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Astronomy Wise


Editor’s Notes




Solar Explorer




Solar Facts and Figures

Awesome Astronomy



When Stars go BANG!

The Southern Crosses



Availability of Astronomy

John Harper’s Sky at Night


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Credit - NASA A small coronal mass

Please click the image

ejection blown from

on the right.

the Sun over 10 hours on the 4th/5th of December last year.

FROM THE EDITOR As a young astronomer I always wonder what potential there is for humanity outside of our cocoon, Earth. However,

Art & Design Design Leader - Edward Dutton Design Team - Edward Dutton, Robert Watson, Glen Wheeler

my main concern is whether or not it will happen in my lifetime. From recent advancement into the darkness, hu-

Editorial Correspondence E-mail: designteam @astronomy

manity has really proven what is available and what can be achieved using the new technology and research we collect. This month’s magazine focuses on the community. With two new young writers Liam and Gillian providing their thoughts on Astronomy and how we are educated about science in our society. I feel there is lack of enthusiasm in the fields of

Editorial Editor in Cheif - David Bood Senior Editors - Edward Dutton Imagery Editor - Edward Dutton Writers - Joolz Wright, Liam Edwards, Julian Onions, Andy Devey, Gillian Mallaney, Neville Young, John Harper, Ralph Wilkins

Edward Dutton

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science education. I started my learning in the sciences with design on the frontier. It was soon after my schooling that I thought some topics became boring. My career path veered into somewhere different and I have ended on a path very different to where I set out. Education is a difficult topic. If to research it and learn. With available support, dedication and opportunity it is possible to follow your dreams and achieve what you set out to achieve.

this month’s magazine and are looking forward to the release of our new website on July 1st 2013.


Astronomy Wise



I hope you all enjoy reading

o on str

you enjoy it, you’re more likely

Astronauts Carl J. Meade and Mark C. Lee test the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue. Credit - NASA

Astronomy Wise



By Andy Devey

Solar cycle No.24 is proving to be very different to the predictions? The start of 2013 was expected to be the peak of solar

very similar in character to solar cycle No.14. NASA

maximum but up to the beginning of May the Sun has

Science released a short video about this current solar

been very quiet causing a dip in solar activity. This so-

cycle in March 2013.

lar maximum is looking like it could be double peaked

May 2013 has shown an uplift in sunspot numbers

with the northern solar hemisphere peaking in 2011

and also yielded the first X-class solar flares for 2013

while the last few weeks appear to have confirmed

bursting forth from AR1748 in the week commencing

that the southern hemisphere is about to peak shortly.

13 May 2013. This started with an X1.7, an X2.8 fol-

This is the weakest solar cycle for a hundred years and

lowed by an X3.2 on May 13, and then an X1.2 on May 15. The region then went on to produce an M3.2-class flare on 17 May that I was able to capture between 09:02 and 09:55UT to make a movie of the event with my PST while I was hand tracking on an alt-azimuth mount. John Stetson of Maine USA was able to capture the

A comparison of the last three solar cycles. Credit - WUWT solar reference page.

X2.8-class event his excellent images are included below. I was able to get a short look at it with my PST through lots of clouds but had no chance of imaging it – sods law! I am not aware of any Moreton shock waves being detected from this event. I was able to capture one such event on 4 March 2012 triggered by an M2.2-class solar flare. When large flares release their energy close to the solar limbs it is possible on occasions to see the development and plasma flows in huge coronal loop structures. Here is an example that I captured on the 20 May 2013 associated with an M1.7-class solar flare.

This is the NOAA/SWPC Boulder Colorado plot of solar cycle No.24 to April 2013. Credit - NOAA/SWPC

Credit - John Stetson


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The capture of an X-class solar flare has been a long

Here is a summary of the X-class solar flares for cycle

time goal that I have. Thus far there have been a

No 24 [updated 21 May 2013] with the largest being at

total of 19 during this current solar cycle and we are

the top of the list.

already half way through it? To capture such an event there needs to be an active region [AR] on the earth facing side of the Sun that has a Delta-class magnetic field [checking the site will confirm this]. The Sun needs to be up in your part of the world and your equipment needs to be set up with a favourable clear sky conditions. These events only last for a brief period of time and so the probability of catching one remains fairly low even though I have moved to southern Spain where there are long sunny days and lower incidence of cloud cover. I have spent hundreds of hours on delta-class active regions but no luck as yet my largest was the loops from an M7.7 and the flare from an M6.7 event! The largest solar flares are often referred to as super-flares with an X-ray classification above X10 and there have been no such events during this present solar cycle! By participating in solar astronomy you have a unique opportunity to capture and record a fleeting and possibly spectacular solar event, so remember – orientate your image correctly and record its date/time and then you will have so much more than just a great photo! If you are considering buying a H-alpha telescope then don’t delay now is the time to buy! Just beware as this type of astronomy is extremely addictive and could easily set you off on a spending spree in pursuit of ever greater aperture and ever narrower band widths and so try to stick to your budget!

Here is my capture sequence of my first solar shock-

Have fun with our Sun and enjoy the solar spectacle.

wave. The GONG network captured a stunning solar shockwave associated with an X6.5-class solar flare on 6 December 2006 from 18:43 to 18:51UT. Click here to see the video.

To read more about our Sun please visit:

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The first still from Andy Devey’s eastern limb sequence of these loops on the 20 May 2013 at 08:01UT. Click here to watch this spectacular event. 8

Astronomy Wise

A Brief History of Solar Astronomy – Part 3 By Andy Devey

In 1910 British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington suggested the existence of the solar wind, without naming it, in a footnote to his article on Comet Morehouse he postulated that the ejected material consisted of electrons while in his study of this comet he supposed them to be ions. In 1919, Frederick Lindemann also suggested that particles of both polarities, protons as well as electrons, come from the Sun. Eugene Parker realised that the heat flowing from the Sun in Chapman’s model and the comet tail blowing away from the Sun in Biermann’s hypothesis had to be the result of the same phenomenon, which he termed the “solar wind”. In 1929 - Robert d’Escourt Atkinson and Fritz Houtermans used the measured masses of low-mass elements and applied Einstein’s discovery [1905] that E=mc2 to predict that large amounts of energy could be released by fusing small nuclei together. Hans Bethe’s work in 1939 showed how nuclear fusion powers the stars – the source of the Sun’s energy was finally proven. Bethe won the 1967 Nobel Prize for physics for this work. James Stanley Hey laid the basis for the development of radio astronomy while working on radar technology for astronomical research. In 1942 he discovered that the Sun radiates radio waves and also localized for the first time an extragalactic radio source in the constellation Cygnus. In 1942 Hannes Alfvén suggests the existence of electromagnetic-hydromagnetic waves in a paper published in Nature. Alfvén waves in plasma are a low-frequency travelling oscillation of the ions and the Sun’s magnetic field.

Herbert Friedman an American pioneer in the application of sounding rockets (an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight) to solar physics and was the first to detect solar X-rays in 1949. Horace W. Babcock invented and built a number of astronomical instruments, and in 1953 was the first to propose the idea of adaptive optics. He specialized in spectroscopy and the study of magnetic fields of stars. He proposed the Babcock Model, a theory for the magnetism of sunspots and in 1961 he proposed the magnetic cooling of sunspots theory. In January 1959, the Soviet satellite Luna 1 first directly observed the solar wind and measured its strength. Gail Moreton was using time lapse photography at the Lockheed Solar Observatory when he spotted the chromospheric signature of a large-scale coronal shock wave in 1959. These shockwaves now bear his surname. In 1960 Robert Leighton, Robert Noyes and George Simon discover five-minute oscillations by observing the Doppler shifts of dark lines and they published in 1962. In 1970 Roger K. Ulrich, John Leibacher and Robert F. Stein deduce from theoretical solar models that the interior of the Sun could act as resonant acoustic activity. The solar oscillations can be observed on the surface of the Sun and can now be used to make precise measurements of the characteristics of the interior of the Sun. These two factors represent the birth of Helioseismology. R Tousey made the first detection of a CME on 14 December 1971, using the Seventh Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO-7). Initially it was thought that the camera may have failed but the next image showed that the brighter area had moved away from the Sun.

