NACAA XXVI Programme Easter 2014 in Melbourne now ready!

he NACAA convention has been held across Australia since 1967, and has become a significant national forum at which amateur astronomers can exchange experiences, stay abreast of the latest trends, foster co-operative activities between individuals, societies and the professional sphere, and network amongst their peers throughout Australia and beyond.

Programme is ready!

The Programme Committee is pleased to announce that the programme for NACAA XXVI is now ready!!! We have had a huge response from speakers around the country and
internationally. We look forward to an exciting and vibrant event, and wish to thank all those who submitted papers/posters.

Full details can be found at http://www.nacaa.org.au/

Head to the website to register for this exciting event.

The Planets in January 2014

Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, has returned to the evening sky this month for a brief sojourn. Unfortunately you will need a good clear western horizon to see it. By the 19th it should be about 5 degrees above the south-western horizon and only visible for about 30 minutes after the Sun has set. By the end of January it will be visible for closer to 1 hour after Sunset and by mid February it will no longer visible in the evening sky as it heads off to its inferior conjunction appointment with the Sun. It will return later February as the ‘morning star’ and remain in the morning skies until mid April. An inferior conjunction occurs when the Earth and interior planet are on the same side of the Sun.

Venus started the month as the ‘evening star’ after shining so brightly in the western sky on January 11th it Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun and so had its inferior conjunction with the Sun. It will be come visible as the ‘morning star’ before dawn around January 19/20. A nice photo opportunity for all the morning risers will occur on January 29th when a thin crescent Moon will be above Venus to the south-east in the morning twilight.

Earth: trivia note for the month – on January 4, the Earth was at its closest to the Sun for the year. The Sun was only 147,089,638 km away.

Mars is slowly returning to our evening skies in January. Spending the month in the constellation of Virgo it will rise around 12:30am local summer time and rising earlier each night by around 2 minutes, finishing the month by poking its head up around 11:30pm local summer time. Currently the best time to check it out is still in the early morning sky about an hour before morning twilight. On the 23 and 24th of the month the Moon will be very close to Mars at around 12:30am.

Jupiter is visible most of the night at present. It will spend the month in Gemini. It is clearly the brightest object in the sky rising around 8:30pm. By January 22nd it will be setting at around 4:30am.  Having reached its yearly opposition – when it’s opposite the sun – rising in the east as the sun is setting in the west on January 5th. Even if you have only a small telescope, or a decent pair of binoculars, which you mount to keep steady the four main moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto should be visible. These are the moons that were discovered by Galileo. Although all four may not be visible at the same time as they may be hidden as they pass behind the planets. It is always interesting to watch and note their positions over a few hours – just as Galileo did over 400 years ago.

Saturn rises well before the Sun in the constellation of Libra. By mid January it is rising at around 2am and in the early hours of Australia Day, just before sunrise around 5:30am Venus will be visible very low on the Eastern horizon the Moon and Saturn will be very close and higher in the same line in the sky will be Mars. Between Venus and Saturn is a red star known as Antares – the heart of the Scorpion. Antares also means ‘Mars-Like” so don’t let it trick you! Mars is higher than yellow Saturn in the sky and Antares, a star, is much lower. The rings of Saturn currently are open wide when viewed from the Earth, making them a fine sight in a small telescope.

If you have any questions about what you see in the sky or want more information please feel free to contact me – Donna Burton, University of Southern Queensland – Astronomy for Schools Co-ordinator North West NSW 63 John Street, Coonabarabran 2357, phone 6842 4343 or via email donna.burton@usq.edu.au and you can check out my blog at http://www.astronewsroom.com.

 

Photo Credits and Caption

 

Aust_Day_Planets.jpg – Australia Day Morning Planet Parade.

Created in the free planetarium software package – Stellarium. This chart shows you the sky looking East on Australia Day (Jan 26), 2014 at 5:15am AEDST. You will need a good south-eastern horizon but you can see Venus low in the East, the Moon and Saturn and orange-red Mars higher in the sky and to the North.

 

Get Ready for the Geminid Meteor Shower overnight this Friday/Saturday

As usual at this time of the year, the Earth is entering a stream of debris from rock comet 3200 Phaethon, which is the source of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Dec. 13-14 with as many as 120 meteors per hour.

