From the President
2017 July 21
I know that many members will be heading for the United States to stand in the Moon’s shadow on August 21. For some this is an opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse for the first time. I wish everyone safe travels and clear skies and look forward to seeing photos and reports. For those staying in the UK, there will be a very small partial eclipse visible just before sunset – see Peter Macdonald’s note in the April Journal, (https://britastro.org/journal_item/9416), and keep an eye on the website front page (https://britastro.org) for more as the time draws closer.
The Sun offers plenty of opportunities for observation, whether in eclipse or not, providing suitable precautions are taken. Although we are near sunspot minimum, there is still activity to be seen, especially if you have a hydrogen-alpha (H-alpha) telescope. Solar Section Director Lyn Smith has an Observer’s Challenge on the Sun at solar minimum, with plenty of tips on what to look out for on our website. Why not share your results with fellow members by posting to your BAA Member’s page? Do also send your observations to Lyn and, if you have not already done so, sign up for her monthly Solar Section Circular.
Saturn has been putting on a grand show recently, although very low in the sky from my location. I needed to move the telescope around the garden to see it between trees, but it was well worth the effort especially with his rings resplendent. Andy Li took a fine image of the planet using an atmospheric dispersion filter, which helps to compensate for differential refraction at low altitudes. Have a look at the article by Damian Peach in the Tutorials section of the website for suggestions about combatting atmospheric dispersion: https://www.britastro.org/node/9058
Some of the best images we receive are displayed in the ‘Picture of the Week’ section of the website and having one’s work selected is high praise indeed. I am very grateful to Paul Downing for managing this for several years. A recent Picture that caught my eye was of IC 1396, the ‘Elephant’s Trunk’ in Cepheus. It was captured by Graham Winstanley, who imaged it not from a remote mountaintop with a large telescope, but from his observatory in Lincolnshire using an 80mm refractor!
Chester Weekend meeting and a Lunar & Solar Observers’ Workshop
I hope to see many of you in Chester on September 8-10 for what promises to be a most enjoyable BAA Autumn Weekend, with talks on the theme of ‘Stars: Life and death of the Universe’. Our hosts are my own astronomy club, Chester Astronomical Society. We have a fantastic line-up of talks which take place on the Friday evening and all day Saturday. On Sunday morning there is an excursion to The OpTIC Centre at St Asaph in North Wales. You can come along to all or just part of the weekend. Spaces at the meeting are still available, but do book your place by August 21.
Also look out for our Lunar and Solar Observers’ Workshop on Saturday September 30 at Burlington House in London. Participants will get advice on the latest techniques for observing these objects from experts in the field. There will be plenty of time to ask questions about what particularly interests you.
Further details of both events, including how to book, are on the BAA website.
New Scientist Live 2017, a visit to the Royal Society and Back to Basics in King’s Lynn
The BAA will again participate in the New Scientist Live science festival, taking place at ExCeL London from September 28 to October 1. The show will feature five exhibition zones covering Humans, Engineering, Technology, Earth and Cosmos, whilst playing host to over 100 speakers in 6 lecture theatres. The gathering of more than 20,000 people with an interest in science under one roof offers a great opportunity to promote the BAA and amateur astronomy. If you do come along, be sure to visit stand 441 and say hello to Janice McClean and her band of helpers from Hampshire, Newbury, Crayford & Flamsteed Astronomical Societies.
Another regular fixture in the calendar concerning public science outreach is the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, held since 1770, and I was proud to be invited to attend a Soirée to mark the occasion. The walls of the Royal Society’s premises overlooking the Mall in London exude history and I enjoyed viewing exhibits on Isaac Newton, William Herschel and other great astronomers who once were Fellows of the Society. But it was the displays about current research that really caught my imagination. I had many opportunities to speak to other guests about the BAA and its objectives in promoting amateur astronomy at home and abroad.
We are honoured to count a former President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, amongst our members. Sir Paul won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001 and is currently Chief Executive and Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London. Sir Paul relates how his interest in science was kindled as a boy through his fascination for astronomy and space. Describing himself as very much an amateur astronomer, his love of observing the night sky has stayed with him and somehow he still finds time to observe with his 14cm refractor and 30cm SCT.
Making the first steps in practical astronomy can be daunting – the BAA Back to Basics Workshops are designed to address questions such as what telescope and equipment you need and what you can observe. Our next Workshop will be held in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, on Saturday October 7. Do encourage any beginners you might know, whether members of the Association or not, to come along.
A new member of the BAA team
I am delighted to announce that Andrew Wilson has recently joined the Office team as our Systems Administrator and Web Content Editor. Andy knows the Association well, being a longstanding member with a particular interest in variable stars and spectroscopy – he developed both the VSS database and the spectroscopy database for us. He holds undergraduate degrees in Astronomy & Physics from UCL, and Mathematics from the Open University, and brings with him a wealth of experience of software development and business analysis in the finance industry. He is currently studying part time for a PhD in Astronomy at the University of Exeter. We are very lucky to have Andy joining the team and I wish him well in his new rôle. Dominic Ford continues to have overall responsibility for the website as Website Manager.
Elections, subscriptions and international members
You should find your ballot paper for the election of the next Board of Trustees and Council included with this Journal. I am pleased to see that we have a strong field and I’d like to thank all the candidates for standing and for showing their willingness to support the Association in this vital way. Do note that this year there are more candidates than places, which is a healthy situation for any organisation. So every vote counts – please read the candidates’ notes and make your selection. This is one way you can share in the governance of your Association and show your support for those wanting to serve the BAA.
Most members will also be due to renew their subscription on August 1. If you pay by Direct Debit you need do nothing unless your bank details have changed, as your renewal will be automatic. However, if you still pay by cheque or credit card, please remember to renew as soon as possible. You can do this either by post or on the BAA website at www.britastro.org/renewnow. If you are a UK taxpayer and have not already done so, please let us know if you are happy for us to reclaim your tax via Gift Aid. This really does help the Association financially and it won’t cost you a penny extra!
From August 1, new members living overseas will be able to join the Association using our new digital membership category. This has all the benefits of traditional membership, but with the Journal and Handbook delivered digitally. The BAA enjoys an international reputation and has members in 44 countries worldwide – we hope that the lower cost associated with digital membership will encourage many more international members to join our global community. For further details about international digital membership, visit https://britastro.org/digital.
We plan to roll out digital subscriptions to UK members during the coming session – watch this space! And of course traditional subscriptions, with printed publications sent by mail, will always still be available to members both at home and overseas.
The BAA Journal Editor
Finally, I have to let you know that our longstanding Journal Editor, Mrs Hazel McGee, has signalled her wish to stand down from the position at the end of the 2017/’18 session, i.e. in 2018 October, coinciding with the end of her 25th year in the rôle. The Journal is the Association’s flagship publication, presenting the observations and work of all BAA members, and is highly regarded by astronomers around the world. The Association is most grateful to Hazel for her unstinting service and her diligence over the past quarter of a century during which she has carried the Journal from strength to strength.
We are therefore starting to look for a new person, or possibly a group of people, to take on this responsibility. Hazel has offered to help with training and any transition for as long as is required. Might this be something you or someone you know could be interested in becoming involved with? If so, do get in touch in confidence with Hazel or myself for an informal chat.
Jeremy Shears, President