York AS Summer Barbecue THIS SATURDAY!

We hope you are all enjoying the gorgeous weather at the moment.  And we’re hoping that it will continue in to this weekend and beyond for the annual York AS barbecue and Perseid meteor watch.

As usual, we will be hosting the event at the society observatory from about 4pm, this coming Saturday August 9th.  Bring your own food and drink, and we’ll provide the gas, coals and condiments.

If any of you are unsure how to get to the observatory, or are unsure of the VERY IMPORTANT safety rules when you  get there, then please get in touch by replying to this post

Hope to see you there!

BAA Radio Astronomers Group

 

As some of you may know the YAS RAG (Radio Astronomy Group) attended the recent BAA RAG event at the National Space Centre in Leicester. There were a number of speakers, both amateur and professional from the world of radio astronomy. The talks covered a wide range of radio astronomy from simple and easy projects to detect Galactic Hydrogen, to recent professional discoveries of transient radio phenomena. Some of the findings only a few days old. More interestingly is that nobody as yet knows what they are, or where they come from?! Could they be ET?? 

radioYAS RAG from left to right – Steve Cooper, Paul Buglass, Alan Pounder, Simon Howard and Roo Powell

YASRAG also exhibited their work-in-progress of the renovation and upgrading of the recently acquired radio telescope kindly donated by Leeds University. This is a 2.3m dish and will be used to detect Hydrogen emissions in the 21cm band. This will allow us to map the spiral arms (and core) of the Milky Way. The telescope will hopefully be sited at the YAS Observatory and be connected to the internet so that YAS members can all get access to it to have a go at this exciting field of astronomy…which can be done when it’s cloudy or daytime! The project drew a great deal of interest from other astronomers, including a Professor from Manchester University who is keen to replicate our work at their Jodrell Bank facility for use by undergraduates in Astrophysics. (no – it wasn’t Brian Cox.) 

Also at the event were a number of other BAA RAG members and groups showing off their equipment and projects, as well as vendors selling RA equipment and books.

We all agreed that it was an excellent and informative day and a fantastic opportunity to meet other like minded astronomers in this rapidly growing areas of astronomy. Hopefully by next year the YAS RAG will have increased in numbers and we can make an even bigger representation at the event. As it was we were the largest group from any one astronomy society. YAS – from strength to strength!

Colin Pillinger. 1943 – 2014

The morning of the 25 December, 2003 was just like any other, children falling out of bed to find presents, parents moaning and grandparents fawning. And yet across the gulf of space, millions of miles from the affairs of normal man a small spacecraft was struggling for life on that red, forbidding and inhospitable planet we call Mars. It seems appropriate to me that in this year of 2014 when Mars is to be seen at its brightest in the night skies of Earth, a number of spacecraft – some rovers on the surface and some in orbit – the result of several nations collaboration to study and contribute to human knowledge should witness the passing of one of the UK’s greatest planetary scientists, Prof Colin Pillinger.

Colin Pillinger with York AS Members in 2002

Colin Pillinger with York AS Members in 2002

Colin visited The York Astronomical Society on 5th April 2002 and gave an excellent presentation telling us about his plans and ideas to get a small scientific laboratory, Beagle 2 to the surface of Mars. Launched on 2nd June 2003 as part of the Mars Express mission which in turn was on a Russian rocket, a Soyuz-Fregat. For us at the time having Colin talk to us was something special and although we did not get as many in the audience as we would have liked, those of us who attended certainly took away with us the memory of an excellent evening. Afterwards Colin joined in the spirit of YAS and signed postcards which he gave away as well as giving us copies of ‘Beagle 2 Bulletin’. The Bulletin’s could be sent to interested parties – for free – and kept us up to date of the latest happenings. This was just on the cusp of the dominance of the www and the internet that today dominates all news outlets. We won’t see a postal Bulletin like this again and I for one have mine filed away in my library. It was all very British and a welcome breath of fresh air after years of ‘NASA roger-bleeps/ESA gobbledy-gook/Soviet Commie-propaganda’ and with Colin’s appearance of a Victorian Scientist and his amazing sideburns and hobby of farming cows it was something that captured the imagination of the public. Sadly, Beagle 2 died on Mars but it did get there which was more than some other more expensive spacecraft did and perhaps one day we will see a Beagle 3 find life on Mars.

