EAS Newsletter for October 2021

Well time keeps flying by, so another newsletter.

Next meeting will be on October 7th at 7pm when Simon Ebo (UCLAN) will speak to us on ‘The Search for Exoplanets’. The meeting will again be a hybrid one with some people in Kendal Museum, including the speaker, and others on Zoom. Connection details will be distributed shortly. Hopefully, we’ll see a few people in person.

Over the past 18 months or so, when we couldn’t meet at the Museum, the Society has been kept alive and active thanks to the enthusiasm of the members and the work of the committee. We really need to keep the momentum and help the Society to grow. For this, we really need some more people on the committee. At the moment we are operating without either a Secretary or a Treasurer and this has put extra load on each of us. We could also do with a new Chair. Would you be prepared to take on a committee role? No experience is necessary for co-opted committee members, but if you can keep notes and write letters you would be great for Secretary. If you can write cheques and keep accounts you would be great for Treasurer. And anyone who can be the focus for the Society and lead it into the future would make an excellent Chair. Please think seriously about this, and let us know at a meeting or by email if you can help.

Also, don’t forget, contributions to the newsletter from any member are most welcome. They could be stories, historical snippets or photographs.

Ian Bradley, on behalf of the EAS committee.

Joint Societies Christmas Dinner

The Society has been contacted about a possible joint north-west societies Christmas dinner. This usually includes the societies from Lancaster & Morecambe, Blackpool and Preston and can be good opportunity to socialise with others interested in astronomy from outside our area. The provisional date is Thursday 16th December. There will be the usual after-dinner talk from Prof. Allan Chapman with the meal costing £30. At this early stage, this is rather provisional as we all have no idea what the situation will be by December.

Further details will be circulated as soon as we know more.

Astronomy News – David Glass


SpaceX sent four inspirational civilians on an orbital flight (Inspiration4) in a Crew Dragon capsule, launched by a Falcon 9 rocket. This is all proven technology, which has got people to the International Space Station and back. The flight was funded by one of the crew and was to generate support for the paediatric cancer centre at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee.

The Dragon capsule was launched on 16,th September at just after 8pm EDT to an altitude of about 350 miles, above the orbit of the International Space Station, and splashed down on the 19th. A large window replaced the usual docking hatch to give amazing views. The flight went smoothly, except for issues with the toilet. No such flight is complete without a zero-gee indicator, and this time it was Jude, a small puppy in a spacesuit (replicas are for sale via the hospital).

For a detailed briefing on the flight and the crew, take a look here.

Meanwhile, it’s been construction, construction and more construction at the Boca Chica complex in Texas. Most notably, the massive launch support tower has been finished and a “quick disconnect” arm has been fitted. This will connect to rockets for transfer of utilities such as fuel. Note the stabilisation “claws” at the end.

The Quick Disconnect arm on the launch tower at Boca Chica, with claw attachments. The top of a booster rocket is also shown. (Twitter/Starship Gazer

Later (possibly soon), two enormous “catch arms” will be fitted. The purpose of these catch arms is the stuff of science fiction – it’s intended to catch a descending booster (chopstick style), place it on a launch support and then plant a Starship on it ready for a quick re-launch. For an animation of how it is intended to work, take a look here.

The whole assembly has been nicknamed “Mechazilla”, from a (fictional) giant mechanised dinosaur that went head- to-head with Godzilla (also fictional, for the avoidance of any doubt).

At the time of writing, one of the boosters (BN4) is sitting on a launch support ring on site and is awaiting testing, and Starship SN20 is also sitting in the launch area after having thermal insulation tiles replaced. This is all adding up to a possible launch of a starship into orbit in the not-too-distant future. Keep an eye on the webcams looking at the site (see previous newsletters)!

NASA Space Launch System (SLS)

NASA’s SLS is intended to get people back to the Moon at some point. It is currently in a Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) on a mobile launcher (ML-1), and is being prepared and tested for its eventual first test flight which could be as early as December this year. One recent milestone is an umbilical release and retract test (URRT), which simulates the detachment of umbilicals and their rigid arm from the rocket prior to launch.

The test covered numerous sub-systems to ensure that they worked, and will help to ensure a smooth launch. The video shows that the solid rocket boosters are in place. The mobile launcher allows the rocket assembly to be moved to the launch pad, provides all necessary connections for utilities, communications prior to launch and allows access for personnel and crew. For more details of the test, the rocket and the mobile launcher, have a look here.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) on Mobile Launcher 1 (ML-1) inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). (credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

Blue Origin

Credit: Blue Origin.

