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, January 23

January CAS meeting

The next CAS meeting will be on Tuesday 29th January 2013, in the church hall as usual.

We will have news slot as usual, followed by tea and biscuits and then a presentation by local member Dennis Kelly on the subject of Lunar and Planetary Imaging.

Dennis will explain and demonstrate the process of recording images and processing them and will offer the audience a chance to work through the image processing stage using pre-recorded images.

All are encouraged to bring along video files they have captured of the moon or planets and Dennis will assist  in processing the images.

Similarly if anyone has equipment for observing or imaging that they would like assistance with please feel free to bring it along.  Dennis will also be on hand to "flash" any webcams if required and will be able to load Registax v6 onto anyone's laptop if they bring it along.

A simple "how to" handout will also be provided to help users get the most from Registax.

So come along and see how easy it is to produce good lunar and planetary images!

Credit: Damian Peach

Sunday, January 20

Stargazing 2013 event report

Well it has to be said that the weather conspired against us yet again at our 'Stargazing in Cockermouth' event this year. Things started on a promising note as we headed down to the United Reformed Church to set up our exhibition. There were patches of blue sky and the forecasts on the various websites we were checking promised breaking cloud and some hope of observing later on in the evening.

Part One: The Exhibition

As CAS members arrived it was clear a lot of work had been put in to creating displays, activities and demonstrations including; the scale of the solar system, astro imaging, killer asteroid impacts, spectroscopy as well as a good selection of telescope and binoculars.

Once we were set up there was just time for a quick lunch before doors opened at 1pm. It would be fair to say that we were not immediately overwhelmed with visitors. Perhaps the weather was putting people off, and a quick foray into Cockermouth confirmed that the whole town was unusually quiet for a Saturday afternoon. None the less, visitors did come and like the snow outside there were several flurries of visitors.

There was plenty to do, and it was great to chat to all our visitors, many of whom had made a special journey to attend the event. There were plenty of great questions and we were able to help people with advice on telescopes and astrophotography.

By far the favourite activity for the kids (young and old!) was the impact crater simulator. . .

Demonstrations of astro imaging were particularly popular with visitors and CAS members alike. Members were able to learn new techniques from each other.

Robin's demonstration of spectroscopy techniques was popular, as ever.

Vistors were shown a scary demonstration of the potential power of asteroid impacts . . .

Part Two: The Observing

This is where the wheels really came off our wagon! As the afternoon progressed and darkness fell, more and more cloud and drizzle came in. By 5pm things were looking gloomy, and as we packed displays and equipment away in the rain we all agreed that there was little prospect of observing. So reluctantly we had to cancel the observing for the 3rd year in a row! I kept an eye out all evening for any sign of clear patches but even at 11pm there was still total cloud cover. So frustrating!

My thanks again to everyone who came along to the event, and particularly the CAS members who really made the event with their preparation before hand and dedication on the day. I'm sure everyone got something out of the event.

Saturday, January 19

Weather impacts observing tonight

Despite forecasts to the contrary we have complete cloud cover and rain here in Cockermouth so there is little prospect of observing tonight. We will look to rearrange a public observing night on a different date. Keep an eye on the website.

See the scale of the solar system over Cockermouth

If you came along to our Stargazing in Cockermouth event this afternoon you may have seen our description of the scale of the Solar System in local terms. If you would like to play around with that a bit more on Google Maps the map below shows the details.

View Scale Solar System based in Cockermouth in a larger map

Perhaps you can work out a similar scale from your home, or on a favourite walk.

Note there is not actually anything to see at these locations, this time the solar system is imaginary. If you would like to see a scale solar system for real, check out the Eddington Astronomical Society event on 9th March in Kendal. Or look out for a similar CAS event in the future.

Stargazing today

Today is our event in support of BBC Stargazing LIVE. We will be in the United Reformed Church on Cockermouth Main Street from 1pm with an astronomy exhibition and hands on activities.

From 7pm we will be in Memorial Gardens, just down the road, for a public observing event.

The sun is already breaking through the clouds here, and the forecast for the evening is promising with some broken cloud. Chances are good that we will be able to get views of Jupiter, the Moon and other objects.

It will get cold quickly though, reaching -2 C. So if you are coming along make sure you wrap up warm!

Monday, January 14

Looking forward to Stargazing in Cockermouth

Our main involvement with BBC Stargazing LIVE this year is our 'Stargazing in Cockermouth' event on Saturday 19th January. 

So what's going to happen?

