WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

SEPTEMBER NEWSLETTER 2007

INDEX: MEETINGS, OTHER NEWS, CONTACTS

MEETINGS

AUGUST ASTRO BARBECUE

Once again the Society enjoyed an Astro Barbecue at the kind invitation of Michael Harte and his wife.  The weather was good and the skies were clear, enabling quite a bit of viewing to be done.

Over a dozen members were there and a number of telescopes and other instruments were at hand.  Phil Berry brought two pairs of stabilised binoculars and his Celestron SkyScout.  The SkyScout uses its own Global Positioning Satellite system to identify the users exact position and then provides the identification of about 6,000 celestial objects when the SkyScout is pointed in their direction.  The SkyScout also gives many details and data about the object being viewed.

An ETX telescope provided the opportunity to view parts of the sky in more detail.  This is a very versatile telescope with the ability to observe by eye and can be used for astro-photography.

There was an 8-inch Schmidt Meade telescope, which provided the ability to view in detail the moons of Jupiter amongst other observations.  Also present was a 5-inch Maksutov guided telescope.

Michael Harte used his new green laser to great effect in pointing out stars and constellations.  His laser is much smaller than many that are available but just as bright, which makes it very convenient.

All this after a sociable barbecue on a terrace overlooking the valley.

Many thanks once again to Michael and Claire for another enjoyable evening.

SEPTEMBER MEETING

Wednesday 19th September 2007

Our published speaker for this month was to have been George Sallitt talking about Web Cams but he has had to cancel owing to his work taking him meeting abroad.

In the meantime, Phil Berry has successfully found a replacement at very short notice.  Doctor Lilian Hobbs, President of the Southampton Astronomical Society, works for Oracle as a Production Manager, working on various software projects.

Lilian will be talking to us about "Remote Control of Your Telescope".

As usual, the meeting will begin at 1930 in the Upper Room of the Methodist Church at the east end of Wadhurst High Street opposite the gates to Uplands College.  The entrance door is to the left of the church, then up the stairs.

Visitors are always welcome to come and join us.

Phil Berry contributes a lot to the Society, which helps keep us going, and this is an example of what he does behind the scenes.  Many thanks Phil.

FUTURE MEETINGS & EVENTS

Saturday 22nd September 2007  A visit to see the largest private collection of clocks in the UK at Belmont House near Faversham in Kent.  See the note later in this Newsletter.

Wednesday 17th October 2007  Keith Brackenborough will be giving a talk with the intriguing title "The Calendar - A 5,000 year struggle  to Align the Clock to the Heavens".

Wednesday 21st November 2007  John Vale-Taylor is presenting "The Tim Bance Interview".  Tim is a long-standing and respected member of the Society and has a wealth of practical experience in the field of amateur astronomy.

Wednesday 12th December 2007  NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND WEDNESDAY OF DECEMBER   Society Member, Paul Treadaway is giving a talk he calls "Why are we Still Here?" - Food for thought...

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OTHER NEWS  

VISIT TO BELMONT HOUSE

Those members of the Society whose names have been given to Phil Berry to see the largest collection of clocks in private hands, will be visiting Belmont House on Saturday the 22nd of September, a few days after our next meeting.

We need to make our own arrangements for getting there and back and I include directions below, but there will also be instructions available at our meeting on the 19th of September.

From Ashford / M20, exit junction 9

Take A251, heading North in the direction of Faversham.  Pass through the village of Boughton Aluph (2 miles), straight across the Challock roundabout (4 miles) and continue North until Badlesmere. Turn left and follow the brown Tourist signs for Belmont; a further 1.5 miles.  

From Faversham / M2 exit junction 6

Turn onto A251 heading South in the direction of Ashford.  Pass successively through the villages of Norton (2 miles) and Sheldwich (3 miles), before reaching Badlesmere (4 miles), turn right and follow brown tourist signs for Belmont; a further 1.5 miles.

HERSTMONCEUX ASTRONOMY FESTIVAL 2007

The Science Centre at Herstmonceux is holding what is becoming an annual Astronomy Festival on Friday, Saturday and Sunday the 7th, 8th and 9th of September.

Throughout the weekend there are lectures (£2 per lecture), tours around the telescopes, viewing through a solar telescope and a visit to the Space Geodesy Facility, which exists to support geodetic and geophysical research through satellite tracking data.

Among the trade stands, members of other Astronomical Societies will be attending including the Southern Area Group of Astronomical Societies manned part of the time by our own Phil Berry.

Telescopes not open during the day will be open for evening viewing sessions (weather permitting).

Entry to the Festival:

Adults £6.80
Senior £5.25
Child £5.00

Further details can be found on their website at: www.the-observatory.org/

SEPTEMBER NIGHT SKY

Planets

Mercury is an evening object but is so low down that it is effectively unobservable. The morning apparition this coming November will be the best remaining opportunity to see Mercury this year.

Venus is a morning object at magnitude -4 and by the middle of the month rises almost 3 hours before the sun. A small telescope will show a thin crescent phase but as Venus moves away from us it's apparent size decreases whilst it's phase increases.

Mars is an evening object at magnitude 0.0 and moves from Taurus (the bull) into Gemini (the twins) this month. It will display a large gibbous phase and increase in apparent diameter to nearly 10 arc seconds by the end of September.