Colin, the universe is dimmer for your passing but the memories you gave us in 2002-3 will never leave us, thank you for inspiring and encouraging a younger generation that was your real success. But Colin can we have  bigger parachute next time…

Upgrade on Deck at the Observatory

In 2004, the National Lottery “Awards for All” scheme granted The York AS funds to purchase a 12″ Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope to use for public observing events. In the decade that has followed, through various means, we have collected a further two of these telescopes; a 10″ one and an 8″ one.  We have always found that the Meade LX200 is a nice optical instrument.  However, we have found in all three of these telescopes that the forked mounts that they come attached to can be less than trustworthy.  In a nutshell – we’ve had a lot of bother with them all.

Because of this bother we’ve only had one working telescope on the observing deck at our observatory for the last couple of years. So, a few months ago it was decided that something needed to be done.  We decided to remove the 10″ tube assembly from its fork mount, and re-mount it on something more suitable for the purpose.  We chose a Skywatcher NEQ6-PRO mount.  This mount is strong enough to hold either the 8″ or the 10″, but sadly not the 12″ tube assembly. That would have to wait until we can raise more funds for an even stronger mount.

The Owl Nest AdaptorBecause the old Meade fork mount was attached to an equatorial wedge, we were presented with a small engineering challenge when we purchased the new mount.  The flat bottom of the base of the mount needed to marry up to the flat top of the pillar, but both are solid, and thus can’t be bolted from the inside.  The solution was to manufacture an adaptor.  On old friend of the Society, Emil Fernandes from Greenhey Industrial and Marine Engineering Ltd. in Skelmersdale made up this lovely adaptor, to a design by York AS member John Roberts. This was just the job, allowing both sides of the mount to be securely fastened together.  Because it resembles a hollowed out tree trunk, the adapter became known as the “Owl Nest”.  York AS member Glen Berry then painted it up and it was attached to the base of the EQ6 mount.  Glen and Chairman Martin Dawson then bolted the whole lot on to the top of the pier.

After a little bit of drift aligning, the scope is now ready to rock and roll.  We once again have a full complement of working telescopes on our observing deck, and don’t they just look the part?  All we need now is clear, dark skies to make the most of them.  Roll on Winter!

Both Scopes on Deck

This picture shows the 10″ Meade LX200 donated by York AS member Martin Lunn mounted on the new EQ6 and pillar.  In the background is the 12″ Fork mounted AE Luton Newtonian which was given to us by the Sunderland AS.  The AE has also recently undergone some more upgrades, with the addition of a large-gauge declination wheel and clutch.  This has made the telescope very easy to use.  It now feels like you are using a push-to Dobsonian, but with the benefit that when you let it go, it continues to track the object you are looking at.  Thanks to Roo for that upgrade!

National Astronomy Week

March 1st to 8th is the UK’s National Astronomy Week, where Astronomical Societies up and down the country will be organising events to promote the study and enjoyment of the night skies.

At The York Astronomical Society we will be holding two events, both of which are open to the public.

The first is on Wednesday March 5th,  which is a public observing session on the concrete hardstanding half way along Knavesmire Road, opposite the end of Queen Victoria Street.  We will be there from 7pm onwards with a range of telescopes for the public to observe the night sky.  Given good weather, the Moon and Jupiter will be well placed to observe, along with many fainter objects such as the star clusters and the Great Orion Nebula. There is no charge for this event.

