WADHURST ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY
MAY NEWSLETTER 2005
INDEX: MEETINGS, OTHER NEWS, CONTACTS
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
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.
talk given by
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
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
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
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
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
Have a look at the Croydon Astronomical website,
click on the RESEARCH link for more information.
Use Google to search for ALADIN Virtual Observatory.
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
will need broadband.
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.
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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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
The event is
supported by Pulsar Optical and Broadhurst, Clarkson and Fuller Ltd from
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.
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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