WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

OCTOBER  NEWSLETTER  2004

INDEX: MEETINGS, OTHER NEWS, CONTACTS

 

WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

  We held a committee meeting on 29 September to look at the composition of the committee and the future of the society.  Our discussions can be summed up briefly - and will, we hope, provoke some reaction from the membership at the October meeting.

The society was set up as a logical follow up to the adult education class held at Uplands in 1996, offering a programme of talks and the opportunity to view the stars as and when the English weather allowed.  We possess two good telescopes and one poor one for members to borrow and use at home; we have 47 members and our finances are healthy - with some £1700 in the bank.

Talks are generally well attended with over half the membership at any one.  There is a reasonable amount of general discussion over coffee and biscuits - but members tend to leave at the end of the talk.  The society's telescopes have hardly been used; attendance at star parties has been very thin - we realise the weather has not helped - and, since the Mars extravaganza, we have not taken telescopes out at Uplands after meetings.

The committee feels that we should shift back to the original idea of an astronomy club that would both provide an educational function - through a programme of talks - and an observing function - by seeking to watch the stars after the evening talk and better attendance at star parties on Ashdown Forest, where the viewing is better.  This could involve a shift of the coffee and biscuit break, taking the speaker first, then coffee then outside if the weather permits - or a members' discussion after the break.  We need your views at the October meeting.

More critical, however, is the composition of the committee.  As you all know, Murray Barber is unable to continue as chairman, having served us so well over the last six years.  Our Talks Secretaries travel from north Kent - and are, understandably, considering whether they can continue.  A significant change in personal circumstances mean that our Director of Observations cannot continue and our treasurer would like to step down, having filled the post since the start - and, he claims, because he is feeling his years.  Without an influx of new blood, we do not feel we can continue to run the society as it should be run.

We therefore - urgently - need three or four volunteers to come forward before the end of our financial year, either at the October or November meeting.  The task is really not that onerous - after all, many of the current committee have carried the load without obvious stress. It does mean attending perhaps four committee meetings a year in Wadhurst and as many society meetings as possible; for the Chairman, it means taking a little more responsibility - introducing speakers and running the meetings; it should be possible for the new committee to find ways of easing a newcomer in to this function - you would not be dropped in at the deep end and left to sink or swim!

      But without a positive result - three or four new members on the committee by November - we shall reluctantly have to propose, at the November meeting, that the society close.  Subscriptions would not be collected for the year commencing 1 December and our funds would pass to Uplands for the use of the school.

MEETINGS

LAST MEETING

The Cassini Mission

Talk given by Jerry Wakeman Wednesday 15th September 2004

Jerry Wakeman is the Chairman of Harringay Astronomical Society and he has talked to our society previously on the Subject of the planet Mars.  He has a prepared talk about the planet Saturn but for this evening he had adapted it to talk about the NASA Cassini Mission.

First he covered the observational history of the planet from Galileo's first observations when he thought the planet was in fact a triple planet.  Later Huygens saw Saturn as a planet with a very striking ring system and also discovered the largest moon, Titan.  Cassini was able to define the rings more clearly and discovered a large gap that we now know as the 3,000 miles wide Cassini division.  As telescopes improved, Enke described a faint 200 miles gap near the outer edge of the rings.

Then with the NASA Space Mission Pioneer 11 in 1979, the faint "C" ring and "F" ring were discovered, and it was found that the moons of Saturn were all very different from one another. Several new moons were discovered despite the relatively poor quality images at that time.

It was already know that Saturn was a gas planet but in 1980 and 1981 Voyagers 1 and 2 respectively visited Saturn and now it could be seen that the cloud tops extended for a distance of 600 miles.  The chief components of the planet are hydrogen and helium gas with traces of ammonia, methane and possibly phosphine.  A great amount of energy was generated in the clouds with wind speeds in excess of 1,000 miles per hour!  Spots and cyclones were also observed although not as dramatic as on Jupiter.

The core was found to be something of an enigma, thought to be composed of mainly water ices with very little rock but also containing metallic hydrogen.  The material is electrically conducting, setting up a huge magnetic field in excess of a thousand times the earth's magnetic field.  The average density of the planet is 0.7 that of water and would float in it if there was an ocean big enough.