The second NAW event is one of our regular formal meetings, which will be held on Friday March 7th at 8pm in the Main Hall of the Priory Street Centre, off Micklegate.  The guest speaker is one of our own members, Mr Dave Armeson and he will be talking about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission to the Moon.  York AS members pay £1 at the door, and non members pay £2.50, with under 16′s going free.

We hope that you will be able to come along and join us at either, or both of these events.

http://www.astronomyweek.org.uk/

The Square Kilometre Array

Professor Melvin Hoare, Leeds University Department of Physics

Professor Hoare is one of the science advisors to possibly the most innovative astronomical instrument ever built.  The SKA, or Square Kilometre Array, is just that. It is a HUGE array of radio telescopes distributed over multiple countries, with the principal sites in South Africa and Australia, but involving nations representing 40% of the world’s population. The collecting area of the instrument is ultimately going to be equivalent to 1 square kilometre, but with a resolution of a telescope thousands of miles across. This will give it a resolution of 1arc second. 10 times the resolution of any such device currently in operation. The telescope may at first not look like the ones you are used to seeing, however its uses are endless and with applications in a vast and varied number of applications, from seeing way beyond the currently observable universe to detecting proto-planetary discs around neighbouring solar systems in our own galaxy. The latter is the principal area of research that Professor Hoare is leading up on the SKA. The SKA will be able to operate at a huge range of radio frequencies, from as low as 50 MHz right up to tens of GHz, which has a wavelength of only a few millimetres. It is these very short wavelengths that will allow Professor Hoare to detect dust and clumps of material ranging from pea-sized particles, rocks and boulders, right up to full-sized exoplanets. This will allow us to further develop our understanding of how the solar system and Earth were formed, as well as identify more potentially inhabitable planets in our galaxy. Some of his colleagues will also be able to detect organic materials in or around the galaxy, including amino acids, thought to be the principal building block for life. If we do indeed detect the presence of such organic compounds elsewhere in the universe then we can say that life is unlikely to be unique to us here on Earth.

One of the key challenges for the project is the immense amount of data generated from the thousands of linked-up (correlated, to give it its proper name) telescopes from around the world. When the telescope is running at full speed it will generate roughly 10 times the data that is currently generated by the entire internet!  Although the data will mostly be processed in real time, with the use of supercomputer technology archives will also be made. This is a huge technical challenge as even if most of the data is destroyed following real-time processing, there will still be hundreds of Petabytes of data generated every day the telescope is in operation. (1 Petabyte = 1015 Bytes, or One Thousand Terabytes) The supercomputer to process this will have the power of 1000 Million modern PCs.

As the Professor pointed out, this isn’t just a big telescope, it is one of the world’s largest engineering achievements that will undoubtedly produce some of the most ground-breaking discoveries in astronomy and physics in the 21st century.

Melvin Hoare at the York AS

We were privileged to have the Professor come and talk to us about this amazing project and hope he will return to keep us abreast of the telescope’s progress and, ultimately, the fruits of his labours.

For more information about Professor Hoare’s work and the SKA, visit: https://www.skatelescope.org and if you would like to contact the Professor:

m.g.hoare @ leeds.ac.uk

Supernova 2014J

A long time ago (about 12 million years) in a galaxy far, far away (about 12 million light years) a star exploded in a huge supernova.  Ever since that point in time, the light from that explosion has been spreading throughout the universe, and on January 21st 2014, that very same light finally reached our humble little corner of the cosmos.

As a result of the light reaching us we now get to see it, albeit 12 million years after the event itself.  It is seen as a very bright “new” star within the galaxy that we call Messier 82, or NGC3034 in the constellation of Ursa Major. Of course it’s not a new star at all – it was always there, but it’s now REALLY obvious!

A supernova occurs when a star reaches the end of its natural life, and no longer has enough fuel to create nuclear fusion.  When this happens the star implodes in on itself, causing a huge release of energy that we see as a supernova.

m82 gifAstronomers all over the world (well, those who can see far enough North to glimpse it) have been observing the supernova, measuring it, and taking photos of it. And here at The York Astronomical Society we are no different.