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Ken Huggett, founded Solarscope Ltd on the Isle


of Man in 1973 his company uses Laser optics, and specifically for the manufacture of high quality planar

In 1981 NASA retrieves data from 1978 that shows a

air-spaced, confocal, solid and tuneable Fabry-Perot

comet diving into the Sun.

etalon instrumentation. : The Fabry-Perot interferom-

In 1990, the Ulysses probe was launched to study the

eter consists of two parallel flat semi-transparent mir-

solar wind from high solar latitudes. All prior obser-

rors separated by a fixed distance. This arrangement

vations had been made at or near the Solar System’s

is called an etalon, was designed by Charles Fabry and

ecliptic plane.

Albert Perot in 1897. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was Skylab was launched on 14 May 1973 it was the U.S.’s

launched on December 2, 1995 to study the Sun with

first space station launched and operated by NASA

its 10 instruments and it has discovered over 2400

it orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979. Numerous

comets to date. It began normal operations in May

scientific experiments were conducted aboard Skylab

1996. This joint project between the European Space

during its operational life, and crews were using an

Agency (ESA) and NASA was originally planned as a

X-ray telescope and were able to confirm the existence

two-year mission, SOHO currently continues to oper-

of coronal holes on the Sun [areas where the Sun’s

ate after over seventeen years in space and in Novem-

corona – its outer atmosphere is darker, and colder,

ber 2012, a mission extension lasting until December

and has lower-density plasma than average].

2014 was approved.

Del Woods founded the DayStar Filter Company in

In the late 1990s the Ultraviolet Coronal Spectrome-

February 1975. DayStar developed several series of

ter (UVCS) instrument on board the SOHO spacecraft

specialized filters for visual and imaging applications

observed the acceleration region of the fast solar wind

that became included in most professional solar ob-

emanating from the poles of the Sun, and found that

servatories and those of amateurs.

the wind accelerates much faster than can be account-

The first accurate measurement of the period of hori-

ed for by thermodynamic expansion alone.

zontal wavelength of the five-minute solar oscillations was made by Franz-Ludwig Deubner in 1975.

David Lunt developed Coronado Filters in 1997; Later

The Solar Maximum Mission satellite (SMM) was de-

Coronado filters were responsible for launching the

signed to investigate solar phenomena and in particu-

PST [Personal Solar Telescope] in 2004 an introductory

larly solar flares. It was launched on February 14, 1980

H-Alpha telescope that has massively increased the

and it was notable in that its useful life compared with

numbers of amateur solar astronomers viewing in

other similar spacecraft. It was intercepted and main-

the hydrogen-alpha wavelength. Meade Instruments

tained on the Space Shuttle Challanger in 1984, and in

purchased the company in 2005.

the shuttle’s payload bay the satellite received maintenance and repairs. The Solar Maximum Mission ended

The TRACE (Transition Region and Coronal Explorer)

on December 2, 1989, when the spacecraft re-entered

satellite was launched in April 1998 to allow joint ob-

the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up.

servations with SOHO during the rising phase of the solar cycle to sunspot maximum. No transition region

The term heliophysics was first coined in 1981 to

or coronal imager had witnessed the onset and rise

denote the physics of the entire Sun: from centre to

of a solar cycle to image the solar corona and transi-


Astronomy Wise

tion region at high angular and temporal resolution.

ful in recorded observational history. The associated

The TRACE mission obtained its last science image on

coronal mass ejection (CME) came out of the Sun’s

2010/06/21 23:56 UT it was replaced by the newer SDO

surface at about 2300 kilometres per second (8.2 mil-


lion km/h). Only part of the CME was directed towards Earth, since the source region was on the right on the

The massive solar X-ray flare that occurred on Tuesday

limb of the Sun as seen from Earth.

4 November 2003 at the best estimate was an X28. This flare saturated the X-ray detectors on several

On 25 October 2006, NASA launched STEREO, these

monitoring satellites. This remains the most power-

are two near-identical spacecraft which from widely separated points in their orbits are able to produce the first stereoscopic images and measurements of CMEs and other solar activity. They orbit the Sun at distances similar to that of the Earth, with one slightly ahead of Earth and the other trailing. Their separation gradually increased so that four years after launch they were almost diametrically opposite each other in orbit. Andrew Lunt, David Lunt’s son founded Lunt Solar Systems in 2008. They are based at Tucson Arizona and manufacture a huge range of dedicated solar telescopes, solar filters and accessories from 35mm to 230mm in diameter. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was launched on 11 February 2010 and came into operation in the spring of that year. It has 10 instruments to observe the Sun in exquisite detail. It is currently planned as a 5-year mission. There are so many discoveries that have led to our greater understanding of the Sun and so the decision has to be made as what to include and what to leave out. Those above and in the last two issues have been my personal choice but this article is by no means exhaustive on this subject and should be considered only as a framework for further research.

Blue (171 Angstroms) full disk image: The Sun’s million degree atmosphere taken on Dec. 4 by STEREO’s SECCHI/EUVI telescope. Credit - NASA

Have fun delving into those archives and enjoy our Sun!

To read more about our Sun please visit:

Astronomy Wise



Astronomy Wise

Sun Facts & Figures

outermost region of the sun. 30%

gresses, the number of sunspots

of the radius.

increases and move towards the

Above the surface of the sun is it’s

equator. Sunspots usually occur

By Gillian Mallaney


in pairs with opposite magnetic


The Photosphere- The

Our Sun, Sol, is a small star at the

innermost part of the suns atmos-

centre of the Solar System that is

phere and the only part we can see

Sol, our sun is a main sequence

only 8 light minutes away from

from Earth.

star and becomes 10% hotter every

Earth. It is an almost perfectly

billion years. In two to three billion

spherical object made of hot plas-

tween the photosphere and the co-

years, Earth’s oceans will evaporate

ma and interwoven by magnetic

rona. Hotter than the photosphere.

and cause a runway greenhouse

fields. To comprehend just how

effect, similar to Venus. The Sun

big the Sun is; it has a diameter

layer and the hottest. Extends sev-

is destined to become a red giant

of 1,392,684 km, 109 times that of

eral million miles from the chromo-

that will swell and engulf almost



all of the inner planets. A red giant

Chromosphere – In-be-

Corona – The outermost

is a star that cools and expands. The Sun formed about 4.6 million

The most recognisable feature on

It will become so large that it will

years ago and is currently middle

the sun is the sunspots which ap-

begin to destroy the Earth as we

aged, just like our Earth. It formed

pear to us as a significantly darker

know it.

from a gravitational collapse of a

area because of the difference in

region within a large molecular

temperature; the sunspot being

The Sun will eventually die out

cloud. The Suns Stellar Classifi-

a lower temperature. Magnetic

because it does not have enough

cation based on Spectral Class is

fields are associated with sunspots;

sufficient hydrogen reserves to

a G2V indicating that the surface

where there is intense magnetic

burn indefinitely. A white hot dwarf

temperature is around 5778K

activity it reduces energy trans-

will form from the remaining core

(5505°C) which shows that it is a

port from the hot interior to the

of the sun which will produce very

gas because no liquid or solid ma-

surface. Sunspots alter and vary

little light and heat.

terials can continue to exist in this

consistently over an 11 year period

For the remaining planets it will be


known as the solar cycle. At solar

cold and dark and will never see

minimum, few sunspots are visible,

Sols light again.

