Notes and links from the January 2020 meeting

Welcome and Notices Ian Bradley EAS

Neighbouring event

As part of Cumbria Dark Skies Festival 2020, Cockermouth Astronomical Society will be holding two events on Saturday 22nd February 2020:

  1. from 1- 4pm in Keswick’s iconic Moot Hall “An afternoon of talks by some of the UK’s top astrophotographers” Speakers:
    • Jeremy Hunt – Astrophotographer and author of “Astrophotography and the lifecycle of stars”
    • Stephen Cheatley – Blackpool based professional photographer with beautiful images of the night sky and famous UK landmarks
    • Pete Williamson – FRAS, broadcaster, astronomer and consultant on the Faulkes Telescope Educational Project
    Booking: contact Jeremy Hunt (07535540499) or via the Cockermouth Astronomy Society Facebook page Capacity 45 – so there may not be seats available on the day £5 per talk; or £10 for the entire session.
  2. from 6:30pm a Public stargazing session that evening 18:30 – 21:30 in Crow’s Park, Keswick – free See our Neighbouring Events page

Observing Session

Weather permitting we hope to hold an Observing Session Thursday 16th January.

Sky Notes for January 2020 Ian Bradley EAS

This January will be a good time to follow the comet Comet/2017 T2 (Panstarrs) with binoculars moving through the Milky Way between the constellations of Perseus and Cassiopia

On January 27th at sunset, Venus and Neptune very close together. Venus – the unmissable bright ‘star’ in the South West at 6pm. Neptune is magnitude 7.9 – so you will need binoculars at least.

Moon compared to Venus and Neptune

The Moon compared to Venus and Neptune

For Orion and more on our EAS Sky notes for this month.

Astronomy News for January 2020 David Glass EAS


One item which hit the headlines recently is Betelgeuse – it has dimmed significantly over the last few weeks, and there is speculation that it is about to go supernova. On 6th January this year, AAVSO put out a bulletin urging their observers to get photometric and spectroscopic observations urgently. Looking at the light curve from AAVSO over the last 10 years, Betelgeuse has definitely dimmed and is less than 30% as bright as it was early in 2019. Whether this indicates that it is about to blow is not certain though. Another explanation is that it has puffed out stellar winds in our direction that are laden with dust (this type of star is known to do that). Watch this space!

Betelgeuse and Minimum graph

Betelgeuse and Minimum graph

Launching Satellite Clusters

Another significant item is the recent launch of a cluster of 60 250kg satellites, as part of an eventual network of thousands to provide broadband across the planet. Early examples are already affecting astrophotography and are visible to the naked eye. The longer-term effect on ground-based astronomy and astrophotography is not looking good at the moment. On 8th of this month, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) held a meeting to discuss the scheme and its implications, and it is understood that the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) has put together a working group with a similar aim. Whether this is in time to mitigate the worst impacts remains to be seen.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

On a brighter note, the TESS satellite has discovered a rocky planet (TOI 700d) around an M-class dwarf star about 100 ly distant, which orbits within the star’s habitable zone. This star was mistaken for a The sun-like star initially, but a team including a high-school student put this right. The star appears to suffer fewer violent flares than other similar stars, so the prospects for conditions favourable to life on this planet are greater.

Alston observatory workshop and lectures

Closer to home, UCLAN is running free astrophotography workshops at their Alston observatory. The official closing date for applications is 16th January. See details.

Also, UCLAN is holding their next public astronomy lecture on Friday 24th January. Details to follow.

Meteorite Zoo by guest speaker Mike Armstrong LaMAS

Mike Armstrong began with a brief history of meteorites. They have been recognised in the history of most cultures. Except for Europe, surprisingly, a meteorite was appreciated as being from beyond the sky. American Indians venerated a Meteorite from the sky despite its having fallen pre-ice-age. The issue in Europe would seem to be that nothing could stray from perfect heaven down to corrupt earth before the Copernican Revolution.

A modern definition is a piece of rock from outer space (a meteoroid) that survives an entry through the atmosphere (a meteor) to land on the surface of the Earth when it becomes a Meteorite. If less than 2mm a meteorite is classified as a micrometeorite. An average two will be found in the dust and debris on a roof.

Chondrite Meteorite

Chondrite Meteorite

Mike illustrated the breakdown of meteorite categories. Most meteorites are stony chondrites originating in the formation of the solar system. A full classification is complex.

All can be identified by the evidently melted surface from vaporisation during entry. The shape most often can fit into three categories resulting from the dynamics of the entry; spin will be conical (similar to a nose-cone heat shield), an unperturbed fall leaves less melting on the top whereas a tumbling rock will show erratic melting marks like a thumbprint.

Mike went on to illustrate famous meteorites and meteor craters. Surprisingly, the Barringer Meteorite Crater in Arizona and the Tunguska event in Russia was most probably airborne vaporising, explosions leaving no solid remains.

Barringer Crater, Arizona

Barringer Crater, Arizona

Russian Meteor explosion Site

Russian Meteor explosion Site

The best chance of finding a meteor is after a witnessing a fireball and a sonic bang (up to 20 miles distant). An elliptical, Strewn Field fall area may be evident where the smaller meteorites are to one end indicating the direction of fall.

Otherwise, meteorites may be purchased from £30.

Only two direct hits on humans have been recorded though property has been damaged.