Jupiter at magnitude -2 is still an evening object in the constellation of Ophiuchus (the serpent bearer) but is past its best. By the middle of the month it sets at around 22.00 BST.

Saturn is a morning object at magnitude 0.6 close to Regulus in Leo (the lion) rising around an hour and a half before the sun by mid month.

Lunar Occultations

Below are the events involving reasonably bright stars that occur before midnight. Times are all BST. DD = Disappearance on the Dark limb whilst RD = Reappearance on the Dark limb. You may have noticed that an extra column (PA) has crept into the table below. This tells you the position angle (in degrees) of the star relative to the moons north pole counted anti-clockwise. For example the south pole would be 180. This information is useful as it tells you where to look around the circumference of the moon for the star. It's invaluable if the event is a re-appearance because you need to be looking in exactly the right place to see the star pop out!

September Date Time Star (SAO catalogue) Constellation Magnitude Phase PA degrees
Mon 17th 2024 183995 Scorpio 7.0 DD 165
Thur 20th 2121 187286 Sagittarius 7.4 DD 93
Sat 22nd 2002 189502 Aquarius 7.4 DD 114
Mon 24th 1955 165048 Aquarius 7.8 DD 38
Mon 24th 2103 165079 Aquarius 7.0 DD 121
Tue 25th 2003 146615 Pisces 7.6 DD 49
Tue 25th 2150 146645 Aquarius 6.6 DD 45
Thur 27th 2005 109623 Pisces 6.8 RD 196
Thur 27th 2239 109696 Pisces 6.7 RD 170
Sat 29th 2049 54005 (XZ cat.) Aries 4.6 RD 284
Sat 29th 2049 75673 Aries 4.7 RD 284
Sat 29th 2236 75715 Aries 7.3 RD 208

Meteors

There are suggestions that the normally docile meteor shower, the Alpha Aurigids, may produce a much higher than usual number of meteors - possibly with a ZHR in excess of 40. Unfortunately on the night of the maximum (September 1st) a waning gibbous moon rises at 20.54 BST. Despite this it is still worthwhile taking a look from around 23.00 onwards in case of something extraordinary.

ISS

Unfortunately there are no evening appearances of the ISS this month. For more details log on to the web-site:

www.heavens-above.com

The Sun

I have read two reports recently that suggest the next solar maximum could be an extremely active one. They also say that activity could reach a peak faster than normal, although neither report states upon what they base these assumptions.

Advance Notice

There will be an early morning occultation of Regulus on the 7th October It disappears behind the bright limb at 06.19 and reappears from behind the dark limb at 06.54 (both BST).

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

Did anyone manage to see the International Space Station make a pass during the time that Endeavour was docked?

I used Brian Mills's table of predictions during the shuttle's service visit and could make out the irregular shape using a pair of normal binoculars.  It was too bright to see much detail but the wings were apparent.

Ed.

NASA SPACE PLACE

Cosmic Cockroaches

By Dr. Tony Phillips

Cockroaches are supposed to be tough, able to survive anything from a good stomping to a nuclear blast.  But roaches are wimps compared to a little molecule that has recently caught the eye of biologists and astronomers-the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs for short) are ring-shaped molecules made of carbon and hydrogen. "They're all around us," says Achim Tappe of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics.  "PAHs are present in mineral oils, coal, tar, tobacco smoke and automobile exhaust." Aromatic, ring-shaped molecules structurally akin to PAHs are found in DNA itself!

That's why Tappe's recent discovery may be so important.  "PAHs are so tough, they can survive a supernova."

The story begins a few thousand years ago when a massive star in the Large Magellanic Cloud exploded, blasting nearby star systems and interstellar clouds with hot gas and deadly radiation.  The expanding shell, still visible from Earth after all these years and catalogued by astronomers as "N132D," spans 80 light years and has swept up some 600 Suns worth of mass.

Last year "we observed N132D using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope," says Tappe.  Spitzer is an infrared (IR) telescope, and it has a spectrometer onboard sensitive to the IR emissions of PAHs. One look at N132D revealed "PAHs all around the supernova's expanding shell.  They appear to be swept up by a shock wave of 8 million degree gas. This is causing some damage to the molecules, but many of the PAHs are surviving."

Astronomers have long known that PAHs are abundant not only on Earth but throughout the cosmos-they've been found in comet dust, meteorites and many cold interstellar clouds-but who knew they were so tough?  "This is our first evidence that PAHs can withstand a supernova blast," he says.

Their ability to survive may be key to life on Earth.  Many astronomers are convinced that a supernova exploded in our corner of the galaxy 4-to-5 billion years ago just as the solar system was coalescing from primitive interstellar gas.  In one scenario of life's origins, PAHs survived and made their way to our planet.  It turns out that stacks of PAHs can form in water-think, primordial seas-and provide a scaffold for nucleic acids with architectural properties akin to RNA and DNA.  PAHs may be just tough enough for genesis.

Cockroaches, eat your hearts out.

Find out about other Spitzer discoveries at:

www.spitzer.caltech.edu

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   John Vale-Taylor  pjvalet@tiscali.co.uk

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

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

Publicity & Website  Michael Harte  01892 783292 was@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  2007

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