WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY

MAY NEWSLETTER 2005

INDEX: MEETINGS, OTHER NEWS, CONTACTS

MEETINGS

APRIL COMMITTEE MEETING

      The Wadhurst Astronomical Society Committee held their quarterly meeting on Monday 11th April 2005 at the Abergavenny Arms in Frant.

      All members of the Committee were present with the exception of Tim Bance, the Chairman, who kindly sent his apologies.  We were also pleased to welcome Phil Berry, one of the Society members, who came along as well.

      At the meeting it was confirmed that the position of Treasurer was officially handed over to Mike Wyles on the 16th March 2005.

      Membership now stands at 37 paid-up members and there are 10 members in arrears.

      As mentioned under "Future Meetings" later in this Newsletter, Michael Harte and his wife have kindly offered to host a barbecue on Saturday 27th of August.

      The next meeting of the Committee will be held at the Abergavenny Arms, Frant, on Monday 11th July 2005 at 8.00 pm and again any Society members are welcome to attend.

APRIL  MEETING

Virtual Observatories

A talk given by John Murrell, Chairman of Croydon Astronomical Society on 20th April 2005

      This was a most interesting talk on Virtual Observatories. It opened up for me a completely new appreciation of the vast amount of Astronomical Data that is held and its availability to all.  Although the VO (Virtual Observatory) is sometimes called 'Observing from your fireside', it IS NOT to be confused with a planetarium, nor a virtual tour of an observatory, nor even a robotic telescope. It IS a seamless access to astronomical data held on a number of servers worldwide. Like an Internet search engine, data can be sought on multiple servers but only the selected data is transferred.

      Currently, the VO is in the planning stage. All the data, be it photographic images, Hubble data, or held in an observatory somewhere in the world, will be accessible through just one interface. This is a big undertaking, as all instrumental artefacts have to be removed so that images, spectra etc can be assembled in comparable catalogues.

      As well as optical data, radio, x-ray and other wavelengths are all included. Furthermore, this large amount of data is growing rapidly, daily! The amount of data is doubling every 18 months but significantly, the number of discoveries is not keeping pace. Sadly, some data is thrown away after its first analysis, as at Atacama where 99% is discarded as there is no technology to store it all. This data could be of value to future studies if it could be saved.

      The next point concerns data retrieval. If all data were saved on CD's, just imagine the task of finding something you might be interested in! Data storage must be organised in an easily accessible way.

      Much data is still in other forms such as on photographic plates, but being decades if not centuries old, is valuable now for calculating asteroid trajectories. Some data, originally held in old digital formats that are no longer easily readable, must be saved while still understandable. 100 years of Greenwich data has been scanned by the Mullard Laboratory to obtain digitised solar cycles.

      Once all the historic data in its many shapes and forms has been put together, new observations must be able to go straight in.

      Both astronomers and database designers, as well as hardware and software specialists are building the Virtual Observatory. Microsoft and Sun are also involved in it.

      The most important part for us at home is the interface by which we can access all this wealth of data with ease. So far there are 2 developing systems. ALADIN comes from Strasbourg and SKYVIEW is a NASA product.

      We were given some demonstrations of ALADIN, which needs to be seen rather than described. It was very impressive and user-friendly, with powerful tools for combining data from different catalogues. Just think of all that data waiting to be investigated!!

      With ALADIN, you need to know beforehand which catalogues to look in. However, help is at hand in DATASCOPE, a powerful website run by NASA. In the demonstration, we requested information on M1 and were told that after looking in 360 data stores, results for M1 were found in 69 of them. Then we selected from all the wavelengths, and catalogues and surveys of galaxies and stars by ticking a few boxes. Behold! The images arrived from all over the world, ready for us to look at.

      A product called OASIS is similar to ALADIN but less user-friendly. It is good for drawing contours of intensity. I'm not sure about SKYVIEW.

      An advantage of the Virtual Observatory is that you do not need a telescope. All data is FREE! Most data will be available a few months after it has been collected, giving the principal investigator a chance to have a look at it first.

      These days there are not enough professional astronomers to keep up with all the data being collected. However, there are many amateurs more than willing to assist but needing guidance. We were pointed to Internet newsgroups and Virtual Societies.