The event starts with an astronomy exhibition in the centre of Cockermouth at the United Reformed Church. Doors will be open from 1pm until about 5.30pm. We will have a range of exhibits with CAS members on hand to answer your questions as well as a number of hands on activities designed for younger visitors. Everyone is welcome.

If you are looking for advice on getting the best out of your own telescope, why not bring it along?

Here's some examples of what went on at last year's event.

Astro imaging display and advice from experienced astrophotographers.
A variety of telescopes on display 

Hands on activities for the younger visitors.

Information on the main astronomical events to look for,
Hands on demonstrations of key astronomy concepts.
The opportunity to get help and advice with your own telescope.
Once the afternoon session is over, and as darkness falls we move to Memorial Gardens (also in Cockermouth) for some hands on observing. From about 7.30pm society members will be on hand with their telescopes to show you some of the wonders of the night sky.

Well placed for viewing on Saturday will be the moon, Jupiter and it's moons as well as several star clusters, galaxies and other 'deep sky' objects.

If you are intending to come to the evening session remember to wrap up warm, and bring your own telescope or binoculars if you want.

The is no charge for admission any of the events, although there is no free parking available at the venues so you may need to pay for parking. Refreshments will be available during the afternoon for a small charge.

P.S. You can get directions to the event locations on this Google map or below.

View Stargazing in Cockermouth Locations in a larger map

Sunday, January 13

A successful dark sky event

We has a great observing night yesterday at the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre Dark Sky Discovery Weekend.

I arrived mid afternoon and already there was the rare sight of patches of blue sky overhead, a promising sign. After setting up  the telescope and display equipment I had taken along, and the first of many cups of tea by the log fire, it was show time! A planetarium show that is, presented in the STFC inflatable StarLab, by Alan and Wendy. An entertaining tour of the solar system with some spectacular graphics followed by a guided tour of the night sky with the planetarium.

After that I presented my own tour of "The Ten Most Amazing Places in the Solar System". By then darkness was falling and better still most of the cloud had gone. We had clear skies in every direction.

Setting up as Orion rises over Pillar

Once the sky got truly dark, and the centre lights had been turned off, the sky really came to life. Red light torches were essential as without them you could easily walk into someone. The conversations about constellations, planets, telescopes and deep sky objects were frequently interrupted by apologies, "sorry I didn't see you there!" 

My small Skywatcher 130P Dobsonian saw plenty of use 
The Lake District fells provided a fantastic 'frame' for the night sky.
Jupiter and it's moons were a favourite starting point for many, and it's always a pleasure to be able to show people a view through a telescope for the first time. The Orion nebula, The Pleiades, Beehive cluster, Andromeda galaxy and star clusters in Auriga were all well placed for viewing. The telescope and binocular views prompted many questions and explanations.

I couldn't resist a self portrait!
As the temperature dropped the hospitality of the field centre team was greatly appreciated, hot homemade soup and plenty of tea coffee and cakes were on hand. After another quick warm by the fire and a second talk to a new group of visitors (including some old friends of CAS) it was back outside to continue the observing.

There were plenty of telescopes on hand to show off the night sky objects
Observing was still going strong as I packed up to leave with the STFC team just before 11pm. Many people had booked to stay the weekend and were looking forward to getting up early to observe Saturn in the morning sky.

As I drove the 35 minutes or so back to Cockermouth, I reflected on how lucky we are to have such a great facility virtually on our doorstep. As an official Dark Sky Discovery Site it is open to the public at any time to enjoy the night sky in the beautiful setting. The team of staff and volunteers could not have been more welcoming. And it was great to see so many people attend, both locally and much fiurther afield. We should really make best use of this facility.

If you're interested the event will be repeated on the weekend of 9th and 10th February. We'll post more details on the CAS website nearer the time.

Before that though, is our own 'Stargazing in Cockermouth' event. That is this Saturday, 19th January. Starting from 1pm at the United Reformed Church Hall in Cockermouth Main Street and moving to Memorial Gardens about 7.30pm for a public observing session. I hope the weather is as good to us as it was last night.

Friday, January 11

See the stars this weekend

If you want to see the stars this weekend go along the the Dark Sky Discovery Weekend at Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre, Ennerdale.

The field centre is Cumbria's first Dark Sky Discovery Site and holds regular Dark Sky Discovery Events that are open to members of the public on a regular basis

Members of CAS will be attending tomorrow afternoon and evening to provide advice and help as well as showing people the night sky through telescopes.