The sun is composed of a variety

occasionally none. As the cycle pro-

of gases. Although the sun has no solid surface it still has a defined structure. The three interior structures of the Earth are: •

Core – Centre of the Sun

and 25% of its radius. •

Radiative Zone – Immedi-

ately surrounding the core. 45% of the radius. •

Convective Zone – The

On the 31st of August 2012, a giant prominence on the sun erupted. Credit - NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

Astronomy Wise


Top Image: Before and after galaxies showing how bright supernovae are. Credit - NASA Graph: Type II-p and II-l light curves over time. Credit - Paul Smith via Wikipedia

When Stars Go BANG!

galaxy types and a number of other cases

By Julian Onions

downright confusing.

all of which made sense once, but now with more knowledge are either less useful or

I mentioned briefly last time what happens when stars die, mentioning in passing that

So supernovas were first classified by their

big stars often go off with a bang. The sub-

spectral signature. There were type I super-

ject here though is the detail of what hap-

novae, which show no signs of hydrogen

pens when stars of with a bang.

in the spectrum, and type II which show hydrogen. So OK - that sounds fair enough

Firstly, the scale of these explosions are

so far, you’d expect hydrogen generally, it’s

quite staggering. A star going supernova in

the most commonest thing around, so it is a

our galaxy will be quite a sight, and there

reasonable thing to split on.

are several good candidates locally - Be-

“The star collapses inwards at a huge rate, a good fraction of the speed of light in fact.”

telgeuse in Orion being a prime example.

Next there were different sorts of lines that

Supernovas tend to go off about once every

were apparent in type 1 supernovae spectra.

100 years per galaxy, and we haven’t had a

Type 1a shows a line indicating the element

local one since 1604 (Kepler’s supernova),

silicon is involved, type 1b has a helium

and before that there were well observed

signature, and type 1c doesn’t show much of

ones in 1572, 1181, 1054, and 1006 - so we


are well overdue for one. If it happens it may Type II’s started to break ranks too. There are type IIp’s which explode and then have a plateau in their light signature where the brightness fades, then stays the same for a while, before ultimately fading again. The type II-l has a linear decay (sort of constant de-lighting so to speak) in contrast. The type IIn shows narrow lines in the spectrum, and the type II-b starts off like the others but looks like a type I-b after a while. well be visible during the day, competing with the Sun. When we see them go off in

Confused yet?

nearby galaxies they are often brighter than the entire galaxy of 10 billion stars or more, for a short time. First, there are 5 - or possibly 6, or maybe more, types of supernova. With a lot of astronomy we are stuck with history, annoyingly so in a lot of cases. I could go off on one about magnitudes, stellar classification,


Astronomy Wise

Well if you’re not confused yet, then let me throw another confounding thing into the

than generated. Firstly lots of intense light is generated that splits up a lot of the heavy elements built up so far back into helium and hydrogen. The core collapses, com-

Top Image: Artists impression of a Supernova. Credit - NASA

pressed by all this infalling material, getting squashed into huge density. Such a force actually pushes electrons into protons, turning them into neutrons, and so making a neutron star at the centre. This produces a huge number of neutrinos, those ghostly parti-

Bottom Image: Crab nebula the remains of supernova that went off in 1054. Credit - NASA

cles that hardly ever deign to interact with normal matter. However SO many neutrinos are made (maybe 1058 - yes that IS 1 with 58 0’s after it) that even though they hardly ever interact with normal matter - with that number present they have an effect pushing out material. The material then “bounces” off this solid core, exploding outward running into the mix. All the above types have basically the

gas that has started to fall in with a mighty

same cause, except for the type I-a. All the

collision. They tussle it out for a while, but

others, the type I-b and type I-c and all the type II’s are caused by a giant star collapsing at the end of its life. These are massive stars, in hydrostatic equilibrium as it’s known. This means that the star wants to collapse due to its gravity, but also wants to expand because of the heat produced from fusion. So it settles down to an uneasy equilibrium where the pressure outwards is exactly equal to the force of gravity inwards. Then the fire goes out, and gravity takes over. It takes over with a rush! The star collapses inwards at a huge rate - a good fraction of the speed of light in fact. One second the iron core is maybe the size of the Earth, the next second it is the size of something just slightly bigger than the M25. During this time energy is consumed rather

Astronomy Wise


Image: Kepler’s Supernova Remnant In Visible, X-Ray and Infrared Light. Credit - NASA

the huge numbers of neutrinos passing

The brightness peaks, and then slowly di-

through heat up the material. Perhaps heat

minishes. Over the subsequent years, a shell

up is the wrong word, they actively fry the

of expanding material can be seen, until it

material which means the outward forces

looks something like that of the image on

now win. There is violent nuclear fusion,

the previous page - the crab nebula.

making new elements by the r-process whereby the newly freed neutrons make up

Although it is the death of the star, it con-

new elements in fractions of a second ( the

tains the seeds of rebirth. Firstly it scatters

r-process - r standing for rapid in contrast to

lots of heavy elements into the nearby envi-

the slow s-process).

ronment, giving the building blocks for rocky planets and life itself. It also send shocks out

“Newly freed neutrons make up new elements in fractions of a second.”


Those watching (hopefully from afar!) would

that cause clouds of otherwise stable gas to

see first a blast of neutrinos (provided they

start to collapse forming new stars. They are

had neutrino detectors!) and then a little

also important in regulating the life of galax-

later a blast of light, as the explosion finally

ies as a whole. So - part of the circle of life.

makes its way out from the shrouding outer material.

I skipped over the type 1a supernova - they

There are a lot of short lived highly radioac-

have quite a different process of going off,

tive elements made during this process, and

and one that is extremely useful for astrono-

it’s these that keep the supernova shining

mers - so I’ll defer that to another article.

for several weeks.

Astronomy Wise

*Page Break Text* *Description or annotation of image*

Astronomy Wise


Schools and Astronomy By Gillian Mallaney Astronomy being introduced in Schools Just think for a minute of where your interest in space came from. Whether it was from a TV show, a film, looking at the night sky or even science class, it developed from somewhere. Space and Astronomy have long been considered an interest of wonder, fear and excitement in the science curriculum, depending on prior knowledge, extent of self-teaching and how it was taught in class, if it was taught to you in class. Osborne and Collins (2000) came to the conclusion in their study of attitudes to science in school that; “The one topic [among the sciences] that generated universal enthusiasm was any study of astronomy”. The results of this study led to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to commission Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester to review and report on the use of astronomy in UK schools. With such media outlets as Stargazing Live, presented by Brian Cox, peaking at prime time the levels of interest of astronomy are developing a various ages. GSCE science students can learn about a variety of things including; electromagnetic spectrum, compare and contrasting views of the sun and the milky way in the Royal Observatory’s Colour and wavelengths

Availability of Astronomy By Liam Edwards

Availability of Astronomy to young people Astronomy, as I’m sure you all know, is the study of everything outside of Earth’s atmosphere. All of space is included within this parameter so astronomy is a very widespread branch of physics. However, it has been brought to my attention over the past few years that astronomy is far from accessible to young people. I believe this needs to change.. Firstly I’d like to start off by telling you my story and how I became interested in astronomy. I’ve been an inquisitive and curious soul for all my life, I’ve loved finding out about the world around me and how everything works. As any normal child I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up. Firstly I wanted to be a palaeontologist and study the long dead remains of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. Then I found a love for marine biology after visiting SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida in 2007. I bought loads of books to

in space activity, rotational periods of the sun, planet Earth, the Moon and Sun, the Solar System and Stars and Galaxies. Carl Rutter, a student from Darlington, has a small interest in astronomy but has never been able to pursue his interest through the education system. He says; “I think it’s an important part of the human experience to understand how the universe works and pay more insight into the world beyond your front garden”. Astronomy is a subject that touches up on history, religions and cultures globally as well as moral/ethical issues. The specification to teach Astronomy in the UK has been updated to include the latest news about space, not just the basics. Since 2011, GCSE and astronomy teaching has been supported by the Royal Astronomical Society and numbers of candidates participating in GCSE Astronomy are predicted to

Teaching and learning even happens on the ISS.

exceed 5000 in upcoming years.

