On the 5th of May the Angus Group, which is made up of any interested members of the Society, were guests at the home of Brian Mills, our Director of Astronomy and his wife, Jean.

        We were given a tour of his observatory which houses a 12-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.  The telescope is mounted on a concrete pillar which continues under the observatory to a huge block to give it the stability Brian’s telescope needs.

        The Meade uses a “U” mount which Brian finds very convenient.

        He demonstrated the operation of the roof which uses golf balls to bear the weight evenly and rotates easily.

        The observatory also houses Brian’s LXD 55 Meade 5-inch refractor which he uses when observing away from home.

        Angus McDonald had brought unusual ideas for discussion which introduced the idea of a possible solution to aid disabled amateur astronomers using a Dobsonian mounted telescope.

        He had made a number of drawings to illustrate his ideas that used a flat surface reflecting mirror to redirect light from the sky through the telescope’s aperture onto the main mirror on axis.

        The discussion was to find suggestions as to how this large flat could be tilted and rotated, negating the necessity of moving the telescope which could lie horizontally, inherently leaving the observer to look through a static eyepiece.

        A number of members offered ideas to be considered.





Sputnik in Context

Talk by John Axtell


        We were pleased to welcome the Secretary of SAGAS, the Southern Area Group of Astronomical Societies of which our Society is one of the members.

        John is also Secretary to Guildford Astronomical Society, yet despite his busy life, he found the time to give us a very memorable and entertaining talk commemorating the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite to be successfully place in orbit around the Earth.

        He was able to refer to a half-sized model of the Satellite which he said he had borrowed from a neighbour’s garden…

        The Soviets launched Sputnik on the 4th of October in 1957 but John set the scene by describing what was happening around the World at that time and also describing the mood both politically and socially, so putting it in context.

        There have been a few World shattering man made events recently and John suggested some such as the raid on Pearl Harbour, the destruction of the Twin Towers and placing Sputnik into an Earth orbit.  The latter had once been predicted likely to be achieved in about 2020 with a practical launch as late as 2030 to 2040.

        Setting the scene for 1957; it was the time the Beatles began to become known and the film, “Bridge Over the River Kwai” was made.  The first Boeing 707 was developed; the laser was being developed; Jodrell Bank radio telescope came into service and the very first Sky at Night programme was broadcast with Patrick Moore.

        The U2 spy plane had discovered signs of Russian activity towards the launch of some kind of space rocket but this could not be admitted without informing the world that this kind of surveillance was taking place.

        In the early twentieth century Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was pioneering space rocket theory in Soviet Russia and had become known as the Father of Soviet Space Rocketry.  John told us it was his work that inspired Sergei Korolyov who was to become the Chief Designer at the time of the Space Race and the launch of Sputnik.

        It was during the race with the United States of America to be first to put an object in orbit that Sputnik was developed in just one month.  It had a very small payload, was made of aluminium and had a diameter of 58 centimetres.  The satellite had a 1 watt 20 – 40 Mhz transmitter built to last 14 days.

        Fuel for the rocket was a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene, and the carrier could be seen from Earth as it had a magnitude of about 2.  Sputnik itself would have been harder to see with a magnitude of about 6.

        John said that he was able to hear the bleep from the satellite through a receiver built by his brother.  He said it had a tone of A-flat.

        It seems that it was the United Kingdom that first informed the Americans of the launch and during this time Jodrell Bank was used to help track the elliptical orbit for the Russians.

        The word “Sputnik” seems to have been first used the day before the launch in 1957 and was uttered by a Russian at a conference in the USA.

        A month later, the Russians sent Sputnik 2 into orbit, this time carrying a living dog, Laika, although the dog was not intended to survive.

        Shortly after this in 1958, Sputnik 3 was launched.  This was a research satellite with a payload of 3,000 lbs and was 1,000 times larger that the US first satellite.

        Unfortunately the first American attempt to launch their first satellite fell over and the satellite rolled into a ditch.  But an identical one was successfully launched early in 1958.

        John then entertained members by giving a musical response to the Russian’s success by enacting one of the Goon Shows, taking all the parts himself and identifying Russia, Britain and America by wearing appropriate hats.  His rendition got faster and faster and ended in hilarious uproar.

        Finally he did say that from the first Sputnik came the incentive to get Man to the moon and led to the research satellite, the International Space Station.





