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.

Notes and links from the December 2019 meeting

Welcome and Notices Ian Bradley EAS

Ian welcomed members, new members and made a presentation:

Presentation to Anna Hall

Ian made a presentation to our host Museum Curator of long service. Anna has opened up the premises, making tea, sitting through meetings to lock up after we leave for more than a decade until recently.

Anna Hall


  • A Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro mount and tripod are for sale – please express your interest through our EAS Contact Page.

Sky Notes for December 2019 – Moira Greenhalgh EAS

After sunset at around 7 pm the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter float in a line above the southern horizon. Moira guided us to the location of the 5.7 magnitude planet Uranus that is worth the effort even with low-powered equipment for its pure colour:

Uranus – NASA/JPL-Caltech

Moira drew our attention to The Square of Pegasus which still rides high in the sky in the evening before Orion becomes prominent in midwinter. In particular, the local galaxy Andromeda, the only galaxy visible to the average person’s unaided eye (See quiz, below).

See also our EAS Sky notes for December.

Quiz – set by David Glass and Richard Rae EAS

David organised use into teams of three and challenged the meeting to two sets of 20 questions. Contrary to the fear that David would challenge us with solutions to his latest research, there was a distinct orientation in favour of practical astronomy, previous EAS talks and what ought to be common knowledge.

So, what is the farthest object visible to the unaided eye? Before going through a list the thousands of visible stars (which are all in our own galaxy)- see Sky Notes above.

Social Evening

While David calculated the overall winners the second half of the meeting broke up into a social evening with fare kindly laid on by hardworking members and the museum curator.

Notes and links from the November 2019 meeting

Welcome and Notices Moira Greenhalgh EAS

Moira welcomed members, new members and announced notices:

Sky Notes for November 2019 – Richard Rae EAS

After sunset at around 7 pm the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter float in a line above the southern horizon. Inside the Summer Triangle, the constellation of Cygnus holds numerous interesting objects – see our Sky Notes for October 2019 for more detail and an October challenge.

Astronomy News Phil Morris EAS

SpaceBit founder Pavlo Tanasyuk holding a life-size working model of the rover

SpaceBit founder Pavlo Tanasyuk holding a life-size working model of the rover

SpaceBit – UK’s first lunar rover

The UK’s first moon rover – and the world’s smallest – will blast off into space in 2021.

Equipped with four legs rather than wheels or tracks, the rover will hitch a ride off of a NASA launch and be able to explore parts of the moon other landers cannot reach.

See Sky News on UK’s first moon rover.


The first interstellar (from outside the Solar System) comet has been discovered by Ukrainian amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov with a 650mm telescope. Closest approach will be at perihelion on the 8th of December.

The trajectory of comet C/2019 Q4.

The trajectory of comet C/2019 Q4.

See Comet 2IBorisov


In a paper published at the end of October, an Italian team have used the radial velocity technique to identify another exoplanet in the red-dwarf binary system known as Groombridge 34 about 11.6 light years away from Earth. This one is 36 times the mass of the Earth, and has a period of 21 years. A Super Neptune.

A new category of Black Hole?

We currently theorise two types of black hole: stellar and supermassive. A new discovery by two teams of astronomers, including one from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, suggests there may be a third type. Called an “intermediate black hole” its mass is somewhere between the other two, but there is no known process that that would form a black hole of this size.

See also: NASA’s Goddard Space Centre’s New Kind of Black Hole

The origin of the heavy elements in neutron star merges

In our last meeting, we heard from Dr Sue Bowler of the University of Leeds about gravitational waves. Phil spotted an update about how that research enables us to test our theories.

Back in 2017 gravitational waves were detected from the merger of two neutron stars. This merger blew away an expanding shell of debris moving at nearly 30% of the speed of light. In one second 10 to the power 22 neutrons passed through an area of 1 square centimetre. This was one of the few gravitational events for which a light source was identified.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have now reanalysed spectroscopically the light in the 2017 data and have identified about 5-Earth masses of STRONTIUM (Atomic Number 38) produced in the explosion.

So we now have evidence to support the theory of how heavier elements form.

