Derby and District Astronomical Society

The Journal of the Derby and District Astronomical Society
January - April 2006

Society News

Reports by Anthony Southwell

The Annual Flamsteed Lecture at the University of Derby

Flamsteed Lecture 2005
DDAS Members with Profesor John Zarnecki at the 2005 Flamsteed Lecture. Left to right: Simon Allcock, Arthur Tristram, Mike Lancaster, Professor John Zarnecki, Graham Ensor and Nick Cowling. Picture Credit: A. R. Southwell
On the 12th October the DDAS came out in force to attend the 2005 Flamsteed Lecture at the University of Derby. Not only did the DDAS attend the lecture, but we also had a display in the Kedleston Road campus atrium. The display featured astro-photos taken by DDAS members, Society information leaflets and copies of Aries. In addition to these items Graham Ensor brought along a number of meteorite samples on the night for display, including a specimen that weighed nearly 14 pounds!

The 2005 Flamsteed Lecture was presented by Professor John Zarnecki, of the Open University. Professor Zarnecki was the principal scientist for the hugely successful Huygens lander probe which touched down on the surface of Saturnís major moon Titan. Professor Zarneckiís lecture was entitled Landing on Titan Ė 14th January 2005. The lecture itself was simply brilliant, Professor Zarnecki gave us all a fascinating insight of what it is like to be involved in such a worthwhile endeavour - the hard work that goes into every space science mission, most often for years prior to launch and can take up a personís whole professional life, and finally the overwhelming sense of wonder and excitement on the day of the landing on Titan.

Professor Zarnecki also presented data from the Titan lander mission that was 'hot of the press', as it were. These included details of the latest results from the Titan mission that were not due to be published in the science journal Nature for another week after Professor Zarneckiís presentation to us! During his presentation Professor Zarnecki played for us a movie composed of images from the Huygens descent camera of the probeís descent to the surface of Titan. Huygenís took about two hours to reach Titanís surface, but the movie took only thirty seconds to run! The views provided by the descent camera were startling, and seeing what looked like drainage channels on the surface below was quite mind-boggling, and then, all of a sudden, we were on the surface of that frigid moon, looking at a pebble-strewn vista. Quite remarkable. After the movie presentation was completed, the lecture audience broke into spontaneous applause, which lasted a good thirty-odd seconds, everyone in that room was so enthralled by wonders that Titan was presenting to us all. At the end of Professor Zarneckiís lecture you actually felt that you had been to Titan yourself!

After the lecture everyone went down into the atrium and attended a reception, members of the lecture audience came and looked at our display, and took a few Society information leaflets and copies of Aries. We even persuaded Professor Zarnecki to have his picture taken with DDAS members in front of our display. Professor Zarnecki was very approachable and obliging, and the resulting picture graced the DDAS website homepage for a while. On behalf on the Society, I would once again like to thank Professor Zarnecki for such a fascinating and highly enjoyable evening of exploration and discovery.

For an earlier account of the 2005 Flamsteed Lecture by Mike Lancaster as well as more pictures click here.

National Museum of Photography, Film and Television

IMAX Visit, October 2005
DDAS members outside the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford. Left to right: Simon Allcock, Nick Cowling, Graham Ensor, Adrian Brown, Arthur Tristram, Mike Dumelow and Mike Lancaster. Picture by A. R. Southwell.
It was decided that the 2005 DDAS annual trip was to go and visit the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (NMPFT) in Bradford. We set the date for the trip for Saturday 22nd Oct. We went to the NMPFT to see a rather special presentation, starting from 23rd September. The museumís IMAX theatre was showing Tom Hanksí latest project Magnificent Desolation 3D: Walking on the Moon. The last time the Society visited the NMPFT was in 1988 to see the IMAX presentation The Dream is Alive, which was all about the US Space Shuttle. A truly impressive film, you actually felt as if you were onboard the Shuttle in Earth orbit. The huge size of the IMAX screen really gives you the impression that you are there. When we saw The Dream is Alive the IMAX system did not have a 3D capability. In recent years all IMAX presentations have been presented in 3D, and it really does improve upon the sense of 'being there'. The IMAX 3D system is not like the previous 3D systems, where you wore a pair of 3D specs with different coloured filters, red for one eye and green for the other eye. No, for the IMAX 3D system you wear a pair of polarising specs, and they are huge. The IMAX film is projected onto the screen via a massive projector, twice the size of the old IMAX projector used to show The Dream is Alive. It is actually two projectors each projecting differently polarised images to the screen. The glasses worn by the viewer separate these components and send a different one to each eye, thus creating the 3D effect, which is quite stunning.