Credit - NASA


Astronomy Wise

Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield (left), Roman Romanenko (center), and Tom Marshburn (right) have all had extense training and education to get to their role the International Space Station. Credit - NASA

do with marine biology – most of them I still have to

there with a telescope (or a pair of binoculars) and do

this day because I still have a hidden passion for the

some stargazing – something that guide books and

field. At the time, physics was my worst subject and

websites don’t tell you to do straight away. When I

biology was my favourite. I absolutely hated physics

was just starting out, I took the risk of buying my first

(especially forces and motion) whereby the most I ever

telescope very early on and without much research

received in a physics test was 46%. However, all of that

done into it. This was a risk that proved to be a very

was to change when one Professor Brian Cox and one

good choice later on as, after my first stargazing

Dara O’Briain presented the first series of Stargazing

session outside in my grandparents’ back garden, I

LIVE on the BBC in January of 2011. From that point

was hooked! Nothing quite beats the feeling you get

onwards I was hooked on astronomy. I bought books,

after a successful night’s stargazing – especially your

DVD’s, apps, notes – anything to do with astronomy

first one. This is a feeling that I think everyone should

just so I could try and satisfy my insatiable thirst for

experience at one point in their lives, preferably early

knowledge. As my knowledge increased I became in-

on in their education because then they’ll be inspired

terested in more areas of physics that I previously had

to pursue a career path into astronomy or physics.

thought impossible to understand and comprehend

Several famous astronomers agree with this point for

such as quantum mechanics and particle physics.

example Neil deGrasse Tyson and the late Carl Sagan.

Whilst I was discovering my passion for astronomy I

However, despite the lack of firsthand experience and

noticed that there wasn’t a lot of firsthand information

knowledge around these days, there are a growing

for people just starting out in astronomy. You could

group of people who wish to destroy the stereotype

buy books and watch videos on the internet etc. and

that astronomy is only available to do if you have

just simply learn them inside out, but that doesn’t

grand 10m telescopes, these are the astronomical

make an ounce of difference until you actually get out

societies. Astronomical societies are a fantastic way

Astronomy Wise


to make new friends and to learn more about the

I first saw the rings of Saturn, the Galilean moons of

universe in which we are a part of. There are several

Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, the things I believed were

different astronomical societies and charities scat-

completely out of reach but for only a select group of

tered around the world (the best being Astronomy

people who had a double decker-sized telescope in

Wise - hehe) and they are all united with one common

orbit around the Earth.

goal – to observe the cosmos above our heads. A

So to concur, in order to get astronomy more available

worrying fact about astronomical societies is that they

to younger people, we must first bring these younger

are few and far between. Here in North Wales there is

people through the doors of misconceptions and into

no astronomical society or community which is a real

the realm of reality whereby beautiful and mystical

shame because astronomical societies are probably

things await. With an increased number of amateur

the best places to get inspired and to get involved with

astronomers we can then set our sights on even wider

astronomy because practically everyone in astronomi-

audiences and eventually lift the whole world’s eyes

cal societies started out with the exact same problems

up to the skies and the mysteries that wait to be seen.

as young people just getting into it.

The voice of the astronomical community must be

When people think about astronomy they immediate-

louder in order to extend our horizons and invite more

ly think that you need colossal 10 metre telescopes

people in, there needs to be an increase in physicists

to even see some of the planets in our Solar System.

and scientists alike who have a greater interest in

This is a common misconception that I’ll admit I

providing the public with the necessary information

thought myself before I started out. Then I thought

otherwise people trying to start up in astronomy will

I’d go on various e-commerce sites to see if they had

suffer and their curiosity for the heavens will ultimate-

any telescopes – this was just after Christmas and

ly begin to drain out of their minds due to the lack of

because I didn’t work back then I had a plan of saving

information and inspiration. This is why programmes

up my pocket money and my Christmas money to

like Stargazing LIVE, Horizon, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

buy a telescope. I genuinely thought I’d have to save

and The Sky at Night are crucial to opening up the

up for months and months before I could afford a

previously mentioned ‘doors of misconception’ up to

decent one, but then I saw one that was only £20 from

the general public. Most importantly young people,

Argos that had a focal length of 360mm and a 50mm

because it’s young people who are the future of this

two elements coated achromatic lens. It was a table-

planet and the role it plays in scientific expansion and

top telescope, a very small one that had 2 eyepieces

space exploration.

(4mm and 20mm). But it was with this telescope that

Not all careers lead to becoming an Astronaut, some advance onto engineering spacecraft such as the Orion. Credit - NASA


Astronomy Wise

Image Credit - NAS


Some call it the origin of women and some call it a god who encompassed love and beauty. They say, it’s the closest to our home.

Could We Ever Land On Venus?

By Gillian Mallaney

Astronomy Wise


Curling up on the sofa bed, with the blinds drawn

ly without the aid of technology or equipment here

and the door closed just enough to let the light from

on Earth, the thick layers of clouds prevent us from

the bathroom enter the room; a little girl grabs the

being able to see her surface. She has the densest

duvet from next to her and opens her Encyclopaedia.

atmosphere of the four inner planets, with a surface

She flicks past everything and slams her hand on the

pressure of 92 times that of Earth. Venus consists

Universe section. With a massive smile on her face,

mainly of a 90-95% Carbon Dioxide atmosphere. This

she spends the next few hours mesmerised, thumbing

gas prevents the heat from the nearby Sun escaping

through pages and pages of facts about planets much

and raise surface temperatures to 735K (462°C, 863°F).

more inferior to her own.

This makes Venus hotter than Mercury and the hottest

I was eight years old when I developed an interest in

planet in the Solar System; even though she is twice

space. Even the Seven Wonders of the World couldn’t

the distance away from the Sun.

hold my interest to this planet. Years later, around the age of 11, I was grounded for two weeks for sneaking

Venus has a very slow rotation, a Venusian Day equals

downstairs in the middle of the night to watch a sci-

out to 243 Earth Days and she orbits the sun in only

ence fantasy television series about a group of astro-

224.65 Earth days. If you could spend the day on

nauts that would spend the rest of their life exploring

Venus, you would most certainly realise that the Sun

the solar system. I cannot recall exact details of what

rises in the East and sets in the West. This is because

the show was about; I can only remember the one

unlike the other planets in the Solar System, Venus

memory of sneaking downstairs, sitting with my back

rotates on its axis in a clockwise fashion. Venus has a

up straight and in front on the television very wide eyed. I just couldn’t wait for this episode to be recorded like all the others because this one was about Venus.

The History of Venus Venus was named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty, is the second planet from the sun and is often called Earths ‘sister’ planet or ‘twin’. The Babylonians named the planet Ishtar, the manifestation of womanhood and Goddess of Love. She also played a key role as a Goddess of War. Although the planets are similar in size, gravity and bulk composition, they are very different in nature. Venus is shrouded by an opaque, yellow tinted, highly toxic layer of sulphuric acid. These clouds are highly reflective and are the reason that Venus can be seen so clearly on Earth. She reaches her maximum brightness shortly before sunrise and just after sunset. Cultures refer to her as the ‘morning star’ and the ‘evening star’ because of these timings. Although we are lucky to be able to see Venus clear-


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very weak magnetic field, most likely due to her liquid

radation, whereas Venus 85% of them are in pristine

iron core.


There is a theory that Venus did once have her own

On Earth, the degradation happens a lot faster be-

rotating moon, just like our planet. Her moon was also

cause of the atmosphere. Wind and liquid erosion are

created by a huge impact with the developing planet,

the fastest and primary cause of degradation. This

billions of years ago. In the 17th Century, Giovanni

was compared with the Grand Canyon on Earth and

Cassini reported seeing a moon orbiting Venus. The

the Valles Marineris on Mars. The Grand Canyon is

moon was named Neith and over the next 200 years

shaped, smoothed and altered by the weather and wa-

there were numerous reports of sightings. About 10

ter on Earth but the Valles Marineris remains almost

million years after formation, according to Alex Alemi

untouched because there is little change in weather

and David Stevensons 2006 Study of the early Solar

on Mars and only a very thin atmosphere.