See more: Heavy element creation confirmed in neutron star merger


The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, DESI , will make measurements dark energy. dark energy makes up 68% of the total energy budget of the universe responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe. By accurately measuring the expansion history over the past 11 billion years, DESI’s scientific goal is to constrain possible models of dark energy. In order to accomplish this goal, DESI will measure the position and receding velocity of about 40 million galaxies

Kielder Star camp photographs from Stuart Atkinson EAS

Stuart Atkinson displayed some of the Astro-photographs taken with a telephoto lens, some with a tripod and tracker:

The Milky Way

The Milky Way

The Pleiades

The Pleiades

The Andromeda nebula

The Andromeda nebula

Observing with IRAM 30m Telescope and JCMT David Glass EAS

JCMT, Mauna Kea, Hawaii (David Glass)

David Glass gave a talk on his observing visits to the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii and the IRAM 30m telescope in Spain. These telescopes operate at mm and sub-mm wavelengths, and David began with an explanation of what can be observed at these wavelengths and what can be learned.

Dinosaur toy looking after the observer's station at the JCMT (David Glass)

Dinosaur looking after the observer’s station at the JCMT (David Glass)

David’s research is looking at the cool interstellar medium (ISM) in early-type galaxies, which can be observed with these telescopes. David went to the JCMT in April, and after explaining how the telescope operates he took us through the practicalities of observing with this telescope.

He then did the same for his visit in July to the IRAM 30m telescope, where the visiting observer is in the “hot seat”. The observer is responsible for setting up the telescope correctly and for carrying out the observations to meet specifications. Overall, observing with these telescopes is hard work but very rewarding. David now has science data from the IRAM 30m telescope which he is examining as part of his research.

IRAM 30m telescope, Pico Veleta, Spain (David Glass)

Notes and Links from the October 2019 Meeting

Welcome and Notices Ian Bradley

Ian welcomed members and announced notices:
  • A 6″ Sky Watcher telescope and equatorial tripod has been offered sale – contact for details through the website
  • A visit to Alston Observatory, Preston will meet at the Observatory at 7:00 PM on Tuesday 29th October. A meal at the nearby White Bull immediately before will be optional.

Sky Notes for October 2019 – David Glass

After sunset at around 7 pm the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter float in a line above the southern horizon. Inside the Summer Triangle, the constellation of Cygnus holds numerous interesting objects – see our Sky Notes for October 2019 for more detail and an October challenge.

Astronomy News Phil Morris


After abandoning a manoeuvre into a 14 day orbit, NASA decided to bring the perihelion of the 53 day orbit of Juno into closer proximity to Jupiter next month. After the recent failure of the main engine, for ten hours from the 30th September NASA burned the Juno thrusters to bring the craft closer when behind Jupiter. Thus, the solar-powered craft will spend less time out of the sun with its batteries at low temperatures.

See Juno’s discovery of a Great Blue Spot in last month’s news.

Proto-galaxy SSA22

12 billion light-years away, the illumination from galaxy SSA22 is being used to detect large-scale filaments of low-density hydrogen and Dark Matter between which galaxy formation is suspected to occur.

Planet 9 or a black hole

A dozen Trans-Neptunian Objects have all been determined to have perihelions all at the same location. So could it be that a goliath planet, some 5 to 15 times the mass of the Earth is hiding far beyond Pluto, and shepherding these TNO’s into their unusual orbit? In a paper posted on 24 th September, a study claims that rather than a planet, the culprit is a primordial black hole. These are predicted to have formed within the first few fractions of a second after the big bang, but their existence has never been confirmed.

The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) is looking for gravitational microlensing events. If the alignment is perfect, a heavy foreground object acts as a lens, distorting and amplifying the light from the object behind it. After 5 years’ of observations, researchers uncovered six strange microlensing events that seem to have occurred when objects roughly 0.5 to 20 times the Earth’s mass acted as a gravitational lens.

The paper says:
“Capture of a free-floating planet is the leading explanation for the origin of Planet 9. We show that the probability of capturing a primordial black hole instead is comparable”

Such a captured black hole roaming the outer solar system would influence the orbits of TNO’s in exactly the same way as Planet 9.

The Promise of Gravitational Waves, Dr Sue Bowler, University of Leeds, RAS, editor Astronomy and Geophysics journal

Dr Bowler gave an easily understood and entertaining talk illustrated with images of Gravitational-wave detectors a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) ( LIGO ) and Virgo

Virgo Observator at Caltech.