As for the Magnificent Desolation 3D: Walking on the Moon presentation itself, I simply cannot find the words to adequately convey how good this film is. You were made to feel as if you were actually standing on the lunar surface with the Apollo astronauts, as the 'third' member of the surface team, as it were. It is the first time that I have ever got the impression of what the Moon is actually like. The first thing that hits you is the sense of scale, or some times the lack of it! The early sequences are truly spectacular, the film uses the Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley Rille as the backdrop to its story. You begin the journey to the lunar surface by following the Apollo 15 lunar module Falcon down to its successful landing. You feel as if you are in another lunar module following behind and to the side of Falcon as it descends. Then there before you is Hadley Rille, not just the strange sinuous feature on a Moon map, but now revealed to be a huge canyon system - it was a physical thing now. Falcon appears as a tiny bright speck heading right for it. During one sequence I had to suppress the instinct to duck, as you cut to an exterior view of Falcon as it enters the terminal phase of the landing. You are looking up at Falcon as it descends with its descent engine roaring away in your face, and you follow it down to the surface. As it gets to a few feet above the lunar surface, the blast from the descent engine starts to kick up dust and small rocks, and one small rock appears to be flying right for you! Thatís when I nearly ducked! The 3D system was that good, the depth of field was something that you just had to see to believe! You get an interior shot of the astronauts (Dave Scott and Jim Irwin, portrayed by actors) inside the ascent stage of the Lunar Module, and it was the first time that I really got a sense of how cramped the Lunar Module was.

Scott and Irwin were standing at the Lunar Moduleís controls literally shoulder to shoulder! The sequence that really got to me, and I must admit that it brought a tear to my eye, occurred after the landing. Scott and Irwin prepared themselves for their first walk on the Moon, the camera pans down the hatch that leads to the 'porch' and the ladder to the surface. The hatch opens and the camera moves towards it, but to your mind (well alight, my mind!) it was not the camera that was approaching the hatch and going through it, but rather you yourself! You move through the hatch and there it is before you, the vista that is the Hadley landing site for Apollo 15. My heart was pounding, almost fit to burst, I was grinning from ear to ear and there were tears in my eyes, I was on the Moon! The closest I will ever get I know, but nevertheless, I was on the Moon! I have left my own footprints there!

There is so much more that I could say about this film, but I would need a whole edition of Aries to do it! If you really want to know what it would feel like to walk on the Moon, then I urge you to go and experience this masterpiece for yourself, so you too can leave your own footprints on the Moon.

For an earlier account of the visit to NMPFT by Mike Lancaster click here.

Observing Session with the Brownies

For this story click here.

November 2005 DDAS Meeting

On Friday November 4th 2005 the Society enjoyed a fascinating lecture by Professor Michael Merrifield from the School of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Nottingham. Professor Merrifield presented a lecture entitled How to Build a Galaxy. Professor Merrifield gave us a very interesting insight into the present state of research into galactic evolution. He described the difficulties in classifying galaxies, how galaxies form, the various forms that galaxies can take, and what happens when galaxies collide. All in all Professor Merrifieldís lecture was a very fascinating and very accessible presentation and it gave those members who were present a new perspective on the 'life-cycle' of galaxies. Professor Merrifield also runs his own company Crystal Nebulae, which manufactures laser-cut sculptures of astronomical objects inside cubes of glass. The Society purchased one such sculpture of our own Milky Way galaxy which it will raffle off to members in due course - all proceeds to the club.

December 2005 DDAS Meeting

Albert Einstein The December 2nd 2005 Meeting of the DDAS featured a lecture by Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers of the University of Derby and referee for the Societyís Awards for All Application. Professor Powers rounded off this Centenary year of the publication of Albert Einsteinís Special Theory of Relativity, by presenting a lecture entitled The Reign of Relativity. In this very extensive lecture, Professor Powers explained how relativity works, how it overturned the Newtonian view of the Universe, the implications and effects of relativity and how Einsteinís relativity theory was tested. Professor Powersí presentation was a fascinating and highly enjoyable journey into one of the most important scientific theories and one of the most important scientific figures of all time.

Meeting Programme

For our current meeting programme click here.

If you have any suggestions for lecture topics and potential lecturers, then please pass on your ideas to the