WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

SEPTEMBER NEWSLETTER 2006

INDEX: MEETINGS, OTHER NEWS, CONTACTS

NEW COMMITTEE MEMBERS NEEDED

  Following the sad death of Ian Reeves who has served as the Committee's Secretary for some time, we need to recruit new members to the Committee.  We meet for an hour four times a year usually at a convenient pub where we discus the running of the Society.  I can promise that they are very pleasant meetings, but they do reflect the activities of the Society and are thus important.

Any full member who thinks they could contribute to the running of the Society in this way would be made very welcome and can find out more from any of the current Committee Members listed under "Contacts" at the bottom on this Newsletter.

THE SUMMER BARBECUE

  The Summer barbecue took place on Saturday the 26th of August at the kind invitation of Michael Harte and his wife Claire to Greenman Farm. About a third of the Society's members were present.

Greenman Farm is a good location and in the past, the night sky has been ideal for observing and much preparation for the evening had been done by downloading star charts and prediction-tables of the International Space Station, which was due to appear at 2101 and pretty well overhead.  Joan Grace asked if we might be able to see Iridium Flares.  Michael Harte dashed indoors and reappeared with a computer printout of their predictions. 

At this point, it had to be explained to me what Iridium Flares were.  They could have been strange irradiated flares in the upper atmosphere for all I knew. 

The Iridium Communications Service had been set up in 1998 to provide worldwide voice communication using 77 satellites (77 being the atomic number for the element Iridium, hence the name).  Only 66 were launched but due to lack of customers due to the high cost of using the service, the system failed commercially and now is only used by the USA Department of Defence and a few large organisations and businesses.

The reason for Joan's interest is that the satellites can be observed with binoculars since they are about +6 magnitude, but because of certain flat surfaces on the satellites the Sun can produce a glint of up to -8, and since at times Venus can only reach -4.9, an Iridium Flare would be well worth looking for.

A number of members had brought telescopes, but the clouds were not too encouraging.  In the end only one telescope was set up; - an eleven inch Celestron Cassegrain with a Losmandy G11 equatorial mount.  Alas, it wasn't possible to use it because of the cloud build-up but there was plenty of talk about the telescope and astronomy in general.

The weather certainly didn't prevent us from enjoying the barbecue but the only non-earth sightings were clouds being illuminated from the inside by distant aircraft preparing to land at Gatwick airport.  Although we did get just one quick glimpse of Arcturus through a gap in the cloud.

Finally it did begin to rain and after reclaiming the Celestron, Michael and Claire invited us indoors for coffee.  Then came the bonus!  They live in a house, parts of which date back to the 1400s and for the next half hour or so Michael took us through the house with a fascinating description of the construction of the building and how it had been added to during the centuries.

In places it is still possible to see how the wooden supports in the roof had been blackened by soot when smoke from the fireplaces had had to find its own way out through the roof in the past.

It was a delight to see how the house had maintained its character during the history of its considerable development. Michael appears to know and have thought about every nick, hole and brick in each part of the house, and was able to explain its intriguing story.

An interesting astronomical thought; Michael's house began its story about the same time light from the star Regulus in the constellation of Orion began its long journey to the Earth.

After a very enjoyable and informative evening, one way and another, I left for the drive back to Sevenoaks only to look back and see the "W" in Cassiopeia now quite clearly visible over Wadhurst!

MEETINGS

SEPTEMBER MEETING

Wednesday 20th September 2006.  We welcome back Konrad Malin-Smith FRAS.  This time he will be giving a talk about White Dwarfs and remembering his previous visits, this should prove to be both an informative and very entertaining evening.

FUTURE MEETINGS

Wednesday 18th October 2006.  Jerry Workman will be paying us another visit and this time he talks about the latest news from Mars.

Wednesday 15th November 2006.  David Rooney, who is the Deputy Horologist at Greenwich Museum, is to give us a talk called "A Brief History of GMT". The new Time Galleries opened last February as part of the improvements to the Museum.

Wednesday 13th December 2006.  Note that this will be second Wednesday of the month.  Phil Berry, a member of the Society is giving a talk he calls "The Trials and Tribulations of an Amateur Astronomer".   

This will be followed by mince pies and beverages!

TELESCOPE FOR SALE

A number of members have been in touch with Mavis Reeves after Ian's very sad death.  She is bearing up very well under the circumstances, but she is keen to see if any member would be interested in buying Ian's Konus refracting telescope.

The telescope is the Big Yellow Konus achromatic refractor that Ian has on occasion brought along for the benefit of members.  It has always raised many comments on the quality of its optics and is quite a splendid instrument in its yellow livery. It is a perfect telescope for someone wanting to start into observing and would be an ideal instrument for planetary as well as deep sky observing.

The telescopes specification is as follows: 

Konus 120mm achromatic refractor in yellow livery with "Konus" logo. It comes with a manual equatorial mount on a sturdy aluminium tripod and has a star diagonal and it is believed to have a selection of eyepieces but I don't know the details.  It all seems in very good condition, as one would expect.

The telescope is for sale for 150 and any member wishing to know more should contact Mavis Reeves on 01892 784255 or Phil Berry on 01892 783544.