York AS member Gareth Verney took these two pictures that we have dissolved in and out for you.  These images were taken on January 9th and January 25th 2014, and show the obvious difference between “before” and “after”.  If you can’t spot it, SN2014J is the bright dot just left of centre!  Thanks for sharing this with us Gareth.

Build your own cheap camera drive

In May 2013, I published an article called “How to Photograph Star Trails” which explained amongst other things, the one fundamental issue that astronomers have to deal with when taking photos of the heavens – the fact that the Earth rotates, which makes everything appear to move across the sky.  That article encouraged you to embrace the fact that the stars move, and make a feature of it in your pictures.  However, once you have done that a few times, you will want to start taking pictures where the stars are NOT trailed in to lines.

Basically, in order to allow you to do long exposures of the night sky (around 5 to 10 minutes for example) you need to mount your camera on a device that rotates about the same axis as the Earth, at the same speed as the Earth, but in the opposite direction, so that the field of view in the camera remains the same throughout the exposure.

The first York AS meeting of 2014 was an informal evening, where members step up to do a 5 minute presentation on a subject of their own choice.  I decided to talk to the audience about the Haig mount, and how you can build your own.  A few people have asked for further details so please read on, dear reader.

2014-01-02 12.31.26My Barn Door MountThe “Barn Door Tracker” as it was then called, was first described in a Sky & Telescope article in 1975 by George Haig, hence the name “Haig Mount”.  It is a surprisingly simple piece of apparatus that can be made in a few hours with minimal equipment and only basic DIY tools.  The idea is that you have two pieces of wood that are hinged together.  The camera is mounted on the top piece and the centre pin of the hinge is pointed towards the Pole Star.  When in operation, the two pieces of wood are forced apart by a rotating bolt, or threaded rod, causing the camera mounted on it to slowly rotate at the Earth’s rotational speed.  There are many variations of the basic design, each improving the accuracy of the drive, but I will describe here the very simplest version of the design.

  • Cut two matching pieces of flat wood, approximately 300mm x 150mm x 15mm in size.  These will form the two halves of your “Barn Door”.  Join them along the short edge with a low-profile hinge (piano hinge is good if you have a piece), so that they open like a book.
  • An M6 Spiked NutYou will eventually need to drill a hole in the lower piece of wood, and thread it.  You can do this by inserting a spiked nut (pictured here) in to the wood itself.  Before drilling the hole, it is essential that you know exactly where to drill it, and that location is determined by the pitch of the thread of the bolt that you are using.  Here comes the maths bit:
  1. We are going to want to drive the two barn doors apart by rotating the bolt once every one minute
  2. We will assume for this description that the bolt being used is a metric M6 bolt, which has a pitch of 1mm.
  3. We know that the Earth rotates through 360 degrees in 24 hours (1440 minutes). This means that in just 1 minute, it rotates by 0.25 degrees. This is the rate at which we want the barn doors to open.
  4. Using trigonometry, we apply the formula A = O / tanθ, where “O” is the pitch of the thread (1mm), “θ” is the angle of opening (0.25 degrees) and “A” is the distance from the hingepin to the location of the centre of the bolt, and therefore where you should drill the hole.  So, A = 1 / tan0.25, which is 1 / 0.00436, which equals 229.18mm.  You now have your drilling measurement.Haig Mount Schematic
  • Drill the hole half way down the board (75mm from each edge) at a distance of 229.18mm from the centre of the hinge pin, and mount your M6 spiked nut, to make the hole threaded.
  • The M6 bolt you are using needs to be about 100mm in length. Cut a piece of wood or metal about 80mm x 20mm and drill a 6mm hole at one end of it.  Slide that on to your bolt and secure it at the head end using an M6 nut.  Your “driveshaft” now has a turning handle!
  • The Barn Door mount is now almost complete, but in order to make it usable as a camera platform there are two last things you need to do: 
  1. whit and ballYou will need to put a small aluminium plate on the underside of the bottom barn door, and that plate needs to have a 1/4 inch Whitworth screw threaded hole in it.  This is the universal standard tripod screw size.  You can buy whitworth taps for a few pounds from eBay etc, or ask around your friends – somebody might have one and make it up for you.
  2. Lastly you will need a ball and socket tripod head. This is the only “proper” piece of camera equipment you will need to buy.  They can cost anything from £10 upwards depending on how beefy you want it to be.  This needs to be mounted on the top barn door, and will allow your camera to point anywhere in the sky once the mount is set up.
  • Insert the M6 bolt “driving handle” in to the underside of the bottom barn door and wind it through until it just starts to open the barn doors.
  • Attach the whole mount on to the top of a sturdy tripod.
  • Take it out to your garden, and point the hinge pin towards Polaris, the Pole Star. (Approximate eye judgement is fine)
  • Mount your camera on the top of the ball and socket mount and point it towards your chosen subject.
  • Make your exposure and start winding the handle round at a rate of one revolution per minute.  To minimise the amount that you actually touch the mount during exposure, it is acceptable to wind the handle one quarter-turn every 15 seconds.  You can time this period either with a watch and a torch, or one neat way to do it in the dark is to get the quartz movement out of an old clock and hold it to your ear.  Every 15 ticks, move the handle around by a quarter.

