Derby and District Astronomical Society

The Journal of the Derby and District Astronomical Society
Winter 2007-2008

Society News

Reports by Anthony Southwell

The Annual Flamsteed Lecture at the University of Derby
Wednesday 10th October 2007
Professor Collin Pillinger CBE FRS
Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, The Open University.
Fifty Years In Space.

Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers (left) with Professor Colin Pillinger at
the 2007 Flamsteed Lecture at The University of Derby.
Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers (left) with Professor Colin Pillinger.   Image Credit: Chris Newsome

In this fiftieth anniversary year of the launch of Sputnik 1, which heralded the beginning of the Space Age, it seemed only fitting that the University of Derby invite Professor Colin Pillinger to present his Fifty Years In Space lecture, which was subtitled Space Is A Funny Place, which, incidentally, is the title of his new book. Professor Pillinger’s presentation was a sideways examination of space exploration as seen through the eye of the cartoonist. From the dawn of the space race to the more recent missions to the Moon and the planets of the solar system, comets and asteroids, space has provided fertile ground for cartoon jokes, especially when things go wrong. The Editor remembers the field day the world’s cartoonists had when it was discovered that the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed with a misshapen mirror and was therefore short-sighted!

Professor Pillinger also spoke about the Beagle 2 mission to Mars, of which he was the leader and principal investigator. Professor Pillinger spoke of the trials, the sheer amount of hard work, the meetings, the endless round of media interviews in order to raise the profile of the mission (and to raise funds for it), the joy at the launch in June 2003 and the feelings of utter disappointment when, on Christmas Day 2003, Beagle 2 should have sent a message from the surface of Mars. That message never made it to Earth. All in all the entire lecture was a fascinating look into the world of space exploration seen through the eyes of someone who has actually been involved in it. Indeed, Professor Pillinger has worked on the lunar samples returned by the Apollo astronauts. We were due to have Professor Pillinger come to the 2003 Flamsteed Lecture to discuss the Beagle 2 mission, but he could not make the lecture due to operational issues concerning Beagle 2 (which was on route to Mars at that time), but it was real pleasure to see him this time 'in the flesh' and share his experiences and observations.

After the lecture we all went to the reception held in the Atrium, the Society had it’s usual display stand, and was staffed by a number of members. We had astro-photos, and photos of Society trips on display. The Editor brought his trusty laptop with him and showed a Society PowerPoint presentation which took the audience on a tour of the solar system and on out into the wider Universe. In addition to this, Graham Ensor brought a number of meteorites from his ever-growing personal collection, it was quite an impressive display, so much so, in fact, that it caught the eye of Professor Pillinger, who came across to have a look. As Professor Pillinger was looking at Graham’s meteorites, he looked at one particular sample and said "I’ve done some work on this meteorite". In response to this your Editor nearly went into a dead faint! How much of a name-dropper will Graham become now?

Society Meetings in 2007

5th January 2007 - The Solar Neighbourhood - A Guide to the Nearest Stars – Dr Colin Steele, School of Mathematics University of Manchester

Dr Steele’s lecture took the Society on a tour around the galaxy to examine some of the nearest stars to our Sun. It was fascinating to examine thse other suns close-up and to come to know them as places and not just points of light in the night sky. Some of our stellar neighbours are much like our own Sun, while others are larger and more energetic, and some are nearing the end of their lives. Dr Steele’s presentation really made you feel that you had been on voyage to visit these fascinating objects.

2nd February 2007 – Society Quiz

It must be that time of year again, the Society Quiz, the annual round of astronomical mind-mashing was upon us. As always our Question Master, Arthur Tristram, was the host, and your Editor was ‘volunteered’ to serve in the role of official score-keeper (I wonder why that could be?). The quiz itself was a success (as always) and a very enjoyable evening was had by all those present. Many thanks to Arthur for preparing the annual quiz. (Please be gentle with us next year Arthur! – Editor).

