WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

FEBRUARY NEWSLETTER 2009

INDEX: MEETINGS, OTHER NEWS, CONTACTS

MEETINGS

JANUARY MEETING - ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

This year’s Annual General Meeting began with a report by the Chairman, John Vale-Taylor, who told the meeting that the Society had had a successful year and is looking forward to an interesting year ahead.  It is thought that the meetings should take a slightly different format in future, the major change being the introduction of two five-minute talks at each of the meetings.   One talk will be on a subject to do with the technical side of astronomy such as telescope mounts, collimating, eyepieces and filters, etc.  The other will be an introduction to the night sky and useful ways to observe it.
The Treasurer’s report by Mike Wyles showed that the accounts are healthy.  The cost of the venue had risen slightly and we had recently purchased a new projector screen.   Overall, there was a shortfall of £97.09p.  Our assets at the end of last year saw the Current Account holding £115.98 and our Bank Reserve stands at £1,282.08.
A slight change for the coming year is the introduction of a £2 fee for non-members to help cover costs.
The Events Organiser, Phil Berry reported that he had managed to arrange speakers right through until our October meeting.  The Committee had proposed that any member of the Society giving a talk would receive complimentary membership for the following year.
Phil also said there is to be a visit by the Society so see the clocks at Greenwich Observatory where our guide will be Jonathan Bett’s.  Many members will remember him from our visit to Belmont House.  This meeting is on Saturday 21st March.  There are more details later in this Newsletter.
The Newsletter Editor, Geoff Rathbone reported on the contents of the Newsletter and asked if members were happy with the subject matter or would like anything else added.  The feeling was that it was ok but if anyone had any ideas to please contact the Editor.
Geoff went on to mention that this was the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and we were looking into the practicality of holding a Moon Watch, probably in the Autumn.  This would entail a week during which time members and visitors would have the opportunity to view and discuss the moon.  There will be much more about this later in the year.

MICHAEL HARTE PRESENTATION

The AGM concluded with the presentation of a framed certificate to Michael Harte by the Chairman in recognition of the considerable amount of work and support he has given the Society over many years.  He has been a member of WAS almost from the very start but now finds that he is so busy with so many public activities that he feels he must leave us.
Members probably don’t realise that it was Michael that brought the projector screen, looked after the tea, coffee and biscuits, looks after the web site and the publicity and has kept the Committee Meetings in order when they began to wander.  But members know that it has been Michael who has welcomed the Society to his farm for the Astro-Barbecue each August and is generously offering to continue to host it.
In addition to this, as Webmaster he will continue to upload the Newsletter each month, promoting an interest in astronomy.
John Vale-Taylor told the meeting that the Committee has unanimously agreed that Michael should be made an honorary member of WAS for the life of the Society and we hope you will visit us whenever you can.  We will be delighted to see you at anytime.

JANUARY’S TALK

“The Further Trials and Tribulations of an Amateur Astronomer”
Talk by Phil Berry