 

* Have a look at the Croydon Astronomical website,   www.croydonastro.org.uk and click on the RESEARCH link for more information.

* Use Google to search for ALADIN Virtual Observatory.

* Visit   heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/vo/datascope/init.pl for DATASCOPE

* Visit www.us-vo.org/apps/datascope/ ??

* Contact John Murrell at Croydon where he is the chairman, if you need any help.

* Let me know if you find any courses designed to use the Virtual Observatory

You will need broadband.

Joan Grace

THE MAY MEETING

      The next Society meeting is on Wednesday 18th May 2005.  Our speaker was to have been Alan Smith but sadly he has had to back out at the last minute.  Instead, Norman Walker has agreed to bring his talk forward from December and will be presenting "Getting the Measure of the Stars".  Norman is a professional astronomer and is always eager to answer questions from the floor and it may be an opportunity to have answered some of those questions that have niggled at the back of your mind for some time.

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

FOLLOWING MEETINGS

      Wednesday 15th June 2005.  Dr. Andrew Coates from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory gives a talk called "The Cassini - Huygens Mission".

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

     There will be no meeting in August.

      Wednesday 21st September 2005.  Alan Drummond will be giving a talk entitled "Perception in Astronomy".

      Wednesday 19th October 2005.  Peter Parish introduces us to "Planets and Small Telescopes".

      Wednesday 16th November 2005.  Gilbert Satterthwaite talks about Sir George Airy and nineteenth century instruments in his talk called "Positional Astronomy".

      Wednesday 14th December 2005.  PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS MEETING HAS BEEN BROUGHT FORWARD A WEEK!  (Instead of the third Wednesday, this will be the second Wednesday in the month)  This will be our Annual General Meeting and the subject of this month's talk is yet to be decided.

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OTHER NEWS

FUTURE EVENTS

      On the 9th, 10th and 11th of September, the Observatory Science Centre at Hersmonceux are hosting what has been stated as "The Biggest Astronomy Weekend in the UK".

      Includes Viewing through the historic telescopes on Friday & Saturday evening (weather permitting), daily programme of lectures, tours around the telescopes, solar telescope, trade stalls & over 90 hands-on science exhibits.

      The event is supported by Pulsar Optical and Broadhurst, Clarkson and Fuller Ltd from Telescope House.

      More information can be found by visiting the web-site at www.the-observatory.org

      Also Ian King is looking into the possibility of arranging a visit, using our own cars, to Bayford in Hertfordshire at the Hertford University complex.  This would be some time in the autumn.  But Ian would need to know how many members would be interested in the visit well in advance.

      Members would be expected to make their own way there in both cases.

THE NIGHT SKY IN MAY

      Right now the Sun is in the middle of the Pleiades Nebula, provoking thoughts of far off winter and we are now able to see the mid-spring night sky to the south, still dominated by the tail end of Leo and the leading stars of Coma Berenices.  Coma is a rather dim constellation with no star above apparent magnitude 4.3, but this area of the sky has over thirty fairly faint Messier objects; the brightest being M64, the Black-Eye Galaxy, a spiral galaxy, but even that only has a collective apparent magnitude of 8.5 but still worth the challenge for a small telescope and with clear skies.

      Jupiter is well placed for observing.  The equatorial bands are easy to make out even with a modest telescope, and the four main moons make interesting objects to follow.

      Saturn is also still easy to see in the western sky, but Mars is barely visible just before the sun rises in the morning.  Venus is still near conjunction and Mercury's orbit is almost parallel with the eastern or western horizons so rises and sets with the Sun at present.

      On 16th of May, the moon reaches the first quarter and this is an excellent time to observe features such as the craters of Plato with a diameter of over 100 km and Archimedes with a diameter of about 80 km.  They will be close to the terminator and edge lit by the Sun revealing the walls quite spectacularly.

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CONTACTS

Chairman          Tim Bance                   01732 832745      timbance@hotmail.com

Secretary         Ian Reeves                        01892 784255

Treasurer         Mike Wyles                   01892 542863      mikewyles@globalnet.co.uk

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 June Newsletter should be with the Editor by May 27th  2005

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