Space News

At the beginning of June, NASA released news of its proposed Parker Solar Probe mission. This will involve a spacecraft flying within 3.9 million miles of the sun. The closest Mercury gets to the sun is 28.5 million miles, from where, the sun’s disc would be 1.7 degrees in diameter. (So no wonder it’s hot!) But the Parker spacecraft will see the sun as a massive 12.5 degrees diameter ball, which will heat the spacecraft’s shield to an unbelievable 1,370°C. And it’s not going to do just a single pass. This sucker-for-punishment probe will go back for more – 24 times! Article (limited info) here.
Better S&T article here (includes a short NASA video).

But if you think Parker is going to get close, spare a thought for the planet
KELT-9b reported in Nature Online on 5th June. KELT-9b is a planet orbiting the star HD195689 (hereinafter knows as KELT-9). KELT-9 is a hot (surface temperature 10,170°K), massive (2.5 times that of the sun) star of spectral type B9.5-A0. The planet, KELT-9b, orbits this blue-hot star so close (3.2 million miles) that its orbital period is only 1.48 days and its star-facing surface is at a temperature of 4,600°K, which is hotter than most stars. One further fascinating fact about this record-breaking Jupiter-sized planet is that its orbit is inclined to the rotational plane of its parent star by 85°. This means that it is in an almost polar orbit round the star. This is almost unbelievable and I look forward to finding an explanation. The following links provide more information about this fascinating discovery.
What KELT is. Do please follow that link. You’ll be amused and astonished.
NASA JPL News 5th June
S&T article (with animations)
The original (detailed and very technical) report in Nature may be accessible free by following this link to the web site and scrolling down to the end of the fifth paragraph and clicking on the “journal Nature” link.

There has been a discovery of a huge planet 2-80 times the mass of Jupiter and with a ring system many times larger than the rings round Saturn. The planet orbits PDS 110, an 11th magnitude star in Orion and was discovered because the light from PDS 110 dimmed to 30% of its normal brightness (an unprecedented drop in brightness for a planetary transit) for about a fortnight every 808 days. If this is confirmed, PDS 110 will stand alone as the only star outside our solar system to have a ringed companion. The next eclipse is due in September this year and will be visually observable with amateur telescopes of at least 100mm aperture or on digital images using even smaller instruments. The professional astronomers are seeking observations from amateurs and will be issuing finder charts and instructions nearer the time. This may be the first opportunity amateurs like us have to observe an exoplanet transit. Admittedly it’s a protoplanet (or may be a brown dwarf) round a very young and still forming star but nevertheless worth looking out for. I imagine the professionals will be seeking timings of when the star’s magnitude drops. And if the planet’s ring system is divided and our line of sight is not exactly in the ring plane, over the two week transit period we may see the star’s magnitude rise and fall from night to night or even possibly from hour to hour. We will keep you posted. For more information, see this S&T article.

Last month’s events – June

June 2nd
YAS Friday meeting at the Priory Street Centre. Dr Michael Martin-Smith of Hull University gave a talk entitled “Cosmic Women: Female Astronomy Pioneers”. Michael’s selection of female astronomers spanned over1600 years, and his knowledge of each one was impressive. Here are links to each of his subjects. If you have time, follow some of these links; they are fascinating.
Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415 A.D.)
Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848)
Edward Pickering’s Harvard “Computers” (circa 1913)
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900 – 1979)
Dr Irene Sänger-Bredt (1911 – 1983)
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943 – )
Linda Morabito (1953 – )
Eleanor Helin (1932 – 2009)
Carolyn Shoemaker (1929 – )
Professor Lisa Randall (1962 – )
Professor Debra Fischer (?)
Professor Sally Ride (1951 – 2012)
Lori Garver (1961 – )
Colonel Eileen Collins (1956 – )
Major Liu Yang (1978 – )
Dr. Jill Tarter (1944 – )
Gwynne Shotwell (1963 – )

June 16th
YAS Friday meeting at the Priory Street Centre. John Timmins, proprietor of Peak 2 Valley Instruments gave us a talk entitled, “Improving your Telescope’s Optics”. John has over 50 years of observing experience, using most brands and types of telescope available to the amateur astronomer. The talk started with a brief reminder of key telescope developments over the past 400 years. Critical measurement of optical performance (notably Strehl Ratio) were discussed, directly related to the functionality of modern commercial amateur and professional telescopes. Based on this analysis, recommendations followed for all types of optical systems with the aim of improving the performance of the amateur’s telescope. A key slide during the talk was this one.