Phil Berry is a member of the Society and has kept us entertained, intrigued and amazed with his tales as he has constructed an observatory in his garden.  His wife calls it his Play Pen.
A little while ago Phil gave part 1 of the story of how he developed his interest in astronomy and his determination to build a practical observatory.
To begin he briefly went over how he had started and furthered his interest in astronomy and then what equipment he had used in those early days.  His aim is to take deep-sky, planetary and lunar images and his determination leaves no doubt that he will achieve this aim.
In this talk Phil tells how he was impressed when he first saw an early NextStar 5 GOTO telescope in 1999.  This would give portability, ease of setting-up and better eyepieces than he had been used to.
Following various courses in astronomy including one with Swinburne University in Australia, based on an Internet environment.  Included were course material, a CD, on-line computer managed tests, a class forum and a choice of a main project with assessment and feedback.  The project Phil opted for was based on a faint companion of Cygnus in the North American Nebula, called the Pelican Nebula which is not a naked-eye object but is about four times the diameter of the moon.
New equipment was needed and at the time of the start of the project Phil amassed equipment using an f/3.4 200 mm lens bought on eBay including dust. To begin with a Starlight Express M8C CCD camera was used but there were problems, one of them was manually changing the filters which caused delay, danger of vibration and the risk of fingerprints.
During the project, Phil invested in a William’s Optics on a good Vixen DGPX mount, using a Starlight Express H9
The equatorial mount allowed Polar Alignment, saving time and achieving accurate set-up.  Despite all this, the project was delayed through eight consecutive weeks of bad weather!
Setting-up time became very important and a collapsible “garage” was made to house part of the equipment yet dampness still got in but an extra hour of observation was now possible each night.
This mini-shelter took a laptop which could be WiFi’d back to the house for data download.
Finally the project was submitted with just one day to go!
All this convinced Phil he needed a more permanent mount, so he bolted a corrosion-proof support to half a ton concrete foundation in the lawn.  He used a 25 watt lamp plugged into a digital thermostat to keep the mount to below 50 percent humidity in all weathers.
This cured the alignment problem but it was still difficult to set everything up.
The time had come to consider a better arrangement.
The best place for a permanent solution had to be Phil’s front garden after sweet-talking his wife into allowing the trees to be trimmed back.
The optimum position for an observing dome was within 20 metres from the public road, meaning that planning permission was required and this was to take 5 months!  This involved submitting drawings of surrounding properties and even plans of planting around the finished dome…
At one time Phil and his wife were on their way to the airport when they received a call from the Case Officer saying he was on his way round to view the site…
Eventually permission was granted for as long as Phil remains at the address.
We were shown a sequence of photographs of the new concrete base being constructed together with a circle of twelve foundation supports for the observatory.
Then the mount was installed in the centre, surrounded by a non-slip floor that was kept separated from the column to prevent vibration as there was movement on the floor.
The base of the column had a four point base but Phil devised a steel frame that reduces the points to three points providing a much more stable support.
The dome arrived with instructions for a previous model!
Eventually, when assembled, humidity inside the dome reached as high as 99 percent caused by the gap between the wall and the rotating dome.  This was fixed by using plastic trunking from B&Q and using a heat gun to form it round the dome and included a brush-type draught excluder.  The gaps for the wheels were covered by guttering end-caps and more draught excluder.
The humidity was kept within limits using a combination of a fan heater, dehumidifier and a Humidistat.
Since Phil’s intention was to operate the equipment from inside the house, as much as possible was designed to be remotely controlled.
The dome was made to be remotely controlled using an adapted car windscreen-wiper motor driving a bicycle-style chain in a channel that ran round the rim.
The dome opening also had to be remotely controlled and it became necessary to use two driven chains, one on either side of the gap, using very high torque planetary gear motors and including limit switches.
Phil had to include a rain sensor that would close the dome in case of the smallest drop of rain.
An amusing, but very necessary addition to the dome was a device to rotate it if the entrance door became obstructed by the dome’s position during tracking, preventing entry.
So now, Phil is waiting for the cast on his broken leg to be removed before he can safely move around inside the dome again.
What Phil has achieved so far is very impressive.

THE SKY IN FEBRUARY

The meeting concluded with a short introduction to the constellation of Orion and surrounding stars by Brian Mills.  This was the first of a monthly presentation and was received very well.
Brian is providing an information sheet and chart which will be available at our next meeting for any member to take away fro reference.

FEBRUARY  MEETING

Wednesday 18th February 2009 “Earth and Its Environment from an Astronomical Perspective”, an illustrated talk to be given by Jan Drodz, a member of the Society.  Jan was a chemist with the Shell Oil Company and spent some time just before he retired, meeting and giving talks to groups dedicated to the protection of the environment.
The meeting begins at 1930 although members are invited to arrive anytime after 1900 as this is a good time to exchange ideas and discuss problems.
The venue as always is in the Upper Room of the Methodist Church at the east end of Wadhurst Lower High Street, and opposite the entrance to Uplands College.  (For those with SatNav – the post code is TN5  6AT)

FUTURE MEETINGS

Wednesday 18th March 2009 “The Apollo Programme – Missions 1 to 12” a talk to be given by Rob Cray who is the founder member of our Society.  He led a course in Astronomy at Uplands College over ten year’s ago and he and his class formed the Society to continue their interest in the subject.  Later in the year Rob will return to talk about the remaining Apollo missions.
Wednesday 15th April 2009 “The Sun Kings”, a talk to be given by Stuart Clark.  Stuart is one of the UK’ foremost astronomy journalists, in fact he is a former editor of Astronomy Now.  His talk takes us through the tragic life of Richard Carrington and tells how modern astronomy began.
Wednesday 20th May 2009 “Sputnik in Context” a talk by John Axtell who is a member of Guildford Astronomical Society, but is be better known to members of WAS as the Secretary of the Southern Area Group of Astronomical Societies – SAGAS.

OTHER NEWS AND INFORMATION

VISIT TO SEE THE GREENWICH CLOCKS

There is to be a visit to see the clocks at the Royal Observatory Greenwich with Jonathan Betts as our guide on Saturday the 21st of March.
Members may well remember Jonathan from our excellent visit to see the private collection of clocks at Belmont House.  This time the visit is to see the collection of clocks held in the old observatory, now part of the National Maritime Museum.
A board for members to submit their names indicating their interest was on the table at the January meeting, but any other interested members are invited to let Phil Berry know by the next meeting on Wednesday 18th of February.
Members would need to find their own way there for the tour to begin at 1000.
Final details of the arrangements will be printed in the next Newsletter.

