Rosliston Astronomy Group


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International Astronomy Show 2015.

Friday 2/10/2015 and Saturday 3/10/2015

Stoneleigh Park, just south of Coventry.

Report by Andrew Thornett


RAG Members: Andrew Thornett, Pete Hill, Geoff Dryland, Terry Grimes, Ed Mann, Paul Bertenshaw, Damian, Andy Mac, Paul Bertenshaw, Lee and Nick, and several others who joined us afterwards for the meal at Green Tea. This is the largest group of RAG members who have ever attended an astronomy show.

Location: Stoneleigh Park, 7 Eastgate, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth CV8 2LG

Brochure from the show (PDF)

Click here to view photos from the event

Click on this link to view video from the event on Youtube (  Alternatively, the video can also be downloaded as an MP4 file.

This is the third year of the IAS. It was in a new location, as the lecturing facilities were poor in the previous years. The previous location had a massive advantage of a large amount of display space, so I was interested to see whether the new location provided similar excellent display facilities and improved lecture arrangements. I booked off the Friday from work as soon as the date was announced earlier in the year and was looking forward to the event with increasing excitement as time went on. I always love these conferences! A fair number of other members from RAG also planned to attend on one or other of the days, and the group had arranged a meal on Saturday night after day two of the show at Green Tea Chinese Restaurant in Lichfield.

On Friday (day 1), I drove down to Stoneleigh Park with RAG members Pete Hill and Geoff Dryland and met Terry Grimes in the first talk by Welsh educator, Emma Wride. I love 3D shows and Emma did not disappoint - starting us off with a show of educational 3D videos about space and astronomy. Asteroids flying towards my head, travelling through the valleys of Mars, lying through the clouds of Jupiter. Her next 3D video looked at scale sizes of planets in relation to each other and other objects in the universe. This was followed by another on the smaller objects in the solar system and another on space exploration which included excellent 3D attempts to visualise what it would be like on the unexplored planets and moons of our solar system. All were in 3D and educational, aimed mainly at school children. Still, one hour of 3D Astro presentations - definitely worth the 6.50 entry fee for the lecture! Actually, this type of unusual lecture is what makes IAS special, together with talks by amateurs such as Nik Szymanek, and a much greater display area for exhibitors than Astrofest. Astrofest specialises in lectures by university professors and senior lecturers - updating delegates on latest advances in astronomy but IAS instead brings across the passion and excitement of being an amateur. This is why I always go to both each year! One difference this year to the way that lectures were delivered was that we each had a pair of headphones to provide each delegate with personally controllable volume and keep out the noise from the exhibition area next door. This worked quite well, apart from some initial glitches.

Bargains were less evident this year than previously. I think this reflects in the changing economic environment for astronomy retailers. However, I succumbed to temptation and purchased a 100mm pair of binoculars with interchangeable eyepieces. A stunning piece of kit, it was very cheap due to having been dropped - this has led to a small chip on the dew shield and it is out of collimating. Lee, help please! Thankfully, I already have a heavy duty mount and tripod already I can use for it as it did not come with the mount. Apart from that I bought a cheap Vixen mounting bar for my 80mm Opticstar travel scope and a laser dew heater - lasers are fantastic but terrible for stopping working with the cold. They are also difficult to heat as straps don't tend to stay around them.

Friday morning has the advantage that it is much quieter and peaceful and provides a great opportunity to browse without feeling crushed. This was helped by the large display hall with wide (or should I say "wife" to emphasise their role in stopping purchases...) walkways between exhibitors' display stands.

Pete and I watched Jerry Stone speak on whether Pluto is a planet at 11:15 on Friday. I don't really have a particular issue with the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status, although Jerry quite successfully destroyed the International Astronomical Union's new definition of a planet by going through the solar system and showing many examples of objects that did not properly comply with the parts of the definition that they are supposed to fulfil. Jerry is worth listening to, although at times it would be worth him speaking up a bit and he does tend to use every opportunity to sell his books or other talks! Nevertheless, this talk provided an interesting summary of the history of the discovery and nomenclature of wondering bodies in the solar system. He also discussed the concept of double planets, of which Pluto and Charon could be an example, although this wasn't accepted by the International Astronomical Union.

