crucial role they played in the events that lead to our existence here on Earth. The talk will take place at the Methodist Church Hall, Southey Street, Keswick at 7.30pm. Prebooking of tickets is essential for this talk, the cost is £4 for adults and £3 for under 16s and full CAS Members.

To book tickets phone 016973 71514 or email robin@cockermouthastronomy.co.uk or chris@cockermouthastronomy.co.uk

Finally the evening will finish back down at the lake shore in Crow Park, opposite the theatre, with a planet watch event. The session will take place between 9.30pm and 11.30pm and although it will not be fully dark at the start, weather permitting we will be able to observe several planets through society member's telescopes.

If you have a telescope you are able to bring along to the evening event please let either Robin or myself know as soon as possible, so that we have a good idea of numbers.


Pluto tells all . . .

Thanks to Stuart over at Cumbrian Sky for pointing out this excellent and amusing article, "Pluto tells all" . Enjoy.


Wednesday, May 9

Astronomers map an extrasolar planet

I'm trying something new here . . . a service called Clipmarks which allows me to select bits of newsworthy pages and add them to the blog. That means you get a quick preview of a news article and if you are interested you can link through to the original article, blog or website. Hopefully that will make it easy for me to post interesting articles, let's see whether it works ok . . . .

Below is a selection of an article on Bad Astronomy blog reporting that astronomers have managed to 'map' the surface of an extrasolar planet. The team at the Havard-Smithsonian Centre of Astrophysics have the full details in this press release.

Using the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have been able to make, for the very first time, a (very crude) map of the super-Jupiter orbiting the star HD 189733, about 60 light years away. The planet was discovered in 2005 (note this is not the new "Earthlike" planet found recently, this is a big gas giant like Jupiter) and is one of a handful that passes directly in front of its star as seen by us on Earth. In other words, it transits the star, making a little eclipse once per orbit.

map of the planet HD189733b
artist's conception of the planet HD189733b

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