System, another impact reversed the planets spin direction and caused the Venusian moon to spiral

Compared to the Earth, Venus’s crater impacts aren’t

towards her at great speed, until eventually the moon

as lethal. The dense atmosphere slows objects with

collided with the planet and merged with her.

such a force down that most incoming foreign objects

Almost 1000 impact craters on Venus are evenly dis-

are less than 50 meters in diameter or will burn up

tributed across her surface. On Earth and the Moon,

long before they get to hit the surface.

the impact craters exist but show various signs of degThe number of pristine crater impacts indicates that the planet went under a global resurfacing approximately 300-600 million years ago. Project Magellan, also referred to as the Venus Radar Mapper, was launched on May 4, 1989. The study provided evidence to help us understand the role of impacts, volcanism and tectonism in the forming of Venus’s surface structures. The surface was covered with volcanic matter and volcanic features, such as plains, small lava domes and large volcanos. The signs of large plate tectonics, like the many we have on Earth, are not evident on Venus. The planet is dominated by global rift zones and coronae; Venus is unable to sustain such a process that we have on Earth. Without the plate tectonics, the planet undergoes a cyclical process in which the mantle raises in temperature until they hit a critical level, thus weakens the crust. Over a period of approximately 100 million years, subduction occurs and completely recycles the crust. Compared to objects such as the Earth and the Moon, Venus expressed few crater impacts which expressed to Magallen that the surface was geologically young-

A 3D Perspective view of Gula Mons gathered by Magellan Credit - NASA

Astronomy Wise


about 800 million years old.

Venus’ Ingredients

whistler mode waves, the signature of lightning. It is the only lightning we know of that is not associated with water clouds but clouds of sulphuric acid. The top

The centre of Venus and the mechanics of the planet

layer of Venus’s clouds take just four days to complete

are not known but are predicted to be similar to that

an orbit of the surface as they travel as hurricane

of our own because of the size, density and mass of

speeds, making entry of the planet very difficult.

Venus. The surface research conducted by missions such as the Mariner 2 gave us indications that the

The weather on Venus is harsh and unpleasant; a lot

inside of Venus is thought to contain a core of metal

worse than Earths Atacama Desert. Earth has four sea-

3,000km across, this is submerged inside a mantle of

sons because of the rotation axis ‘set’ at 23 degrees.

rock 3,000km thick and then covered with a thin crust

Venus has been impacted so much that she has been

of around 50km thick.

flipped almost completely upside down leaving her with a tilt of just three degrees from the sun, seasons

Venus most likely contained a lot of water, similar to

don’t exist. Whereas on Earth we have a hot summer

Earth, but it all boiled away because she is so close

and a cold winter, Venus has the most circular orbit in

to Sun. Earth would have suffered the same fate as

the entire Solar System, this means that she is pre-

Venus if we were positioned any closer to the Sun. The

vented from becoming hotter or cooler by moving to-

average temperature on Venus is 461 to 500 °C, since

wards and away from the sun. Also after a lengthy day

water boils at 100 °C, it is not possible for water to

(almost an Earth year) you would think that the night

exist on the planet. Scientists believe that Venus and Earth formed in the same way, the same materials were ‘collected’ and the same process happened to each. ESA’s Venus Express Spacecraft found that Venus has a trail ‘blown’ by the solar winds coming from the sun, the Earth’s magnetosphere protects our atmosphere from the sun, channelling the solar wind around the planet and preventing it from reaching/taking our atmosphere. The Earth’s magnetosphere was formed by the large temperature difference between the outer core and the inner core. At some point plate tectonics ceased to exist on Venus and the planet stopped releasing interior heat, without this the convection stopped and took away the magnetosphere. If we lost ours, we would lose all of our water too.

Weather on Venus The Venus Express was the closest thing Venus had to being a moon. It was launched in 2005 and by 2006/07 it found evidence of the intermittent appearance indicated a pattern associated with weather activity,


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Hubble’s photograph of Venus’ Clouds Credit - NASA

Galileo’s Violet and Near Infrared Filter images Credit - NASA Astronomy Wise


side would be cooler, but the sun gets little access

As a result of the harsh conditions, unbearable heat

to the planet, the blanket of sulphuric acid creates a

and crushing surface pressure; a surface colony is

greenhouse effect and the high winds move the in-

out of the question with current technology. The

tense heat around, keeping temperatures only varying

atmospheric pressure approximately 50km above

within 100 degrees. All of the planets water has boiled

the Venusian surface is similar to Earths according to

away and the remaining water particles have been

Geoffrey Landis, a scientist at NASA’s Glenn Research

‘blown’ into space, so you don’t get precipitation (bar

Centre. Earth air (nitrogen and oxygen) would be a

sulphuric acid rain that burns up in the heat before

lifting mechanism in the Venusian atmosphere. Landis

hitting the surface) or storms like you do on Earth.

proposed that the atmosphere at this precise point

There are two ‘cold’ areas of Venus above the acid

was so Earth like, that we could create ‘floating cities’

clouds in two layers called the mesosphere and the

on Venus where people could live, work and study the

thermosphere. In Earth’s atmosphere, a circulation

planet below.

pattern occurs when warm air rises over the equator and towards the poles, where the air is cooled and

He states that humans would not require pressurised

settles. Venus composes the opposite. The winds blow

suits when outside just air to breathe and protection

in a retrograde fashion, they are fastest near the poles

from the sulphuric acid in the atmosphere.

and as you approach the equator, they can die down

So the possibility of landing and living on Venus is

to almost nothing.

there. Humans would have to adapt to such a harsh

Our Future on Venus

world and it probably wouldn’t be happening this century. Landis’ theory is more of a science fiction

The impermeable Venusian Clouds once gave writers

novel than a long term goal at present as a lot is still

the freedom to make up an atmosphere and alien life

unknown about the Venusian world but with missions

forms of Venus. The genre peaked between the 1930s

to Mars and potential Colonisation on the red planet

and 1950s but was quickly put to bed when findings

happening, the dream is becoming more of a possibil-

from the first missions to Venus were made public.

ity each day.

Venus Colorized Clouds taken by the Galileo Spacecraft Credit - NASA 26

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AstroCamp is back this year with their first bi-annual event with loads of new and exciting stories to be shared. For more information packed with images, testimonies, future bookings, astronomy discussion and advice, please visit their website at: | Facebook | @TheAstroCamp Astronomy Wise


AstroCamp Coverage

the campsite designed specifically experience, suddenly became pop-

But Saturday afternoons at Astro-

By Ralph Wilkins

ulated with scopes of all shapes

Camp are about astronomy talks,

The eagerly anticipated second

and sizes as we teased out some

a quiz and giving away prizes!

AstroCamp finally arrived in early

lunar detail on the 24% lit waning

We filled the pub from alcoves to

May and the organisers were espe-

crescent moon, resplendent in the

rafters and heard a beautifully

cially excited to be welcoming new

rich blue skies.

illustrated talk from Tom Kerss on

to encourage a shared stargazing

people to the event in the Brecon Beacons.

sunspots and filaments.

the solar cycle and the predicted Next up, a test of the solar viewing

long solar minimum. Then we had

project. Neil Hawkins from The

2 quizzes – one for the children

The number of bookings increased

Tring Astronomy Centre kindly

(won by Olivia Williamson from

by around 50% on the first As-

.gave us a Lunt hydrogen alpha

Winchester) and one for the adults

troCamp in September 2012 and

scope to use for the event, and we

(won by Barbara Isalska of Man-

included people from far-flung

soon progressed from eyepiece

chester Astronomical Society). Well

astronomical societies as well as

views to projection of the ‘bear

done guys! We don’t make any

curious newbies – we were very

claw’ shaped sunspot group onto a

money from AstroCamp, and put

keen to welcome everyone, get

plasma screen TV that John Wil-

every penny of profit into prizes

to know new people and share

dridge of the Baker Street Irregular

so, with the help of Simon Bennett

scopes as we pitched tents and set

Astronomers had brought for us to

of The Widescreen Centre, we

up a bewildering array of astrono-

use. The experiment worked well

were able to give away, in total, 2

my equipment.