The next flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard is likely to be in October (on or around the 12th), and will carry more civilian paying passengers on a sub-orbital flight into space. The whole flight, from lift-off to capsule landing, lasts about 12 minutes so it’s worth trying to watch it live or recorded. There are rumours going round that one of these passengers is no stranger to space travel across our galaxy neighbourhood, and would become the oldest human ever to go into space. We watch and wait!


Jupiter struck by an object

The possible contribution of amateur astronomers to the field should never be underestimated. One amateur astronomer (José Luis Pereira, Brazil) was filming Jupiter through a telescope looking for potential impact flashes when this happened

The DeTeCt software package was used to examine the footage for impacts, and this one appeared on September 13th. There’s a nice article about the discovery here.

Substantial earthquakes on Mars

The InSight lander on Mars is equipped with extremely sensitive seismometers, and is intended to detect and record marsquakes which can be used to infer the interior structure of the planet (prospectors for oil and gas do this routinely here on Earth). And not just the thud of the next failed ESA lander (as Simon White pointed out!). On the 18th September (Sol 1000 for the lander), a magnitude 4.2 marsquake occurred which lasted for 90 minutes. Two previous events in August hit magnitudes 4.1 and 4.2. The measurements allow the locations of the tremors to be estimated, and will be of use in studying the internal structure of the planet. For further details, including a description of some of the challenges faced by landers such as this, have a look here.

JWST launch date

The James Webb Space telescope (JWST) is a highly-anticipated mission to put a seriously big (6.5m mirror) near- to mid-infrared telescope at the L2 Lagrange point (behind the Moon). It can observe beyond the capabilities of Hubble and ground-based telescopes, and allow new science to be explored (e.g. formation of the earliest galaxies and exoplanet composition to name a couple). Numerous papers are being released on ArXiV discussing how JWST observations can be used for science, presumably as a warm-up for actual proposals for observation time. However, JWST has been subject to many delays, and no launch date was forthcoming – until very recently. A date of 18th December is now proposed, and astronomers all over the planet will be delighted to see it happen. But, it’s better to delay and get it right than see it blow up, so let’s hope it goes soon but safely!

More news from – Ian Bradley

Searching for Ice on the Moon

After many years of little NASA involvement in lunar exploration, NASA has announced the proposed landing site for its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission due for launch in 2023. The mission is designed to search for possible water ice deposits in parts of craters that are permanently in shadow. Finding usable water on the Moon would provide a valuable in-situ resource for future astronauts and colonies.

Artist’s impression of VIPER on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

The selected landing site had to satisfy four main criteria: Visible from Earth for direct line-of-sight communication; sunlight access for solar power generation; terrain that the rover should be able cross; and for the scientific value, a site expected to contain water ice.

Four sites were considered aworth Crater, Nobile Crater, a ridge that runs between Shackleton and de Gerlache craters, and Shoemaker Crater. The site finally chosen was Nobile crater (85.2°S 53.5°E). A nice video showing this here.

Naturally, something this close to the lunar pole is very hard to see from Earth.

It is hoped that the rover will travel around 20km over 100 days or so investigating the area popping into shadowed areas to investigate before returning to sunlit areas to recharge its batteries. The rover will be automated to some extent in a similar way to the rovers which have been deployed on Mars but the direct line-of-sight communication potential means it could be driven in almost real-time from the Earth!

The rover isn’t large, the usual analogy is that it is the size of a golf cart – about 1.5 x 1.5 x 2.5m. Each wheel can be independently pointed so that it can crab sideways, diagonally, spin on its axis and move in any direction without changing the way it is pointing. It even has headlights! On board will be instruments to find the ice, and also drill down (up to 1m) into the regolith to bring samples to the surface for further analysis. The three spectrometers measure volatiles, like water, and the mineral composition. There will also be a range of cameras to both navigate and image samples.

This could be a really exciting mission.

How to see the same supernova twice!

Well, that is impossible, isn’t it? Once a massive star has exploded, in the process destroying itself and leaving behind a neutron star or black hole, surely it can’t do it again. Well, that is correct, but general relativity has given us the chance to watch one explode again – maybe.