There will be plenty of related activities as well. Best of all, a view of the night sky is guaranteed as there will be a mobile planetarium organised by the field centre providing a virtual tour of the heavens.

It's quite a trek to the field centre so make sure you check the directions on the website.

Wednesday, January 9

BBC Stargazing Live pic for 2013

In the spirit of BBC Stargazing Live I went out last night to try and capture the Cone Nebula...and was rewarded with a couple of hours of cloud dodging...

The useful frames were combined into this image.  The image is quite noisy due to the low number of exposures added.  Notice the monkey's head in the centre of the nebula complex.

NGC 2264 and Cone Nebula
12 x 5 mins @ ISO800
Canon 300D

Tuesday, January 8

Try some hands on observing!

If you have been inspired by tonight's Stargazing LIVE programme on BBC2 you might want to do some 'hands on' astronomy. There are plenty of local events you can get involved with.

The first is this Wednesday 9th January at Kendal Castle. It is organised by Kendal's Eddington Astronomical Society. Details of the event can be found here.

Your next local opportunity will be on Friday 11th in Carlisle at Border Astronomical Society's "Observing the Cumbrian Night Sky" event at Trinity School (details here). They have a repeat event on Monday 14th as well.

CAS first involvement is on Saturday 12th January when we will attend Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre's Dark Sky Discovery Weekend in Ennerdale. CAS members will be there with telescopes to view the night sky, weather permitting.

Finally we will be holding our own observing session 'Stargazing in Cockermouth' event on Saturday 19th January. With and exhibition and equipment display in the afternoon and hands on observing in the evening.

At all of these events local amateur astronomers will be on hand with their equipment to show you the night sky and provide help and advice on finding your way around the night sky. They are all free events and suitable for all the family.

I hope you can make it to at least one, and look forward to seeing you at a CAS event.

Monday, January 7

The Moore Winter Marathon - your tribute to Sir Patrick?

If you watched last night's Sky at Night you will have seen the reference to Patrick Moore's 'Moore Winter Marathon'. This is a collection of 50 objects selected by Sir Patrick and well placed for viewing in the night sky (from the northern hemisphere) through to the end of January. I've mentioned it previously at CAS meetings.

As Sir Patrick's last ever programme was dedicated to encouraging us all to get out and look up, perhaps a fitting tribute would be to complete the Moore Winter Marathon (MWM) this year.

That's what I decided to do, and I've started to record my experiences, along with some hints and tips on observing, on a new blog My Moore Marathon. It would be great if you follow me there, and if you want to take part, leave some feedback on your progress or ask questions.

Let us know how you get on at the next CAS meeting on 29th January.

P.S If you missed last night's Sky at Night it is repeated on Thursday, and is available in iPlayer. Don't forget Stargazing LIVE start tonight (Tuesday 8th Jan) on BBC2.

Sunday, January 6

Sir Patrick's last Sky at Night

Sir Patrick Moore's last ever Sky at Night airs tonight on BBC One at midnight. Recorded shortly before he died the programme is aimed at beginners and called 'Reaching for the Stars'.

It should be a fitting programme to close Patrick's 50 year chapter of the programme, and a good lead in to the Stargazing LIVE programmes which start on Tuesday evening at 8pm.

Looks like being a busy week for astronomy.

Friday, January 4

Over on the right . . .

Firstly if you are reading this article on a feed reader (like Google Reader) or on an email the title will not make much sense to you. That's because it's about the new layout of the CAS website. So if you want to follow through the rest of the article, read it on the website here.

Right. Now we've got that sorted. The purpose of this short article is to highlight the stuff over there on the right hand side of the website. This is known technically as the 'sidebar', and has quite a lot going on.

Firstly there is a calendar of CAS events. You can interact with this to find future events, and click on specific events to find more details if they are available. This is the same information that you get on the CAS Programme page in a slightly different format.

Below the calendar is the Facebook section. If you don't use Facebook just ignore it. If you do, you can visit our Facebook page from here and 'Like' CAS. I'm not a great Facebook user myself, but I think that will allow you to see updates from CAS on your news feed. I will try and post some links, photos and updates from CAS events here as much as possible.

Next is a section called LiveLinks which is where I post a selection of links to topical news items etc. These are updated on a reasonably regular basis and sometimes provide links to items which are not posted on the main pages. So, it's worth checking these regularly.

Below these are links to some of the main astronomy blogs on the internet, if you don't already read these there are worth a look.