Voyagers 1 and 2 were used to complement each other and many new moons were added to the known list of 25, many of them less than 100 miles across.  The number is expected to grow still further during the Cassini Mission.  Also during the Voyager missions hundreds of rings systems were now discernable and the phenomenon know as spokes were seen moving around the rings rather like shadows; still to be explained if still visible.

Already the cameras on board Cassini have sent back stunning pictures of Jupiter as it passed, and Jerry projected many of these from a set he had recently purchased.  The detail is very encouraging for the expected images of Saturn.  Views of Saturn's ring system are already being received and they are equally clear.  It is now know that the rings consist of particles generally from the sizes smaller than a lump of sugar up to objects the size of a block of flats so it has been decided that proposed flights through or close to the rings would be unwise, and the rings will be viewed from edge on at some distance away and from some way above and below the system.

Cassini will also explore the moons and there are about 80 planned orbits of Saturn itself.  Considerable interest is being shown in the moon Titan with about 40 orbits by Cassini, which will incorporate radar mapping of the surface.

There is a possible BBC broadcast of the fly-by of Titan by the Huygens probe, which will be released from Cassini on the twenty-fifth of December.  Huygens is expected to send back about 1,000 images of the surface before a proposed "landing" on the surface of Titan in January 2005.

Jerry concluded his talk by showing several excellent slides of the surfaces of many of the moons of Saturn taken by Voyagers 1 and 2 and then some artists' impressions of what might be found by the Cassini Mission.

Finally Jerry showed some of the photographs he had managed to take of the Transit of Venus in July.  As expected, he had some very good images right from the first contact through to fourth contact.

NEXT MEETING

The next meeting of the Wadhurst Astronomical Society will be on Wednesday 20th October 2004 when the speaker will be Martin Frey and his talk is entitled "Basic Astronomy".

As usual, the meeting will be held in the Drama Studio at Uplands College.  The doors open at 7.15 and the meeting starts at 7.30 prompt.

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OTHER NEWS

A NOTE FROM THE TREASURER

The general understanding of the Society's "year" seems to cause a bit of confusion and this might explain the odd pattern in which subs come in.  There are a few who view it as starting with the beginning of the school year in September, there are the traditionalists who view it as the calendar year and others who connect it to the financial year starting in November.  It is the old treasurer who is at fault for arranging to have the accounts ready for examination a month ahead of the business community, thereby causing the least inconvenience to our generous account examiner.  That is a long-winded way of saying that annual subs will be due at the beginning of NOVEMBER this year.

On behalf of the committee I particularly wish to thank Amina and Chris for providing refreshments spot on time for each of our meetings, and for kindly doing the washing up afterwards.

We cannot let the opportunity pass without thanking Murray for his valuable contribution to this society over the past seven years and leading us for six.  We offer Val and Murray our very best wishes for whatever they plan for the future and hope that they will try to call in us on some third Wednesday whenever they can.

The list of contenders to join the committee is now open.  Yours and 40 or so names are on the cards to jointly carry the Society forward.  Surely from that number there must be members who are willing to give just four one hour slots in a year to the running the organisation.  If not the future of WAS could be in jeopardy.  If you want to know more, please phone me, the Editor or the Membership Secretary.

Our current Secretaries have already made good progress in booking outside speakers for 2005.  You can imagine it must be far from easy to match diaries especially when other societies are engaged on similar missions.  If you have a particular astronomy related topic you would like covered do let them know now.

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CONTACTS

Chairman:      Vacant at present

  Secretaries: 

      Steve Camp                          01474 321105           

      Doug Biswell                          01322 225522

Treasurer:      Ian Reeves              01892 784255

Membership Sec:   Joan Grace       01892 783721

Editor:           Geoff Rathbone          01959 524727

                        Geoff@rathbone007.fsnet.co.uk

Publicity & Web Site:      Michael Harte       01892 783292

                        michael@greenman.demon.co.uk

Dir. of  Obs:  Sean Tampsett                01892 667092

                        sean_tampsett@hotmail.com

Any material for inclusion in the November Newsletter should be with the Editor by October 31st  2004

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