Notes and links from the February 2020 meeting

Welcome and Notices David Glass EAS

Neighbouring events

David Glass welcomed everyone to the meeting and described the Moonwatch that took place on 1st Feb, Brewery Arts Centre. David, Graham Fell and Ian Bradley attended. In spite of poor forecasts, the half-moon put in an appearance for about an hour and several people looked through David’s 20cm SCT (28mm eyepiece with Lunar filter) at the terminator – and were all seriously impressed. Next one is the 29th of this month.

David also publicised the Dark Skies Festival run by the Friends of the Lake District and encouraged people to get involved. FoLD is leading a campaign to get the Lake District accredited as a Dark Skies Reserve, which deserves our support. David also gave a quick summary of his observing visit to the IRAM 30m telescope, Spain – a warm welcome there as ever.

Sky Notes for February 2020 Phil Morris EAS

For the Moon phenomena, February planets, the winter constellation, Orion, and more see our Sky notes for this month. for this month by Phil:

Astronomy News for January 2020 part 1 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, have 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.

Astronomy News for January 2020 part 2 Richard Rae EAS

Richard Rae gave a report from Astrofest 2020 that was held in London. There were many new exciting missions to report, including the comet intercept and Asteroid deflection projects. Jan Worner the head of the European Space Agency came to give a talk on ESA and all the missions and partnerships in which it is involved. He ended by commenting ESA will not go back to the Moon but it must be seen as going forward to the Moon.

Astrofest poster

Things to Come Stuart Atkinson EAS

Stuart gave a very informative talk entitled “Things to come”

The talk focused on the companies and partnerships that would take humans into space and highlighted the possibility of space tourism in the not too distant future.

Virgin Galactic may be one option for tourists to gain access to space albeit for about three minutes!

EAS meeting and Virgin Galactic impression

Blue Origin is a rival to Virgin Galactic and may offer longer and cheaper trips into sub-orbital space

Boeing`s Starliner project is a serious attempt at providing a route for a crew to travel to the ISS. Although this project has had some recent setbacks.

The main contender to Boeing`s Starliner is Elon Musk`s Crew Dragon. This is ahead of development and has recently successfully tested its escape pod mechanism.

Crew Dragon’s first crewed test flight to the ISS is due in March 2020.

Crew Dragon’s badge

The SpaceX Starship proposed project is huge! It will be able to put 100 people into space and travel to the Moon and Mars.

SpaceX Starship project

Other projects briefly covered were:-

Artemis 2028 impression

Stuart ended by saying that Elon Musk considers by the end his life he will be living on Mars.