and gave dozens of people their

planispheres, astronomy books, a

first views of solar prominences,

sketching kit, space fact cards, 2

The Friday that we arrived and took over the Cwmdu valley in the heart of the Black Mountains, promised poor weather for the evening– a meteorological set back that has plagued each and every star party so far this year – so this gave us time to get to know each other, talk astronomy and, more importantly for some, reconnoitre the local pub! But the Saturday heralded a few sunny patches and hints of stargazing weather after sunset. This was enough of a chance that we felt confident enough to bring out the full force of equipment! ‘The Common’, the open central area in


Astronomy Wise

pairs of binoculars with tripods, a

Cassegrain and, the monster in our

talks on main sequence stars and

Celestron 127 Maksutov goto scope

midst, Owen Brazell’s 22” Dobso-

Patrick Moore respectively, and we

and a Coronado hydrogen alpha


celebrated Simon Bennett’s 50th

scope with tripod! Our aim was to

birthday with a cake that would

give prizes that could be used right

But the clouds rolled in around

have overshadowed many a wed-

out of the box and allow people to

midnight and we bided our time

ding cake! All afternoon Paul and

use that night. A lot of people left

in conversation to see if we could

Tom answered follow up questions

the pub very happy and not just

ride out the weather. A few of us,

on their talks and we passed a

because of the excellent beers.

having decided around 2am that

very pleasant and sunny few hours

enough was enough, were quite

engaged in astronomy and cosmol-

This began a gradual increase in

dismayed to hear the next morn-

ogy discussions.

our fortunes as the weather fore-

ing that the skies had perfectly

casts gave us hope of some clear

cleared up less than half an hour

But the night time stole the show

skies on Saturday night and we

after we’d given up! Those that had

as the skies remained crystal clear

saw the cloud bands and moons

kept the faith were rewarded with

for as long as we could remain

of Jupiter first. The small refrac-

a sight of the Milky Way stretch-

awake. We started the evening

tors mitigated the atmospheric

ing away from north to south and

with the incredibly pleasurable

shimmer the most to give us lovely

views of summer skies to come:

experience of watching stars pop

views before we turned our atten-

Lyra and Cygnus showing them the

into view as the skies darkens. The

tion, shortly after, to the beautiful

Ring planetary nebula, the Double

gas giant planets Jupiter and then

ringed world, Saturn. Here we

binary star and the Veil and Pelican

Saturn emerged from the fading

saw the benefit of the longer focal


blue backdrop first. Then bright

lengths of the catadioptric scopes

Capella in Auriga, then Arcturus in

as we picked out the Cassini Divi-

Waking up on Sunday, we set up

Bootes, followed by Procyon, Vega,

sion in the rings and the majestic

the hydrogen alpha scope and

Betelgeuse… before long the sky is

moons Titan, Tethys, Rhea and

plasma screen once again. We

dark and rather than stars, we’re

Dione. Sharing scopes is such a

took videos to process into su-

picking out deep sky objects with

fun way to learn about the benefits

per-resolution images while people

the naked eye… the Double Cluster

of different methods of focusing

watched the rotating sunspot

in Perseus, the Beehive Cluster and

the light onto an eyepiece and an

groups and prepared for more

later, the vast expanse of the North

excellent way of socialising.

talks in the sunshine. Organis-

America Nebula - we don’t see that

ers Paul Hill and Tom Kerss gave

from London!

The sparkling open clusters in Auriga, Cancer and Cassiopeia

The Hercules and Serpens globu-

showed us why the contrast of a

lar clusters and the galaxies that

dark background sky is so im-

spanned Leo and Virgo loomed

portant to reveal the full beauty

large in Neil Hawkins’ 11” Schmidt

of these star concentrations and

Cassegrain, while the contrasty

the globular clusters, that are so

views through the plucky Taka-

plentiful in Spring, stood out as 3D

hashi 60mm and Matthew Hodg-

spheres through the larger scopes

son’s twin mounted APMs showed

– the 10½” Dobsonian, 9¼” Schmidt

the refractors can be just as

Astronomy Wise


sensational. All views that I feel are delicately and indelibly etched onto my retinas. A few people, myself included, were taking advantage of the opportunity to take some images of the skies too. Tom took widefield images around the camp and into the light-speckled blackness above. I hunted down the Leo Triplet, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules and Kemble’s Cascade, while Jupiter and Saturn coaxed many people into a photographic keepsake – some who were trying astrophotography for the 1st time. It was also warm enough to enjoy the party atmosphere until late. The sight of people relaxing on The Common on airbeds with a drink in hand as they gazed up into the skies was a joy to behold. As were the regular sounds of a ukulele that floated across the camp from time to time! The mood was exactly as we’d planned. Clear skies for stargazing, help and guidance to newcomers (a special thank you to Damien Phillips for all his help there), a fun and relaxed atmosphere and a great social gathering to learn more about the skies and techniques to get the best views. A count of scopes on the Sunday showed more than 60 pointing their lenses and mirrors skyward from The Common, and many more dotted elsewhere around the camp site.


Astronomy Wise

of 3 clear nights at the 2nd, a few We also got the chance to talk to

people were suggesting that we’ll

other astronomy promoters such

be remembered for being the only

as Callum Potter from Astronomy

stargazing festival that can guaran-

Now, Andrew Davies from Mid

tee good observing weather – but

Cheshire Astronomical Society and

we won’t put that on the website,

Jim Anning from AstroPub, where

it’ll only jinx it for next time!

we could exchange ideas, promote

What this event was really about

fun - and introduce new people to

new ones and plan more ways to

was a fantastic culmination of the

practical astronomy – we’d be fool-

encourage others to look up. So

hard work of the organisers, gra-

ish not to do it all again in autumn

you can bet that there will be even

cious offers to help the event from

wouldn’t we?

more astronomy outreach endeav-

astronomy retailers and, most of

ours to enjoy in the future.

all, the friendliness and enthusi-

Hopefully we’ll see you all again,

asm of the people who booked to

and many more, under clear dark

With each night being clear at

join us at AstroCamp. When a new

AstroCamp skies in early Septem-

the 1st AstroCamp, and 1½ out

astronomy event can be this much

ber 2013!

Astronomy Wise


My AstroCamp Experience By Joolz Wright When asked what AstroCamp was all about it seemed a little odd when the words that came out of my mouth were …”I’m taking my telescope and my son into the middle of Wales to spend the weekend with a bunch of people I met on the internet”. But that was basically it. Having never been to a Star Party, very little knowledge of the telescope I owned and only

Equipment (above) - Much better than CBBC!

having spoken to the folk I was

packed afternoon with an Astro

going to spend the weekend with

Pub Quiz for both adults and chil-

in 140 characters via Twitter...

dren with the most phenomenal

Then those black velvet skies

to say it was daunting is an un-

prizes and a talk on the life cycle

descend and a busy night of ob-

derstatement! Well, that was last

of the sun. Everyone then headed

servation begins. Voices call out

September and it was so brilliant

back to camp for some solar obser-

astronomical objects and people

I did it all again in May! This time I

vation and imaging. A huge screen

move from scope to scope by soft

was armed with my new telescope,

was set up at the base with live

glowing red light to enjoy and

a Skywatcher Skymax 127 GoTo

streaming of the Sun. Incredible,

share their views. Then as the

(which incidentally, was purchased

especially for the inexperienced so-

night becomes early morning all

with great sound advice of the new

lar observers like myself… and the

that can be heard is the whirring

Astro friends I met at AstroCamp

camp children! The following after-

of scopes slewing, seeking out

first time around) but I am still

noon were more talks this time at

their new targets in the night sky

a relative newbie to astronomy

the camp so that astros could carry

(with the occasional expletive!) as

having had very little use of my

on solar observing and imaging

the real die hards eek every last

scope due to the dreadful winter

and not miss the rare clear skies!

minute of clear sky.


to be experienced to be believed.