Virgo Observatory Pisa, Italy. Credit: The Virgo Collaboration/CCO 1.0

Our current way of detecting a gravitational wave is by detecting changes in length caused by the wave stressing space-time as it passes by. Dr Bowler warned of likening the electromagnetic waves in astronomy with gravitational waves in space-time – gravitational waves are more like pressures waves, compressions of space-time. Nonetheless, the classic Michelson–Morley interferometer configuration put us on familiar ground as the basis of a LIGO layout of two mirrors at right-angles reflecting a spilt beam back to the source. The interference pattern shows any change in the distance travelled in the two directions. The interferometer arms are each 4km long but with the laser beam bouncing many times along each arm before the two beams interfere, the effective length is nearer 1200km. The system is so effective, it can detect changes in length of 10-19m, that is one 10,000th of the diameter of a proton! The technical design challenge is reducing the background noise – people, vehicles, earthquakes… – to allow such tiny changes to be seen.

Over 30 gravitational wave events have now been detected – they have to be seen by both current LIGO detectors Hanford and Livingston. All but one are believed to be created by the merger of two black holes in the final fraction of a second. The rapidly changing orbital situation before they coalesce produces a rapidly fluctuating wave with increasing frequency and amplitude. This produces the detected chirp lasting about 0.2 second. The physics of two such massive objects just before they spin into their combined event horizon is unknown and the subject of research. The other event is a much longer ‘chirp’ event, duration ~100 seconds, is believed to be the merger of two neutron stars. A burst of gamma rays was detected 1.7 seconds later from the resulting ‘kilonova’ enabling precise positional information. Additional gravitational wave detectors are necessary to provide better positional information on black-hole mergers – currently only about 10 degrees – and many are now in construction.

For more information see:

Notes and Links from the September 2019 Meeting

Welcome and Notices Ian Bradley

Ian welcomed members and announced notices:

Sky Notes for September 2019 – David Glass

See our Sky Notes for September 2019

David’s proposal of a visit to Alston Observatory, Preston was accepted. Meet at 7:30 PM on Tuesday 29th October. A meal at the Black Bull immediately before will be optional.

Astronomy News Phil Morris

Mascot standing on one leg

Mascot standing on one leg

Hayabusa2 on the Asteroid Ryugu

The Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) has been deployed 41m above the surface on a 17-hour mission to measure the structure, distribution and texture of the surface of asteroid Ryugu. See also What asteroid Ryugu told us


The Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter has discovered a new spot (aka Great Blue Spot) beneath the opaque clouds on the first definite detection of an extra-terrestrial planetary, magnetic field. The Juno mission will end in 2021 after which the next mission to Jupiter, to Jupiter’s moons in fact) may well be called JUICE (JUpiter ICy moon Explorer) .

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble space telescope has been involved in measuring the rate of expansion of the universe, the Hubble Parameter, H . Current measurements from Steps are underway to measure the value using gravitational waves – see our Guest Speaker’s talk in October.


Gaia mapping the Milky Way

Gaia mapping the Milky Way

The Gaia galaxy-mapping telescope has detected a new type of exploding Supernovae. It seems to be on the periphery of the galaxy, not at its heart. Its mass has been calculated as 200 times that of the sun Its spectrum is different from that of any other supernovae yet detected It seemed to explode twice.

Such massive supernovae have been predicted and the final explosion may involve anti-matter obliterating the star without leaving a black hole .

Dalby Star Camp – Moira Greenhalgh and Richard Rae

Moira and Richard had returned from the Dalby Start Camp on the day of the meeting. A weekend star camp was highly recommended for:
  • dark skies
  • lectures
  • access to many types of equipment
  • with your own equipment

Starfield by Richard Rae EAS

Andromeda galaxy by Richard Rae EAS

Volcanic Processes on Mars Professor Lionel Wilson

Professor Wilson gave an illustrated talk on volcanism Mars often comparing the processes with the volcanism on the Earth. Differences in the Mars environment such as: explain many of the martian features such as higher and more massive volcanoes (on average twice the size) and the predominance of low profile Shield volcanoes that have a 10 -100 million year history – being less mobile and less degraded by weather – and occur to be in non-linear formations. The evidence of large scale lava flows, in both quantity and flow rates, needs more geological causes, such as low viscosity of the lava. Recent work has been on the distant rills similar to glacial rills on the continent of Antarctica and the discovery of bulges higher, than the volcano caldera , that are being pushed upwards by the large, underground magma chambers that also create subsidiary, lateral outflows and eruptions.
The Elysium volcanic province showing Martian volcanoes with large, low profile bulges, long trenches and distant rills.

The Elysium volcanic province showing Martian volcanoes with large, low profile bulges, subsidiaryvolcanoes,longtrenchesand distant rills.