This design of mount is by no means perfect, but it will allow you to guide your camera accurately for about 10 minutes, which under UK skies is probably plenty of time.  Here is an example of a photo taken with this type of mount.  As you can see, the stars themselves are sharp and untrailed, and it is the surrounding foreground that has trailed instead. Sadly this shot was NOT taken under UK skies, but in Australia instead, so sorry to build your hopes up!

Milky Way from Stockport

Keep checking back to this article in the coming few weeks, as I am intending to make a short film, demonstrating all of the above.  In the mean time if you have any questions, contact me at info@yorkastro.org.uk

Christmas Informal Night

pud2013 for The York AS was brought to a close in typical festive fashion last night when as usual we held our Christmas Informal Evening.  Not only that, but the evening marked our 900th meeting too, so celebrations all round!

York AS informal evenings are very simple.  There is no invited guest speaker, and members of the society are invited to step up and say a few words about whatever it is they want to, assuming that it’s vaguely astronomy themed.

Dave Armeson was up first, talking about some of the images he has taken over the last year with his 7″ Maksutov Telescope.  This was followed by Martin Whipp who gave a quick run down of a few things that are taking place in the sky during January 2014.  Up next was John Rowland who showed off his newest creation – a 5″ Dobsonian mounted Refractor.  John bought the optics, but made the actual telescope himself, making great savings by doing so.  This was followed by Rupert Powell, who spoke to us about the problems that astronomers face with dew on their camera and telescope equipment, and what can be done to combat it, again without breaking the bank. Lastly, two gentlemen in lab coats and top hats burst on to the stage and started blurting on about the Cooke Optical factory in Leicester, and what wonderful lenses they make for the cinematography industry.

cookesThese two fools go by the name of Thomas Cooke and his second son, Edwin Cooke, and they pride themselves in being York’s most knowledgeable deceased opticians!  Their presentation was followed by a short film knowledge quiz, and because it was in York and because it was Christmas, and because this presentation resembled a poorly-written pantomime, the prizes had to be Waggon Wheels!  Well done to all who got the questions right.

The night was brought to a very nice conclusion with the drawing of the Christmas raffle.  This had been running for a few weeks, and lots of prizes had been donated from various sources towards it.  I think at least a dozen members went away with a prize in their hands and a big smile on their face.  A lovely end to a wonderful year.