Deep Sky Section Annual Meeting 2019

The annual meeting of the Deep Sky Section was held on 2019 Mar 23 at Shurdington Village Hall, near Cheltenham. It was hosted by the Cotswold Astronomical Society and attended by over a hundred deep sky enthusiasts. The meeting remains one of the Association’s most popular events.

This year the Director, Callum Potter, was unable to attend the whole meeting due to recent health issues and former Section Director Dr Nick Hewitt took on the role of Master of Ceremonies.

After welcoming the audience Dr Hewitt introduced the first speaker, John McCue, who gave an amusing account of his trip to New Zealand where he enjoyed viewing some of his favourite double stars, from Whanganui on North Island. He observed Joseph Ward doubles NZO 50 and NZO 74 using the 9.5-inch refractor in the town’s observatory, before measuring Gamma Arae using his friend Frank Gibson’s 11-inch Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope. An unexpected outcome for John was the befriending of Frank’s pig, Reggie – pork is no longer consumed in the McCue household!

Following a short coffee break, Dr Hewitt introduced Mark Stuart to talk about a subject close to the hearts of British astronomers: ‘Weather and astronomy’. Mark is not only a keen visual observer, focusing on galaxies, but also an experienced amateur meteorologist having kept records for four decades. He showed how deeper knowledge of weather conditions can be used to pick the best nights for observing.

Robin Leadbeater, one of the leading spectroscopists in the country and developer of the Star Analyser spectrograph, then talked on the importance of ‘Spectroscopy of extragalactic novae and supernovae’, demonstrating how the advanced amateur can now do real and important science in obtaining the spectra of sources previously deemed too faint. Confirmation and classification of such objects helps the professionals, and the field remains an important pro-am activity.

There followed a fine lunch provided by the Cotswold Astronomical Society, giving an opportunity for social interaction, the sharing of experiences, networking and fun.

After the lunch, Eddie Carpenter gave a wonderfully old-fashioned presentation highlighting the achievements of pioneer astrophotographers Isaac Roberts and his wife Dorothea Klumpke. Roberts is well-known for his superb photographs from the late 19th century, so it was interesting to hear more about his second wife, Dorothea – a fine astronomer in her own right.

Dr Hewitt then introduced Grant Privett to talk about the extraordinary variable nebula of Gyulbudaghian, discovered in the 1970s. Grant specialises in the obscure and dim, and although this nebula is generally faint, it perhaps shows more overt change than other, rather brighter members of the class. Grant demonstrated a scientific method of analysing the morphological and photometric changes within the nebula, attempting to correlate these changes with those of the associated star, PV Cephei.

In the final talk before tea, Ian Smith from Abingdon Astronomical Society spoke about ‘Imaging planetary nebulae’. He highlighted his equipment and techniques, while illustrating his words with superb images of these most exquisite and colourful of deep sky targets – including many lesser known and challenging nebulae, that in his skilled hands revealed remarkable beauty.

After the tea break Dr Hewitt introduced the final speaker of the day, Prof Steven Phillipps of the University of Bristol. Prof Phillipps gave a fine overview of ‘Surveying the deep sky – Edwin Hubble to the Hubble Space Telescope’. He took us on a journey from the early days of realisation regarding the extragalactic nature of galaxies, and the importance of Edwin Hubble in probing the structure of the Universe, through to modern surveys that can show this structure in three (four?) dimensions. He concluded by touching on future developments in this field.

Dr Hewitt closed the meeting by thanking all the speakers, the BAA Sales team, and especially the Cotswold Astronomical Society for putting on such an enjoyable event. Finally, he thanked the audience for attending and wished all a safe journey home.

Nick Hewitt, Deep Sky Section

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