Wycombe Astronomical Society
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Latest News & reports - 2012
January Practical meeting
2012 got off to a flying start at WAS with the first practical meeting of the New Year, "Finding your way around the night sky".
An article was published in December's Bucks Free Press magazine "Elite" on the night sky and WAS and this generated a big response with lots of members of the public enquiring about the practical evening.
Knowing that this meeting had the potential to be a lot bigger than usual we arranged to use the sports hall at Woodrow House instead of the Frankie Vaughan Studio - this turned out to be the right decision as on the night we had a total of 58 people. Thirty-one of these were guests who had come along as a result of the article.
The evening started with a presentation from our Observatory Officer Chris Rowland. Chris took us on a tour of the winter night sky and was able to show the members of the audience the bigger, more well known constellations and how to star hop and find your way from constellation to constellation. We took a trip from Orion to Taurus and then the Pleiades then back down to Canis Major and across to the twins of Gemini. In the north we looked at The Plough in Ursa Major and Chris showed the audience how to find the pole star - indicating the direction of the North Pole. Chris also talked a bit about resources that can be used; including the Internet, planetarium programmes such as Stellarium and mobile phone aps.
The presentation was kept quite short - the main object of the evening was to get outside and show the guests what they could see and to see how easy it is to move around the night sky. The skies were particularly clear that evening which was great. The moonlight interfered a little with observing some of the objects closer to it but generally all that Chris had talked about was visible.
Many members of WAS had set their telescopes up and the observatory was open for the public to go in and have a look through the telescope. Jupiter and the Orion Nebula were of particular interest. The evening was a great success. Many people stayed on till 10pm or so and genuinely seemed interested in what they had seen and in WAS. Several people indicated that they were interested in coming along to the telescope evening later on in the month.
There are lots of people to thank for making this evening a great success: The Bucks Free Press for publishing the article, Chris for the handout and talk, Sandy for the rolling slide presentation, Jackie and Paul for all the organising, Jan for collecting the entry fees, Steve for directing people and then all the members with their scopes: Morton, Danielle and Richard, Carol and Richard and David to name a few and finally Brian for opening up the observatory.
Two photos of early arrivals to the meeting
January Meeting -Wednesday 18th - Telescope evening
The New Year continued to be a busy one for WAS with our January annual "telescope evening". Continuing on from our public event at the beginning of January many members, new members and guests came along to this annual event armed with their telescopes, Christmas presents (new scopes) and other astro kit. The two halves of the drama hall that we use for our monthly meetings were full of telescopes - a lovely sight to see. Members were on hand to talk to the guests about their telescopes and demonstrate to them how to set them up etc and it appeared that many were grateful for the advice given and were looking forward to putting it into practice at the next clear night.
At the same meeting Paul, our chairman, presented Patrick Clough with his prize for winning the advanced category of the 2011 photographic competition. Unfortunately Pat was unable to come to the December meeting when the prizes were handed out and this was the earliest opportunity.
This was a busy evening enjoyed by all - young and old, guests and members and hopefully this enthusiasm will continue on in 2012.
Above left - Pat receives his trophy - other images general views of meeting
Meeting held on Wednesday February 15th
February's meeting was titled "Atoms, where do they come from?" and was presented to us by Edmund Hall, a new speaker to the Society. At the start of the meeting Edmund referred us to a book called "The Magic Furnace" - this book is the story of how atoms are made and is a good reference point for those wishing to further their knowledge on the subject.
The meeting was well attended and it was lovely to see so many people, especially new members!
Many questions were asked at the end of Edmunds Lecture and then the photographic competition was judged; well done to Peter Phelps who won the beginners section and to David Godwin who won the advanced. The next photographic competition is in April - please all give it a go and enter!
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Wednesday March 21st - The Titanic
Our lecture this month was given by Mr. Andrew Lound. Andrew has given us some Odyssey Class lectures in the past, and this was titled “Astronomy and the Titanic.”