        Wednesday 17th June 2009 - Telescope Evening.  An open evening when members are encouraged to bring along telescopes, attachments or other aids to astronomy they think other members would be interested in.  There will also be short demonstrations of an astronomical nature.

        We have held these in recent years and they have been very successful.  In addition to any telescopes or equipment, It would help if anyone had photographs either of equipment or objects in the night sky which could be put on display for other members to see.

        If anyone is willing to give a short talk on a favourite piece of equipment or an astronomical experience they think would interest members they would be very welcome.  Please let one of the Committee members know.

        The meeting begins at 1930 although members are invited to arrive anytime after 1900 as this is a good time to exchange ideas and discuss problems and relax before the talk.

        The venue as always is in the Upper Room of the Methodist Church at the east end of Wadhurst Lower High Street, and opposite the entrance to Uplands College.  (For those with SatNav – the post code is TN5  6AT)






        Wednesday 15th July 2009 “The Virtual Observatory”.  Five years ago John Murrell gave an excellent talk about accessing the vast amount of data available on the internet.  At the July meeting, John will be giving more information on the subject with a lot of updates.  John Murrell is a member of the Croydon Astronomical Society and it is worth visiting his web site at:


        Saturday 29th August 2009 – Worth putting in your diary.  There is no meeting of the Society in August but Michael Harte and his wife Claire have offered to host an Astro-barbecue at Greenman Farm.  In the past some of us have taken along telescopes, binoculars and anything else we think would be useful to see the night sky in late August.

        In the past the weather has been variable so this year we must be owed a good clear evening.

        Any member of the Society is welcome bring drink and food to cook on a barbecue and then take advantage of the darkening skies to view whatever is in the sky at that time.

        There will be further details in the July Newsletter.


        Wednesday 16th September 2009 – “The Apollo Programme – Missions 13 to 17”  This is a continuation of the talk given by Rob Cray in March when he told us about the beginnings of the fascinating US Lunar exploration programme.


        Wednesday 21st October 2009 - “Astro-archaeology in the British Isles”; A talk by Bob Seaney, a well known member of the Society who has given a number of talks in the past.  Bob has been doing his own research for some time and reveals what he has learnt.








        During John Axtell’s visit he mentioned the “Nightlife Summer Astronomical Event” which is due to take place on Saturday 4th July 2009.

        Nightlife is an Astronomy magazine based in Portsmouth.  The magazine is a 4-monthly news sheet for Astronomers and Astronomical Societies in the south of England and was started in 1995.  They have a website at:

        This year’s main event takes place at The Royal Maritime Club, Queen Street, Portsmouth PO1  3HS and consists of five top speakers.

        The timetable is:

1030      Welcome and introduction.

1045      Professor Carl Ross – Possible submarine exploration of the oceans of Europa

1140      Professor Bob Nichol – Dark Energy

1230      Lunch

1400      Dr. John Mason – subject to be confirmed

1450      Professor Don Pollacco – Exoplanets – from hot Jupiters to habitable Earths

1535      Tea

1600      Dr. Allan Chapman – A History of the telescope from Harriot to Hubble

1700      Closing remarks


        The cost is £10 to members of societies who are part of SAGAS.

        More details can be obtained from their website or by contacting Graham Bryant on 023 9224 1764.








Mercury is a morning object at magnitude +1.8. However, it is never very far above the horizon rising only an hour before the Sun. It is at greatest western elongation on June 13th before moving back towards the Sun.


Venus is a morning object rising around an hour and a half before the Sun (mid-month) although at magnitude -4.1 it will be much easier to find in twilight than Mercury.


Please remember that you should never sweep any area of the sky with binoculars when the Sun is above the horizon.


Mars is also a morning object (rising at about the same time as Venus) at magnitude +1.1. It lies close to Venus towards the end of the month.


Jupiter lies on the Capricornus/Aquarius border at magnitude -2.6. By the end of the month it will rise a little before midnight although it is never very far above the horizon. Its position is shown in the diagram below.




Saturn is sinking into the evening twilight setting just after midnight by month’s end. It’s position is shown in the diagram by the cross hairs.








Lunar Occultations

As usual in the table I’ve only included events for stars down to around magnitude 7.5 that occur before midnight. DD = disappearance at the dark limb and RD = re-appearance at the dark limb. Times are BST.








