Stargazing 2014 – Society Round-up
Despite record breaking rainfall societies across the country have been busy staging local events in support of BBC Stargazing Live and SAGAS societies were amongst them.
Below is a round-up of just some of the events organised by SAGAS member societies.
Crawley Astronomical Society
Over the last Winter Crawley AS has again collaborated with Oriel High School Maidenbower to run a series of monthly Star Gazing events at the School in December. January and February. We were able to observe on the December and February event dates. In January, because of cloud cover, we concentrated on holding a Telescope work shop in the School cafeteria. This went well and at least two possible new members were recruited from those who turned up needing assistance with their new Christmas Telescopes.
Four members of the Society also gave assistance at the BBC Star Gazing live event at Egham. When the broadcast went out on air all that could be seen of our team was the leg of one of our Telescopes, the rest being hidden behind the presenter.
The Star Gazing evening, along with the others of this winter, can be called a resounding success.
Report by Neil Morrison
Worthing Astronomical Society
Worthing AS was rather out of luck with its Stargazing Live event, having been lucky with the weather in both 2012 and 2013.
What we do is to go to a dark site on the seafront at Ferring, west of Worthing, which has been used by the Society for observing for many years (mainly the Perseids in August). There is a long concrete gun emplacement overlooking the beach with bushes behind it and then the back walls and gardens of houses, so it is fairly dark.
We scheduled our event for Friday January 3rd, but strong winds, some heavy rain and weather warnings prompted a cancellation. We had already decided that in the event of bad weather the event would run on Friday January 31st, with a backup of Saturday February 1st.
What we wanted to show the public, apart from Jupiter and its moons and the highlights of the winter sky, was a thin crescent moon and, in the case of early January, Venus approaching inferior conjunction. The rearranged event saw Venus replaced by Mercury. But for Friday January 31st the forecast was for heavy rain throughout, which is exactly what happened, so we went for the February 1st backup.
That day saw some sunshine in the morning, but showers in the afternoon. The main problem was that it was still very windy and we knew we could not set up any telescopes in those conditions. Nevertheless 3 members and a prospective member went there with binoculars, Society leaflets and Stargazing Live calendars to see who would turn up.
Four members of the public arrived at the start, three were part of a family from Ferring. The fourth person had driven from Crawley, a long way to come, although he had attended a Society evening a few months ago as a visitor.
The sky was partly clear. The crescent moon was visible and Mercury just below it (I did see Mercury briefly in a gap in the clouds). One member of the public also saw Mercury and we also saw Orion and Jupiter, but it was very cold in the wind and our visitors were not planning to stay long.
We waited around for an hour in the nearby car park, looking up at Orion, The Pleiades, Ursa Major and Sirius as they appeared between fast-moving clouds. With thicker cloud moving I and no other visitors in sight we decided to call it a night. Not long afterwards there was a hailstorm accompanied by thunder and lightning. The pavements were still covered 10 minutes later. Nevertheless another member and her children did pay a visit to the site later.
Report by Richard Godley
Hampshire Astronomical Group
The Hampshire Astronomical Group (HAG) took part in the BBC’s Stargazing Event on Tuesday 7th January at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth as part of the series of BBC initiated national events.
In terms of amateur Astronomy, this event was a successful collaboration between HAG, Fordingbridge Astronomers, Maidenhead Astronomical Society, Newbury Astronomical Society and Wessex Astronomical Society. The telescopes were placed in small groups around the Historic Dockyard including on the top deck of HMS Warrior (pictured) which was built in 1860 as the world’s first Ironclad warship.
In addition to the telescopes there were many professional organisations involved including the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation from the University of Portsmouth, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory from Oxford, and EADS Astrium based in Portsmouth which brought their full scale working model of the European Space Agency’s proposed Mars Rover.
During the evening there were live links across to the USA, the ability to see a real astronaut suit, comet making, and many ‘hands on’ science experiences. This included the ‘Seeing the Universe in all its light’ exhibition which featured an 8 metre interactive wall and replica telescopes, including ALMA, which resides 5000 metres above sea level in the Atacama Desert – the driest place on Earth. There was also a control desk to view images at different wavelengths, crucial for astronomers to be able to build up an accurate picture of the Universe.