2nd March 2007 – A Party at Patrick’s – Arthur Tristram and Dave Maynard

Arthur Tristram with Patrick Moore at the SHA Summer Picnic in 2006. Credit: Dave Maynard.
Arthur Tristram with Patrick Moore at the SHA Summer Picnic in 2006.   Credit: Dave Maynard.

Arthur was again the master of ceremonies for the March meeting, for he presented a talk describing the day out he and Dave Maynard had at the home of none other than Sir Patrick Moore. Arthur is a member of the Society for the History of Astronomy (SHA). The SHA had organised a summer picnic at Patrick’s home in July 2006. The pictures that Arthur took to accompany his talk were very good they showed a very congenial scene with Patrick sitting outside in the back garden of his home in Selsey talking to the various guests in the sunshine. There also seemed to be an enormous number of wine bottles present as well! Arthur took some pictures of the inside of Patrick’s house as well, and it was real privilege to have look around the living quarters of the great man, indeed, Arthur took a few pictures of examples of space-themed artworks of a produced by produced by Patrick’s late mother. A very well presented talk and a fascinating and affectionate look at one of the great figures in the astronomical community.

6th April 2007 - The Living Cosmos: An Exploration of Extraterrestrial Life and Intelligence – Anthony R. Southwell

Are we alone in the Universe? Are there other planets out there in the galaxy? If there are planets, are there any earth-like planets? Is there life in the Universe, and if so, is it intelligent? Could we contact such intelligent life? Could we even travel the distances between the stars to visit these intelligences? These are some of the questions that this lecture set out to answer. In order to find the answers, Anthony took the Society on a journey though the galaxy looking for planets and life. The topics covered were many and varied. Was the idea of life beyond the Earth a recent concept? How do planetary systems form? How did life on Earth arise, and could this model be used to calculate the possibility of life arising on another planet in the galaxy? Is there life elsewhere in our own solar system? The search for extra-solar planets and the search for intelligent life were also covered. How likely would it be that we could actually travel to meet such intelligences out in the galaxy? Anthony then went on to discuss the UFO phenomenon and alien abductee cases, and debunked them. Finally, Anthony outlined the projects and the spacecraft that will be launched in the future to look for planets and life within our galaxy, such as ESA’s Darwin mission, and the already operational CoRoT spacecraft (this is a planet-spotting spacecraft – Editor) and NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder. This was a really comprehensive and information-filled lecture [of the usual Antonian length! - Webmaster] and it certainly made the membership reflect upon how far we have come in our understanding of life on the Earth and off the Earth in recent years.

4th May 2007 - DDAS Annual General Meeting

The committee for the 2007/8 was elected as follows:

Chairman - Mike Lancaster
Vice-Chair - Chris Newsome
Secretary - Dave Selfe
Treasurer - Adrian Brown
Site Curator - Mike Dumelow
Editor - Anthony R. Southwell

Ordinary Members:
Malcolm Neal
Tony Razzell
Tony Hubbard

Notably at this meeting two of our longest serving committee members stepped down from office. Dave Maynard as Vice Chair, and Arthur Tristram as Treasurer.

1st June 2007 - Sundials - The Sky as a Clock - Dr Colin Steele, School of Mathematics, University of Manchester

The Society welcomed Dr Steele back for a second visit and he presented a talk on sundials. The lecture was very well presented and the history and the function of sundials were deftly explained by Dr Steele. Indeed, on the history side of the topic, Dr Steele described, possibly the largest operating sundial in the world, which is located in Jaipur, India. Dr Steele included some pictures of this instrument, which is part of a much larger observatory complex, which was built on the order of the Maharaja Jai Singh II (1686-1743), in the eighteenth century. To conclude his presentation Dr Steele outlined a proposal to build the world’s largest Sundial near Staveley, north Derbyshire, to be known as the Solar Pyramid.

