WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

DECEMBER NEWSLETTER 2005

INDEX: MEETINGS, OTHER NEWS, CONTACTS

MEETINGS

THE NOVEMBER MEETING

All The Things That Could Kill Me  

Talk given by Bob Turner FRAS at the Society meeting on the 16th of November

      Bob Turner is a member of the Worthing Astronomical Society and has visited us before to talk about hydrogen alpha filters and, on another occasion, comets.  This time his talk had the intriguing title of "All the things that could kill me"

      He began by presenting us with a line of 22 numbered geological specimens and invited us to judge which had come from space.  After inspecting each one we noted down our thoughts and Bob then went through them awarding points for each correct answer with a bonus point to anyone who could actually identify the specimen.  They ranged from meteors from deep space and the moon to earthbound specimens  such as iron pyrites and even a pebble from Worthing beach.  John Daw scored the highest with 22 points

      Bob said there is no recorded incident of anyone being killed by a meteor but he showed a chart of the finds in the British Isles since 1795 and these amounted to about twenty.  Another chart showed the known objects within the solar system with a huge number beyond the orbit of Mars, but about two hundred with the potential of reaching the earth.  Any of these had the potential to kill.

      We looked at the energy dissipated from the impact of various sized meteors and the resulting heat, which led to a discussion of the energy thrust up from volcanoes - also with the potential to kill.  For example, Mount St. Helens collapsed, killing life within a thirty miles radius.

      A quick reflection of size came next with the revelation that a million paper pound notes would have weighed 23 hundredweight and a million cigarette papers on top of each other would reach 300 feet.  The discussion of the light year took us out into space but in passing we learnt that our atmosphere saves us from an awful lot of radiation and space material with the potential to kill.

      Our Sun came next in the threat to kill with heat radiation in the region of 6,000 kilowatts per square metre and also the radiation within the solar flares.  The inner planets were too hot with very unpleasant atmospheres.  Then the outer planets came in for some criticism about the amount of radiation the larger ones create, providing one can take the cold!

      Many stars are in pairs, which produces very erratic orbits so any planets may be OK for human life for a very short time and then they would be killed.  Further afield came the super giants with their variable light output.  Bob did say that there are very few stars in the centre of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram that would be stable enough for us to live near.

      Still further away he talked about colliding galaxies where it is thought that very few collisions actually take place, but the very unstable conditions would prevent sustained human life.

      Then came the really great masses and eventually Black Holes that can only be detected through the effects they have on the surrounding matter, producing incredibly dangerous gamma rays and other hard rays.

      Bob continued his talk by referring to huge short-lived stars called pistol stars, which can give the output of 30,000 of our suns.  He then turned to gas clouds such as the Eagle Nebula where massive explosions can cause shock waves so strong that it can initiate the birth of new stars particularly towards the tips of the gas clouds.

      He concluded his excellent talk by showing slides of the result of an explosion in Aquila and the changes that took place within just 6 earth months.

            "Space is beautiful but very very dangerous!"

DECEMBER MEETING

Wednesday 14th December 2005  NOTE: this is the second Wednesday of the month! 

      The meeting will commence with a talk entitled "Shedding Light on Light" to be given by Bob Seaney.  This will be held ahead of our eighth annual general meeting (Official notice of which was given in the November 2005 Newsletter).  The latter will be followed by the important get-together over as many mince-pies as the Chairman considers appropriate, based on the number of subs reaching the Treasurer before the meeting begins!

      We will meet in the Upper Room of the Wadhurst Methodist Church just in case you were thinking of going to our old venue.

      What is the Agenda............?

Receive wise words from our Chairman

Receive the Report and Accounts from the Treasurer

Receive Reports from the Web-Master and the Editor

To elect one member to the Committee and confirm Mike Wyles into the post of Treasurer (he has done the job very efficiently since 15th February 2005!)

To decide upon the wording of a Constitution that defines the way the Society ought to operate and is clearly understood.  Some feedback has already been received after the November Newsletter.

Approve the Appointment of the Account Examiner (Hitherto loosely described as Auditor )

If you have anything else to raise here's your opportunity.  You may care to let the Secretary know in advance.

What happened last year?

The 2003/2004 AGM was held on 15th December 2004 in the Drama Studio, Uplands C. T. College.  Reports were presented on the Society's 2003-2004 events, Publicity, Newsletters and Finance.  In addition copies of the Accounts were circulated and approved.

The following were then elected to serve on the Committee:

Tim Bance      Chair

Jason Gardner      Treasurer

and seven others, namely: Joan Grace, Michael Harte, Ian King, Geoff Rathbone, Ian Reeves (to serve as Secretary for one year), John Vale-Taylor and Mike Wy les.

This took place in a civilised manner prior to the arrival of some cold mince pies .

Ian Reeves, our Secretary

FUTURE MEETINGS

Wednesday 18th January 2006  Dr John Lawrence gives an illustrated talk on "The History of the Telescope"

Wednesday 15th February 2006 Dr Martin Heath presents a talk with the intriguing title of  "The Habitability of the Red Planets".

