Notes and Links from the June Meeting

Chairman’s reports and sky notes

See Sky Notes. In particular:

  • There will be no actual astronomical darkness until August as the sun skims under our South Lakes horizon.
  • Venus, just after about 10:30 PM, is at the bright magnitude -4 above the western horizon near the crescent moon on the 16th June.
  • Jupiter is visible from sunset to sunrise, starting low in the south-east.
  • Saturn will rise with the full moon late in the month.

Astronomical News

Links to the items raised:

Variable star photometry

One of our members presented results taken over two nights of measuring the light detected from two stars, using a QHY163c CMOS astro camera connected to a 10″ telescope, compared to the light received from nearby comparison stars of known magnitude – the technique known as differential photometry. The first star was a well known contact binary star system V523Cas (with a magnitude change of ~0.9 magnitudes) which acted as a useful and successful testbed for the photometry system. The low noise permitted the second study – the attempt to detect the transit of planet across the face of a distant star from a Kendal backyard. An online search (http://var2.astro.cz/ETD/predictions.php) on the next clear night, 10 December 2017, suggested the excitingly labeled XO-6b with a relatively large magnitude change of 0.013 magnitudes. This 10 magnitude star, 270 light years away, was measured over an evening of deteriorating conditions. The sky conditions deteriorated so badly that all stars dimmed by 50%!

The change in brightness signal of the target star, blue, and three potential comparison stars during the night of the observations.

Nevertheless, comparisons with light levels from neighbouring stars indicated a 1.2% diminution of the light from the target star. The diminution is caused by an exoplanet, twice the size of Jupiter at 8% of Earth’s orbit radius, that transits the star approximately every four days. The timing and dip in brightness occurred at both the right time and expected size.          

Smoothed magnitude change for the exoplanet transit across the face of the star XO-6b.

Telescope Night (outside)

The second half of the evening was spent outside in the Museum grounds under a blue sky. Members and guests milled around asking questions and demonstrating their own telescopes, mounts and software.

Notes and Links from the May Meeting

Guest speaker: Professor Ian Robson Confessions of an Astronomer”

Professor Ian Robson gave a light-hearted talk covering his career in astronomy from a telescope on the top of Queen Mary University above a London street in the 1960’s to the top of a snow-drifted Mauna Kea, Hawaii – including frequent, confessional asides. Some aspects may have been expected, such as bids for project finance and student and graduate applications on a professor’s desk. Less expected were the thousands of air miles accumulated over a lifetime in astronomy.

Prof Robson has written a book demonstrating the connections between observations and theory: Active Galactic Nuclei

Member’s Talks

Sky and Society Notes for May

See Sky Notes. In particular:

  • Venus at the bright magnitude -3.9 in the evening presents a three-parts, waxing gibbous phase visible in small telescopes.
  • Jupiter is visible from sunset, starting low in the south east.
  • Full astronomical darkness will not occur again until August.

Major night sky imaging proposal

The society has been offered the opportunity to participate in a world wide public outreach project using the Las Cumbres Global Telescope Network. Our choice of target is likely to be the Hyades cluster in Taurus. Of significance to EAS, the displaced positions of Hyades stars were those measured by Sir Arthur Eddington during the 1919 Solar Eclipse  confirming Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Kendal Outreach

Volunteers to present are just about enough to hold the proposed Solar System in Kendal event on Saturday 18th August.

The Constellation of the Month

Our regular member’s presentation of Constellation of the Month featured the low, summer constellation of Virgo. Leo was also included.

Astronomical News

NASA successfully launched their Insight Mission a week ago to arrive on Mars in two months time. Over the following Mars-year (approximately 1.5 Earth years) the mission lander will probe the surface with a seismometer and then wait to measure the vibrations from any subsequent seismic events.

The upper atmosphere of an exoplanet (WASP-107b) has been analysed using the light filtered through it during a transit, revealing the (not unexpected) presence of Helium. Work to test the method on Earth’s atmosphere (Yan et al. 2014) proved that atmospheric compositions can be studied in this way and that significant biomarkers (oxygen, water, NO2) can be detected. They analysed the light that passed through Earth’s atmosphere and bounced off the moon during a lunar eclipse.

