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Wednesday, January 31

January Meeting Report

Last night's meeting was a great success. We had a good turn out for the first meeting and it was nice to see some new faces coming along to find out what we are all about.

Our new format seemed to work well, and stimulated plenty of discussion, even to the extent that we ended up squeezing the time available for our main topic. The news round up concentrated on the launch of the COROT space telescope and the recently announced 3D map of dark matter in the universe.

We introduced observing targets for the first time. Over the next month our targets are in the area of the constellation Leo. We are looking for people to observe and photograph if possible; M65 & M66 in Leo, Saturn & Titan, and M44 The Beehive Cluster in nearby Cancer. More on how to find those objects in a later post. At out February meeting we'll discuss how people got on with those objects, and set some more targets for the next month.

After some impressive photographs from CAS Members, and a short refreshment break, we finally arrived at our main topic for the night . . .

Bill gave us an excellent talk and demonstration of astronomy software. Ranging from simple text based ephemeris software, through planetarium software, to realistic solar system simulation software, there really was something for everyone. Best of all Bill applied his usual selection criteria . . all the software is free!

We also launched our new membership scheme at the meeting, and it was great to see so many people signing up for full membership. That kind of commitment will allow us to improve both our programme (with more guest speakers) and our equipment available for members to borrow.

All in all an enjoyable meeting.


Sunday, January 28

Mars and the Mily Way

The image below was captured by the Rosetta probe heading for comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On its way, it is using Mars to get a gravitational boost to its speed. On the approach to Mars it took this fantastic image of Mars 'above' the background of the Milky Way star fields.

That image immediately got me thinking of the views from some of the excellent astronomy simulation software available. These programs allow you to travel virtually to any of the planets in the solar system and look at the view. Using Winstars 2 I quickly tried to simulate the view from Rosetta. The result below shows the versatility of the software, but proves what we all know, simulation is not a patch on the real thing !

We'll have much more on astronomy software at our January meeting on Tuesday.

Saturday, January 27

January Meeting

Our next meeting is next Tuesday January 30th. Usual place and time [St Joseph's Church Hall, Cockermouth, 7.30pm). Directions here.

This month we'll be trying out our new format of meetings, starting with a short news summary and discussion on an observing topic. This month we'll be looking at any sighting of Comet McNaught over the last few weeks.

Following that Bill will give us a demonstration of the latest Astronomy Software, much of which is actually available for free !

You can now check on the latest meetings and events through the calendar 'widget' on the blog and main website home page. It looks like this . . .

This will show you all events planned for the following month. You can click each event for more details. If you want to look further ahead check out the calendar style version on the Programme page of the CAS Website.

Thursday, January 25

Nebulae in Monoceros

This image was taken on Monday evening and although it was taken at primefocus (750mm f/5) I would call it a widefield view of the S-Mon nebulous region. Clearly visible is the nebulous cluster surrounding S-Monoceros itself (top of the frame) predominantly bluish in colour here - NGC2264.
To the centre of the image you can just pick out the faint red nebula referred to as the Cone Nebula.
And to the extreme right of the image you can see Hubble's Variable Nebula - NGC2261. The nebula reflects light from the irregular variable star R Mon and hence changes shape and brightness over a matter of weeks.

M48 image

Ahhh, eventually we get the chance to take some more pictures...

This image is 7 x 60 second exposures stacked in ImagesPlus. It's taken at primefocus 750mm f/5 using my Canon 300D.
M48 is an Open Cluster in the constellation Hydra. It contains somewhere between 50 and 80 stars, is located 1,500 light years away from us and is 300 million years old.

Monday, January 22

Clear sky tonight!

Wow, just look at that sky. I haven't seen as clear right to the horizon in a long time, come to think of it haven't seen any stars for a long time... ;-)

In case anyone is on their PC, unaware of the clear skies - get out!

Sunday, January 21

Another Hubble classic

Here's another classic Hubble image. This one shows a star forming nebula, not in our own Milky Way galaxy, but in the nearby Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own.

The image looks reminiscent of the Orion Nebula and is a similar star-forming region.