John’s primary recommendations for improving one’s telescope image quality – notably the on-axis image quality – were to:

  1. Use a smaller secondary.
  2. Install baffles
  3. Paint the inside of the tube with blackboard paintKrylon Ultra-Flat spray paint or use Protostar flocking (this being the most effective option by far).
  4. Use a longer dewshield
  5. Ensure mirror/lens coatings top class. Orion Optics mirror coating recommended.

John also cited R.F. Royce’s article, A better method of measuring optical performance in support of his assertion that Strehl Ratio was the key performance measurement.

To understand Newtonian offset, follow the link.

Mr Timmins did not mention off-axis aberrations, usable field diameter or eyepieces but concentrated solely on on-axis image quality. Some might argue that this is only one factor when considering overall telescope performance.

June 21st
YAS trip to RAF Fylingdales.
Irene Lucas, who went on the trip writes:
Had a really good evening thanks to Martin organising it.
We only saw 2 rooms: the visitors talk and film slide room, and the operation room . In the first, our group asked some really interesting question which I think surprised the guide who showed us round. The operation room was interesting and the MOD staff were very friendly and welcoming. The tour lasted just under 2 hours.
Bit disappointed we were not offered a drink ( tea / coffee) and a bit more time to spend for chatting to guide. Plus no photos which would of been nice to have. But very pleased to of had the opportunity to visit as there is now a 4 year waiting list and they only do 10 visits a year. But our group jumped to the opportunity to offer to set up their own Fylingdales scope for them,  hoping to get a group of us with scope to go and help them and hopefully use own scopes.

Some more in depth information culled from some online sources for those interested 🙂

RAF Fylingdales was first declared operational in 1953 and served as a key NATO listening post during the Cold War. The other 2 BMEWS stations are Thule in Greenland – operated by the 12th Space Warning Squadron (or SWS) and Clear in Alaska – operated by the 13th SWS – both components of the USAF 21st Space Wing based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The current radar system at Fylingdales is a 3-faced phased array radar that operates in the UHF (420-450 MHz) frequency range.

The radar beam constantly sweeps 360°. Each face of the three-faced truncated pyramid has around 2500 aerials on it. . The aerials can change beam direction in a matter of microseconds, independently, allowing the radar to cover the full 360° in a fraction of a second. Although the beam is not designed to deliberately bend over the horizon, in certain atmospheric conditions this does happen.

Each face is approximately 84 feet (28m) in diameter and contains an array of 2,560 transmit/receive modules, each with a circularly polarised ‘Pawsey Stub’ antenna.  Should it ever be necessary, there would be room for around another 1000 aerials on each face.
Each antenna has a power output of 340 watts and this gives an overall mean power output from the 3 faces of approximately 2.5 Mega Watts. The SSPAR has no big dishes that turn, indeed no moving parts at all. Instead, the SSPAR uses changes in electrical phase to steer the radar beam. Each of the 2,560 transmitters on a face can send out its pulse at a slightly different time – or more correctly in a different phase. These pulses combine together to form a wavefront which can be effectively pointed in any direction simply by altering the timing, or phasing, of the 2,560 transmitters. Although the use of this ‘phased array’ principle is well known and many radars now use this technique, Fylingdales is the only 3-faced BMEWS radar in the world, providing a full 360º of cover. The SSPAR can keep track of many hundreds of space objects per minute out to a range of 3000 nautical miles.   The current catalog of tracked objects numbers over 42,000.  Cubesats and other small objects are easily tracked by the array.

The radar software is designed to ignore targets that do not behave like a rocket being launched or a satellite in orbit. It is little surprise, therefore, that RAF Fylingdales has never knowingly detected a UFO!

More on phased arrays here :

The base employs approximately 80 Service personnel, 80 MOD Policemen and women, and a further 200 civilian staff and contractors. One US military representative is also on the base, and a number of the contractors who maintain the equipment are from the US.