Wednesday 15th March 2006 Martin Frey will talk about "Great Astronomical Blunders"

Wednesday 19th April 2006  Konrad Malin-Smith FRAS, the subject of whose talk is still to be announced.

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OTHER NEWS

SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE NOW DUE

      Members are reminded that subscriptions for the next session of the Society became due on the first of November 2005.  The subscription remains at 15 per member and 20 joint membership.  Mike Wyles will gladly receive cheques or cash at the December meeting.

  DECEMBER NIGHT SKY

      A call early one evening from our Secretary, Ian Reeves, prompted me to look out towards the southwest in late November when Venus was the brightest object in the sky at -4.6 apparent magnitude despite a phase of only 30%.  Venus reaches its brightest on the 6th of December but remains about 10 degrees above the horizon at sunset until the end of the month.  It is worth looking at the planet through a telescope if possible because it is possible to see shading of the terminator now.  Venus reaches inferior conjunction when it is closest to the earth, on 12 January 2006 and will then become a morning object, although its orbit will be almost parallel to the horizon and although very bright it will rise just ahead of the Sun.

      Mars is very well placed in the evening sky and will remain so for the whole of December.  Late in October there was a huge dust storm curving round towards the frozen pole and obscuring quite a lot of surface detail.  It now seems to have subsided and Mars is will worth looking at in even a small telescope.

      Mercury is quite well placed as a morning object in early December, reaching its greatest distance from the Sun on the 7th when it will be 12 degrees above the horizon about 0700.  At this time, Jupiter will be 20 degrees or more above the morning horizon.

      The winter constellation of Orion is now prominent in the evening sky.  There are a number of different classes of star in Orion and it is quite revealing to look at the constellation through even binoculars and then defocus.  This can often show the different colours more clearly than when sharply focussed.

      Just below Alnitak, the eastern most star of Orion's belt, is a nebulous cloud and 30 minutes from the star is the Horse Head Nebula.  I have only been able to see it once through my 11-inch cassegrain telescope when the air was very still and the seeing was really good, but it is something worth looking for and is extremely satisfying if you are successful.

NASA SPACE PLACE

Voices from the Cacophony

By Trudy E. Bell and Dr. Tony Phillips

      Around 2015, NASA and the European Space Agency plan to launch one of the biggest and most exacting space experiments ever flown: LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna.

      LISA will consist of three spacecraft flying in a triangular formation behind Earth. Each spacecraft will beam a laser at the other two, continuously measuring their mutual separation. The spacecraft will be a mind-boggling 5 million kilometres apart (12 times the Earth-Moon distance) yet they will monitor their mutual separation to one billionth of a centimetre, smaller than an atom's diameter.

      LISA's mission is to detect gravitational waves-ripples in space-time caused by the Universe's most violent events: galaxies colliding with other galaxies, super massive black holes gobbling each other, and even echoes still ricocheting from the Big Bang that created the Universe. By studying the shape, frequency, and timing of gravitational waves, astronomers believe they can learn what's happening deep inside these acts of celestial violence.

      The problem is, no one has ever directly detected gravitational waves: they're still a theoretical prediction. So no one truly knows what they "sound" like. 

      Furthermore, theorists expect the Universe to be booming with thousands of sources of gravitational waves. Unlike a regular telescope that can point to one part of the sky at a time, LISA receives gravitational waves from many directions at once.  It's a cacophony. Astronomers must figure how to distinguish one signal from another.  An outburst is detected! Was it caused by two neutron stars colliding over here or a pair of super massive black holes tearing each other apart in colliding galaxies over there?

       "It's a profound data-analysis problem that ground-based astronomers don't encounter," says E. Sterl Phinney, professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

      Profound, but not hopeless: "We have lots of good ideas and plans that work - in theory," he says. "The goal now is to prove that they actually work under real conditions, and to make sure we haven't forgotten something."

      To that end, theorists and instrument-designers have been spending time together brainstorming, testing ideas, scrutinizing plans, figuring out how they'll pluck individual voices from the cacophony.  And they're making progress on computer codes to do the job.

      Says Bonny Schumaker, a member of the LISA team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:  "It's a challenge more than a problem, and in fact, when overcome, a gift of information from the universe."

      For more info about LISA, see lisa.nasa.gov .  Kids can learn about black holes and play the new "Black Hole Rescue!" game on The Space Place Web site at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/blackhole/

      This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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CONTACTS

Chairman          Tim Bance                   01732 832745

                                   timbance@hotmail.com

Secretary         Ian Reeves                        01892 784255

Treasurer         Mike Wyles                   01892 542863

                                    mikewyles@globalnet.co.uk

  Publicity         Michael Harte                       01892 783292

& Web site                    michael@greenman.demon.co.uk

  Editor            Geoff Rathbone                01959 524727

                  Geoff@rathbone007.fsnet.co.uk

Any material for inclusion in the January Newsletter should be with the Editor by December 30th  2005

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