In addition to the astronomical and space science themes there was entertainment in the form of military wives choir and the TV science presenter, Dallas Campbell hosting a number of stage events.
One can see from the itinerary, there was much real science on hand as well as ‘scientific entertainment’ to keep the visitors engaged and interested
The event attracted some 5500 visitors during the 3 hour period, unfortunately the weather only cooperated for the first hour or so but this no less detracted from a very enjoyable event.
Report by Graham Bryant
Farnham Astronomical Society
On 9th January Farnham AS joined with societies from Crawley, Guilford, Reading, and Walton to give visitors to the BBC’s public event at the Royal Holloway University the chance to use an assortment of telescopes and binoculars. The University buildings, a stage and inflatable domes offered a whole range of activities including the chance to talk to astronauts, DIY solar systems, dark matter demonstrations and talks on astronomy and the night sky. Despite the chance to stay in the warm, visitors did not seem to mind the cold and the queues at the telescopes were a dozen deep for the entire evening.
The weather cooperated with clear skies throughout the evening and there were spectacular views of the Moon, Jupiter and the Orion nebula. The many societies fielded a range of equipment that caught the crowd’s attention but Helen Marlow Robinson stole the show with a whopping 20×150 binoculars. They drew the attention of the public and the envy of many astronomers! Richard Kacerek and Peter Campbell-Burns, set up a display in one of the buildings showing the work of the UK Meteor Monitoring Network.
For its main Stargazing event for 2014 Farnham Astronomical Society returned to Frensham Heights School where we were privileged to be given use of the school’s excellent facilities.
As the date approached nails were being bitten to the quick whilst we hoped for a break in the weather. In 2013 we were forced to cancel due to heavy snow and after all the hard work that went into organising Stargazing 2014 we did not want a second year of disappointment. As luck would have it we just managed to squeeze into a gap in the procession of low pressure systems that have brought record rainfall to the South of England. It was still a close very call. Just two hours before the public was due to arrive, a ferocious squall appeared out of nowhere and we were battered by rain and high wind. The wind was strong enough to bring down trees across Surrey and Hampshire and the nearby village of Frensham saw its power cut off. The squall cleared as quickly as it came leaving behind it a-crystal clear sky.
The public were admitted from 7pm and things soon became busy. There was a queue at every one of the dozen or more telescopes that were set up on the school’s astroturf pitch. Those wanting to escape from the cold wind joined us in the Frensham Heights School’s prestigious Performing Arts Centre where, as well as telescopes and astronomical images, there were displays on meteor observation and radio astronomy. In the auditorium Kevin Pretorius gave a talk entitled ‘How the night sky works’ and Maurice Kent gave a talk on the asteroid impact threat, both of which attracted a sizable audience. We estimate around 250 to 300 people attended in total, and many of these were family groups.
Throughout the evening refreshments were provided by students who raised £140 for the school’s chosen charity, an education project in Malawi, and thanks to generous donations from visitors the costs of running the event did not place an undue burden on the Society’s limited funds.
The Aldershot and Farnham Camera Club kindly agreed to be our official photographers and giving and provided us with an excellent record of a great night.
Report by Danny Thomas and Peter Campbell-Burns
Eastbourne Astronomical Society
It may be the BBC TV Programme ‘Stargazing Live’; it may be the fact that, after almost three weeks of rain the evening of the society’s public observing evening gave us totally clear skies, or it may be that the Council gave the society excellent publicity in their ‘newsletter’ which goes to all households. Whatever the reason, the observing evening on 11th January was the society’s most successful yet.
There was concern that we may not be able to cope with the numbers who might attend and we enlisted the help of neighbouring society East Sussex who attended with several telescopes. Our concerns were not necessary. Many members attended with their telescopes and in the end we had nine instruments available. The crowds started to arrive including many family groups. They came in so fast it was difficult to gauge accurate numbers but at least 200 people attended in all and there were queues to look through the larger telescopes. Peter Gill gave excellent beginners’ slide presentations, the first to a packed house with over 50 people and standing room only. The second was almost as full too.
Overall, it was a great success, so thanks to everyone who helped to make the event the success it was.
Report by Keith Brackenborough
(reproduced from Eastbourne’s ‘Orbit’ newsletter)