For more information see:

Notes and Links from the July 2019 Meeting


Ian Bradley welcomed members and announced notices. A 200 mm Sky Watcher telescope was brought to the notice of members as used-only-once.

Sky Notes for July 2019

Until late August the sky remains in the twilight throughout the night in Kendal. Noctilucent cloud (NCL) has been witnessed more frequently this year by members. The better times to keep our eyes out are after midnight.

For details of the Summer Triangle, summer constellations of Sagittarius and Hercules see our Sky Note & Observing Evening .

Astronomical News


For the next decade a space observatory, Luvoir , is proposed to study exoplanets. In comparison to the Hubble Space Telescope’s 2.4m mirror, Luvoir-A will orbit a 15 m mirror and Luvoir-B an 8 m mirror.

Euro Rover on a Japanese rocket

Europe & Japan launch spacecraft The European Space Agency and the Japan

Aerospace Exploration Agency have launched two probes on a seven-year mission to investigate the innermost planet, Mercury. results will provide information on the physical attributes of Mercury and the origin of the Solar System.

Martian Moons Exploration

In a collaboration between NASA , ESA and the French CNES, a Martian Moons Exploration project (MMX) is set to launch a robotic space probe in 2024. The mission will fly by the smaller Martian moon, Deimos , but will furthermore bring back the first samples from Mars’ largest moon Phobos .

Remembering Apollo

Two EAS members, Eddie Dealtry and David Glass gave separate presentations on aspects and the background Apollo 11 mission landing the first astronauts on another body in space, the moon.

Moon and Earth from Lunar Orbit Eddie firstly covered the Space Race from 1957 where the Russian satellites, probes and cosmonauts continually scored firsts until the race became a Moon race with the control, accuracy and high-quality imagery demonstrated by Surveyor 1 and the subsequent Lunar Orbiter 1 .
The Apollo AGC Secondly, Eddie went through the Software Engineering that went into the 2 Kb read-write memory, Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) having been developed and tested on the first mainframe computer – all on the first integrated (printed as opposed to manually wired ) circuits. A program, P63 , that was involved in the 1202 alarm was listed and the post-event management report displayed.
Saturn V with stage text

David illustrated the structure and described the propulsion systems developed through the Saturn rocket family to the eventual moon shot of the Apollo crew on the gigantic Saturn V . The significant engineering issues and trade-offs were demonstrated by the examples of:

    • Saturn V engine exhaustsusing kerosene and liquid oxygen in five engined S-IC First Stage that would reduce air resistance and perturbances by minimising the circumference of the first stage while the vehicle was accelerating through the atmosphere – whereas both the second and third stages burnt less volatile but bulkier liquid hydrogen
    • LEM taking off from the Moonexplaining the explosive departure of the Eagle Lunar Landing Module due to the spaying together the ingredients of two self-igniting propellants to maximise the chance of the engine igniting correctly

David then went through the Apollo missions 1 – 10, starting with the initial tragedy of Apollo 1 and finishing with the full rehearsal of Apollo 10. David left Apollo 11 to the extensive media coverage to follow in the next few weeks.

EAS next meeting will be Monday 2nd September

Guest speaker: Prof. Lionel Wilson of Lancaster University on: Martian volcanism

Notes and Links from the June 2019 Meeting


Moira Greenhalgh welcomed members and announced notices. The Institue of Physics has changed their programme at Lancaster University next Wednesday 12th May to ‘Pluto’s “desert”: methane ice dunes on a glacier on an airless world’. See our Welcome page.

Sky Notes for June 2019

Moira gave this month’s Sky Notes recommending for the summer nights of continuous twilight in Kendal her personal favourites high declination constellations and Globular Clusters.

Three bright summer stars are Vega, Arcturus and Deneb. The red star Arcturus in Boötes can be identified by following the handle of the Plough (Ursa Major) backwards. Globular clusters such as the compact and bright Hercules Globular Cluster can be found in the constellations of Boötes and in the neighbouring Hercules.

See also our Website Sky Notes

News Roundup for June 2019

Richard Rae presented a round-up of recent Astronomical news.

Comet Wirtanen

Results from observing the tail of Comet Wirtanen, &designated 46P, have detected a Deuterium to Hydrogen ration similar to that in Earth’s oceans. The previous cometary observations have been dissimilar throwing doubt on the proposal that cometary collisions in the early solar system could be the origin of the oceans. The 46P observations have been of the tail as the comet approaches radically close to perihelion, (close solar encounter) when the core of the comet is being blown out into the tail. Hence, the new measurements may well be more representative of the Deuterium to Hydrogen ration out of cometary cores and add weight to the theory that cometary hydrogen is the source of Earth’s oceans.