7th July 2007 - Society BBQ and Observing Session at the Flamsteed Observatory

Society members gathered once again at the Flamsteed Observatory for the annual DDAS barbecue, and hopefully, and a pleasant evening’s observing. The first part of the plan went without a hitch, but, unfortunately, the observing did not happen due to the presence of the astronomer’s arch-enemy, cloud, and lots of it! Let us hope for clearer skies for the 2008 barbecue.

3rd August 2007 - Observing Session at the Flamsteed Observatory

It was back to the Flamsteed Observatory for the August meeting for an observing session. A number of members turned up for this event and a pleasant evening’s observing was had by all, clouds permitting that is! A large range of member’s telescopes were on show, including the Society’s own Meade 8-inch LX-90 telescope.

7th September 2007 - Henry Norris Russell - Dr Ann Bonell, Leicester Astronomical Society

The Society welcomed a long-standing visitor to present a lecture for the September meeting. Dr Ann Bonell of the Leicester Astronomical Society presented a talk looking at the life and work of Henry Norris Russell. Russell pioneered the use of atomic physics for the analysis of the stars and thus played a principal part in laying the foundations of present-day astrophysics. He analysed the physical conditions and chemical compositions of stellar atmospheres and evaluated the relative abundance of the elements. His assertion of the overwhelming abundance of hydrogen was accepted, after prolonged controversy, as one of the basic facts of cosmology. He is best remembered for his contribution to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which illustrated the process of stellar evolution.

Time lapse picture of the Flamsteed Observatory and telescope. Credit: Chris Newsome.
Time lapse picture of the Flamsteed Observatory and telescope.   Credit: Chris Newsome.

22nd September 2007 - Observing Session at the Flamsteed Observatory

Despite the cloudy skies several members attended this session as well as a number of new visitors who were shown around the observatory and the telescope therein. Chris Newsome took the opportunity to get the rather unusual time-lapse photo of the observatory seen at right. For a larger version and more technical details about the picture click here.

5th October 2007 - Exoplanets: Are we alone? The Hunt for Planets Orbiting Other Suns - Dr Frazer Pearce, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham

Dr Pearce described the current work, and the latest results, in the search for extra-solar planets (exoplanets). With so many new worlds discovered in recent years (the current total stands at 160 confirmed exoplanets – Editor), Dr Pearce’s lecture gave the Society a very topical look at this latest development in astronomical research. Dr Pearce described the methods available used to find exoplanets, and what the conditions on these exoplanets would be like, as the majority of the confirmed planets are Jupiter-sized worlds, which are close-in to their parent stars.

2nd November 2007 - Coronal Conundra and Prominence Puzzles - Dr Colin Steele, School of Mathematics, University of Manchester

The Society, for a third time, welcomed back Dr Steele to present a lecture. This time the focus of Dr Steele’s attention would turn to the Sun and its active outer regions, the corona and prominences, huge flares that erupt from the Sun and send enormous amounts of solar particles into interplanetary space. Dr Steele described the structure of the Sun and how it works, how prominences occur (they are formed by the action of magnetic fields generated by sunspots), and the nature of sunspots was also investigated. Dr Steele also looked at the mystery of the temperature of the solar corona, which is 2 million degrees C and is located far from the Sun’s 'surface', the photosphere, which has a temperature of 6,000 degrees C. Dr Steele also displayed a number of striking images of solar eclipses showing the solar corona and prominences.

7th December 2007 - Spirit and Opportunity: A Martian Chronicle - Dr Mike Lancaster, Derby and District Astronomical Society

The last meeting of 2007 saw the DDAS Chairman, Dr Mike Lancaster, present a lecture looking at the continuing successful surface operations of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. These hugely successful, and long-lived rovers, have been roving around their landing sites since early 2004, so they have been operating on the surface for 4 years (or 2 Martian years to be more precise, a year on Mars is 686 Earth days long - Editor). Mike’s lecture outline what these two rovers have been doing recently and the triumphs and trials they have been through in the past year or so, and a look at some of the latest imagery and results of their robotic investigations.

For our current meeting programme click here.

If you have any suggestions for lecture topics and potential lecturers, then please pass on your ideas to the