The February meeting was planned as a practical evening where members were invited to bring along their telescopes and other astronomically related items of interest but with the main intention of also observing from the grounds of Uplands College should the skies be clear enough.

      In the event, the weather outside was miserable; - overcast and drizzly.  But the meeting inside was a great success despite not being able to go outside, and with warm coffee and the informal atmosphere, members were able to talk about their astronomical problems and experiences.

      Sadly Tim Bance, our chairman was unable to be present owing to illness, but in his absence the evening was ably lead by our Secretary Ian Reeves.

      Three telescopes were present and a few binoculars together with some experienced members on hand to give advice and suggestions.

      The Society owns two telescopes.  One is a seven-inch telescope on a Dobsonian mount made by Murray Barber, Tim Bance and Duncan Goulding.  This telescope was present and its construction and use was explained to members by John Vale-Taylor. 

      The whole of the mirror housing and the body is constructed from wood together with the Dobsonian base.  John explained the design of the base with the almost free-running plastic strips on which the body of the telescope rested.  This kind of mount enabled the telescope to "see" virtually the whole of the available night sky with ease.

      The mirror housing was described together with the means of adjusting the main glass mirror.  The diagonal flat mirror at the top end of the telescope could easily be seen through the wooden rods of the scopes body, fixed on an "edge-on-spider" to cut down on the loss of light in the optical path.  As mentioned the body of the telescope was made with wooden rods providing a very rigid structure and as John said this provided the advantage over alloy rods of not having to acclimatise when taken outdoors so that observing could take place immediately.

      John described the construction and how to use the "head-up finder" by lining-up a dot with the object the observer wishes to view.

      He then talked about the line-up of the mirrors and collimation both optically and using a laser collimator.

      Although this type of mount is not driven, it is the perfect way of star-hopping around the sky and is an ideal companion for the amateur to find his way around the constellations.

      Joan Grace had brought Stephen Andaman's Meade LX 90 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope to the meeting, which he had kindly lent for the evening.

      Joan and Ian King were on hand to explain the construction and use of this excellent computer driven scope.  Its size meant that it could be transported very easily to any observation site and with its computerised tracking system, could be lined up to track the evening sky within a very short time.  It also had facilities to take a camera, CCD or other observing devices.

      The computer had stored in it many thousands of stars and included the visible planets and deep sky objects needing especially long exposures.

      Ian Reeves brought his serious Kunos 120 mm refractor telescope along, whose lens quality has impressed many members on previous occasions. 

      Also on view were some of Ian's photographs of the Hale-Bopp comet taken on the 12/13th March 1997, together with some of his results of the Transit of Venus using his Kunos to provide a projected image of the sun in a shaded box.

      Ian had also taken the trouble to produce a large labelled map of the moon and by masking off part of it, he was able to show it as it would have been had been able to view the lunar surface that night.

      The Editor had visited this year's AstroFest at Kensington Town Hall and had purchased a CD ROM programme of SKY 6, professional version, and thought it worth showing to members using a digital projector in the event of poor observing weather outside.

      Having only been in possession of the programme for a week, it was pretty obvious that a large learning curve was still in progress.  My previous version was SKY 4 and the difference between the two was amazing.  There are several complete star catalogues in the programme, and there are also various ways of using the software.  It can be used as an aid to star-location with a considerable amount of information on each star down to magnitude 6, such as distance, parallax, magnitude, spectral analysis and much more.

      There are also 400,000 images of deep sky objects, which become apparent when one zooms in to their location.  Alsothere are  many high-resolution images of the moon with labelled craters and seas.

      It is even possible to use a panoramic photograph of your own horizon and use this in the planetarium mode with very realistic results, and it is also possible to superimpose actual pictures of the constellations such as Leo as a lion.

      All very interesting, but not like the real thing and a great tool.

      It really was a pity that the weather had prevented us from having the opportunity to observe from the college grounds, but members enjoyed an informal but informative evening.  As we left it was still very overcast, but an hour later there wasn't a cloud in the sky!!!


      The next Society meeting is on Wednesday 16th March 2005 when the speaker will be Greg Smye-Rumsby and the title of his talk is "The Craig Telescope at Wandsworth".  Members may remember his amusing style when he visited us during the Mars Extravaganza meeting.

      The meeting takes place in the Drama Studio at Uplands College, Wadhurst, and commences as 7.30 pm.


Advance announcement of talks for the next few months.