You see, that is the beauty of The

Arrival in Cwmdu on Friday to a

But then it is when dusk begins

Astrocamp. There are folk there

warm welcome from camp organ-

to approach that the real magic

with equipment to give the Hub-

isers was followed by an evening

happens. The buzz on the central

ble a run for its money, well okay,

of clouds, which on hindsight

observing area with astronomers

not quite but there were some

was perhaps a good thing, giving

of all ages and experience setting

incredible views at the eyepiece

everyone chance to pitch up, settle,

up scopes, the general banter

this weekend. There are imagers

catch up with friends and meet

amongst like-minded people, the

who were guaranteed no interrup-

new ones… the local pub optional

first excitement as Jupiter’s first

tions in a corner of the “Hub” or

of course! Saturday was a social

glow is seen in the sunset just has

“Common” as it was affectionately


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called. And there are people like

And here’s another amazing thing:

So there it is. Astrocamp. If you

me who just LOVE to view the sky,

an astronomer I met at the first

ever get the chance to go I can

happy to soak up the mass of ex-

camp had upgraded his webcam

highly recommend it. A place

pertise that was freely given by the

so he brought his older one which

where memories are made, friend-

experienced attendees of the camp

he not only gave to me but spent

ships are formed and knowledge is

and practise my new found skills

his Sunday morning giving me a

freely shared but most of all those

with my new scope. My 12 year old

hands on tutorial, both in imaging,


son saw an Iridium Flare for the

stacking and processing practicing

first time this weekend along with

on trees! This is the kind of amaz-

many other celestial treats shared

ing camaraderie that Astrocamp

at the eyepiece and I was given

fosters. By the end of the week-

fantastic help on using my DSLR

end I came away with so much

and scope.

more knowledge and experience that could never be gleaned from

Okay, it may not be the best image

a manual, not to mention new

you have ever seen of Saturn… but


it’s my first!

Saturn (above) - Joolz’s first image of the planet. Equipment (below) Many telescopes on the day.

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Awesome Astronomy

to interact with a wider astronomical community and

By Ralph Wilkins

and black holes seem to be the most popular ones!

Change is underway in Cydonia. The Face on Mars (our version of Mount Rushmore) is undergoing a revision to replace Tom’s likeness with that of his successor on

get a better understanding of which issues interest people the most. If you’re interested, exoplanets, Mars

We started off the podcast last year with Sir Patrick Moore’s last ever interview (episode 1), talked about

the podcast, Paul. Since we began recording in April 2012, Tom and I have been incredibly excited to record an hour of astronomy news and information each month. It actually takes around 3 hours to record each hour-long

the search for ET with SETI Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak (episode 3) and closed out 2012 by not succumbing to the misinterpreted Mayan ‘prophesy’ but, instead, going on a dark matter hunt with the particle physicists at Fermilab. episode, but much of that is due to deliberate mistakes, trying to put each other off and general clowning around. I really would recommend podcasting to anyone – you just can’t know how much fun recording is until you give it a go! But we’ve also been delighted to see that more people have been listening month on month – this, I think, has really demonstrated to us just how popular astronomy has become and that ever more people are keen to learn more about this incredible universe we live in. Our favourite part of the show has always been answering astronomy questions that have come into the programme via the Twitter account (@AwesomeAstroPod) and the Facebook Group, because this allows us


Astronomy Wise

However, Tom has now moved on to pastures new. He’s left the poor atmosphere on Mars for more astronomy ventures on Earth, but I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that Paul Hill will take on the mantle of educating and entertaining on Awesome Astronomy – the show will go on! Paul has a long background in education and astronomy communication and is one of the keenest visual observers I know – he’s one of those curious breed of astronomers that does his imaging with pencil and paper. How very nineteenth century! So he spends more hours at the eyepiece than is probably wise!

Nevertheless, we’re continuing to bring you the latest news in astronomy, planetary science and cosmology – always delivered with the intention of being engaging to anyone, regardless of their astronomy knowledge. We’ve also kept the Q&A section and an absorbing interview each month (spoiler alert: astronomy populariser Mark Thompson will be joining us in the next episode, out on 1st June). But we’ve also added a section to explain in five minutes those frustrating concepts in astronomy that can be difficult to understand. Paul started this in episode 11 with his simple explanation of the Big Bang and he already has ideas for guides to astrobiology, inflation and many other exciting astronomy concepts. Our aim’s still to promote astronomy and deflate any of the misconceptions or baseless conspiracy theories that stray into astronomy – okay, don’t ask us about the Face on Mars. We’re committed to entertaining with fact-based reporting and if we can’t continue to entertain you, we’ll break out the tripods and heatrays once more and, armed with antibiotics this time… slowly but surely, we’ll draw our plans against you… Hear previous episodes, subscribe to the show and download episode 12 on 1st June here.

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Image Credits Stellarium

The Southern Crosses

travels, the higher in the sky Corvus and

By Michael Poll

extended northwards, points straight at

(Pretoria Centre, Astronomical

the Crow. At latitude 26⁰ S (e.g Pretoria),

Society of Southern Africa)

Corvus passes almost exactly overhead (the

For viewers in the northern hemisphere at, say, latitudes between 40⁰ N and 55⁰ N, during May the distinctive quadrilateral of Corvus (the Crow) lies low in the southern sky, with the bright star Spica to the east (left) of it. There are not many other bright objects in that part of the sky, (apart from Saturn at the moment!), but just below the horizon lie a wealth of bright and interesting sights which do not rise at the higher northern latitudes. These sights include what are known to southern sky viewers as ‘The Southern Crosses’ – of which there are three. Southwards of latitude 30⁰ north (e.g Cairo), the Southern Cross itself (Crux) becomes visible below Corvus. The further south one


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Crux become, and it can then be seen that the long axis of the Southern Cross, when

declination of the southern most stars of

the quadrilateral is 23⁰ S – declination is the

example in Cape Town, Buenos Aires and

celestial equivalent of latitude). The declina-


tion boundaries of the Southern Cross are between 55⁰ S and 65⁰ S so when Corvus

The other two crosses are known as the

is overhead, the Southern Cross attains its

False Cross and the Diamond Cross, and

highest altitude of about 55⁰ for Pretoria,

they lie to the west of Crux. The False and

and stands upright. (The Southern Cross

Diamond Crosses are asterisms, and not

becomes circumpolar south of 34⁰ S, for

constellations – the Diamond Cross is wholly part of Carina the Keel, and the False Cross is split between stars of Carina, and Vela, the Sail. For Pretoria, these groups rise in the early evenings of late December and early January. The False Cross rises first, so that it is in the sky before the Southern Cross itself is visible. (note the Magellanic Clouds to the right of Canopus). For a first time viewer, this is where the ‘false’ part may come into play, but when the Crux rises, the difference is apparent. Referring to the diagram alongside it can be seen that the stars of Crux are brighter, and the constellation itself is smaller – the axes of Crux are 7⁰ x 4⁰, whereas the False Cross axes are 9⁰ x 7⁰, and the short axes slope in the opposite sense to each other. Given that the stars of Crux are labelled

Astronomy Wise


Image Credits Stellarium

clockwise from Alpha to Delta, starting with

Sir John Herschel’s famous ‘Jewel Box’, so

Alpha in the ‘6 o’clock’ position, a fifth star,

named because of the variety of colours of

Epsilon is easily seen on the line joining Del-

its stars. Gamma Crucis is the only reddish

ta and Alpha. The False Cross does not have

star of the five brightest stars of Crux, and it

an equivalent star.

has a line-of-sight companion.