On our way out from watching Jerry speak, we met Ed Mann on his way around the exhibitors - it was a short lived chat as he had booked to see Nik!

After this morning's enjoyable session, I am looking forward to two further talks I have booked today - Caroline Crawford on the lives of stars and Monica Grady speaking on the landing of the Philae lander on Comet 67P! One talk I didn't book into was Nik Szymanek's talk, mainly because I have heard him before but also because his talk was over lunch and he lost out to my tummy. However, Ed did sit in on that talk and said it was fantastic. Now I need to collect that pair of enormous binoculars I bought before I eat............

Having avoided any other purchases, Pete, a Terry and I went outside to view the sun through two solar scopes - a large 90mm Coronado and a Coronado PST. Great views showing prominences around the disc and a large detailed sunspot just central to the edge of the disc at 10 o'clock extending up to the edge and a prominence at that point - demonstrating in a very clear way that prominences and sunspots are the same thing, differing only because of our angle of view from Earth to the sun. In this case, it looked like the prominence and sunspot were part of the same solar event, appearing like a sunspot over the disc and like a prominence where we could look into space beyond the edge of the disc. The view through the PST compared very favourably with the 90mm scope, although both were showing full sun discs and the difference between the two is likely to have been more obvious if magnification had been greater from use of a lower focal length eyepiece in the two scopes.

Carolyn Crawford talked about the lives of stars. She is a professor of astronomy based at Cambridge with an emphasis on educational work. Her talk explains how stars differ from each other. Initially very basic, she quickly increased the complexity - something I have seen Brian Cox do previously. This means everyone in the audience learns something and gets taken to the edge of their understanding - an excellent lecturer! This was a really interesting talk, exploring the relationship between luminosity, mass and age. I understood for the first time how astronomers can date cluster ages based on colour of stars within them to quite a high degree of precision.

After Carolyn's talk, Monica Grady spoke on the landing of Rosetta and the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This was today's keynote speaker and was another excellent talk. I have many articles on Rosetta but Monica's talk explained better than any of them the background history to this mission, the reason for the choice of 67P and the emotional roller-roaster experienced by the mission team during the landing of Philae on the comet. I hadn't realised that Rosetta passed by two asteroids early in its journey to Comet 67P. Monica reminded us that the computer equipment on board used technology that hasn't been in date since 2004, when the probe launched. She also explained why the plastic bath-tub duck shape of the comet caused so much of an issue to the mission team. I had not realised just how much the assumption that the comet would be round had affected the calculations and plans of the team, especially with regards to attempting to land Philae on it.

Overall, at the end of Friday, Pete, Terry, Geoff and I felt that the day had been enjoyable, educational, but we felt numbers of delegates were down on last year, exhibitors bought less stuff with them to sell, and there were fewer bargains than last year. I overheard another delegate commenting that he had really enjoyed the event, preferring it to Astrofest because of its relaxed atmosphere and spacious environment. I learnt that I should always double check batteries on cameras as mine went flat quickly in spite of having charged them only this week.

Paul Bertenshaw was at IAS today with his astronomy friends from Ashby (Peter Crane and Keith Moore both members of Leicester Astronomy Society) and met Terry, Ed and Geoff (who we sat next to during Nik's interesting talk about robotic telescopes and imaging), but try as I might I couldn't spot "El Presidente" (by which he means me!). He says, "perhaps he [me] was on one of the 'wife walkways'?"

On Saturday (day 2), Damian (our Damian from RAG not to be confused with Damian Peach who spoke today), Rhys and I arrived at the conference centre at 9am. We met up with Ed and Andy Mann soon afterwards. After a successful day yesterday, I was looking forward to the prospect of another day full of astronomy-related activities. Unlike yesterday, where most of the day was occupied by attending talks, today we had kept the morning free to look around the stands and in the afternoon had booked to see Damian Peach's take on high resolution imaging and Allen Chapman's talk on Robert Hooke's Micrographia.

The great advantage of this venue is that there is a lot of space to walk around. This makes looking at the stores a much more enjoyable experience than that of a smaller, more compact venues such as Astrofest held  in Kensington, London.