Phil Berry

HERSTMONCEUX ASTRONOMICAL FESTIVAL 2006

On Friday, 29th, Saturday 30th of September and Sunday 1st of October, The "Astronomical Festival 2006" takes place at Herstmonceux Science Centre.  There will be various exhibitors and local Astronomical Societies present, together with lectures, details of which will be available nearer the time on 01323 832731.  www.the-observatory.org.  Three confirmed speakers will be Nic Syzmanec, well known for his imaging techniques and a past guest speaker to WAS; Bob Fosbury, the chairman of the European Space Agency Astronomy Faculty; and Stuart Clark, the editor of "Astronomy Now".

Entry is 6.50 per adult, 5.00 per senior adult and 4.75 per child.

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OTHER NEWS

SEPTEMBER  NIGHT SKY

The Moon has a few notable events this month.  Full moon on the 7th is followed by perigee on the 8th when its orbit is closest to Earth at 357,000 km and therefore appears to have its largest visible diameter of 33' 45".  At apogee on the 22nd it will then only subtend an angle of 29' 17".

Also on the 7th of September, the moon exhibits a partial lunar eclipse, which will already be in progress when it rises as seen from the UK at 1945 BST.  The eclipse should affect the northern region of the full moon.

Due to the Moon's position relative to the earth, it is seen with its greatest libration at the beginning of the month revealing more of the moon's western side than usual.

The British Astronomical Society Lunar Section says that the satellite SMART-1 crashed into the surface of the Moon at 0640 on the morning of the 3rd of September.  This event was not visible from the UK and in any case took place beyond the terminator, but it will be interesting to see if anyone around the world manages to see or image any debris thrown up far enough to be illuminated by the Sun against the unlit surface before falling back.

The Andromeda Galaxy, M31, is now high in the Eastern sky.  Take the two right hand stars of the "W" in Cassiopeia, Caph and Schedar respectively and move down in a line about 20 degrees to Almach.  This is the first of three bright stars, Almach, Mirach and Alpheratz, each 12 degrees apart, in a line to the right.  Look about 12 degrees above the middle star and the same distance above this again to M31.  Its distance is always under constant refinement and currently stands at 2.9 million light years.  It is by far the most distant object visible to the human eye.

The Andromeda Galaxy looks like a diffused blob, even in a telescope, but after taking a fairly short exposure with a CCD or film camera begins to reveal M31's outer arms, which spread over a surprising distance.

NASA SPACE PLACE

Deadly Planets

By Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips

About 900 light years from here, there's a rocky planet not much bigger than Earth.  It goes around its star once every hundred days, a trifle fast, but not too different from a standard Earth-year. At least two and possibly three other planets circle the same star, forming a complete solar system.

Interested?  Don't be. Going there would be the last thing you ever do.

The star is a pulsar, PSR 1257+12, and the seething-hot core of a supernova that exploded millions of years ago.  Its planets are bathed not in gentle, life-giving sunshine but instead a blistering torrent of X-rays and high-energy particles.

"It would be like trying to live next to Chernobyl," says Charles Beichman, a scientist at JPL and director of the Michelson Science Center at Caltech.

Our own sun emits small amounts of pulsar-like X-rays and high energy particles, but the amount of such radiation coming from a pulsar is "orders of magnitude more," he says.  Even for a planet orbiting as far out as the Earth, this radiation could blow away the planet's atmosphere, and even vaporize sand right off the planet's surface. 

Astronomer Alex Wolszczan discovered planets around PSR 1257+12 in the 1990s using Puerto Rico's giant Arecibo radio telescope.  At first, no one believed worlds could form around pulsars-it was too bizarre.  Supernovas were supposed to destroy planets, not create them.  Where did these worlds come from?

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope may have found the solution.  Last year, a group of astronomers led by Deepto Chakrabarty of MIT pointed the infrared telescope toward pulsar 4U 0142+61. Data revealed a disk of gas and dust surrounding the central star, probably wreckage from the supernova.  It was just the sort of disk that could coalesce to form planets!

As deadly as pulsar planets are, they might also be hauntingly beautiful.  The vaporized matter rising from the planets' surfaces could be ionised by the incoming radiation, creating colourful auroras across the sky.  And though the pulsar would only appear as a tiny dot in the sky (the pulsar itself is only 20-40 km across), it would be enshrouded in a hazy glow of light emitted by radiation particles as they curve in the pulsar's strong magnetic field.

Wasted beauty? Maybe. Beichman points out the positive: "It's an awful place to try and form planets, but if you can do it there, you can do it anywhere."

  More news and images from Spitzer can be found at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/ .  In addition, The Space Place Web site features a cartoon talk show episode starring Michelle Thaller, a scientist on Spitzer.  Go to

http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/live/ for a great place to introduce kids to infrared and the joys of astronomy.

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

Phil Berry  01892 783544 phil.berry@tiscali.co.uk

Treasurer  Mike Wyles  01892 542863 mikewyles@globalnet.co.uk

Publicity & Website  Michael Harte  01892 783292 michael@greenman.demon.co.uk

Newsletter Editor  Geoff Rathbone  01959 524727 Geoff@rathbone007.fsnet.co.uk

Any material for inclusion in the October Newsletter should be with the Editor by September 28th  2006

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