This year the nearly full Moon will reduce the number of meteors you may see but it is still well worth a look. Expected to peak from about midnight Friday Australian Eastern Daylight Time (or 1300 UT) until 9pm (1000 UT) Saturday, this meteor shower will be visible in both hemispheres.

Though you do need to keep in mind that meteor showers often peak hours before or after predictions and for sure we certainly don’t know everything that a given meteor stream might have in store!

This shower is an interesting one though, with an equally interesting history and source. The Geminids were first identified as a distinct meteor shower by R.P. Greg of Manchester UK in 1862, and the estimated ZHR rose from about 20 to 80 through the 20th century. The parent source of this shower remained unknown until 1983, when astronomer Fred Whipple linked them to the strange “rock-comet” body 3200 Phaethon. This is an Apollo asteroid also thought to be a member of the Pallas family of asteroids, 3200 Phaethon seems to be shedding enough material to produce the annual Geminid meteor shower. This makes the annual shower rare as one not produced by a comet. It’s worth noting that 3200 Phaethon also passes extremely close – 0.14 AU – from the Sun at perihelion, and gets periodically “baked” during each 1.4 year passage.

In the 21st century, rates for the Geminids have stayed above a Zenith hourly rate (ZHR) of 120, now the highest of any annual shower. It’s worth noting that an extrapolated ZHR of almost 200 were seen in 2011 when the Moon was at an equally unfavorable waning gibbous phase! The Geminids always produce lots of fireballs, capable of being seen even under moonlit skies.

With our warmer nights down under it is a great time to get out and have a look! Jupiter is also looking good after about 10:30pm and Mars and Saturn are visible in the early dawn skies as well.

An update on Comet ISON!

The comet had been visible in the Southern Hemisphere before passing the Sun but since the 19th November it has been very difficult to see as it has risen just before the Sun. After it had passed the Sun it would be rising just after the Sun rise and setting before the Sun set, in the southern hemisphere so hence we would not have been able to see it.

At around 6:44am our time this morning the comet reached perihelion (its closest approach to the Sun) where it broke up and then something continues on – it might just be gravel and dust or there might stay a chunk of rock big enough to stay comet like. But now only time will tell if it is big.  This goes to prove that although we certainly know a lot more about comets than we did before – there is a lot more that we do not know.  Many have pronounced Comet ISON as already being dead and it certainly will not reach the brightness and spectacular display that had been predicted – but as Mark Twain is often quoted: “Rumours of my demise are greatly exaggerated.”  Something emerged from the sun after Comet ISON made its closest approach today. Is it ISON? Both professional and amateur astronomers are analysing images from NASA satellites to learn more about comet’s fate. Northern ground based observers may have to wait until around the 9/10 of December now to see if there is anything to see. But they will not get the amazing views that we were all hoping for.

However, at every single opportunity it could find, Comet ISON has done completely the opposite of what was expected, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for this dynamic object to yet again do something remarkable. Even if the comet broke up, it offered a very rare opportunity to see how one of the oldest objects in the solar system interacted with the Sun’s magnetic field and its behaviour in the sun’s magnetic field will help scientists understand more about both comets and the Sun. This  was the first comet in recorded history which has come from so far away and passed so close to the sun, passing the sun at a distance of around 1.6 million kms that has been so well-studied and observed.

So we wait and see, this has been one of the most well observed, followed and commented in social media worldwide. A fleet of spacecraft watched ISON plunge toward the sun, including NASA’s STEREO satellite, the European Space Agency/NASA SOHO spacecraft and the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The Hubble Space Telescope should be able to take a close look in a couple of weeks if it did indeed survive.

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The photograph above is from the NASA SOHO Space Telescope’s LASCO C3 camera showing a fragment emerging from the other side of the Sun about 3 hours after perihelion.

The picture below is taken this at 00:42UT 1 December 2013 and shows the remnants of the comet as it leaves the SOHO LASCO C# camera’s field of view.

Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower May 3-6

Just a reminder that the Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak this weekend and into early next week, this shower is associated with Halley’s Comet.

The Moon will be a very slim crescent by the time the Eta’s peak on the morning of the 6th May (Monday).

It is advisable that you try to observe at least the morning before and after the peak as the maxima is very broad for this shower and it is quite possible that rates can vary.

