Monday, 15 August 2011

New Dark Site Report

It was planned to visit our new dark site at Broad Acres Fisheries on the evening of Friday 12th August 2011 to observe the Perseids Meteor Shower, however conditions were cloudy and text messages were exchanged between Mick and Derek and it was decided to stand down on this occasion, but to review the situation on Saturday evening.

Whilst conditions for observing on Saturday were far from ideal, we decided to visit the dark site and check it out anyway. Three of us set out around 21.15 and headed towards Elcocks Brook, no, on this occasion the pull of the dark was greater than the bright lights of the pub.

Arriving at the site via a twisty, narrow route, after about ten minutes or so and not knowing exactly what we would find, we were pleasantly surprised to find loads of hard standing for parking and tripods, a 270 deg of virtually clear horizon, and if you moved further south, the northern skies would open up also. There is also a red light (which we estimated could be the same one that we always used) for setting up finder scopes or red dot finders. We were not alone however, there was one caravan c/w hawning so obviously by arrangement, and a couple of anglers by one of the pools, however no interaction took place between us.

There was a full moon on Saturday, but round about ten o’clock stars started to appear, and we were blessed with a clear patch of sky, and the Plough, Casiopea, Cygnus, and even one meteor was spotted by Mick, and we got rather excited speculating on what could be visible on a truly dark winter night.

Comments that I received on Sunday:

What did ya think of the new dark site? I thought it was really good, the southern horizon was brilliant, and it looks like there is going to be no light pollution. In about November, December time the sky will be pitch black there I reckon.

The bright star we thought might be Jupiter was Capella” .

I thought it was a brilliant place, we are going to see a lot more objects in the sky”

My own view is that we are in for some excellent observing, and well done to the team for sorting this one out for us.


Friday, 8 July 2011

RAS at Think Tank Birmingham

A party of seven members from Redditch Astronomical Society accepted the invitation of Rugby Astronomical Society to join them for a private session in the Planetarium at The think Tank Birmingham.

Below is a report on the visit by Dominic Gribbin:

After introductions, we all went upstairs to the planetarium, it was fairly big, but the chairs could have lent back slightly more. We were told about finding different star constellations. Most of them included Polaris, the North Star, and Orion’s belt.

We talked about the size of some stars, basically casually we learned that they can be HUGE. But I think that most people thought that the stuff about the radio-dome was the most fascinating. The fact that the first ever radio broadcast, still out there, it has been transmitted over 79 light-years, that’s amazing.

There was a great analogy said during this, if a man dipped a glass into the sea, and filled it with some of the water and there are no fish, he wouldn’t assume that there were no fish in the sea, that is just like the dome. To assume that there are no aliens, just because we haven’t found any is completely idiotic.

At the end there was a joke song about the summer triangle, and someone made a comment at the end, saying that’s what happens when you put a physicist, an astronomer, and a musician together in a room, catastrophe.

Overall, I highly suggest, if you happen to be at the Thinktank, or are planning a day out there, go to the planetarium, you learn a lot, and it’s very easy to understand, I’m 12, and I understood all of it.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Star Party Report

It’s not every day that one is invited to a Saturday Star Party. A Star Party with carefully prepared food and drink, in the open air and countryside and with music being the music of the spheres and a party where the company is mercifully short on A-listers and B-listers, being a group of enthusiastic astronomers on a biannual bash.

Rolling up to the designated ‘dark site’ on the outskirts of Redditch with my two- year-old-but-never-used-until-2 days-before Dobsonian telescope in the boot, I expected to see only a couple of keen astronomers gazing upwards

I was surprised to see that the car park was packed full, allowing me just to squeeze between 2 vehicles, the owners of which had already set up their telescopes and were now enjoying fortifying themselves with sausages and burgers, ready for a long evening.

Though Ron and Derek from Redditch Astronomical Society had set up the telescope in my garden on the previous Wednesday – an act of sheer supportive kindness and generosity of spirit – I feared that I would struggle to do this alone now and, even worse, before an audience of some 50 people in broad, though diminishing, daylight.

In one respect I was right to be concerned. Having heaved the ‘Dob’, as I would learn to call it, out of the car, I started to set it up, trying to look utterly professional and unfazed. When Ron came running towards me commenting “You haven’t turned it towards the sun have you?”, I realized then that I had very much to learn (I had just inadvertently risked blindness), but also that this community of enthusiasts would not let me fail, and the whole evening confirmed this.