The Spacex Starlink train

Recent online videos are available showing a trail of 60 satellites through the night sky. The satellites enable greater coverage of the internet over the surface of the earth and Spacex. 20 have been granted permission for a total of 12,000.

What is a Telescope?

Simon White gave a very practical demonstration of not so much ‘What is a Telescope’ more ‘Where is that image inside a telescope’? Pairs of magnifying glasses were handed around. Members could use one glass to create an image and the other to find where it was focused and magnify it with a second glass. The conclusion became obvious, after some experimentation that the image exists behind the object all the time and the optical system of a telescope provides access to and magnifies the focussed image.

Telescope Night

Three of the members’ telescopes and the society’s 11″ Cassegrain telescope were assembled outside in the Museum yard. Members and guests could wander, mingle and question the practicalities of various astronomical telescope designs and the members’ different procedures for observing.

Notes and Links from the May 2019 Meeting

Welcome and member’s photographs

Ian Bradley opened the meeting welcoming members both new and old. He later presented some astrophotographs taken from his recent trip to New Zealand. These included the Moon and Orion completely upside down from the perspective we are used to seeing these objects in the northern hemisphere. Particularly impressive were his views of the Galaxy taken from a dark sky location in New Zealand and images of the large and small Magellanic clouds. These are the two satellite galaxies that orbit our own Milky Way and are not visible from Cumbrian skies.

April’s Moonwatch

April`s Moon watch was particularly successful with many members of the public attending. As sunset is much later during the summer months the next Moonwatch will now be in October 2019.

Sky Notes for May 2019

23rd May – Early Morning – Saturn will lie to the right of the waning gibbous Moon an excellent photo opportunity.

The Ursa Major constellation (The Plough) remains almost directly overhead above where you may be able to observe the galaxies M81 and M82.

On the 28th May, Ceres is at its closest approach to Earth. It will have a magnitude of 7( too faint for the naked eye) so with the help of binoculars you should be able to spot it. A planetarium program such as Stellarium will show you its position in the days before and after its closest approach.

News Roundup for May 2019

The News section contained updates on the two current asteroid sample-return missions: Hyabusa 2 investigating Ryugu and OSIRIS-Rex looking at Bennu. Both are near-Earth carboniferous asteroids. Hyabusa recently fired a copper bullet into the surface of Ryugu, and the mission will seek to capture some of that pristine debris and, like OSIRIS-Rex, then return to Earth.

The other big news was the picture of the black hole – M87* – at the centre of a supergiant elliptical galaxy in Virgo, about 55 million light years away. The image was obtained by Very Long Baseline Interferometry, using eight radio telescopes collecting radiation with a wavelength of 1.3mm. UCLAN are part-sponsors of the James Clark Maxwell telescope in Hawaii which provided one point in one on the baselines and were also involved in analysing the data.

A high-res image of the black hole in M87

Dr Sarah Badman, Lancaster University on “Auroral Activity in the Solar System”

In this Cassini image below a band of southern aurora in visible in green.

An excellent talk, which was most informative was delivered by the very competent researcher, Dr Sarah Badman. She explained early in her career she was able to work on data received from the Cassini spacecraft just after it had arrived in orbit around Saturn.

The mechanism for the aurora borealis was explained whereby charged particles emitted from the sun interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, are given energy and collide with atoms and molecules in our atmosphere. These collisions result in ionization of the atmosphere which makes up the aurora. Collisions with oxygen produce red and green auroras, while nitrogen produces blue and purple colours.

Aurora in other solar system planets occur only if a magnetic field is present to interact with the solar wind. The images presented in the talk were quite stunning.

Hubble composite image of aurora on Jupiter

Here the image shows a curtain of glowing gas which is wrapped around Jupiter’s north pole.

Notes and Links from the April 2019 Meeting

Members’ Observing Sessions

Now that the clocks have moved forward one hour the next Members’ Observing Session will be in late September. We still need volunteers to organise a few future Members’ Observing Sessions.

