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Saturday, March 31

"The Sky at Night" 50 not out !

This weekend the BBC Programme "The Sky at Night" celebrates 50 years of continuous broadcasting. With every programme but one (don't mention goose eggs!) hosted by Sir Patrick Moore, this programme has broken just about every record for longevity and is a cherished part of life for more than one generation of amateur astronomers.

This edition promises to be something rather special if Chris Lintott's blog is anything to go by (And don't forget you can meet Chris at our special Keswick Mountain Festival event on 19th May - more details to follow)

The Sky at Night is on BBC 1 at the atypically early time of 11:30pm Sunday evening and again on BBC4 at 8:30pm on Monday.

What is your most memorable Sky at Night edition? - tell us in the comments

Friday, March 30

New Bradford Robotic Telescope images

As I didn't make it to this week's CAS meeting, I thought I'd share my latest BRT images with you all (one of them being this month's observing target M51).

This is a 60 second image, unfiltered RGB image. I had to shift the R-G-B frames to compensate for image shift (possibly due to tracking errors or atmospheric turbulence). The image was then adjusted in ImagesPlus and Photoshop to reduce noise and bring out the detail.

This second image is of M19, also taken with the Bradford Robotic Telescope. The exposure is 60s RGB and the post-processing was the same as above.

These are probably the best tracked images I've managed to obtain with BRT so far - perseverence is everything!

Sunday, March 25

Now I've seen it all . . . .

You've probably seen those 'collection' magazines in newsagents, the ones where you collect a complete chess set, or the parts to build your own radio controlled car etc. Well browsing our local newsagent in Cockermouth the other day, I came across issue one of a magazine promising to allow you to build your own astronomical telescope.

Issue one of "Star Explorer" comes with a finder scope and telescope 'lens' cap and a 'free' moon map for the special price of £1.99. Future issues will provide all the other parts needed to make a 114mm newtonian reflector, at £5.99 per weekly magazine.

Now obviously I can't comment on the quality of the finished article, because I haven't seen it. Nor can I comment on the total cost, as I couldn't find any mention in the magazine, or on the publisher's website, of the total number of magazines in the 'collection'. I'll leave you to speculate.

I can repeat our standard advice to anyone thinking of starting out in astronomy and thinking of buying a telescope . . . don't! Buy a pair of binoculars instead. Binoculars are much easier to find you way around with, much more portable and cheaper. Many CAS members have got many hours of pleasure using a pair of 7x50 binoculars purchased for as little of £10 from stores like Lidl (keep an eye on CAS News for early warning of when the next offer is on). I wonder how much of your 'telescope collection' £10 will buy you?

Thursday, March 22

Guest Speaker Evening next Tuesday

"Why Pluto is not a Planet"
An illustrated talk by Dr John Davies of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
Tuesday 27th March 2007 7:30pm
St Joseph's Church Hall, Cockermouth
£2 at the door. All welcome

In August last year after much heated debate, the International Astronomical Union controversially voted to remove Pluto from the list of planets. Come and find out about what led to this historic decision and the exciting discoveries which are being made in the outer reaches of out Solar System

When not designing instruments for some of the world's largest telescopes, John Davies is engaged in research into the new members of our Solar System which have been discovered beyond Neptune's orbit.

Wednesday, March 14

Observing evening this week

This weekend is our next observing event. On Friday or Saturday night, if Friday's cloudy, we'll meet at our observing site at Big Wood at 8.30pm.

Come along if you can make it, and bring whatever observing equipment you have. You don't need a telescope, a pair of binoculars is good. Don't worry if you are new to the hobby and haven't got any equipment, come along anway. There will be people there to help and offer advice.

I look forward to seeing you there.


Wednesday, March 7

Saturn-Moon occultation

Did anyone manage to see or photograph the Saturn-Moon occultation last week?

I got up to clear skies, got dressed, went downstairs...and it was cloudy!

I did manage to get a few shots after Saturn had already grazed by the moon, but the seeing was very poor.

Hubble joins our observing challenge?

The topic at our February meeting was galaxies, and following that we set an observing challenge to track down some galaxies in Ursa Major. Well the Hubble team seem to have joined in the challenge and have just released a new image showing over 50,000 galaxies in a section of sky near the Plough! That's really impressive, but perhaps it's just coincidence?

Anyway, the image is a composite of several Hubble images and covers an area of the sky not much bigger than the full moon. For full details of the story behind the picture check out the Hubble news release.

The image below shows the location of the imaged part of the sky.

This image is just a small part of the full image which is probably best explored using the zoomable version on the Hubblesite.

Tuesday, March 6

March Observing Targets

Our observing targets for this month are a some galaxies in and around the constellation Ursa Major, and locatable using the familiar Plough (or Big Dipper) constellation. The image below shows the Plough and indicates the location of our targets.