It wasn’t just the stars, the many detailed views of the moon or even my first opportunity to see Saturn and her rings that impressed that night. It was the community. Whether Derek and his lenses or Mick and his ‘Barlows’ (and I learned so much about equipment), Karen and her encouragement, or all the other friendly astronomers who were truly delighted to have an ageing starstruck newbie look through their telescopes (even providing a box to stand on when necessary) and who would explain, fix, discuss, educate and enthuse and never patronize, I found nothing but welcoming helpfulness. The only aim was to share their love of looking at the universe and their knowledge to help others do this too.

As darkness crept in, though sadly the distant and apparently increasing urban orange impaired ideal viewing, talk was muted, head-torches glowed red, to preserve ‘night vision’, and those with computer trackers and I-Phone Apps consulted their equipment, talk turned to other evenings and other sights, of Perseid showers and meteors, of deep space and the opportunities for photography. And Ron, of course, made sure everyone was set up and all was well.

Without any Science qualification at all (though I might now embark on the GCSE Astronomy currently available at St Augustine’s!), with no experience with telescopes and with no knowledge of the stars, I am now a member of this amazing group and I look forward to learning more.

As I drove away that night, with no headlights on to preserve the dark, I felt grateful for a remarkable time and I silently promised to:

Buy my own Barlow

Get a head torch (for the professional look!)

And never, ever…. to point my telescope at the sun.

Val the Newbie

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Friday, 18 March 2011

Dr David Evans at Redditch Astronomical Society

On Monday 7th March Dr David Evans of Birmingham University came to the Redditch Astronomical Society at St Augustine's School to talk to us about his work on the ALICE detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

Throwing Health and safety concerns to the wind he proceeded to demonstrate the properties of super cooled materials with the aid of some liquid Nitrogen.

Levitation of magnets by super cooling other materials:

And finally some magic tricks!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

BBC Stargazing Live

Having registered our events with the B.B.C., the day of our first event was approaching, and the B.B.C. Stargazing Live t.v. programmes had been affected by cloud cover so that no live observations could take place, and the weather forecast was not good for astronomers as still more cloud was forecast.
The day of our first event, 7th January an observing evening was upon us and yes, more cloud. The committee had however made a decision that no matter what, we must have representation at our dark site just in case anyone should be keen enough to turn up.
Our chairman called for me and asked if I would put my telescope in the car, just in case. I questioned the wisdom of this, but bowed to his seniority and dutifully loaded my scope, a pair of binoculars and spare tripod and off we set for our dark site.
When we arrived there, we were preceded by two other club members and a small number of people who had found out about our event, and had come for various reasons to find out more about astronomy.
The first lesson we gave them was on meteorology i.e. listen to weather forecasts, watch the skies and fir cone and seaweed and then ignore it all and ‘get out there’ anyway.
Whilst delivering an impromptu talk on astronomy, having distributed the Stargazing Live Star Guide, some one spotted a hole in the cloud, with Jupiter peeping through, so the only scope on site was hastily assembled but only in time to look at the underside of cloud again. Then for a while that’s how it was a hole, cloud a hole etc. with brief glimpses of Jupiter and her four Galilean Moons.
Eventually the skies cleared, to reveal all of the familiar constellations and more, with an excellent observing session being enjoyed, taking in star clusters, nebulae, galaxies double stars and so on to the amazement of newcomers, and eternal gratitude of seasoned astronomers.
People with younger children started to drift away about nine o clock in the evening, and yes, the cloud did return so it was all over by about nine forty five.
Relieved and exhilarated, we returned home around ten o clock, some two hours later than anticipated.

Event two: Monday 10th Jan 20011.
Venue: St Augustines High School Hunt End Redditch
Programme: Talk on Jupiter and Uranus by Dr. Johanna Jarvis, followed by observing and telescope workshop.
This was Johanna’s second visit to R.A.S, having given an excellent talk on the Sun last year, she once again delivered an excellent presentation which was appreciated by the phenomenal 53 people (25 members and 28 visitors) whose interest was held for some 45 minutes, then some very good questions were forthcoming from the floor with good and valid replies from the speaker.
The observing session was cancelled due to (you’ve guessed) cloud and rain, but the telescope workshop was an outstanding success with many people having their problems solved by club members, and others enjoying a talk on what to look for in the night sky in January by Richard Hendy who also has taken the evening G.C.S.E. astronomy course at the school for the last three years..
Another observing evening is planned for 14th January……… Watch this space!