      Wednesday 20th April 2005 when the speaker will be John Murrel talking about "Virtual Observatories - fireside astronomy"

      Wednesday 18th May 2005.  The speaker will be Alan Smith from Horsham whose talk is called "Deep Sky for all Seasons"

      Wednesday 15th June 2005.  Still to be arranged.

      Wednesday 20th July 2005.  Konrad Malin-Smith will be guiding us around "Pulsars".




      Mike Wyles has bravely taken over as the Society's new Treasurer.  He says there is a steep learning curve, but is looking forward to receiving subscriptions for the current session from any of the ten members from last year who still haven't renewed their membership yet.

      Mike's address is 31 Rowan Tree Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5PZ.


      Orion is still dominant in the southern skies during the early evening, although it is now progressing further to the western horizon.  In the early part of the month, the moon is well out of the way and this could be the last chance to observe this winter constellation in any detail.

      Betelgeuse, the bright red star on the left shoulder of the Hunter is nearing the end of its life and has become a massive red giant.  If it was to replace our sun, the orbit of the Earth would sit comfortably inside it!  It is comforting to know that Betelgeuse is actually over 400 light years away. 

      An even bigger Super giant has recently been discovered in Cygnus.  It is so big it would nearly absorb the orbit of Saturn if it were in place of our sun!!

      Rigel, the bright blue star in Orion's foot is apparently quite a bit brighter than Betelgeuse yet it is actually twice as far away.

      During March we are beginning to look towards the constellation of Leo, which is about 60 degrees to the east of Orion.  The lion's head is often referred to as looking like a backwards question mark with a bright blue star at its bottom.  This star is Regulus and has an apparent magnitude of 1.4 but this is partly due to its being only 77 light years from our Solar System.

      This month the Sun passes through the ecliptic from the southern sky to the northern sky on the 20th March, marking the Vernal Equinox and the start of Spring.

      Mercury has the greatest elongation from the Sun on 12th March 2005 and this will provide the best viewing condition for this year.  It will be an evening object, seen just after sun set during the early part of the month.  It is well worth looking for, although a bit of a challenge to find.  Mercury will be brightest before maximum elongation.  After this although it is nearer the Earth, its illuminated face will be turned progressively further away from us.

      Venus and Mars are difficult to observe this month.  Venus is at superior conjunction when the planet is furthest away from us on the far side of the Sun.  In the early part of the month Mars is only ten degrees above the horizon at dawn then it is in the sky during daylight hours, although things begin to improve towards the end of the month.

      Towards the end of March Jupiter will be rising about 8.00 pm but should be worth observing when it has climbed higher in the night sky.  If the air is reasonably still it is always interesting to look at the equatorial belts and I have observed the path of one of the brighter moons (Calisto) over the surface of the planet and been able to see its shadow but the "seeing" was exceptionally good at the time.

      Most people find Saturn fascinating to observe and at present it is high in the night sky, making it possible to see the shadow of the planet on the ring system with an astronomical telescope, although even with binoculars on some kind of stable mount allows one to see the rings clearly and they are as wide as we are likely to see them in our lifetime.  It is possible to see the larger moons but it is worth finding out where they are going to be before looking for them through a telescope because they can be confused with the background stars at their distance from Earth.

      Comet Machholz will be within 4 degrees of Polaris the North Pole Star around the 8th of March.  It is beginning to fade now but is still visible with a pair of binoculars.

      Uranus and Neptune are very close to the Sun at present and will not be visible for some months now.  Pluto is about 20 degrees altitude at dawn, but this is really for the serious astronomer with the right equipment and the right conditions.

      One of the most spectacular face-on spiral galaxies is M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici with one of its arms spiralling out in a sinister way.  It has a combined magnitude of 8 so is an object for a Deep Sky CCD camera.


      There is to be a Committee meeting at 8.00 pm on Monday 11th April 2005 at the Abergavenny Arms in Frant, just two miles south of Tunbridge Wells on the A267 road.  If any of the committee wish to raise any points, could they please let the Secretary, Ian Reeves, know before hand if possible.

      Any member of the Society is welcome to come along.



Chairman          Tim Bance                         01732  832745                   timbance@hotmail.com

Secretary         Ian Reeves                        01892  784255

Treasurer         Mike Wyles                      01892 542863

  Publicity  & Web site       Michael Harte         01892 783292             michael@greenman.demon.co.uk

  Editor            Geoff Rathbone                        01959  524727            Geoff@rathbone007.fsnet.co.uk

Any material for inclusion in the April Newsletter should be with the Editor by March 28th  2005