Andrew gave us a history of the Titanic, and mentioned that Halley’s Comet was seen at the time the ship was being built in 1910. Titanic’s initial concept arose at a dinner party in 1907 and was one of 3 Olympic Class steamships built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast for the White Star Line. It was launched on May 31st 1911. It had 29 boilers, 159 furnaces, and 2 turbines with only one in use at a time. There were only 16 lifeboats, sufficient for 1,200 passengers instead of the 3,000 who were onboard. The ship had 24 hour electricity. Slides showed the 1st Class luxury accommodation for wealthy millionaires, financiers, industrialists and celebrities, (the cost of a 1st class suite today would be £65,000). We saw the grand staircase with the famous clock. The 2nd class accommodation was good, (but with no lampshades), and 3rd class was basic with men at the front and women partitioned at the back. The 3rd class passengers were health checked before being allowed onto the ship.
The Captain, Edward J. Smith from Stoke-on-Trent, was technically retired, but was asked to take this as his last voyage. The ship was run by the Royal Naval Reserves, and flew the blue ensign. We then saw an image of Captain James Cook who wrote extensively about navigation using Astronomy. The crew of the Titanic used his same navigation methods.
The ship left Southampton in 1912 for Cherbourg, then on to Queenstown and finally New York, it carried coal and mail as well as passengers. There were 3 compasses. The main compass was on the upper deck, and the other two compasses were calibrated from it. The ship had 3 chronometers and a sextant. Each officer had his own small sextant with which he took measurements daily. We saw a slide of a sextant and Andrew explained how it worked.
With 24 hour wireless communication and a range of 400 miles the ship received messages about icebergs, and Titanic travelled further south to avoid them. Unfortunately, the 3rd officer forgot to put the binoculars into the crow’s nest for the lookouts to use, but because there was no moon that night and the horizon could not be seen these would have been of little use because of its poor optics. Andrew showed us a pair of old marine binoculars. A set of keys from the Titanic recently sold for £91,000. After dinner passengers came on deck to look at the wonderful starlit sky. Although there was only a gentle bump when Titanic hit the iceberg the damage was extensive, and the boat sank within 2 hours due to the flooding between 5 compartments. The ship was thought to be unsinkable. Although alarms were sounded the passengers were unaware of the gravity of the situation, and continued to look at the stars. The lifeboats were lowered only for women and children initially, but many women would not go without their husbands, and consequently the lifeboats were only half full. Passengers thought that lights in the distance were ships coming to their rescue but these were in fact stars and planets, and the haze of the milky way. The lights went out and all that could be seen was the starry sky. There were 1,000 people in the water. Rockets were launched, and in 6 hours the Carpathia rescued 707 passengers 2 of whom who died.
The Newspapers were only interested in the eclipse of the sun on the 17th April 1912, and not the Titanic disaster. There were two courts of enquiry, and it was felt that a lack of lifeboats, not heeding the ice warnings, and travelling too fast into the danger zone were causes of the disaster. There is a statue of Captain Smith in Lichfield.
In 1985 Halley’s comet was again seen, and a submersible research vessel went to the bottom of the ocean and photographed one of Titanic’s boilers, and this was printed in the National Geographic magazine.
The spectacular night sky with all its stars and planets which is perfect for astronomers, had no moon on that fateful night and caused doom and disaster for the Titanic. As Andrew said “it was a starry night to remember.”
Members put questions to Andrew, and Paul Millington thanked him for yet another very interesting and informative talk. We look forward to another lecture next year.
Forty three members and guests attended the evening. The raffle was drawn, and coffee and tea was available. The meeting closed at about 10pm.
Andy Lound Captain of the Titanic
Wednesday 18th April
Bob Mizon returned to the society to give a very interesting talk titled “Oddities of the solar system” - taking a walk through our solar system “picking out” objects that were “odd” for one reason or another.
Did you know, for instance, that opticians used Mizar and Alcor, a double star system in Ursa Major to see if their patients needed glasses? They would test the eyes by asking them to see if they could see Alcor….if they could see it they didn’t need glasses if they couldn’t they did.
Mercury has the most extreme temperature range within the solar system. Its surface temperature at perihelion is 427°C and 277°C at aphelion. The dark side of Mercury is -163°C. A solar day on Mercury last for 176 Earth days and its orbital period is 88 Earth days.