PA °



SAO 182639






SAO 157946






Phases of the Moon for June



Last Quarter


First Quarter








There are no passes of the ISS as seen from Wadhurst this month that attain reasonable altitude or occur before midnight.



Iridium Flares

The flares that I’ve listed are only the brightest, there are many more that are fainter, occur at lower altitudes and also after midnight. I have included one or two that occur low down, but only because they are very bright. If you wish to see a complete list, go to:

Times are all BST.























































Advance Warning for July

18th July – Pleiades occultations

23rd July - Perseids begin



Distances in Astronomy

At the May meeting we looked at how we measure distances in Astronomy using units other than the mile which can become too cumbersome when, for instance, saying how far away stars and galaxies are. The Astronomical Unit (AU) refers to the Earth/Sun distance and can be used easily to describe how far away solar system objects are. This however is still not of the required proportions for stellar objects and for this we use the light year. In simple terms this is the distance that light travels in the space of one year. Bearing in mind that light travels at 186,000 miles per second and that there are some 13½ million seconds in a year, you can see the distance is quite literally astronomical at 6 million million miles.


The parsec (short for parallax of one arc second) is an even larger unit of measurement. Using 1 AU as the base line of a triangle we say that a star is at a distance of one parsec if it’s parallax shift subtends an angle of one arc second as shown in the diagram above. A parsec is equal to 3.26 light years or roughly 19 trillion miles.






Scoring More Energy from Less Sunlight


        For spacecraft, power is everything. Without electrical power, satellites and robotic probes might as well be chunks of cold rock tumbling through space. Hundreds to millions of miles from the nearest power outlet, these spacecraft must somehow eke enough power from ambient sunlight to stay alive.

        That’s no problem for large satellites that can carry immense solar panels and heavy batteries. But in recent years, NASA has been developing technologies for much smaller microsatellites, which are lighter and far less expensive to launch. Often less than 10 feet across, these small spacecraft have little room to spare for solar panels or batteries, yet must still somehow power their onboard computers, scientific instruments, and navigation and communication systems.

        Space Technology 5 was a mission that proved, among other technologies, new concepts of power generation and storage for spacecraft.

         “We tested high efficiency solar cells on ST-5 that produce almost 60 percent more power than typical solar cells. We also tested batteries that hold three times the energy of standard spacecraft batteries of the same size,” says Christopher Stevens, manager of NASA’s New Millennium Program. This program flight tests cutting-edge spacecraft technologies so that they can be used safely on mission-critical satellites and probes.

         “This more efficient power supply allows you to build a science-grade spacecraft on a miniature scale,” Stevens says.

        Solar cells typically used on satellites can convert only about 18 percent of the available energy in sunlight into electrical current. ST-5 tested experimental cells that capture up to 29 percent of this solar energy. These new solar cells, developed in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio, performed flawlessly on ST-5, and they’ve already been swooped up and used on NASA’s svelte MESSENGER probe, which will make a flyby of Mercury later this year.

        Like modern laptop batteries, the high-capacity batteries on ST-5 use lithium-ion technology. As a string of exploding laptop batteries in recent years shows, fire safety can be an issue with this battery type.

        “The challenge was to take these batteries and put in a power management circuit that protects against internal overcharge,” Stevens explains. So NASA contracted with ABSL Power Solutions to develop spacecraft batteries with design control circuits to prevent power spikes that can lead to fires.  “It worked like a charm.”

        Now that ST-5 has demonstrated the safety of this battery design, it is flying on NASA’s THEMIS mission (for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) and is slated to fly aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Solar Dynamics Observatory, both of which are scheduled to launch later this year.

        Thanks to ST-5, a little sunlight can go a really long way.

        Find out about other advanced technologies validated in space and now being used on new missions of exploration at:

        Kids can calculate out how old they would be before having to replace lithium-ion batteries in a handheld game at:


 This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.





Chairman     John Vale-Taylor



Treasurer            Mike Wyles                          01892 542863



Editor            Geoff Rathbone                         01959 524727



Events                  Phil Berry                             01892 783544



Director of Observations       Brian Mills    01732 832691



Wadhurst Astronomical Society website:



SAGAS web-site              


Any material for inclusion in the July 2009 Newsletter should be with the Editor by 28th June 2009