The base performs four main functions:

Primary Function

The detection and identification of an Inter-continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) targetted on the US or the UK. The ‘4 minute warning’ of the Cold War was derived from the approximate length of time between the point at which a missile from the Soviet Union could be confirmed and its impact on targets in the UK.

Secondary Function

The detection, identification and tracking of  man-made objects in earth orbit, as a contribution to the US Space Surveillance Network (SSN). The SSN consists of radar, optical, and passive sensors located around the world. The site tracks objects in near earth orbit out to a range of 3000 nautical miles. When an object penetrates the radar’s coverage, the radar tracks the object to identify it as a missile or space object. Over the course of one day, a space object can penetrate the radar’s coverage anumber of times and Fylingdales can track something like 55,000 objects in one day. As part of the identification aspect of space surveillance, the site routinely collects Space Object Identification on numerous objects. SOI can be used to discriminate between a rocket body or satellite payload.

Tertiary Function

The base’s third role is to perform a UK specific mission–the Satellite Warning Service for the UK. SWSUK gives UK forces warning of surveillance by satellites of potentially hostile or other nations. Until recently, SWSUK’s primary concern was military satellites gathering intelligence. With the increasing availability of imagery from commercial sources, SWSUK now focuses on any satellite that an adversary could use to gather information on UK forces and operations.

Missile Defence Function

Following a required ‘Star Wars’ upgrade, the base also performs a fourth function of being an active part of the US Ballistic Missile Defense Systems aimed at shielding the US mainland from ballistic missile attack. In this role it is one of the 5 high powered of radars that cover the entire coastline of the continental United States to detect and warn of a missile attack.


Picture taken by Mike Terzza (who daren’t get any nearer with his camera!)

Next month’s events – July

July 7th (Friday)
YAS Friday meeting at the Priory Street Centre. Robert Ince will give us a talk entitled “Science from Astro Imaging”.
Rob Ince has been a friend of the society for many years, is a regular at the Kielder Star Camps, and is an excellent astrophotographer. His talk will explain why pictures of the heavens are not just pretty to look at, but can be used to perform actual science.

July 21st (Friday)
YAS Friday meeting at the Priory Street Centre. Stuart Atkinson from Kendal AS will give us a talk entitled “Mars Rovers”.
Stuart is a lifelong amateur astronomer and “Public Outreach Educator” living in Kendal, in the beautiful Lake District in Cumbria, England. He is the author of more than a dozen children’s astronomy and spaceflight books, and has edited or been a consultant on many more. He has written articles on astronomy and spaceflight for many magazines, newspapers and websites, and is also the Secretary of Eddington Astronomical Society.

Other Future Events Round the Country
The YAS has been approached by other societies announcing events. In case you are in their area at the right time, here are the events and dates for your diary.

October 7th (Saturday)

King’s Lynn and District Astronomy Society are co-hosting, in conjunction with the BAA, a Back to Basics Workshop on 7th October 2017 and would be pleased if you could let your members know of the event. I am attaching a PDF copy of the BAA poster and booking form for your information.

Details are as follows:-

Title of EventBack to Basics Workshop 
A whole day of talks covering What Equipment you need to get started, Lunar Observing, Observing Planets, Radio Astronomy, and Deep Sky Observing.

Date of eventSaturday 7th October 2017

Venue: West Norfolk Professional Development Centre, Kilham’s Way, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 2HU

Events starts at 10.00 until 17:30

Cost £10 for BAA members; £12 for non-members including refreshments and lunch.

Space is limited so book early to avoid disappointment.

All bookings must be made through the BAA via their website

More information from John Craythorne, Chair, King’s Lynn and District Astronomy Society
Tel: 01945 701038


Here’s a good site for upcoming sky events. It is clear and concise.

For a more detailed sky calendar, here are the BAA bi-monthly sky notes.

And here is a link to our own YAS web site.
The society also has a Facebook page
There’s a YAS Instagram page online. Go to

Finally, if you have any ideas or thoughts on how we can improve our society, speak to one of the committee or write to Derek on

We look forward to seeing you at the next meeting, on 7th July.

Clear skies!

This Bulletin compiled for the York Astronomical Society by John Rowland