Venus, the hottest planet was named by the Romans’ after the Goddess of Love. It constantly rains acid rain on Venus but it never reaches the ground…it is so hot that by the time it reaches the ground it has evaporated.
Did you know that Earth has two moons and not one? As well as the actual Moon there is a 5km asteroid orbiting the Earth. Asteroid 3753 was discovered in Australia in 1986.
Mars’ oddity is a white “fluffy” object on its surface. Nobody knows what it is and it remains a mystery. Its second oddity is that of Phobos, one of its moons, which is said to be hollow.
Eros, a 34km long by 11km wide asteroid is the only asteroid to be named after a boy and it was the first asteroid landed on, on February 12th 2001.
Oddities about Jupiter? Well, Earth fits into the giant red spot three times and its four large moons are completely different from each other.
Uranus differs from all of the other planets in that it is really tilted. It is believed that a collision occurred at the beginning of our solar system and Uranus never corrected itself. Uranus also has 42 years of sunlight followed by 42 years if darkness. Miranda, one of its moons has cliffs up to 10km high.
This was an interesting and informative talk by Bob Mizon that was well received by WAS members and guests. At the end of the evening the raffle was drawn and Bob was asked to judge the photographic competition.
Photos by Jan
Bob before the talk
Bob judges the photo competition
Wednesday 16th May
Jackie our Secretary introduced and welcomed Nick Howes from the Wiltshire Astronomical Society who gave us a talk titled “ Three Sides to the Sun” this being (1) White Light, (2) Hydrogen Alpha and (3) Calcium-K Ultra Violet Light.
He began by telling us that the sun has a mass of 98% of the entire solar system, and then reminded us how dangerous it is to view the sun without a proper filter, and later went on to talk about the different types of filters that can be used.
We then had a history of the famous Astronomers and notable dates associated with the sun, Galileo Galilei’s observations of sunspots, Thomas Harriot whose drawings gave the greatest detail about the sun, but who did not publish his findings, William Herschel who observed the sun through two glass plates using claret as the filter, and Louis Fizeau who made the first positive/negative image process. In 1845 the first solar photo image of a sunspot was taken. In 1859 Richard Carrington observed the first solar flare, and in 1869 the first solar eclipse was shown in drawings. Warren De La Rue was the first person to observe prominences coming from the sun. Fabre & Perreault in 1860 made the first solar scopes, their research findings are still used in modern solar scopes, and Del M. Woods put the first advertisement into the Sky & Telescope magazine about a Hydrogen Alpha Telescope.
Nick mentioned Dr. Stuart Clark who wrote an excellent book called “The Sun Kings”. (Stuart is one of our regular lecturers, who gave us a lecture on this book, which some of our members purchased, It is a thoroughly good read), and Dr. Alan Chapman a well known historian on Thomas Harriot. (some of our members went to his lecture at Syon House in July 2009 on the 400 anniversary of Harriot’s solar drawings using a telescope. It was an excellent lecture).
Side (1) White Light.
Nick said that observing the sun through card projection can only be done with a refractor and not a Schmidt Cassegrain telescope as the optics will burn out. He talked about Baader and Thousand Oaks filters, and the Herschel Wedge which works best with a refractor. We were told how to make our own filters using a Baader Film sheet, and even a Dairylea or Pizza box could be used as the cardboard bands for this. We were warned not to use other items as filters i.e. sunglasses or negative film, and definitely not to buy any of the cheap glass filters advertised on E-bay as these are not safe. Always check filters for holes and discard if necessary.
Nick also mentioned the best and worst times to observe the sun, and tips on how to make the most of observing. He observes the sun very early in the mornings between April and September, and said that the current huge sunspot No.1476 looks excellent now. A green filter can improve the seeing.
Other ways of observing are with a Baader Continuum filter, a webcam, or a DMK or Lumenera CCD camera. We were given typical prices for these items, and told that for white light observing good quality optics are essential.
We were then shown a number of professional images of the sun and solar eclipses, and Nick will be seeing about 76% of the upcoming Transit of Venus on the 6th June 2012 in Tuscon Arizona, and that our best prospects in the U.K. will be about 45 minutes in duration, weather permitting.
