Damian Peach Lecture - The Giant Planet Jupiter

Our lecturer for November was Damian Peach. Damian is very well known in Astronomy for his amazing astronomical images. We invited members of other Astronomical Societies in the area to attend the lecture. Sixty three of our members, and twenty visitors came along to hear him. He called his lecture "The Giant Planet Jupiter".

Damian lives in West Sussex now, but used to live locally to us. He has been interested in Astronomy for about a decade, and produces the most amazing planetary images, and has won Astrophotographer of the year in the past.

Damian started by saying that a good telescope is essential regardless of what type it is, from a 4" to a 16" and told us of the effects of obstruction by the central mirror. He said that larger telescopes are more affected by atmospheric turbulence. The lecture was all about the most important aspects for getting good planetary and deep sky images. He said that there is no "best type" of telescope, but to try and get the best optics that you can afford. He also said that he prefers to use reflecting telescopes. He suggested that when buying a telescope choose one you can use frequently.

He stressed the importance of allowing the telescope to cool down for 2-3 hours before use, particularly if it has been stored in a warm place as thermal problems will produce poor images.

He also said how important it is to make sure that the telescope is collimated correctly. He then showed us the different types of high resolution camera available, saying that fast cameras and good software make for the sharpest images.

It is also necessary to have good focussing, and if possible a motorised focusser, and that Batinov masks are only really helpful when used for deep sky and not planetary imaging.

He then mentioned the different types of software available including firecapture. wonderplanets, Autoskakkert2 and Registax 6 which are all free. WinJUPOS is more technical and Adobe Photoshop www.adobe.com are all good.

Damian also talked about the best times for observing and taking images. High Pressure systems give good weather, while the jet stream is particularly bad. We saw images on screen of both good and bad conditions. We saw a single frame and stacked frames of Jupiter sharpened using Registax 6. and showing the great red spot.

We then saw a map showing the various places across the globe that Damian observes from, and he showed us the equipment that he takes with him when travelling

We saw a some amazing images of Jupiter taken between 2005 and 2014 on his larger telescopes, including transits of Jupiter's moons. The 2014 image showed a double shadow transit. We saw an animation of the changes in the great red spot within one year. 

Damian took an image of Saturn in 2014 overseas showing the polar hexagon jet stream. We also saw images of Mars. He said that the storms on Uranus and Neptune were recorded for the first time recently. We also saw sunspots taken by a 14" full solar filter. A reflector shows the very fine detail. The moon is one of Damian's targets and we saw images of Plato, Copernicus and Humbold,t and Asteroids and Double Stars. 

We saw images of other Astronomers from the Phillipines who he has contact with.

He summed up his lecture by listing the most important things to remember when observing:- 

  1. A good telescope is essential regardless of the type.
  2. Choose one you can use frequently.
  3. Give the telescope plenty of time to cool down
  4. Good collimation
  5. Make the effort to go out observing when good seeing is likely
  6. Take your time to experiment with image processing
  7. Submit your images to the BAA, ALPO etc.

Members had lots of questions to ask, and Neil our Chairman asked Damian what would be the one thing he would recommend to help us get an extra 10% from our images, and after much thought he said "A trip to Barbados" which made us all laugh. Neil then thanked him for such an interesting and informative lecture. We hope that he will lecture to us in the future.

Bob Lambourne Lecture - Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)

Following our AGM on 15th October we were treated to an excellent lecture from Dr. Robert Lambourne Head of the Physics & Astronomy Department at the Open University, on the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). Bob is well known to our Society as he has lectured to us on several occasions. 

In the 1980s' cosmologists formed the theory of "cosmic inflation," and asked did it really happen? It is still being studied today in an attempt to prove it . 

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation was released about 380,000 years after the "Big Bang". It is the oldest light in the universe, and we cannot see anything before this period. It is explained as the cooled down radiation in the microwave region of the spectrum left over from the early stage of development of the universe, before atoms existed and stars and galaxies formed. When the universe was young it was denser, hotter, filled with opaque gas, and developed a light pattern afterglow. It contained all the matter of the universe in a very small space (i.e. a small bubble) and is thought to be uniform in all directions. Bob said that everything we see as astronomers is within the expanded bubble. As it expanded it grew cooler and became transparent. The gas collapsed and the first stars formed about 400 million years ago, and later the galaxies and planets formed. The very short and rapid burst of growth in the very early universe may explain the large scale uniformity of our universe and the structures within it. 