The universe expands with distance at a rate which is given by the Hubble Constant – or are there two Hubble Constants? 68 km/sec or 73 km/sec – or, even, both. Measurements have been made using the structure of the early Universe and using ‘standard candles’ in galaxies as in our February guest speaker’s research. The values obtained by the two methods appear to be different, and the chance that the difference is a fluke is currently less than 0.01%. This is nearly at ‘discovery’ level but not quite. If the difference is true, it may point the way to new physics or an overhaul of cosmological models. In the words of our member: ‘Over to the Cosmologists to sort this one out’.

Notes and Links from the April Meeting

Sky and Society Notes for April

See Sky Notes in particular.

Major night sky imaging proposal

The society has been offered a one-hour imaging session of an astronomical object of their choice on the  Las Cumbres Global Telescope Network . The offer has come from Carl Pennypacker, one of the teams whose studies of supernovae led them to infer in 1998 the existence of dark energy driving the expansion of the universe.    The society is keen to involve any members who wish to engage with this imaging project, including local schools if appropriate.  We have until December to choose an object and conduct the imaging. Please get in touch here if you would like to be part of this project, or if you have any suggestions for imaging targets.

UCLAN lecture

The meeting was reminded that the upcoming event at UCLAN in Preston:  The Jeremiah Horrocks Spring Lecture Comets, Asteroids and Impacts. Should we worry and what can we do? Tuesday 15th May 2018 – 6:30 pm.

Kendal outreach

More volunteers are required for a few hours during the proposed Solar System in Kendal  event on Saturday 18th August.

Other events

The next Member’s Observing evening will be in autumn when dark nights return.

The next public Moonwatch will be on Saturday 24th November

Member’s photographs

The Horsehead Nebula in Orion One member demonstrated an impressive difference in colour hues using  Pixinsight on the Horsehead Nebula  Not cheap software package but highly recommended for colour correction using a star catalogue. Now listed on our Links page under  Software used by members

Astronomical News

The farthest star ever detected has been imaged by the Hubble telescope, a Blue Giant in a galaxy nine billion light years distant:  Hubble Uncovers the Farthest Star Ever Seen. Forget the  Kepler space mission , a  recent paper  encourages more enthusiastic, if not radical, members to use their standard DLSR cameras to join in the search for exoplanets.

Guest speaker Robert Ince  Widefield and time-lapse astrophotography”

After answering to a professional career migrating from explosives to his lifetime interest in Astronomy, Robert Ince illustrated his personal revival of astrophotography with a camera only – without his 12″ telescope. Beginning with landscapes with star backgrounds and star trails, the talk progressed through driven exposures, including time-lapse video and panning sequences, to the use of filters.  Robert described in detail his post-exposure processing using a wide range of software. A number of useful links were listed:

The links above are now on our  Software used by members

Moon, Venus, Mercury conjunction…

19th March saw us heading for Helsington Church to catch this conjunction of three heavenly bodies, under the impression that the forecast was going to deliver a clear sky.  Well, I think this photo from Ted Woodburn sums it up – all three were visible at some point during the evening, but not necessarily at the same time!

Still, a good time was had by all who came out to see…

Notes and Links from the March Meeting

Sky Notes

See Sky Notes in particular: Sunday 11th when the Moon and Saturn rise together, Monday 19th when the Moon, Venus and Mercury set together – suitably viewed from the Scout Scar mushroom and Helsington church grounds, Saturday 24th for the EAS public Moonwatch at the Brewery when the crater Plato will be casting shadows from the terminator division between lunar night and day and see late night 27th for Astronomical gamblers.

 

Astronomical News

See SpaceX landing video for the SpaceX landing.

Astrobites has been added to our links page joining Sky & Telescope and Astronomy Now

Guest speaker Dr Anne Sansom on Dust in Early-Type Galaxies

Dr Sansom discussed the presence of dust in early-type galaxies (lenticulars and ellipticals), and what that can tell us about how these galaxies formed and evolved. Dust is an indicator of what has happened in a galaxy over its life and can be added by galaxy mergers or stars as they age, and is destroyed over time, so how much dust is present can reveal much about what has happened to a galaxy over its life.