Monday, 22 November 2010

The North Star and Me

An article by Richard Birtles, April 2010

I was born in 1949 in Seaforth, a dockside borough of Liverpool. I, along with my Mum and Dad, Brother and two Sisters, lived in a three storey house on Seaforth Road, the main road which ran from Seaforth Docks to Litherland, Haydock and, finally, the East Lancashire road, the main route to the North and Scotland before the Motorways were built.

This was an extremely busy road and was used by all the lorries going to and from the docks; there were no containers in those days, just big, heavily laden lorries.

I used to love hanging out of the attic window after school watching all the different lorries speed along as they carried their loads to the docks which are now known as the Royal Seaforth container base.

One firm in particular sticks in my mind and this was “Robsons of Carlilse” . Their wagons were all Fodens with the bulbous fibreglass cabs. that Fodens had in the 1960’s and 70’s. They were cream and maroon in colour, a lovely scheme, and each one had it’s own romantic name painted on it’s side, all with “Border” as a prefix.

There was “Border Warrior”,”Border Duchess”, “Border Lady”, “Border Prince” and many more, but my real favourite was “Border Dandy” and I always used to look out for him. I say “him” because, as a little boy, I was sure he was a “Man” lorry!

Anyway, Seaforth Road runs directly from North to South and my bedroom was at the back of the house, extending to the West and my window looked North. My bed was up against the West wall also North to South and my head was against the South wall. So, when I lay in bed at night, I looked up, out of the window to the Northern sky.

All the houses were terraced and, because they all had westward extending bedrooms at the back, I looked out of the window and through a rectangle of sky formed by mine and the adjacent house’s bedrooms.

As I lay in bed each night, at the top right hand corner of my window,in the little patch of sky formed by my window frame top and the roof edge at right angles to it, there was always a star up in the sky, always.

This star was always there, it never seemed to move and yes, the sky was always clear as it always was when we were children.

I can only ever remember it being hot and sunny or torrential rain when I was little, never cloudy; does anyone else remember it like that ?

Because I never really used to look at the night sky I don’t really remember it being cloudy at night; how perceptions have changed !

Anyway, I never used to think anything about the fact that this star never seemed to move, for all I knew, none of the stars moved, but I always lay in bed looking at and wondering about the star there as I dropped off to sleep.

Well, when I was about twelve or thirteen, I acquired a 15 x 70, ex – army 45 degree angled gun sight.

I say “acquired” because I can’t remember if I swopped for it, bought it or swiped it, I just can’t. Shortly after I got it though I do remember taking it up to the attic one cold November night and pointing it out of the window, across Seaforth Road, at a really brilliant star which I had noticed low down in the Eastern sky.

The gun sight was made of brass and very heavy so I balanced it carefully on the ledge. This was the first time I had ever even looked through any optical instrument and what I did see amazed me. This “Star” had four other tiny Stars all around it and, in the 20/20 vision of a thirteen year old boy Jupiter and it’s moons were truly spectacular; never mind the excitement of seeing the Planet, I felt as if I had actually discovered it !! I think I ran downstairs and told my Mum and Dad what I’d seen, I was so excited even though I hadn’t yet realised what I had seen .

That was the first object I ever saw through a telescope and I was hooked. I started looking at Jupiter every night and kept a small notebook where I drew the planet and it’s moons as they changed.

I began taking my “telescope” out into our back yard each night and looking up at the stars. Although we were in the suburbs of Liverpool the sky was really dark and I quickly learnt the Constellations and would take my Mum and Dad out to show them Cepheus and Cassiopea high overhead; my Dad was very impressed and that made me proud that I had taken the trouble to learn about something “different”. I experimented with Meccano extensions attached to the focuser and with an old eve piece on a cardboard tube to give more power when looking at the moon.

I got some really high powered views even though the, by now, two foot long 45 degree meccano and cardboard contraption without a mount was a nightmare to use, it didn’t matter, I loved it and I made drawings of the craters I saw in my notebook alongside Jupiter.

Well, I could go on for ever but I think I have said enough for now.

Our lives are all changed by chance occurrences and happenings; if I hadn’t lived on a busy main road in Liverpool, if I hadn’t been interested in looking out at the world from a small attic window at brightly painted lorries and things in the sky, if I hadn’t “acquired” an old gun sight and if I hadn’t had the North Star for my companion each night as I grew up then I may never have become a part of this wonderful hobby of ours; lucky, aren’t I?