SUBSCRIPTION FOR THE 2009 SESSION

Subscriptions for the current session of WAS became due on the first of January.  They remain the same as previous years with adult membership at £15 and £20 for two members within the same family.  Student membership is free.
Subscriptions can be sent direct to the Treasurer, Mike Wyles  at 31 Rowan Tree Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 2UN or can be paid at the meetings.
Mike prefers to receive a cheque payable to "Wadhurst Astronomical Society" although he will take cash.

MEETING OF THE ANGUS GROUP

A meeting of the Angus Group was to have taken place on Tuesday the 3rd of February at Phil Berry’s house but having had the cast removed from his leg he still has a problem with his foot.  Also the weather for Tuesday is predicted to bring snow and since Phil lives far from the ploughs we feel it should be postponed for a few weeks when a new date will be fixed.

ASTROFEST 2009

This year’s Astrofest will take place on Friday and Saturday the 6th and 7th of February between 0900 and 1800.  The cost on the door is £5 although the lectures in the Conference Hall cost extra.
The venue is the same as in previous years, in the Conference and Events Centre of Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall in Hornton Street, W8, which is across the road from Kensington High Street Underground station.  More information is available on the Internet at:
www.astronomynow.com/astrofest

SKY NOTES FOR FEBRUARY

Planets

Mercury may just be glimpsed in the morning skies in mid February. Around the 12th/13th it rises an hour before the Sun but is only around 7° above the south eastern horizon so will be a difficult object. Don’t forget that if you intend to sweep the horizon with binoculars make sure the Sun has not risen, as you risk permanent damage to your eyes if you inadvertently look at the Sun. The best times to see Mercury this year are during the evening in April/May, and in the mornings during September/October.

Venus reached it’s position furthest east in the sky on January 14th and is now moving back towards the Sun. At magnitude -4.6 it is a conspicuous object in the south west and remains on view for four hours after Sunset.

Mars is not suitably placed for observation this month.

Jupiter is also poorly placed this month.

Saturn at magnitude 0.6 rises at around 19.30hrs by the middle of the month and can be found below the constellation of Leo. Its ring system is almost edge on to the Earth at the moment meaning that as there is less surface to reflect sunlight, it appears fainter than previously. Its position relative to Leo is shown in the diagram below by the crosshairs for February 16th. The planet is moving slowly so the map will be valid for some time either side of this date.

LEO

Lunar Occultations
As usual in the table I’ve only included events for stars down to around magnitude 7.5 that occur before midnight. DD = disappearance at the dark limb, RD = re-appearance at the dark limb and DB = disappearance at the bright limb. Times are all GMT.
The event that occurs on the 6th at 19.29 is of the bright star Epsilon Geminorum (the 5th brightest star in the constellation of Gemini). This will be easy to see even in small telescopes with the gibbous Moon a respectable 54 degrees above the horizon.

FebTimeStarMagPhPAo
1st22.21SAO 925887.6DD63
2nd19.10SAO 929796.1DD96
2nd22.56SAO 754766.9DD47
3rd20.58SAO 759797.3DD136
3rd21.44SAO 759907.5DD106
5th20.01SAO 773506.4DD90
5th23.02SAO 774947.4DD125
6th18.04SAO 786297.6DD92
6th18.43SAO 786537.3DD54
6th19.29SAO 786823.1DD119
7th17.03SAO 896287.1DD114
7th17.18SAO 796416.3DD72
7th18.01SAO 796607.6DD38
8th19.00SAO 781337.2DD103
17th06.35Pi Scorpii2.9DB34
17th07.07Pi Scorpii2.9RD349

Pleiades Occultations
In the early hours of February 4th the Moon again passes in front of the Pleiades cluster in Taurus. There are occultations of some bright stars (Electra 3.7, Celaeno 5.4 and Maia  3.9) but the Moon is very low in the sky at the time so a totally unobstructed WNW horizon is essential.

Phases of the Moon for February:
First Quarter Full Last Quarter New
2nd9th16th25th

ISS
There are very few passes of the ISS as seen from Wadhurst that attain reasonable altitude and occur before midnight. The information given is for when the ISS is at maximum altitude, so it is best to look some minutes before this time. Full details of all passes can be found at: - www.heavens-above.com  Times are all GMT.