The expected Zenith Hourly Rate is around 65 meteors per hour, but realistically this may be much lower, this shower has shown good rates in the past.

Best observing time is from around 3:30am.
The meteors will appear to “radiate” away from the star Eta Aquarii, meteors closer to the radiant will appear much shorter and ones further away will leave longer streaks, of which you can trace the origin back to the radiant.
Any meteor NOT tracing back to the radiant is classified as “sporadic” or could be a member of another shower which might be showing activity.
Some meteors near the radiant will show as a rapid pinpoint flash of light indicating a “head-on” meteor, don’t worry they won’t hit you!

Look for fast (65km/sec) white/yellowish coloured meteors which leave a 2 to 3 second “train” (sometimes longer), ie: the streak left over after the meteor “burns” out.

There will be some early morning International Space Station passes in the NE on the morning of the peak (6th May) at around 4:21am but will keep low (17 degrees) above the horizon!

Thanks to my pal – Chris Wyatt for the reminder and chart!

Siding Spring Observatory Open Day – Saturday October 6, 2012

On Saturday October 6th, the Annual Siding Spring Open Day will be held here at Siding Spring Observatory. A number of the telescopes will be open during the day to the public.

There will be a BBQ lunch available; a shuttle bus on site to help you move around and see all there is to see. You will have the opportunity to talk to astronomers and learn about what science is carried out here.

Solar observing will also be available and there will be talks in the Exploratory lecture theatre throughout the day.

The Exploratory cafe will be opened for a well deserved cuppa, Devonshire tea or light lunch from the International menu. Visit the various telescopes and listen to astronomers talk about the research they do. Take part in the trivia treasure hunt to win prizes on the day.

Entry to the event is free. The Open Day will start at 10am and run until 4pm.

Science in the Pub – the End is Nigh! or is it?

Join for Coonabarabran’s Annual Science in the Pub

 This entertaining event starts the weekend off on Friday October 5th, 2012 from 6.30pm.  This annual debate is definitely entertaining and can be thoroughly outrageous at times as a group of astronomers from various backgrounds debate a topic of astronomical interest at the Royal Hotel, John Street Coonabarabran. This event has an entry fee of $5 and provides entry into the drawer for a variety of prizes on the night. Profits all go to a local charity. Food is available for sale on the night. Bookings would be appreciated. Vegetarian meals are also available. Enjoy Dr Fred Watson, Dr Amanda Bauer and Dr Bradley Schaeffer debate “The End is Nigh! Or is it?” and be a part of the fun in the Q&A!

Astronomy Events in Coonabarabran – October 5th-6th 2012.

Annual Science in the Pub

This entertaining event starts the weekend off on Friday October 5th, 2012 from 6.30pm. This annual debate is definitely entertaining and can be thoroughly outrageous at times as a group of astronomers from various backgrounds debate a topic of astronomical interest at the Royal Hotel, John Street Coonabarabran. This event has an entry fee of $5 and provides entry into the drawer for a variety of prizes on the night. Food is available for sale on the night. Bookings would be appreciated. Vegetarian meals are also available. Enjoy Dr Fred Watson, Dr Amanda Bauer and Dr Bradley Schaeffer debating the topic; “The End is nigh.. or is it? Come along join in  and be a part of the fun!
Siding Spring Open Day

On Saturday October 6th, the Annual Siding Spring Open Day will be held here at Siding Spring Observatory. A number of the telescopes will be open during the day to the public.
There will be a BBQ lunch available; a shuttle bus on site to help you move around and see all there is to see. You will have the opportunity to talk to astronomers and learn about what science is carried out here.
Solar observing will also be available and there will be talks in the Exploratory lecture theatre throughout the day.
The Exploratory cafe will be opened for a well deserved cuppa or Devonshire tea or try a light lunch from their International Men.

Entry to the event is free.

The Open Day will start at 10am and run until 4pm. Visit the various telescopes and listen to astronomers talk about the research they do.
Take part in the trivia treasure hunt to win prizes on the day.

Annual Bok Lecture
Saturday evening will culminate with the annual Bok lecture. This is a free lecture, held at the Coonabarabran Primary School in George Street, Coonabarabran.
The Bok Lecture is a light hearted look at astronomy and is accessible to even the most non-science mind. Dr Scott Croom from the University of Sydney will be speaking on the topic: “big Bangs, Big Crunches and Big Rips”.