We saw an all sky measurement CMBR map on screen which showed tiny fluctuations in the density of matter and temperature changes. Three space missions have been studying this . Firstly, NASA's COBE explorer in the late 1980s' showed very limited measurements due to lack of technology, the second mission NASA's WMAP in 2001 showed greater detail, and because of the highly improved technology the ESA PLANCK mission launched in 2009 gives very detailed measurements and temperatures at different frequencies across the whole sky. The differences between the three mission results could be easily seen on the graphics. The PLANCK mission is still ongoing. There are other experimental groups studying the CMB including the BICEPS South Polar telescope.

Bob's talk covered aspects of the power spectrum, dark matter, dark energy, gravitational waves and many other areas. He provided us with a very interesting and very technical physics lecture which was followed by questions from members.

We thanked Bob and look forward to future lectures from him. 

Jan Dell

Jakub Bochinski lecture of Evaporating Exoplanets

Evaporating Exoplanets" was the third lecture given to us by Jakub Bochinski from the Open University on Wednesday 17th September 2014. Jakub had just returned from a series of conferences throughout Europe, and gave us an in-depth update on the subject.

The first exoplanet was discovered in 1992, last year there were 967, and to date the number is approximately 2,000.  However the rate of discoveries is now believed to be 1,000/year and up to 3/day.  Some exoplanets transits in front of their star and are hot or cold depending on how close or how far away from their stars they are.

Jakub told us about two exoplanets that he had been studying recently.   WASP-12b is among the hottest known gas giants, it is highly irradiated, has a temperature of 2500 Kelvin, and is surrounded by an extended cloud of gas, which the planet is flying through.  The timings of planets' transist have been observed through photometry in different wavelengths by the ULTRACAM camera on the back of the William Herschel Telescope, and translated into light curves.   Because of the noise in the WASP-12b data, Jakub has written a piece of software he has called ULTRACorrect, which corrects noise at 100,000 pixels/second and leaves a clear data set to perform analysis on.   This analysis is still ongoing and we are hoping to hear about it more in the future.

The other exoplanet, KIC 12557548b is a Merury sized exoplanet with a temperature of 2,100 Kelvin, which is shown to be geologically active, actively disintegrating in front of our telescopes, and creating a comet-like dust tail, which follows the planet.   It is hoped that Jakub will be able to find out the size of dust grains in the tail, and potentially  even look under the planet's surface to start asking questions about its composition.

What next!  The NASA Kepler probe is the most successful exoplanetary mission so far.   Future missions are - the ESA CHEOPS due for launch in 2017, the NASA TESS probe, and the ESA M3 class PLATO 2 planned for 2024. The last one should produce a wealth of targets for follow-up studies by any ground-based observatory.  There are two designs planned for this, a single telescope with a wide field of view, and a telescope with multiple lenses, similar to the SuperWASP observatories.   All these missions will study exoplanets and their stars in different ways.

Jakub has written a paper about his most recent and exciting observations, and concluded his lecture with the words "The Future is here."   The lecture produced a lot of questions from members.

We had hoped to have another lecture on exoplanets in the future.   Although Jakub might be moving abroad shortly, he has offered to help our Society set up our observatory telescope so that we can observe exoplanets ourselves.   We look forward to taking him up on his offer.

Our thanks go to Jakub for yet another interesting and informative lecture.





Join us for a Special Night of Stargazing on Sat 4th Oct at Waddesdon Manor

Enjoy a delicious two-course dinner in the Manor Restaurant, followed by a lecture about the moon by Dr Sandy Giles. Then join us and the Tring Astronomy Centre for star and moongazing on the Parterre.

6pm for a 6.30pm dinner – 10.30pm. Cost £40 per person.

Following on from the huge success of our previous event at the National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor we are back again with another stargazing event.  The 6000 Acre Estate has proven to be both a unique and ideal location lending itself perfectly for events of this nature.

Following the two-course dinner and lecture, if conditions allow there will be a number of high powered astronomical telescopes set up on the Parterre adjacent to the main house.  These will be trained on a number of amazing night sky objects including some specific features on our own Moon.

Tickets can be booked via the Waddesdon Manor Website which you can visit by clicking their logo below.

Moon Watch 2014

On Friday the 5th  and Saturday 6th September WAS held a public event to coincide with “international Observe the Moon Month”. This is a relatively new concept that is growing each year with the idea being to encourage all to get out and observe our Moon.

Unfortunately the weather was not on our side on the Friday evening and was not looking very promising on the Saturday evening with rain at 7pm. However, come 8.30pm the clouds parted and we had some good views of the Moon, along with other objects such as The Double Double.

Many members of WAS helped out with the event and set ‘scopes up for members of the public to use and the WAS observatory was opened up. Both were appreciated by the visitors that had come along.

Tea, coffee and cakes were sold and went down very well with both WAS members and visitors.

Thanks to everyone for their help and participation in this event – a first for WAS.