Further down the sidebar is more information about the CAS website including an index of the posts since the site was created in 2006, and a list of tags for artcles posted. Here you can subscribe to have the posts delivered to you by email, or search previous posts. You can also see a running total for the number of visitors to the blog.

Hopefully some of that information will be useful. If there is anything else you would like to see please let me know. You can do that by emailing me, or adding a comment to this post. You can comment on any post by clicking on the comments link below the post. It will usually say 'no comments' unless someone else has commented before you. Once you comment has been approved it will be posted on the site and be visible next to the post.


Thursday, January 3

Your new telescope

Were you lucky enough to receive a new telescope this Christmas? If so hopefully you have had an opportunity to try it out “in anger” under clear skies.

If you are new to using a telescope you may be struggling to set it up and find things with it. If so you are not alone, most people find it quite difficult and frustrating to find things in the night sky. It is well worth persevering, the views you will get in the end are worth the frustration.

Here are couple of quick tips to get you started;

1. Try to align your finder scope (or red dot finder) during daylight. Find a distant landmark in your main telescope eyepiece then adjust the finder to align with it. Next look through the finder to locate another landmark and then check the view in the telescope. If things are aligned you should see your new landmark through the telescope eyepiece.

2. Use you lowest power eyepiece first. Generally you will get a couple of eyepieces with your telescope. When aligning the scope (as above), or trying to find things in the night sky, use the lowest power one first. Eyepieces have a focal length printed on the side (usually in mm), the lowest power is the one with the largest number. This is usually about 20mm or 25mm. Use this eyepiece to centre something bright like the moon or Jupiter then, when you have it in the centre of your view, swap to a higher power eyepiece. You will probably need to refocus the telescope when you put a different eyepiece in, be careful not to move the 'scope when you do.

Hopefully that will help you get started. If you need more help why not bring your telescope along to our ,Stargazing in Cockermouth, event on 19th January, CAS members will be on hand to give you help an advice.

Wednesday, January 2

BBC Stargazing LIVE TV series and related events

I'm sure you will have already worked this out, but just in case, BBC Stargazing LIVE returns for a third series next week on BBC2.

Dara O Briain and Professor Brian Cox return for three live events on 8th, 9th and 10th January to explore the night sky with a number of guests. Following each hour long live programme they will also have a 'Down to Earth' programme with follow up chat etc.

Check out the Stargazing LIVE website for more information, activities and downloads as well as to find details of related activities in your area. Our event is up there as are other events organised by our fellow Cumbrian societies.

Here's a list of some of the local events happening over the next couple of weeks;

Wed 9th Jan: EAS Skywatch at Kendal Castle - Eddington Astronomical Society
Fri 11th Jan: Observing the Cumbrian Night Sky - Border Astronomical Society Carlisle
Fri 11th Jan: A Tourist Guide to the Universe - EAS  Talk in Kendal
Sat 12th Jan: Dark Sky Discovery Weekend - Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre, Ennerdale
Sun 13th Jan:  Dark Sky Discovery Weekend - Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre, Ennerdale
Mon 14th Jan: Observing the Cumbrian Night Sky - Border Astronomical Society Carlisle
Sat 19th Jan: Stargazing in Cockermouth - Cockermouth Astronomical Society

Good luck with your events everyone. Clear Skies,

Tuesday, January 1

New Year and a new look!

Welcome to 2013 which promises to be an interesting year for astronomy, and is already being dubbed "the year of the comets". Fingers crossed on that one, and of course more information soon.

As part of preparing for the new year I decided to give the website a bit of an update. We have had the society website running in it's current form since early 2006, that's seven years which is a pretty good run! During that time we have posted 557 articles, and had almost 13,000 visitors and 32,000 page views. That's impressive for a small society website, so hopefully people find it useful.

Over the seven years since we made the site, the computers people browse the internet with have changed considerably, although we now use smartphones and tablets, the desktop computers we use generally have larger screens with higher resolutions, that's allowed me to use a wider format and hopefully a better use of space. Anyway, I hope the new layout is a bit 'cleaner' and provides clear access to all our information.

The background image I've used hopefully summarises what the society is about. It was taken at a public observing event in Keswick which we held after a talk earlier in the evening by Dr Chris Lintott (of Sky at Night fame). For me it brings together the social aspects of astronomy, the beautiful Cumbrian mountains and lakes, and of course the thrill of catching a glimpse of the night sky through our ever present cloud cover!

As always you can let us know what you think either by sending an email to the usual address, or by adding a comment using the comment link at the end of each article.

All the best for 2013. Clear skies,