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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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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Tuesday, May 8

New details in Saturn's clouds

This recently released image of Saturn taken by the Cassini space probe shows details in the cloud layers rarely seen before. The image has been enhanced to show the details of swirling patterns and storms in the clouds layers.

Check out the NASA news release for a link to a high resolution version.


Sunday, May 6

Notes from the Secretary's Log

So I see I have been elected secretary…. That will teach me to miss a meeting! Many thanks for your vote of confidence; I will try my best to live up to it.

I did have an astronomically valid excuse for missing the AGM though as I was fortunate enough to be invited down by Sir Patrick Moore and the BBC to the Sky at Night 50th Anniversary party at Patrick’s house in Selsey. You can watch what happened on BBC1 tonight Sunday at the uncommonly early time of 11.10 pm (repeated 7pm BBC4 on Monday) and there is also a tribute programme at 4.45pm on the same channel.
The place was packed with the great and good of the astronomical and celebrity world but of course Sir Patrick was the Star of the show. Not even the presence of Lembit Opek’s “cheeky girlfriend” could tempt people away from him for long! Although wheelchair bound now, he showed remarkable stamina, keeping going non stop for the two days (The following day we continued partying after the BBC crew had departed)
On the way home I called in at the South Downs Planetarium in Chichester A fantastic resource, entirely funded and run by volunteers and not to be missed if you are down that way. They gave me a (quite literally) behind the scenes tour and very kindly gave me some books to swell our new library (duplicates from their very extensive collection)

This weekend I attended my first meeting of the British Astronomical Association Variable Star Section held north of the border for the first time at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. (Note to self, we must have a talk on variables sometime) It was an excellent meeting with several professional astronomers talking on Dark Matter, Exoplanet hunting and gravitational microlensing. I presented a poster paper on a possible microlensing event which seemed to be well received and one of the professional astronomers was interested in following up the work. The good news for CAS though is that it looks like I have secured a speaker for next year's programme! (More later)
We were also treated to a tour of the old observatory dome with its 36 inch telescope (sadly decommisioned but still impressive) and the highlight for me, a tour of the new instrument building facility where the SCUBA 2 submillimetre detector was being built, soon to be shipped to the James Clarke Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Gone are the days when astronomers used to take their instruments out to the the telescope in their hand luggage, this thing weighs four Tons and is cooled to almost absolute zero! Look out for result from it later this year. Perhaps we could arrange a tour of the ROE for as a society day out if enough people are interested.

Don’t forget the Astronomy at the Mountain Festival event on 19th May and if you have not yet booked tickets for Chris Lintott, don’t delay as they are now available to the general public.

Clear Skies

Friday, May 4

Yet another exoplanet discovered

The French space agency, CNES, has just announced that its Corot satellite which is designed to search for extra solar planets has made its first find. The planet is a 'hot jupiter' with about the same mass as Jupiter and orbiting its star in 1.5 days. Two other teams have also announced planets over the last couple of days bringing the total number of extrasolar planets known to 232.

If you want more details on the discovery of potentially 'earth-like' Gliese 581c you can listen to one of the planet's discoverers being interviewed on this week's Planetary radio.


Wednesday, May 2

CAS April Meeting and AGM Report

April's meeting was the first CAS Annual General meeting that meant that the first part of the meeting was deidcated to formal business matters. Firstly the Society Constitution was formally agreed with some minor ammendents suggested by members. The society accounts were approved by the members.

Election of the Committee for the coming year was completed with the new committee being;

Chairman: Chris Darwin

Secretary: Robin Leadbeater

Treasurer: Caroline Pollard

Committee Members: Bill McAllister, Wes Smith, Jeremy Hunt

Chris thanked all committee members for their efforts over the last year and proposed a special vote of thanks to Tony Terry who has been an active member of the Society since it's formation and has served on the committee for several years.

Minutes of the AGM and a copy of the constitution and accounts will be made available on the CAS Website as soon as possible.

Following a brief news round up and a refreshements Chris gave a talk on "40 years of astronomy" to coincide with a recent significant birthday celebration.