The 2016 and 2019 images of the cluster with and without the supernova (white circles). The predicted position of the reoccurrence is the yellow circle (Credit Rodney et al, Nature Astronomy (2021))

What the scientists have now done is calculate the light paths from the supernova to Earth and realised that a there is a good chance that there is a longer, and therefore later arriving at Earth, fourth path. They predict that this will become visible in 2037 give or take 2 years and appear within the yellow circle. For a simple animation of the light path, see here.

Such measurements as these may be useful as they can be used to constrain the cosmic expansion rate and dark energy models. No doubt, Hubble’s successor will be periodically imaging this cluster to see if the ‘supernova’ reappears.

The Cygnus Loop

For the past year or so I’ve been trying to image the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant. So what is this?

It is situated near one of the wings of Cygnus, the Swan. The large loop is the result of the death of a large star, 12 to 15 times the mass of the Sun, that came to the end of its life some 21,000 years ago. Recent measurements have put the distance of the ‘loop’ and therefore the original precursor star at 2,400 light years, which means that the object is about 130 light years in diameter. The estimated mass of the precursor star suggests that there would be a neutron star produced, but no trace has been detected.

The Cygnus Loop in ultraviolet light (Credit: NASA Galex satellite.

What you see here is the result of the expanding debris from the supernova explosion encountering the material in the interstellar medium, causing this to emit light – obviously UV but also hydrogen emission in the visible and some other elements, predominantly oxygen and sulphur. The whole structure also goes by the name The Veil Nebula with various components names as in the figure. The Western Veil also goes by the name The Witches Broom Nebula.

I said it was large… The angular size on the sky is nearly 3° across. That is 6 times the angular diameter of the full moon, or about the width of your hand held at arms length!

Last year, I attempted detailed images of the Eastern and Western components with my 10” Newtonian telescope and astro-camera, although the seeing was rather poor when I imaged the Western Veil. I also photographed the whole nebula in one image using a telephoto lens and my Canon DSLR camera. The resulting image was in the January 2021 newsletter and it showed the characteristic issue with imaging with a standard DSLR – light from the brightest spectral component, the red line from hydrogen (H alpha at 656nm), is blocked by the filters inside the camera required to get facial colours looking right. To avoid this, this time I used my cooled astronomical camera which is very sensitive at that wavelength. I also reimaged the Western Veil component with my 10” Newtonian telescope to complete my set of the brightest two bits. I should add that each of these more detailed images are mosaiced from three separate images as the field of view of the telescope is too small to get everything in one shot

So the results…

The Cynus Loop, Veil Nebula, imaged using a 150mm telephoto lens in front of my QHY163C cooled astronomical camera, all mounted on my EQ6 equatorial driven mount. The final image consists of sixteen 5 minutes exposures combined and processed in Pixinsight. Intermittent cloud was an issue whilst imaging unfortunately. Good to see that the faint Pickering’s Triangle nebula is visible. Taken in Kendal on 1st September 2021.

The Eastern Veil, imaged 20th September 2020, and the Western Veil imaged 7th September 2021. Each of these images is a mosaic made by overlapping three images with each of these exposures composing of typically twelve 10 minutes exposures – six hours per image! Taken from my backyard using my 10” Newtonian telescope and QHY163C cooled astronomical camera mounted on an EQ6 mount.


Some recent photographs

M106 in Canes Venatici. Lots of other neraby galaxies visible, the most obvious being NGC 4248 just left of and at a similardistance to M106. The obvious galactic doublet NGC4231/4232 are about 10 further away than M106. A total of 3.3 hours exposure on 22nd April 2021. Taken from my backyard using my 10” Newtonian telescope and QHY163C cooled astronomical camera mounted on an EQ6 mount.

The great globular cluster M13 in Hercules. North is up. Image produced from the best 29 of the 15 second exposures collected during the night of May 30th. Many of the 100 or so taken were lost to cloud and the rather early dawn! Taken from my backyard using my 10” Newtonian telescope and QHY163C cooled astronomical camera mounted on an EQ6 mount.

M3 in Canes Venatici. North is about 40° to the left due to poor setup! Image produced from the best 77 of the 1 minute exposures collected during the night of April 15th. Taken from my backyard using my 10” Newtonian telescope and QHY163C cooled astronomical camera mounted on an EQ6 mount. Remarkably similar to M13 with that bright orange star!