Monday, 11 May 2015

Astrocamp Day 2

I saw Sunday as the main day for Astrocamp. On the agenda for the daylight hours were a number of different activities and things going on. In recent times, most of these things have happened in the local pub, but as the popularity of Astrocamp has increased over the years, the decision was made to make use of the village hall in Cwmdu. It would accommodate up to the hundred or so people that were anticipated to attend the daytime events. People were encouraged to be there for 2 o'clock, and as if enthusiasm wasn't enough, there was also a licensed bar there too, complete with a barrel from the local brewery. Damn those anti-inflammatory drugs!
The day was set to be mostly cloudy with almost no chance of observing in the evening, so I thought it was important to make the most of the offerings during the day. To kick off, the much anticipated pub quiz. But, this pub quiz had prizes worth winning. The quiz was all astronomy related as you might expect with a prize of some rather smart Vixen binoculars for the team that come last. The team that one got a travel telescope, complete with GoTo Alt Az Sky-Watcher mount. This, perhaps unsurprisingly was won by Dr. Chris North and his team. Finally, a really nice touch, a team was then selected at random to win the final prize which was a full set of Baader Hyperion eyepieces in a case. Some fantastic prizes, all supplied by Neil and Jane at Tring Astronomy.

Everyone at the ready for the start of the Astrocamp quiz.
Next on the agenda was a talk by the famous (in UK astronomy circles anyway) Nick Howes. His talk was fascinating and was based on the life and death of our planet. He started talking about the astronomical dangers found out in the cosmos, and which the most scary of them. He spoke about Black Holes, Gamma Ray Bursts, Super Novas and the like. But, in the end, settled with the threats that we face on the planet from Asteroids and Comets.
As the talk progressed, he spoke about the finance and funding that is in place to research and scan for these threats currently out there. The money that it cost to produced 2 films, Deep Impact and Armageddon would fund these projects for years, and yet, it was decided to put the money into films. Some facts that came out at this point were how the human race could cope with some sort of large impact. We, as astronomers and amateur astronomers especially, can aid in the detection and discovery of Asteroids. When an asteroid is discovered, it is thought that we could have as much as 30 years to plan for and action some sort of defence against an impact if it was found that it was on a collision course with Earth. There are many different theories on how, but that's the importance of research and development. We could of course send Bruce Willis with his team, but Nick spoke of the very weak gravitational pull from an asteroid. Most recently demonstrated with the landing of the Phillae Lander on the Rosetta mission. The fact is, the lander bounced. A long way up. And the scientists still don't know exactly where it is. Another theory is to deflect the asteroid, to somehow change it's orbital path, including a crazy idea know as the Paintball effect. One for another day... But his point was, that we stood a chance with 30 years notice.
However, comets are different. Comets are often discovered much closer to Earth. Often untraced. especially if come from the direction of the Sun. The sun is so bright, it washes out many objects in that direction. If a comet is discovered and found to be on a collision course with Earth, it is thought that we could have as little as 12 months, perhaps 18 months tops. There is no current defence in place against that. The time it would take to organised and put into place an idea, which may have a very slim chance of working anyway, far exceeds the 12 to 18 months we would have. We would need decades. During the talk, there was a fairly political element to different aspects of it, but some points were made to help illustrate the problem. For example, the UK government is currently pushing through and building a new train track that will help get people from London to Birmingham a little bit quicker - if it works, and if there are no delays caused by leaves on the line, or the wrong snow. Nick also spoke of the renewal of Trident, a nuclear deterrent that if is ever used would result in a rather unhealthy population decrease anyway. The billions that are earmarked to be spent could be put towards the necessary research and development.
Nick also spoke about estimates of 800 billion to 1 trillion undiscovered potential threats in the Oort cloud in the outer reaches of our solar system. He spoke about the Jupiter impact in 1994 where a comet broke apart as it entered the gravitational field of Jupiter, and the resulting multi-impacts on Jupiters surface that were observed by astronomers both amateurs and professionals alike. If one of those fragments had hit Earth, it would have been annihilation.
Finally, Nick began to round off his talk about how we as amateur astronomers can help detect asteroids and comets. Some fairly basic imaging kit can be used and he urged people to not just take dozens or hundreds of tracked frames, stack them, process them and get the resulting pretty picture, but to also look at the data, and compare these individual frames to each other and look for anomalies. He gave examples of software that is cheaply available to help give more data in terms of predicted orbit and tracking. It really did illustrate how easy it can be.
After a short break, it was time for the Masters of the Universe quiz, and we were playing for beer! Damn those anti-inflammatory drugs! This quiz was very much harder than the previous. It comprised of 12 questions and required some very specialised knowledge. I couldn't contribute to this one at all. Way above my head! But, the team got a respectable 5 out of 12.
When we first went into the village hall for the event, there were small pieces of paper left on the tables. As mentioned earlier, this event used to be held in the local pub but has had to be relocated. As a whole, it was entitle Astronomers in the Pub. But, the organisers of Astrocamp wanted a new name for their own pub. One that could be used for all future events, and they were asking for suggestions for names. I chipped in with The Core and Cluster, and The Spiral Arms. Guess what? I only went and won it! The prize, a free round of drinks from the bar for me and the team! Damn those anti-inflammatory drugs! So, I got the round in for everyone, and I walked away with a can of coke, and the promise of a free beer next time I come to Astrocamp!
To round the day off, people left the village hall and headed back for some dinner. The next talk I wanted to attend was for a GoTo workshop.

Pats GoTo tutorial
 I don't own a GoTo scope and at the moment, do intend on getting one in the future. However, I thought it would be good to see the systems in use. The talk was held on the common with information given on how to polar align using a polar scope, the important of setting position, date and time and also how to carry out alignment when using 1, 2 or 3 stars.

The GoTo tutorial audience listening intently.
Finally, on how to carry out alignment when Polaris isn't visible. It was a great little session which I enjoyed. And so, that brings me to the end of day 2.
It is now day 3, and I have decided to call it a day for this Astrocamp. The forecast for observing tonight is a bit hit and miss, and with not much else going on during the day, I thought I would take the chance to strike camp and head home early. If observing is possible this evening, then at least I can do it from the back garden. I still have tomorrow off work so there is no real reason to stay up if it looks good. I will need to check out the holiday situation before I commit to coming in September. The weather should still be OK from the summer, but the bonus will be that the skies will be darker. Until next time, cheers! @mountainmadman - Namer of Astrocamps 'The Spiral Arms'

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