Comet 46P/Wirtanen

By Richard Harvey

46P/Wirtanen is a small short-period comet with a current orbital period of 5.4 years. It was discovered on January 17, 1948, by the American astronomer Carl Wirtanen, and expectations were high for the comet’s 2018 visit.

Many astronomers hoped for naked eye brightness reminiscent of 1997’s Hale Bopp, (which I remember seeing easily over the Albert Memorial from Queens Square, Wolverhampton. Hard to believe that was over twenty years ago!). Unfortunately, comet 46P/Wirtanen appeared fainter than hoped. At its closest approach, on the16th December 2018, it was only visible in binoculars from semi-rural sites. But even so, it gave amateur astronomers a fantastic, rare chance to study a comet.

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Trysull Observing Session 9th October 2018

By Richard Harvey

We held another observation session at our Trysull site on the 9th October. The sky was 100% clear from clouds for once, with a slight haze in the air as the evening drew on. Half a dozen members turned up at various times, and we were lucky to enjoy a very comfortable, mild, Autumn evening’s observing.

Three scopes were in use tonight. Steve bought along his Skywaytcher ED80 refractor with a go-to mount, and Martyn bought his pillar-mounted 110mm reflector. I took my Skywatcher 8” Reflector, so we were lucky once again in being able to use a range of different scopes.

Steve, aligning the go-to mount
Steve, aligning the go-to mount

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Trysull Observation Session Thursday 13th September 2018

By Richard Harvey

With Mars at its closest approach since 2003, and the prospect of a clear sky to view it, a last-minute observation session was hastily arranged for Thursday 13th September at our Trysull observation site. I took the society’s 12” dobsonian reflecting telescope (the Tom Collier Telescope), and several other members turned up, all hoping to get a fine display of planets.

The Moon was a waxing crescent in the west as we arrived, lit around 20%. Once the scope was set up, we all enjoyed fine views of the shimmering lunar landscape. I was particularly interested in the small craters in Mare Crisium, which were very noticeable. Crater Picard is 21 miles across, and Pierce is only 12 miles across, we could see them quite clearly. They will soon be washed out with sunlight and not viewable for another month. Quite distinct tonight, on the edge of Mare Crisium, was the distinct dramatic rises of Cape Cape Lavinium and Cape Olivium. 
To the left of the Moon, lower, just heading towards the trees, we saw Jupiter. With the sky not yet dark, the cloud belts were faint, but three of the moons were visible. The brightest, Ganymede, to the telescopic left. Although we could see only three moons, checking later with the Jovian Moon chart in Astronomy Now, all four should have been visible. Dimmer Callisto must have been lost to the twilight sky.

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Perseids Data

By Trevor Clifton

Given the sharp rise and fall the timings would suggest that the Earth travelled some 315,000 miles while in the debris stream from the comet.
It will be interesting to see if this figure changes next year.

Each bar in the chart is the meteor count for 10 minutes. 824 recorded for the 24 hours before and 1103 for the main day.

Meteor detection 24 hours before the expected peak
Meteor detection 24 hours before the expected peak
Meteor detection for the 24 hours during the peak of Perseid activity
Meteor detection for the 24 hours during the peak of Perseid activity


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M51 Mystery Object

By Trevor Clifton

During the evening of Saturday 14th April while commissioning a 150mm refractor some images were taken of M51. After processing the LRGB images and comparing the final image with stock internet images an object was spotted in our image which did not appear in those downloaded from the net.

Checking the subs, the mystery object only appeared in the first 120 second luminance image.

Searches to see if any asteroids were listed at these coordinates drew a blank. Clearly, the object is not a hot pixel so what is it? One explanation is that its a meteor trail which is head on to the field of view.

M51 with mystery object
M51 with mystery object
Close up crop of the M51 mystery object
Close up crop of the M51 mystery object

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Bobbington Observation Session 8th May 2018

A fine array of scopes

By Richard Harvey

The first weekend of May gave us the best run of clear skies for months, so we arranged an observation session for Tuesday 8th May at our new observation site in Bobbington. This time we moved to a slightly different area of the site, which gave us a better all-round view of the night sky. The usual ‘It’s on!’ text message was sent out at 5:00 pm, giving details of the session, and when I arrived at the site at 9:30 pm, I was pleased to see people were already there assembling scopes and chatting.

Jupiter was rising in the south-east, and from the area of hard-standing where we were setting up, most of the sky was accessible. It was a pleasant, clear, moonless, slightly balmy evening. The sky was still relatively bright at 10:00 pm. Would this impair our search for celestial objects, I wondered.

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Bobbington Observation Session Friday 20th April 2018

Pic 6: Line of telescopes

By Richard Harvey

With our Tuesday Trysull observing sessions clouded out for much of the winter, we’ve tried to find an alternative observation site that’s available on other nights of the week. To this end, we visited a new site in Bobbington on Friday 20th April, and I’m pleased to report it was a most successful evening.

Members setting up at Bobbington
Pic 1: Astronomers Assemble

Members started assembling at 8pm, (picture 1), just as the sky was darkening and Venus began shining in the west. There was a five day old Moon also quite high in the west, which made an excellent target for us to align our finder-scopes.

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Observation Session 13th March 2018

Members with the Tom Collier telescope

By Richard Harvey

After what seemed like years of cloudy skies, we were finally able to hold another society observing session at Trysull on the 13th March. Despite a slight misty haze in the sky, we were lucky enough to see some true celestial wonders once again.

The society’s Tom Collier 12-inch reflecting telescope had been collimated by society member Dave Wilson at a recent Monday Highfields meeting, so we were looking forward to putting the newly aligned optics to the test. This was the telescope’s second trip to the observing site, although its first visit was scuppered by clouds, (on that occasion, two weeks previously, society members Cath, Linda, Dave, John, Doug and I were forced to abandon thoughts of observing and abscond to the nearby pub).

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