More versions of the image are available on the HubbleSite, like this zoomable version. Also check Stuart's 'slightly tweaked' version on Cumbrian Sky and see if you can spot the difference! Nicely done.

Friday, January 19

Weather tonight

I guess you don't even need consult Jeremy's useful link to work out we won't be observing tonight. Perhaps Sunday night might be a better bet. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Thursday, January 18

Clear skies

Just in case you haven't read the Feb 07 Astronomy Now magazine from cover to cover yet, I thought I'd post this interesting link provided in the Letters section:


This shows visual (and infra-red is available) satellite images for the day of cloud cover surrounding the UK. It's pretty good and could be useful in looking ahead for the evening to see what's "coming your way" for the next few hours.

Fingers crossed for this weekend...although the forecast for Fri & Sat is awful. Anyone interested in trying Sunday night if it's clear?

It's enough to make you want to emigrate . .

No I don't mean the weather. Just look at these pictures of Comet McNaught seen from the southern hemisphere. Absolutely amazing. My favourite is this one by Kevin Crause in South Africa.

Oh well, there'll always be another comet.

Wednesday, January 17

Observing Evening

This Friday, 19th January, is our next observing evening weather permitting. If the weather is poor on Friday (and the forecast isn't good to be honest) we'll try again on Saturday night. Meet at 8pm at the Big Wood observing site.

Observing nights are a core part of the society, just as important as our monthly meeting. Why? Well here are a few reasons why you should come along;

  • If you are a compete beginner you'll get to know other society members and learn from their experience of observing. Not only that, but you'll be able to try out others equipment and see things you wouldn't be able to see on your own.
  • If you are more experienced and have your own equipment, you can meet with others and discuss and test different equipment and ideas. You are bound to come away with a new shopping list of things you 'must have'. And, of course even experienced amateurs can learn from each other.
  • If you've got your first telescope, but you are struggling to get the best out of it, bring it along. There will always be people willing to help and give advice about how to get the best your equipment.
  • The society owns some equipment (binoculars and telescopes) and they are usually on hand for people to borrow during the evening. During the year we'll be looking to expand the range of equipment we have available.
  • Basically it a good social event and an opportunity enjoy our hobby together. Lets face it what else are you going to do on a cold dark evening . . . watch Celebrity Big Brother ?

So, keep your fingers crossed for the weather, and I hope to see you on Friday.

You can give up now !

It looks like comet McNaught has now fully passed into the southern hemisphere do if, like me, you didn't see it the you've missed your chance. Cursed by the weather !

For an update check out Emily Lakdawalla's Planetary Society blog which includes an animation of the comet passing through the SOHO view of view and also includes Stuart's description of his viewing of the comet, taken from Cumbrian Sky. Also check out Stuart's poem on The 'Verse.

Monday, January 15

Don't give up on the comet just yet . .

Apparently Comet McNaught is now so bright it is visible in daylight!

I'm not sure how long it will be (or if we'll get rid of this cloud!) however people were reporting seeing in during the day yesterday.

Check out Spaceweather, Bad Astronomy and The planetary society for details and some amazing pictures.

Friday, January 12

Sky at Night Co-Presenter to visit CAS

Yesterday, during the now twice termly run down to Oxford, I took the opportunity to catch up with Chris Lintott, Patrick Moore's co-presenter on the BBC Sky at Night programme. Now addressed as Dr Lintott, he has just started a "proper" job at the University, researching the first stars to form in the Universe.
In the evening, we tried to catch a glimpse of Comet mcNaught from the roof of the Physics Department but were foiled by bands of cloud. It looks like it is going to be the most spectacular(but least publicised?) comet of recent years and I am going to miss it - did anyone get a glimpse? If not you can catch some photos on the BBC website here.
The time was not wasted though as I finally managed at long last to pin down Chris with a date to come up and visit us. He will be joining us to give a talk on 19th May to coincide with our exhibition and observing session planned for the Keswick Mountain Festival. You can find out more about what Chris is up to on his blog here

Thursday, January 11

MRO spots Pathfinder from orbit

MRO now has almost a full house having spotted almost all the 'major' landers on the surface of Mars. This latest image is of Mars Pathfinder, the first rover to trundle around on the surface of the red planet. Many people will remember the mission in 1997, which really rekindled public interest in space exploration, particularly as it coincided with the start of wide availability of the internet.