Side (2) Hydrogen Alpha.
This method shows the spectrum using narrow band filters for greater detail. We saw images of flares, aurora, prominences, and spicules on the limb of the sun for focussing filaments. We heard about the different types of solar scopes, i.e.the Coronado, the Lunt and the DayStar, and Nick likened these to various qualities of cars, i.e. Ford Mondeo, BMW, and of course Aston Martin being the top quality. He mentioned the problems that Coronado had with rust before they were redesigned, that many vary in focussing quality, and that we should “try before we buy” a solar scope. He then said that the best solar scope was the DayStar varying in price between £2,500 and £18,000. We were advised definitely “do not drop a solar scope.” Nick briefly told us how to adapt a PST, said that he has built his own solar scope, and that no fancy eyepieces are required. Mono-chrome cameras are the best for solar imaging, and DayStar images are shown in mono only.
We then saw some of Pete Lawrence’s images which were amazing. Nick and his friends made a huge mosaic of the moon, and he and Pete Lawrence attempted a large mosaic of the sun. We also saw an image of the sun with what appeared to be a tsunami showing a rising wave across the surface. A projected image showed that a prominence is so much larger than the earth.
Side (3) Calcium-K Ultraviolet light.
Nick’s 6 year old son was able to see much more detail in Calcium-K light than Nick could because as we get older our eyes are less able to pick out detail, due to 'yellowing of the lens'. He told us of someone who had a cataract operation to improve his ultraviolet seeing.
He then described the best ways to view the sun in Calcium-K Ultraviolet light. The Lunt solar scope is excellent for this and the prices are coming down with the design improvements. DMK, Lumenera and Toucam mono cameras are very good, as are DSLRs’ with live focus, and cameras with a high frame rate. We saw some Calcium-K U/V images. Nick then showed us his own image set-up.
To end his lecture he talked about Spectroscopy, when the sun can be imaged using every frequency in the spectroscope. We were shown images at these frequencies.
Jackie thanked Nick for a very interesting and informative talk, and members questions followed. Tea and Coffee was available, and the meeting closed at 10pm.
Text and images by Jan
What are you doing on the sunny afternoon of Sunday, 15 July?
Woodrow is hosting an open air theatre production of that great comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, set in World War Two and staged by the professional touring company, Heartbreak Productions.
It will be a lovely afternoon on the lawns, with cake, Pimms, a raffle and a chance for us to raise a little more for the Wonderful Woodrow appeal. It would be a lovely opportunity for many of you to pay us a visit to see us all, have a look round the grounds and also catch a top quality show.
Please let us know if you or any friends and family would like to attend. Tickets are £15 per person with concessions for under 18’s available, for tickets please visit http://www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk/database/woodrow-high-house-nr-amersham or call Andrea in the Woodrow office on 01494 433531
The gates open from 4pm for you to come and get your ideal spot and set up your picnic with the show commencing at 5pm. There’s a bit more information on the website here including a photo of how it will look.
Woodrow Development Manager
In June WAS saw the return of Dr David Whitehouse. David first visited us some 15 years ago and Paul had finally tracked him down and persuaded him to give another talk to us.
Titled "Rainbows and astronomy", David gave an extremely interesting and informative lecture on rainbows. As well as many beautiful rainbow pictures there were also numerous facts about rainbows....
Rainbows are a multicoloured image created as sunlight reflects and refracts through raindrops. The raindrops act as prisms to split white light into the spectrum.
The rainbow image is constantly changing as the raindrops are falling rapidly to the ground.
One droplet results in one colour being produced.
The rain droplets can produce different effects depending on which eye you look through, where you stand etc and one rainbow for one person will be different for the next person.
Rainbows can be predominantly the same i.e. equally sizes of the ROYGBIV colours, however they can also be stronger in one particular colour.
An equal rainbow is caused when there is a fine mist and the drop sizes are a uniform 0.1mm.
Predominantly red rainbows are a result of drop sizes of 0.3mm.
The angle that the light wave moves through the raindrop is always 42˚.