Much of the work comes from the Herschel-ATLAS survey, the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project for three specific areas of the sky, and the Herschel Virgo Cluster Survey (HeVICS). The results so far show that the early-types in the GAMA regions can broadly be split into dusty, with some star formation still underway, and non-dusty. The dusty ones are “green valley” galaxies, as opposed to the “red and dead” ones on the red sequence. In contrast, galaxies in the Virgo cluster have less dust in them, but the galaxies here are closely packed together so galaxy environment could be important in how dust is generated or destroyed in a galaxy. There is still a lot of work to do with this topic, but it is an active topic and more results are on their way.

February Observing Evening

The forecast of clear skies for Tuesday 20th February had been consistent for about three days, but within an hour of announcing the observing evening at around 4pm it had completely clouded over.  Such are the frustrations of organising events in Kendal.

So it was an act of complete denial to go and set up at Boundary Bank, and I was delighted to see that I was not alone.  At about ten past seven, the security lights switched off, the clouds lifted and we had horizon-to-horizon clear dark skies.  The cold dry air brought a clarity and transparency rarely seen in Cumbria.

A relatively small turnout of about a dozen members, but with three good telescopes to share there was plenty of eyepiece time for everyone.  Special thanks go to David Glass for giving so much attention to the new members and making them feel very welcome.  One commented how delighted she was that people were willing to share the views through such amazing kit – I had never really thought of it in that way.

What did we see and do?  A round up of the constellations – with mythology from Moira – emphasising the difference between the rotating northern horizon and the ever-changing southern horizon, some double stars from David, star clusters including The Pleiades and the Perseus Double cluster, a long look at The Orion Nebula (below, my photo from 14 February) at various magnifications, a fruitless search for Uranus very close to the Moon.  

We finished with the Moon itself, an outrageously clear waxing crescent with fabulous detail around the terminator.  All in all, a very relaxed session with everyone just happy to be out.

Successful moonwatch 27/1/18

A successful Moonwatch tonight. Coordinated by Richard, there were 4 scopes and several EAS members present. The Moon was covered by high haze and a nice halo round it but it was clear though the scopes although lacking some contrast. Virtually no stars were visible! The 110km diameter crater Gassendi was showing really well. Initially very quiet but very busy at times later on.

The cloudy halo round the Moon

A quick telephoto shot at the end of the event.

Public moonwatch in Kendal

We have a moonwatch next Saturday, January 27th from 1830 – 2100, where anyone passing can view the Moon through our telescopes, weather permitting. The Kendal Brewery Arts Centre garden gives good view southwards and has coffee and toilets as well! Let’s hope for some good cloud-free skies. The Moon should look a bit like this.

  

Observing the Geminid Meteor Shower – peak 2am, 14th Dec

based on a BAA circular

Active from December 6-17, but with a slow rise to maximum on 14 December.

The Geminids are currently the richest of the regular annual meteor showers, producing an abundance of bright meteors at the maximum. Timing this year is good as the maximum occurs just before new Moon, so no interference by moonlight, enabling many fainter meteors to be seen in addition to the brightest members of the shower.  Peak activity expected at about 02h on Thursday, December 14.

In recent years, from the UK, the Geminids have shown typical peak observed rates of 70-80 meteors per hour in good skies if clear, so we might expect something like this on the peak night of December 13/14 (Wednesday night/Thursday morning). However, the maximum is quite broad and respectable Geminid rates may be expected throughout the nights of December 12/13, 13/14 and 14/15. Past observations have shown that bright Geminids become more numerous some hours after the rates have peaked, a consequence of particle-sorting in the meteoroid stream. Geminid meteors enter the atmosphere at a relatively slow 35 kilometres per second, and tend to last longer than most in luminous flight and may fragment into a train of ‘blobs.

The Geminid shower radiant (at RA 07h 33m,  Dec +32°, just north of the first magnitude star Castor in Gemini) rises early in the evening and reaches a respectable elevation above the horizon (> 40°) well before midnight, so observers who are unable to stay up late can still see a good show if clear. However, the early morning hours of Thursday, 14th December are likely to see the greatest Geminid activity, when the radiant is high in the sky.

Where best to look: As with any meteor shower, when observing it is best to look at an altitude of 50° and 40-50° to either side of shower radiant, rather than looking directly at the radiant itself, although Geminid meteors may appear in any part of the sky. It could be quite cold so wrap up well with plenty of layers of warm, dry clothing and make sure that you wear a hat, gloves and thick socks if you are outside for any time. No equipment is required – just go and look!