The image shows the rover in its final resting place, now known as the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in memory of the astronomer who died shortly after the mission was launched in December 1996.

New Horizons starts Jupiter flyby

It hard to believe it's not almost exactly a year since New Horizons started its 9 year journey to Pluto and beyond. The probe is now approaching Jupiter and this week has started it's official flyby mission aiming to gather data from the giant planet and its moons.

Image Credit: NASA New Horizons team

First images from the planet should be available over the next day or so. The plan is to make around 700 observations between now and June this year. Closest approach to the planet will be on 28th February.

Wednesday, January 10

Britain to launch it's own moonshot ?

According to this BBC News article, proposals are being made for Britain to launch it's own mission to the moon. The proposal involves firing four 'darts' at the moon from orbit, these would contain siesmological instruments and be used to study moonquakes. If that mission is successful, there's even plans for a mission called "Moonraker".

Tuesday, January 9

Dark Matter Revealed

Credit: NASA, ESA and R. Massey (California Institute of Technology)

You've probably seen recent news articles about a 3D map of dark matter in the universe. This is clearly an important and interesting development, but what exactly is going on. Firstly, as Cumbrian Sky points out, there has been some highly inaccurate reporting. The topic even made the front page of The Independent with the, perhaps optimistic, headline "The universe gives up its deepest secret".

For a good description of the current finding check out this video and associated press release on the ESA Hubble site.

The dark matter concept goes back to 1933 when astronomer Fritz Zwicky first postulated that dark matter must exist in a cluster of galaxies to account for the rapid movement of the galaxies in the cluster without the cluster flying apart. In other words he calculated that there must be large amounts of invisible mass in the the gluster to hold the while thing together by gravity.

Current models seem to indicate that 'normal' matter, stars, planets, gas and dust etc make up only 5% of the universe. A futher 25% is thought to be dark matter and the rest is postulated to be dark energy. A recent development using the Chandra space telescope was the identification of dark matter in the bullet cluster.

The current story involves an extremely detailed survey of a small area of the sky around 9 times the size of the full moon. The survey mapped the location of over half a million galaxies and involved over 70 astronomers studying the results. By mapping the distortion of background galaxies due to gravitational lensing the team have been able to map the concentration of dark matter.

The results really support most recent theories about dark matter and the formation of galaxies. Basically early in the formation of the universe dark matter started to form into clumps. This caused concentrations of dark matter which then caused 'normal matter' to be pulled together under the influence of the dark matter's gravity. Once normal matter started to collapse galaxies and stars were formed giving rise to the universe we see to day. That's why you'll see people refering to dark matter acting as a scaffold for galaxies etc.

So this research supports theories about galaxy formation and the development of large scale structure of the universe. But the mystery of what exactly dark matter is, is still far from resolved.

For more discussion on the topic check out the posts at; bad astronomy, cosmic variance and asymptotia.

Friday, January 5

Fireball lights up the Colorado sky

Fox news website has this impressive video of a fireball over Colorado caused by a Russian rocket booster re-entering the atmosphere. The video captures an impressive display as the booster breaks apart and burns up on re-entry. Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for highlighting this clip.

Thursday, January 4

The whole of the moon . . well not quite

Last night was a full moon, but every one is slightly different due to the distance from the earth to the moon (which changes the apparent size of the moon) and also to libration which is the 'wobble' of the moon as it travels in it's orbit. The result of that libration is that over a period we can actualy see around 59% of the moon from the Earth, the rest being 'the far side of the moon'.

I haven't seen this demonstrated anywhere better than this animation of a series of photographs of 20 consecutive full moons compiled by French amateur astronomer Laurent Laveder. It was featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day yesterday.

CAS News Anniversary

It's now just over a year since we launched CAS News and to date we have over 200 articles posted and over 1000 visitors since I installed the counter at the bottom of the page. Also around 20 people are signed up with the email subscription service.