In a double rainbow the inner, primary bow will be ROYGBIV however the outer secondary bow will be VIBGYOR.
Double rainbows occur when the sun is behind you and the rain is in front of you.
It is often darker between the primary and secondary rainbow...this is known as Alexander’s Band.
If you go up high the rainbow can be seen as a complete arc.
Rainbows in summer will not occur at midday because of the height of the sun.
Moonbows can also occur. Here you will need a full moon and rain instead of sunlight and rain.
Fogbows are white rainbows. These occur as a result of a very fine mist and sunlight behind you. The light reflecting and refracting through a very small droplet interferes with itself resulting in white light being produced.
As well as these interesting facts we were also told about the history of recording rainbows from the ancient cave paintings depicting them to various works of art through the various centuries.
This evening’s lecture was very informative and generated many questions at its conclusion.
Following on from lecture the raffle was drawn and the photographic competition was judged. Congratulations to both the winners of the beginners and advanced class.
Meeting - July 18th
Paul started the evening by running through some society business and inviting everyone to attend the annual WAS Perseid BBQ on Friday 10th August.
The lecture of the evening was then started and society member Patrick Clough gave an informative talk on digital SLR cameras.
Pat took us through the main differences between film SLRs and digital SLRs and then through the basic commands and functions of the camera. I was interesting to find out that the most used function on a digital camera was the delete button! Pat asked for audience participation during the lecture and he was not let down as several questions were asked.
Towards the end of the lecture pat touched on histograms and some more technical aspects of digital camera's but unfortunately we than run out of time to go any further. That does, however, give us the opportunity for a second "part two" lecture.....maybe next year?
There were entries to both the beginners and advanced photographic competition and the winners both produced lovely images of the sun. The competition is hotting up nicely, with the beginners section in particular, being a closely run thing.
The next competition will be in September.
WAS Summer BBQ
For the first time in several years WAS was blessed with lovely weather for the annual summer BBQ. The Friday evening turned out to be a warm and balmy summers evening and the perfect night to have a BBQ and do some observing....in fact, much better than the Saturday evening which was the peak of the Perseids.
The BBQ was very well attended; between 30 and 40 people came along, including some new faces which were nice. There was some delicious looking food cooked and a camp fire was made to keep us warm late into the evening.
And the Perseids? Well, we saw half a dozen or so including a couple of sporadic ones! Not a huge number but enough to say that we had seen them.
Thanks to everyone who came - it was an enjoyable evening!
Exo-planets and Exo-moons
In September Wycombe Astronomical Society welcomed new speaker, Jakub Bochinski from the Open University. Urlik Kolb (from the OU) was unable to come and so Jakub kindly stepped in at the last minute.
Jakub provided us with a really interesting lecture on exoplanets and exomoons. Exoplanets are planets outside our own solar system. Currently there are 786 known planets (which include our 8) and these have been discovered over the last 20 years. O the 786 planets the majority consist mainly of huge Jupiter gas giant sized planets followed by Saturn sized planets and then Neptune sized.
The "holy grail" of research, as Jakub put it, was to discover new, Earth sized planets within the habitable zone. There are two projects there are underway to search for the exoplanets. Superwasp is a Wide Angled Search for Exoplanets. It consists of two wide angled telescopes that search for transiting exoplanets by searching for their light curves. The downside to Superwasp is that there are many "mimics" that could act like transits (eclipsing binaries, grazing eclipsing binaries and transits by planets sized stars) which Superwasp is not able to separate these from the real thing.
Pirate is an OU project to discover exoplanets and this is a 17" telescope with camera which has been custom made for the OU. This telescope is set up in Majorca and can run using a laptop or I-Phone from the comfort of an armchair in the UK. The main advantage of using Pirate over Superwasp is that it produces much clearer images and better light curves. If you would like to see more about Pirate then go to: www.pirate-open.ac.uk.
Jakub then went on to talk about exomoons. These haven't been discovered yet but there are plenty searching for them. HEK - the Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler is looking to discover the first large moon around a Neptune sized planet by looking at various observational effects. These include variations in the transit timings, variations in the transit durations and morphological features of the light curves.