This night is open to everyone and is free. The event starts at 7pm.
For more information on all these events or to make a booking please contact Donna Burton at Siding Spring Observatory on 02 6842 6255 or by email donna@mso.anu.edu.au.

HATSouth network discovers its first planet.

The Hungarian-made Automated Telescope South project (HATSouth) is a network of six robotic telescopes located at three separate sites in the Southern Hemisphere, the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the High Energy Stereoscopic System site in Namibia and here at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. The network is designed to search for exoplanets in the southern sky. It is operated as a collaborative project between the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, Princeton University, the Australian National University, and the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.

In a paper published on 8 June 2012, the HATSouth team announced the first planet discovered by the southern network.

The new planet is named HATS-1b, and the star it orbits HATS-1A – much more civilised than its previous name GSC 6652-00186. HATS-1A is a G-type Dwarf Star, very similar to our own Sun. It has a mass close to that of the Sun is only slightly warmer but is a little older at 6 billion years, compared to our Sun’s 4.5 billion years and is located about 988 light years from the Earth.

HATS-1b is a Hot Jupiter type planet, with 1.85 times Jupiter’s mass, orbiting HATS-1A at a distance of only 6.6 million kilometres about 4% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, every 3.45 days. It is thought to have an average equatorial temperature of 1359 K.

Large planets close to their stars are the easiest to detect; their gravity exerts more influence on the star than smaller, more distant planets, causing the stars to wobble more pronouncedly, and those that transit their stars (such as HATS-1b) do so more often and obscure more of the star’s light. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the first planet discovered by the HATSouth survey should be a Hot Jupiter type planet. The discovery does, however, prove that the system is working, so more discoveries from HATSouth are to be expected. The 3 telescopes each contribute to the light curves of the discoveries as being spaced at the different longitudes they provide the ability to undertake continuous observations.

World’s Largest Telescope To be shared between Australia/New Zealand and South Africa

Friday night, Australian time, came the decision that many expected. The battle for the world’s largest radio telescope ended in a draw – with no golden point time!

The site will be spilt between both Australia/New Zealand and South Africa. The Board met in the Netherlands on Friday and announced at a Press Conference at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam that the decision had been made to go with a dual site approach. This decision has been expected by many since the board met earlier this month and put together a working group to consider the option of a dual site solution.

Factors taken into account during the site selection process included levels of radio frequency interference, the long term sustainability of a radio quiet zone, the physical characteristics of the site, long distance data network connectivity, the operating and infrastructure costs as well as the political and working environment.

This agreement was reached by the Members of the SKA Organisation who were not a part of the two bidding consortia. (Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom)

Construction will begin in 2016, and when it is completed around 2024, it is believed that the telescope will be able to image the early universe at the time when the first stars and galaxies began to form. It will be 50 times more sensitive than current radio telescopes and will be able to shed light on fundamental questions about the Universe including how it began, why it is expanding at the rate it is, what is dark matter and whether there is life beyond our planet.

Splitting the site may be politically expedient, but was certainly not the cheapest or easiest solution. Each of SKA’s thousands of elements will send 160 gigabytes of data per second. Even though that data will be further processed to reduce the bandwidth, both of the remote sites will need high-speed networking and powerful supercomputers, along with all the necessary infrastructure that goes along with it. These costs will increase the cost of the project significantly.

But it isn’t over yet – the member countries – Australia, New Zealand, Republic of South Africa, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, China, Canada and Italy still have to raise the financing for this major project. India is an Associate member of the SKA Organisation as well.

In the decision, it was announced that the ASKAP and MeerKat dishes will be incorporated into Phase I of the SKA. These alone will deliver more science for the radio astronomy community than we can now do.

It was announced that the majority of SKA dishes in Phase 1 will be built in South Africa, combined with MeerKAT, while further SKA dishes will be added to the ASKAP array in Australia. All the dishes and the mid frequency aperture arrays for Phase II of the SKA will be built in Southern Africa while the low frequency aperture array antennas for Phase I and II will be built in Australia. The decision means that they can now get on with the job of building this – the world’s largest telescope.

The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be about one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. Thousands of receptors will extend out to 3, 000 km from the centre of the telescope.