M81 and M82

This pair of galaxies can be found be following a line across the diagonal of 'bowl' of the Plough and extending it the same distance outside the 'bowl' as shown in the diagram above. The pair are in the same binocular and telescope eyepiece field of view. With a telescope you will probably need to consult a more detailed star map to find them.


Another spiral galaxy at the other end of the Plough. Follow the trail of stars that lead down from the second to last star in the plough's handle (actually the pair of stars Mizar and Alcor). I'm not sure if you can see M101 in binoculars, I never have, but that's the challenge!


Also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy and one of the most impressive galaxies (especially in Hubble images). The galaxy is actually in the constellation Canes Venatici next to Ursa Major, but can be found from the last star in the handle of the Plough.

Sunday, March 4

Lunar Eclipse from the Memorial Gardens

A select band of observers(including some youngsters who evaded the camera)plus dog enjoyed last night's eclipse from a rather muddy Memorial Gardens. Dave gave his auction bargain telescope an airing and I brought along the trusty Vixen.

While keeping an eye on the progress of a beautiful eclipse we took the opportunity to hunt down a couple of this months challenges M81 and M82. (81 was easily visible but 82 was a bit of a struggle, competing with the orange glow from the lights of Cockermouth. No comparison with the superb views hopefully we will get from our dark sky sight later this month)

Saturn was also a fine sight, flanked by moons Titan and Rhea, with Dione glimpsed close to the planet.

Saturday, March 3

Lunar Eclipse

I couldn't make the session at Memorial Gardens this evening but I wasn't far away, observing from my back garden. What a spectacular event. Hopefully loads of people saw the eclipse and I'm sure many took photographs as well. If you did please bring them along to our next meeting.

I know people will have taken much better ones, but for what it's worth here are my attempts at using a digital SLR and a 200mm equivalent lens.


Galactic Interactions

At our February meeting we discussed interacting galaxies as part of my talk on the general theme of galaxies. Very shortly after that I found this article on the Bad Astronomy blog featuring this amazing hubble image of a galaxy being ripped apart by gravitational interactions.

On the subject of galactic interations, check out the relatively new blog of the same name, by astronomer Rob Knop, from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee. Some interesting stuff there already.

STEREO catches a lunar transit

This is something you just won't see from Earth. The moon transiting across the face of the sun. On the rare occasions that happens from Earth we see a solar eclipse.

NASA's Stereo probe (or one of them, Stereo B) is about a million miles from the Earth and therefore the moon appears much smaller against the sun. The probe was therefore able to take this amazing image of a 'smaller' moon transiting the face of the sun.

There's also a video of the transit on the Stereo website.

A new angle on Saturn's rings

Everyone is blogging about this image, so why should I be left out ? This image is a composition of 12 images (each in three colours) taken by Cassini as it passed above Saturn's polar region. The spacecraft was therefore ideally placed for this 'bird's eye' view of the rings. For more information on the images check this Ciclops page.

Image credit: NASA [click image for a large version - 550Kb]

Friday, March 2

A date for your diary

As we've said before, this year CAS is planning to invite professional astronomers to speak at some of our meetings and the first such session is our next CAS Meeting on 27th March at 7:30pm when Dr John Davies of the Royal Observatory, Edingburgh will be speaking on the contentious subject of "Why Pluto is not a planet". Since he was at the infamous recent IAU meeting where this was decided, we should ge the story from the horses mouth!

We'd really like a good turn out for the meeting and have extended an invitation to other local astronomy societies in Carlilse and Kendal. The cost for the meeting will be £2 if paying on the night, for full CAS Members the cost is covered by their membership fee.

There will be a further reminder and more details of the evening closer to the date, but keep the date free in your diary now.

Lunar Eclipse Watch

On Saturday 3rd March we will be holding an eclipse watch in Memorial Gardens, Cockermouth. We will aim to meet at about 9.30pm for the start of the eclipse which goes on until after midnight.

For full details for how how to observe the eclipse check out Stuart's excellent guide at Cumbrian Sky. This BBC News story reports that the eclipse may be one of the best in years.


Thursday, March 1

Meeting Report - February 2007

February's meeting covered galaxies as the main topic with a talk on the subject from Chris. We also looked forward to Saturday's Lunar Eclipse, which we will be observing from Memorial Garden's in Cockermouth.

The observing targets for the month are galaxies in Ursa Major, namely M81 and M82, M51 and M101. More details on how to find them will be posted on the blog soon. There was mixed success with out targets for February with many people being hampered by almost continuous cloud in Cumbria over the last few weeks. However, Jeremy did manage to get some interesting photos of M65 and M66 in Leo, and both Jeremy and Robin managed to create a movie of Titan in orbit around Saturn.

Thanks to Ian for doing the refreshments and Robin for sorting out the projector at short notice.