At the end of the talk Jakub logged on to the web to discover that since the time he had written the lecture we were now up to 819 discovered planets.
Finally, we went over to Majorca and with the help of the Jakub and the web, we did some distant observing on the telescope. To think that we were controlling the telescope and taking images from it which would then pop up on the screen a few minutes later was amazing.
Many questions were asked, the raffle was drawn and the photo competition was judged at the end of a very interesting, informative and well attended lecture.
In November WAS saw the welcomed return of Professor Bob Lambourn from the Open University. Titled "Prize Winning Astronomy" Bob gave us an informative talk on awards, both past and present, which had been given for different areas of astronomy. The awards are given in recognition of specific pieces of work by individuals.
Bob detailed some of the most important awards and discussed who had been in receipt of them.
The Shaw Prize, otherwise known as the Asian Nobel Prize, was set up and funded by Sir RunRun Shaw in 2004. The Shaw Prize is one of the largest prizes available and recipients receive a medal, certificate and a million dollar prize. It covers three areas: astronomy, life sciences and mathematics. Some astronomers who have received this award include P James Peebles for developing Big-Bang Cosmology; Reinhard Genzel for examining galactic centres and black holes and Enrico Costa and Gerald Fishman for research into Gamma Ray Bursts.
The Royal Astronomical Society have two annual prizes and recipients receive gold medals. The A award is given for achievements in astronomy, cosmology, astropartical physics and cosmochemistry etc. The G award is for achievements in geophysics, solar-terrestial physics and other planetary fields. Recipients of this award include Charles Babbage for VP-RAS calculations, John Herschel for double stars and Urbain Le Verrier for Mercury perihelion. Recent RAS gold medallists include David A Williams for astrochemistry in and near stars and Richard Ellis for galaxy morphology and supernova cosmology.
Wolf Prizes. Since 1978, five or six Wolf Prizes have been awarded annually in the arts and sciences including chemistry, maths, medicine and physics. Each prize consists of a certificate and $100,000 and laureates receive their awards from the President of the State of Israel. In 1988, Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking were awarded the prize for singularities in general relativity and in 2012 Jacob Bechenstein received the award for black hole studies.
The Royal Society Copley Medal is one of the greatest awards and the first was given out in 1731. It is given for outstanding achievements in the physical or biological sciences. The Copley medal is the society's oldest and most prestigious awards. Past recipients include William Herschal in 1781 for the Discovery of Uranus, John Herschal in 1847 for Observations of the Southern Skies, Albert Einstein in 1825 for the theory of relativity and Stephen Hawking in 2008 for theoretical relativity.
Finally, there is the Nobel Prize. Although not for astronomy as such there is a prize for physics and astronomy can be tied in with this. Recipients of the Nobel Prize are at the top of their game and include Subramanyan Chandrasekhar and William Fowler in 1983 for White Dwarfs and Nuclear Astrophysics and Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess in 2011 for Accelerating cosmic expansion - dark energy.
This was a very good lecture by Professor Bob Lambourn and it was well received by the audience. Unfortunately time constraints prevented questions being asked. The raffle was drawn and the photographic competition was judged; congratulations to Peter Phelps for his photograph of a comet and to David Godwin for his photograph of Jupiter.
First of all Happy New Year to all our members. I hope that you all had a lovely
Christmas and received all the astronomy related gifts that you wished for.
Our Christmas party was very well attended. Kelvin had organised a lovely spread,
Richard had organised a crossword and word search puzzle and there was a bumper raffle
drawer. Congratulations to Peter Phelps and Pat Clough who won the beginners and
advanced photographic competition respectively. Peter was able to attend the Christmas
party and was presented with the winners’ cup by our chairman Paul Millington. Hopefully
Pat will be able to receive his at the January meeting.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2013 starting with Stargazing Live in a couple of weeks. Morton is doing a great job of organising this and we hope that it will be very successful. In March another group of members are going back to Nellim in Finland for another aurora watching trip and we hope that this will be just as successful as last years, if not better! With a bit of luck we will have better weather than 2012 and therefore lots of clear skies and good observing!
Happy New Year
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