FebTimeMagAltoAz
1st17.25-1.863SSW
2nd17.52-0.531SSW
4th17.130.028SSW

Iridium Flares
The flares that Iíve listed are only the brightest, there are many more that are fainter, occur at lower altitudes and also after midnight. If you wish to see a complete list, go to www.heavens-above.com
FebTimeMagAltoAz
1st19.17-633NNE
3rd17.34-535SSW
7th17.19-433SSW
7th18.49-346NNE
8th18.34-346NNE
15th18.09-659NNE
16th18.03-260NNE
18th19.57-222N
19th19.50-225NNE
20th19.44-727NNE
27th19.09-441NNE
28th19.03-343NNE

The Night Sky
The night sky is now dominated by the winter constellations that surround Orion and provide possibly the most memorable views of the whole year. As we discussed at the January meeting, it is possible to use Orion as a signpost to a large number of constellations that themselves in turn can be used as stepping stones to other possibly less conspicuous objects. Orion itself is a brilliant constellation and easily identified because of its well known shape, particularly the stars that make up the belt.
Finding Canis Major
If you imagine a line running through the stars of the belt and continue it eastwards (left) and downwards you will come to Sirius, the brightest star not only in Canis Major, but also in the entire sky.
Finding Taurus
If you now take the line of the belt stars and draw a line in the opposite direction (to the right and upwards) you will come to Aldebaren – the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus. If you look carefully you will see it is distinctly red in colour and appears to have a number of fainter stars around it. This group of stars is an open cluster called the Hyades. Aldebaren is not part of this cluster – it is in the foreground and just happens to lie in the same line of sight. If you continue your line further on it passes fairly close to what appears as a misty patch of stars. This is another open cluster called the Pleiades and is thought to be a stellar nursery where star formation is occurring.
Finding Canis Minor
Going back to Orion, if you now draw a line between the top two stars and continue it to your left, curving down slightly, you will reach a pair of stars – the brightest being Procyon - that form part of Canis Minor.
Finding Gemini
Draw a line from the bottom right star to the top left star and continue it left and curving down slightly you will come to a star called Alhena at the feet of the twins. Continue the line until you come to two bright stars close together which are Castor and Pollux.
Finding Auriga
Draw a line using the rightmost star of the belt and the star above it (Orion’s shoulder) and continue a line almost to the overhead point. The line will pass close to a bright star – Capella in the constellation of Auriga.
If you would like a map showing how to find the above constellations please see me at one of the meetings.

Orion

Brian Mills

NASA SPACE PLACE

Severe Space Weather
by Dr. Tony Phillips

Did you know a solar flare can make your toilet stop working?
That's the surprising conclusion of a NASA-funded study by the National Academy of Sciences entitled Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts.  In the 132-page report, experts detailed what might happen to our modern, high-tech society in the event of a “super solar flare” followed by an extreme geomagnetic storm. They found that almost nothing is immune from space weather—not even the water in your bathroom.
The problem begins with the electric power grid. Ground currents induced during an extreme geomagnetic storm can melt the copper windings of huge, multi-ton transformers at the heart of power distribution systems. Because modern power grids are interconnected, a cascade of failures could sweep across the country, rapidly cutting power to tens or even hundreds of millions of people.  According to the report, this loss of electricity would have a ripple effect with “water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on."
“The concept of interdependency,” the report notes, “is evident in the unavailability of water due to long-term outage of electric power—and the inability to restart an electric generator without water on site.”
It takes a very strong geomagnetic storm to cause problems on this scale—the type of storm that comes along only every century or so.  A point of reference is the “Carrington Event” of August-September 1859, named after British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed the instigating solar flare with his unaided eye while he was projecting an image of the Sun on a white screen.  Geomagnetic storms triggered by the flare electrified telegraph lines, shocking technicians and setting their telegraph papers on fire; Northern Lights spread as far south as Cuba and Hawaii; auroras over the Rocky Mountains were so bright, the glow woke campers who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning!
“A contemporary repetition of the Carrington Event would cause … extensive social and economic disruptions,” the report warns.  Widespread failures could include telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation. The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion (some 20 times greater than the costs of Hurricane Katrina).
The report concluded with a call for infrastructure designed to better withstand geomagnetic disturbances and improvements in space weather forecasting. Indeed, no one knows when the next super solar storm will erupt.  It could be 100 years away or just 100 days.  It’s something to think about … the next time you flush.
One of the jobs of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) and the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) operated by NOAA is to keep an eye on space weather and provide early warning of solar events that could cause trouble for Earth.
You can keep an eye on space weather yourself at the National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Centre:
www.swpc.noaa.gov
And for young people, space weather is explained and illustrated simply and clearly at the SciJinks Weather Laboratory:
scijinks.gov/weather/howwhy/spaceweather.

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

GO TO INDEX

CONTACTS

Chairman   John Vale-Taylor  pjvalet1@tiscali.co.uk

Talks & Events    Phil Berry  01892 783544 phil.berry@tiscali.co.uk

Treasurer  Mike Wyles  01892 542863 mike31@madasafish.com

Sky Notes   Brian Mills   01732 832691  brian@wkrcc.co.uk.co.uk

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

Wadhurst Astronomical Society website:      www.wadhurst.info/was/

SAGAS web-site      www.sagasonline.org.uk

Any material for inclusion in the March 2009 Newsletter should be with the Editor by February 28th  2009

GO TO INDEX