The blogger account that CAS News is hosted on has recently been upgraded. This has allowed me to change the layout more easily and add a few more 'features'. So perhaps a quick tour is in order?

Menu Bar

At the top of the blog, right under the title is a Menu Bar which gives quick access to the home page and several other useful links. For example linking the CAS Events link will pull up a page with only those posts which are related to CAS Events & Meetings without all the other news etc.

Green Sidebar

The green sidebar gives some useful information which is automatically updated, including;

Label Cloud

The label cloud shows a summary of all the CAS News posts in different categories, the larger the word the more posts in that category. You can click on a word to bring up just the posts related to that category (label).

CAS LiveLinks

LiveLinks are links to external websites or news items of interest. Links are added regularly and the older ones drop of the end of this list. Often I'll use the LiveLinks to point our a story or website that I don't have time to write a full blog entry about. So it's worth checking these regularly (they also appear on each page of www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk).

Recent Comments

Recent comments is part of my ongoing (and largely unsuccessful it has to be said) campaign to get you all more involved in CAS News. If you have something to add, or a question about any post, you can add a comment by clicking the comments link under that post. The recent comments sidebar shows you a summary of all the recent comments people have left and links to the posts they were commenting on. As you can see you can comment anonymously if you want. Go on give it a go . . .

Blue Sidebar

Further down the page the blue sidebar has even more useful links to other blogs and articles and includes this summary archive of all 200+ CAS News entries. Just click on the little 'twisty' next to a month to expand all the entries in that month.

Further down there is an option to subscribe to CAS News via email. But remember there's so much more on the blog . . .

CAS website back up

Just a quick note to let you know the main CAS Website at www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk is now back up and functioning normally.

Wednesday, January 3

Europe's Planet Hunting Space Telescope

Over the christmas period the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the latest space telescope. The new instrument is called COROT (COnvection, ROtation and planetary Transits) and is designed to search to extrasolar planets and study the composition of other stars.

Image Credit: CNES

The telescope part of the instrument is a fairly modest 27cm (11 inches) which on the face of it is not much bigger than many amateur telescopes. It's coupled to 4 CCD imagers which are used to detect subtle changes in the brightness of stars. These changes in brightness could be due to transiting planets and it's that transit method that will be used to detect planets. The sensitivity is such that as well as detecting the usual crop of 'Hot Jupiters' the instrument should be able to detect a few earth-like rocky planets, down to around twice the size of the Earth.

The sensitivity to changes in brightness (luminosity) can also be used to study oscillations in stars and hence through stellar seismology learn something about the structure of other stars, for example calculating the size of the core of star.

The mission is lead by the French space agency CNES and can monitor 10,000 stars every 10 minutes! The observing mission will get underway in about a month's time, and is due to last around two and a half years.

Tuesday, January 2

CAS Website still down

I'm still having problems with our main website at www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk so for the near future you'll have to come direct to CAS blog for all your CAS information. I'll post something here once things are back up and running normally.

A new comet on the horizon

Comet McNaught P1 is literally on the horizon, the western horizon at sunset to be more precise. The comet may brighten significantly. For more details on where to find it check out Stuart's post at Cumbrian Sky.

I haven't seen it yet. If anyone sees it why not leave a comment? Good luck.

Monday, January 1

Happy New Year

Well, we made it to 2007, happy new year to all CAS News readers. I hope the festive season has been enjoyable for you all.

What does 2007 have in store for us all? Well who knows, but it's sure to be interesting. As far as observing goes you could do worse that download this free ebook of what's up in the night sky. Or just log onto the Astro What's Up blog to see the new entry each day.

As far as CAS Events are concerned we have plenty in store. Starting with our monthly observing event on Friday 19th or Saturday 20th January (check out our Observing FAQ). We also have our monthly CAS Meeting on Tuesday 30th January, where Bill will be giving us a demonstration of the latest astronomy software. For more details of what's coming up this year check out our 2007 programme.

Hope to see you all early in 2007.

P.S. There appears to be a problem with our main site www.cockermouthastronomy.co.uk at the moment, I'm trying to sort that out. Hopefully all will be back to normal shortly.