This diagram above shows the southern evening sky at 22h00 for mid-May. Consider-

The False Cross and the Diamond Cross were

ing that the upper diagram above is for the

originally entirely part of the ancient constel-

end of December, it can be seen how the sky

lation of Argo Navis, which was one of Ptole-

has rotated around the south celestial pole

my’s original 48 constellations and was the

from December to May, so that the Diamond

largest constellation for about 2000 years. It

Cross lies to the left of the False Cross in this

is said that the constellation was dismantled


for convenience in the 1750s by the Abbe Nicolas Louis de la Caille, a French astrono-


Crux used to be part of Centaurus – the

mer who worked at the Cape of Good Hope

constellation of Centaurus surrounds Crux

(Ref 1), but another source suggests that

on three sides. The separation of Crux from

Argo was broken up by the American Benja-

Centaurus is generally attributed to the

min Gould in 1879 in order to make this part

French astronomer Augustin Royer in 1679,

of the sky ‘more manageable’ (Ref 2). The

although there are suggestions that it was

problem with Argo was in cataloguing all the

recognised as a separate constellation at

stars in the constellation. The Millennium

least a century before this. Alpha Crucis is

Star Atlas says that there 28 446 stars bright-

a very close double, with a third star close

er than magnitude 10 in Argo, compared

by. All three stars are a brilliant white. Next

with the next most populous constellation,

to Beta Crucis is the wonderful open clus-

Cygnus, which has about 14 000 stars bright-

ter NGC4755 (Caldwell 94). This cluster is

er than magnitude 10 (Ref 3).

Astronomy Wise

with the stars Beta and Theta of Carina formArgo ended up being split into Vela, the Sail;

ing the long axis, and Upsilon and Omega of


Carina, the Keel; and Puppis, the Poop Deck.

Carina, the short axis.

1. Rambling Through

There is no Alpha or Beta star in Vela - the

At one end of the long axis of the Diamond

the Skies

brightest star in this constellation is Gamma

Cross, the naked eye star Theta Carinae is

E C Krupp

Velorum. When Argo was split up, Alpha Ar-

actually the brightest star of a brilliant binoc-

Sky & Telescope

gûs became Alpha Carinae, (a.k.a Canopus)

ular or telescopic cluster of blue white stars,

March 1999

and Beta Argûs became Beta Carinae (a.k.a

known as the Southern Pleiades (IC 2602,


Caldwell 102). The cluster is very striking

(Note that a

even when viewed against light pollution.

date is mis-

Gamma Velorum is not part of the False

Embedded in the cluster is a very distinctive

printed in this

Cross. The stars of this Cross are Delta

asterism of five stars, variously described

reference –

and Kappa Velorum, and Epsilon and Iota

as the ‘Five of Diamonds’, or as resembling

“1763” should

Carinae. If the long axis of the False Cross

a capital Greek letter sigma (Σ), or the letter

read “1753”)

is extended a little further than Epsilon it

‘M’, depending on the orientation of the clus-

2. Jason’s Phan-

points to the pretty open cluster NGC 2516

ter when viewed.

tom Argonauts

p 87

Les Dalrymple

(Caldwell 96). This cluster was discovered by LaCaille in the early 1750s. Its more recent

Taken together these three crosses lie in

Sky & Telescope

nickname is the ‘Southern Beehive’.

one of the richest parts of the Southern

December 2002

Milky Way. Apart from the deep sky objects

p 114

The Diamond Cross lies between Crux and

mentioned, there are also numerous other

3. Southern

the False Cross. It is a symmetrical asterism,

wonderful sights in this region of the sky.

Hemisphere Sky


Schaaf Sky & Telescope April 1998

Astronomy Wise

p 88


The Night Sky.. By John Harper F.R.A.S

ical midnight, the sky is

Last Quarter Moon is on

in the twilight, setting

not black but a beautiful

the 30th at 04h54 in the

about 90 minutes after

velvet deep blue, merg-

constellation of Pisces

the sun. Never visible this

ing to turquoise on the

5°to the right of the plan-

month in a dark sky, the

northern horizon. Don’t

et Uranus.

planet is easily detected

forget to look out for the ghostly silver-blue

low in the NW because of The Planets

its brightness.

north, during the hour

Mercury’s favourable

Mars rises only 40

before and after mid-

evening apparition

minutes before the sun

night, as they catch the

continues during the

at the beginning of the

light of the sun, which

first half of June, after

month, but 90 minutes

is not very far below the

which it begins to move

before it at the end.

northern horizon at this

in towards the sun, so

Unfortunately because

time of year.

that during the last week

of the planet’s distance

it can no longer be seen.

from the earth, and its

noctilucent clouds in the

The Moon

The planet is beneath the

comparative dimness,

As the month proceeds,

Moon is at apogee

twin stars of Gemini, Cas-

combined with bright

the Sun climbs through

(furthest from the earth)

tor and Pollux. Mercury’s

June twilight, it is not an

the stars of Taurus until

on the 9th at 21h40, and

greatest elongation east

easy object to observe

around 13h on the 21st

perigee on (nearest to

of the sun (24°) takes

in Taurus, but if you can

when it crosses the

the earth) 23rd, at 11h09.

place on the 12th. During

spot the Pleiades when

the evening of the 10th,

they are 8° above the NE

border into Gemini, the solstice having occurred

New Moon occurs on the

the two-day-old waxing

horizon at about 03h,

on the June 21st at

8th, at 15h57, when the

crescent moon is low in

and scan down towards


The earth-sun

moon lies in Taurus, and

the WNW sky, 6° below

the horizon to the lower

distance is 152, 028,935

3° south of the sun.

Mercury. The first object

left of this star cluster,

km. The solstice marks

First Quarter is on the

you are likely to spot

you may spot Mars ‘twin-

the astronomical start of

16th at 17h24 takes place

when scanning in the twi-

kling’ a couple of degrees

summer in the northern

on the Leo/Virgo border

light is Venus, which on

above the horizon.

hemisphere, and the

4° north of the constel-

the day of the moon/Mer-

beginning of winter in

lation of Crater, the Cup.

cury conjunction is some

Jupiter is in conjunction

the southern. Thus takes

The moon is midway

5° to the right of Mercury

with the sun during the

place the longest day

between Regulus in Leo

and slightly lower in the

late afternoon of the 19th

and shortest night for

and Spica in Virgo.

sky. At around 21h, the

and so is a very difficult

us here in the UK, and

Full Moon is at 11h33 on

two inner planets are

object to observe due to

thereafter night length

the 23rd, is in the con-

around 10° above the

its proximity to the latter.

increases once again. The

stellation of Sagittarius

horizon, beginning to set

season of summer lasts

not far from Pluto’s cur-

an hour later.

93.65 days. In the north-

rent position and is the

ern UK, there is no true

second lowest Full Moon

Throughout June, Venus

best observed between

night, and at astronom-

of this year.

is a bright evening object

23h and 01h, straddling


Astronomy Wise

Because of the bright June twilight, Saturn is

astronomical midnight;

difficult to observe because of brightening twilight, although it lies over 10° above

when it may be seen as

the SE horizon.

a bright star-like object just over 15° above the

Constellations visible in the south around midnight, mid-month, are as follows:

SW horizon at 0h (UT).

Ophiuchus, Serpens Cauda, Hercules, and the head of Draco the dragon, which is

As Saturn lies on the

near the zenith.

Virgo Libra border, it is easy to identify, lying as it does in an area devoid

All times are GMT

1° is one finger width at arm’s length.

of bright stars, with the exception of Spica, some 12° to the left, and lower down in the sky than Saturn. Take a look at the ringed planet through a small telescope and delight in the spectacle of the favourably placed northern surface of its ring system. By the end of the month the planet sets shortly before 01h. On the 19th the gibbous waxing moon passes south of Saturn and so when darkness falls during the night of the 19th/20th, the moon is some 6° to the lower left of Saturn. Uranus in Pisces is still a difficult object to observe in the morning sky, rising as it does in the brightening twilight after midnight. The much fainter planet Neptune, in Aquarius, half a degree above sigma Aquarii, is also

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Astronomy Wise

Astronomy Wise



Astronomy Wise

Astronomy Wise June 2013 Magazine  

Young Astronomer, When Stars go bang, the Night Sky and much more

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