Sky Notes for April 2019

  • at dusk on the 5th April Mars lies on a straight line between the Hyades and Pleiades
  • the Orion constellation is now setting shortly after the sun but Leo (the backwards question mark) is well placed high in the south from dusk containing a number of galaxies
  • Virgo, rising at 9 PM, contains Markarian’s Chain and the galaxies of the Leo Triplet including M65 and M66.
  • the Ursa Major constellation  (The Plough) is almost directly overhead above Leo again including many galaxies. M81 and M82 are very close together above the ‘saucepan’, and M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy [and actually in Canes Venatici] is just below the end of the ‘tail’. 

Markarian’s Chain taken by to our member Simon White

News Roundup for April 2019

Hayabusa2 takes fires at Ryugu

At the end of February Hayabusa 2 took a sample from the sub-surface of the asteroid Ryugu after an orbiting module fired a bullet at the surface. The meeting was shown a comparison between Ryugu and Bennu, the target of the OSIRIS-REx mission . While similar in shape, Ryugu appears smoother and more rounded than a typical asteroid and proves to be hollow and totally lacking water. By contrast, Bennu contains water and volatile molecules possibly from the early solar system.




While cosmological distance determines age the opposite does not have to be true. Some of our faint satellite galaxies prove to have been among the first formed in the Universe.

Furthermore, a star does not need to be far along the in its life before the first planets a formed. From the lack of any elements heavier the Helium, the young HR8799 already has four giant, exoplanets.

The Drake Equation

A member gave a talk on the history of the Drake Equation proposed in 1961 to estimate the probability of another civilization in our Milky Way. Since its proposal, we now have much more quantifiable numbers for factors such as the fraction of those stars that have planets some factors. Nonetheless, many factors, such as the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point are still highly conjectural.

Stuart Atkinson  Unseen Apollo – Images from the Archives

EAS member Stuart Atkinson gave an illustrated talk with images from the Apollo programme rarely publicised. Only five images exist of Neil Armstong on the first moonwalk. Other than the reflection of Armstrong in Aldrin’s visor the other four only show parts of his body.

Among a number of lesser-known facts, the size of the Saturn V rocket to launch the modules and their engines to the Moon as compared to the more recent Shuttle.

See also: NASA Apollo missions

Notes and Links from the March 2019 Meeting

Member’s Observing Sessions

An appeal was made for volunteers to organise future Member’s Observing Sessions after this month.

Amateur Radio Astronomy

One of our members gave the first of a series of short talks on opportunities for amateurs using radio equipment.

After a brief history of Radio Astronomy, the possible motives were listed. The natural phenomena of meteors, Jupiter, the Sun and associated Aurora can be monitored together with satellite communications. Although radio astronomy can be carried out during the day at frequencies above 30MHz, frequencies below this are either absorbed or reflected back to earth or back into space by the Earth’s ionosphere. When sunspot activity is low after sunset there is an opportunity to listen to frequencies below 30MHz from space when the F layer of the ionosphere can fade a few hours after sunset. It is then possible to hear radio emissions from Jupiter between 15 and 38MHz.

An example of how to listen to meteors was given, and later some theory to explain why radio waves at different wavelengths are able to penetrate different media . An explanation on different antennas was given with an example of a simple YAGI antenna showing how this and Dishes are able to increase the Gain of a signal and improve the signal to noise ratio. The presentation finished with brief examples of equipment which will be discussed at later presentations.

Sky Notes for March 2019

  • Orion only a few more weeks. Betelgeuse at Right Ascension of 6 hrs sets six hours at the Equinox on the (1830 on the 21st).

  • from March 26th to 31st – early evening: Mars approaches the Pleiades and Hyades open clusters

  • on Friday, March 29th – before dawn around 05:45: Saturn just above the Moon above Uranus

  • See also Ian Morison’s Night Sky this Month on the Jodrell Bank site in Sky Notes and our EAS links page

News Roundup for March 2019

Our EAS member, Richard Rae, visited Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral ( the Appollo 11 launch pad) for the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which is now the workhorse for vehicles to and from the International Space Station.

Simon White of EAS “Anatomy of an Astrophotograph”


Simon White gave an explanatory talk with illustrations of the process of doing astrophotography – from loading the kit into the boot of the car…..


….. to the final photographic image of The Orion Nebula.


Simon’s talk covered various important steps in capturing the data, including… 


Setting up the telescope in a dark lay-by

Polar alignment of the mount

Tracking the sky and guiding on a single star

Focusing with a Bahtinov mask

Taking the photos

Calibrating the frames


Stacking the frames before the post-processing

Getting help online to adjust the colours

Final adjustments to bring out all the detail captured in the data

See also: Simon White’s Orion’s easy target and our Links page:  Software used by our members