It also provides the vendors with the chance to bring in some really big telescopes - and there was several worth salivating over! However, I doubt any of us have the space to put them, even if we could afford them. Today we spent quite a lot of time speaking to vendors and it is amazing how several hours pass quickly with such chats. Damian and Ed and Andy Mann are very knowledgeable and so trips to stands such as the Takahashi (Ian King Imaging) stand were quite educational for me. Likewise, the vendors taught me a lot and corrected some false assumptions and "knowledge" of mine. Quite a few big binoculars around, but otherwise no real theme to the content of stands other than a range of general items. By this I mean that previous years may have had an emphasis on equipment on sale of solar observing, or refractors, or mounts, or photography, but no such emphasis on this occasion.

Better bargains were available today compared to yesterday - or at least the vendors were more interested in negotiating discounts - but you did need to ask. This became more evident toward's the end of the day. I managed to pick up a mounting cradle for both Vixen and Losmandy bars for only 50. We looked this up online before we went and the cheapest we found was 116...there might be cheaper on line but we hadn't found it.

Damian Peach's talk started with a fantastic review of problems with performance of scopes from cooling, collimating to seeing. I was shocked to realise that turbulence in our area on many nights was probably similar to the worst example image he showed us - from an image of a defocused star and my memory of what such images look through my scope. Although poor skies can't be overcome, he also emphasised the importance of poor collimating and tube currents from inadequate cooling in leading to poor images/viewing, and these are correctable - and it is worth me concentrating on addressing these issues as well as I can. An interesting pair of photos on 4m scope demonstrated positive effect of adaptive optics on improving limited detail visible with poor seeing. High pressure systems bring steadiest seeing, where isobar lines spread furthest apart. Spring and Autumn generally better than Winter - I agree completely with that: Damian and I have often noticed poor skies in winter. For astrophotography, his biggest recommendation was to get out as often as often as you can - improve experience and make best use of nights with good seeing.

"Fire Capture" software was recommended by Damian Peach for capturing data from USB video cameras. It is a free piece of software. Likewise, he recommended using free software "Autostacker II" for stacking data, and then using  "Registax 6" for sharpening the image produced by "Autostacker II". He advised the use of "Winjupos" to allow more data from rotating planets to be used in a single image, and Adobe Photoshop to process the final image. I was impressed by his comparison images showing how different things make a difference. He showed us how as little as 30-40 stacked images dramatically reduces noise.

When Damian showed his images, I was blown out of the water by them. In particular, I couldn't get over the level of surface detail he demonstrated on the moons of Jupiter. His pictures of Saturn clearly demonstrate the northern hexagon structure over the pole and colour variation throughout its disc, detail on Uranus and Neptune's discs, and even detail on Neptune's moon Triton's disc. His images also included incredibly detailed views of the sun and phenomenal detail on Mars, including demonstrating fragmentation of the northern polar cap, atmospheric clouds near Olympus Mons, and the two black and white images that he described as being the best images he has ever taken of Mars, showing subtle atmospheric features. I will not go into his images of the moon, but he said that they were better than lunar orbiters produced in 1960s and looking as though he must have been there. I was also flabbergasted by his planetary animations of Jupiter and Mars - as he said they really do bring the planets to life. Apparently these are made using "Winjupos" software. He uses a 14 inch Celestron SCT scope. Damian described how he remained passionate about planetary imaging due the way the planets keep changing from month to month, unlike deep sky objects which do not change over timescales relevant to us.

It was clear from the questions raised from the floor afterwards, that many in the audience were already planetary and lunar imagers and perhaps they had wanted a more in depth talk with regards to techniques...? This is something we know ourselves from our own RAG presentations - which level do you pitch your talks at?

Note to Damian B. - when you are preparing the RAG talks can you include some of Damian P.'s images?

Robert Hooke lived 1635-1703. Allen Chapman talked about his famous work, Micrographia. As always, no slides, speaking without notes, it was amazing. Terry joined Damian, Ed, Rhys and I for this talk. I always ensure that I get to Allen's talks at IAS so it was great to find out he was speaking here at IAS. I am becoming more and more interested in history as I get older - one of those things that comes with us all as we try to find our places in the world in middle age - and there is no one better at satisfying such as a desire for anyone interested in astronomy and science than Allen Chapman!

