The Astronomer Magazine is published monthly with the aim of rapid publication of observations that is not possible for the likes of the SPA and BAA. It is a bit of a dry read if you are not an active observer and there are some sample copies on their website. The good thing is that subscriptions are quite modest, particularly for the pdf version delivered by email.
It was their annual meeting at Basingstoke on Saturday and I made the long journey, almost 4 hours, on a sunny morning often driving directly at the sun. I arrived about 5 minutes late but had not missed much of the introduction by Guy Hurst with his annual report and finances.
The first speaker was Tim Haynes on the topic "The Role of the Amateur in Observation of Occultations". This was not just about Lunar occultations but also rare planetary and asteroid events. Modern technology has greatly aided this activity both in predictions and observations. Serious observations are mainly done using a video camera attached to a telescope and synchronised timing for precise measurements, although some observers still use eyeball and stopwatch.
John Murphy, a member of the local Basingstoke AS, on "A Technical Guide to SLR Photography". This was a discussion of how digital cameras are constructed and capture their photons and highlighted the differences from ccd cameras.
A 3 course dinner was provided and most delegates took advantage of this excellent meal prepared by Guy's wife and a couple of helpers. A good opportunity to get to know some of the other members.
The first speaker after lunch was Bruno Altieri all the way from Madrid. He is an ESA scietist and has worked on several major missions like Herschel, the Infra red space observatory. His current postion is Euclid Archive Scientist and he spoke about "EUCILD: A Space Mission to Map the Dark Universe. Euclid is currently under construction but will produce a massive legacy of deep images and spectra over at least half of the entire sky. Like many missions there will be huge quantities of data requiring supercomputers to store and process the images of galaxies out to red shift 2, equivalent to a dsitance of 10 billion light years. Euclid is due to launch in 2020 - these mission do take a long time.
This was followed by a presentation from Bob Mizon of the Commission for Dark Skies talking about "LED's: Bringing Back the Stars". A discussion about the benefits and threats to our views of the night sky and nocturnal wildlife.
After the tea break John Murrell (www.JohnMurrell.org.uk) spoke about the "Amateur follow up of Gaia & LSST alerts". These are now being issued at the rate of about 150 per month. An alert requires two observations of the same object by Gaia which will be 65 days apart due to its scanning method. So far the brighter of these have been around 13/14th magnitude so accessible by many amateurs. This activity is probably resticted to the relatively few keen and experienced variable star observers.
The final talk was given by Dr Mark Kidger of the ESA Herschel Science Centre about "OJ287: A Quasar with a case of Schizophrenia". This was a fascinating talk about a quasar which has its relativistic jet pointing directly towards us. Gary Poyner, who recently spoke at the LAS was in the audience and he has been one of the major observers of this object for many years. Some Finish astronomers have been developing models of the pair of black holes believed responsible for the huge energy developed by the system and have recently been able to give predictions of when the smaller black hole orbits through the accretion disk of the larger one. At this time the brightness of the object can increase by 2 magnitudes in a matter of minutes. Gary has observed it almost changing before his eyes.
The day finished at 5.45 followed by the long drive home, mostly in rain this time. Well worth the trip.