The relevance of Micrographia to astronomy - a book about the tiny to the large - was what Robert's book was about the scientific method - a novel idea at the time and fundamental to our area of interest. He discussed how the early telescopes with only single and double figure magnifications demonstrated that the fuzzy white Milky Way became resolved into stars and there were more and more stars with more magnification, and these stars were more concentrated in some areas than others, planets were not points of light but discs, four 'stars' went around Jupiter, the moon turned from a silvery disc into a real world. All of this caused shock to the world of its day and unlike religious knowledge anyone could access this new knowledge for themselves with two lenses and a tube. I had not previously appreciated just how much such changes in knowledge dramatically affected people's world view and shocked folks and generated discussions on a whole new range of topics among people. They started to ask if people lived on the moon and elsewhere, whether exoplanets existed and whether aliens existed around alien Suns. We think of these as modern debates but apparently they were discussed then. Robert joined a group of like-minded thinkers in different scientific disciplines. Robert himself used a telescope to make observations and made important discoveries about light that questioned current thinking. He also conducted experiments on light, including a clever experiment using different colours shone through water. He made in Micrographia the first ever suggestion that light is a wave form. He could also see five stars in the trapezium in the Orion Nebula - so when I can't see five then I need to realise that Robert could see it with an inferior telescope so I need to pull my trousers up and collimate my scope and improve my observing skills!....and he did this using a 36 foot drainpipe controlled by guy ropes and poles, not an EQ mount! He also made craters in the lab by dropping impactors from the roof, becoming the first lab-based astronomer, and then became the first person to suggest that craters were formed by impacts, a conclusion based on scientific evidence from his crater experiments. He also was the first person (and he was before Newton) to suggest that the moon possesses a gravitational field like Earth and is therefore a world, based on his logic that he moon must have volcanos from the geology he saw in his telescope and his conclusion that a force like that on Earth was needed to stop the lava shooting off into space. He also was first person to use the term 'nucleus' in relation to a comet, from his experiments in his laboratory, he worked out a comet's coma was caused by dissolution of the comet, realised that the nucleus did not burn as there was no difference between sunward side and other side of the nucleus but realised that the sun did make the comet give off a coma and tail, as these were present close to the sun but not when comet was far away.

In passing, we found out that Allen and his wife stayed up to watch the lunar eclipse on Monday morning - younger RAG members who unlike Allen, did not stay up, are probably embarrassed by now as they read this - however it is worth saying he did view it from within his house looking out of his bedroom window!

We all enjoyed our day at IAS. Next stop is the RAG meal tonight at Green Tea Chinese restaurant in Lichfield - and then Astrofest next year in February in London!

Wishing you happy observing over the winter.



From Damian:

Pleased with that handle I purchased at IAS. I went back to the Altair Astro website after the show as I remembered that I had looked previously but for some reason not purchased...?

The handles available are 180 and 250mm (space between holes), I had always thought that 180 was not quite big enough and the 250 was too big for the bespoke Nova dovetail plate - it isn't long enough to to extend the rings out that far to take 250mm....

So how come this one is OK..? Because it is 200mm in length (holes), so must either be an old size or a bespoke one for someone...!

So a lucky find!



From Paul Bertenshaw:

I didn't spend much money and what I did spend was on a *necklace for my wife with an **image of M80 (a globular Cluster in Scorpius) and a pair of cuff links for me with images of The Small Magellanic Cloud (a close neighbour of the Milky Way).

I resisted the tempting T500 hand built to order fast f3.3 20" dob by Altair Astro (French optics allegedly superior to anything else of the market), which at 12,000 plus a further 500 for Sky Commander GoTo set up or 3,000 for the Argo Navis servo drive system for full GOTO and tracking is a steal! Or the T600 f3.3 24" version at 15,000 + above options!

The T750 f3.3 30" version wasn't on show, but is unlikely to cost less than around 20,000 + options! 

Paul Bertenshaw

[Photos/Drawings] [Techniques & Tips] [Pluto Time] [Photographs, drawiings and video by members of RAG after April 2014] [Andy Mac] [Andrew Thornett] [Chris Howe] [Damian] [Dave Jones] [Ed Mann] [Geoff Dryland] [Julian Palmer] [Kenneth Crichton] [Lewis Brailsford] [Nick Cox] [Paul Bertenshaw] [Peter Hill] [Rachel & David Donaldson] [Roger Samworth]