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H.S.S. ASTRONOMY SECTION REPORT 1998 - 1999 SESSION

Doug / Julia Daniels (Astronomy Secretaries)

At the beginning of the session our attention was focussed on meteor activity, there being 3 possibly favourable events. On the evening of October 8-9th, the Draconid meteors should have been favourable as the Earth passed close to the orbit of the parent comet: Giacobini-Zinner. When similar events occurred in 1933 and 1946, zenithal hourly rates exceeded 6000 per hour. However in Hampstead it was totally cloudy. Cloud also prevented observation of the Orionid meteors on October 21-22, which should have been favourable this year with moonless skies.

The biggest disappointment involved the Leonid shower in November. The shower was expected to show increased activity this year being at the peak of the 33 year cycle associated with the parent comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The Earth passed the descending node of the comet's orbit on the night of November 17-18 and a good display of bright slow moving fireballs was predicted. Expecting a long night of observation members decided to grab a good night's sleep on the 16th. As it transpired, this was a mistake as the maximum occurred in the early hours of that night! A member living near Cambridge rose in the early hours of the 16th to answer a call of nature, to be confronted with the spectacle of many bright fireballs streaking across the sky, some so bright as to light up his bedroom! The Astronomy Secretary and a colleague observing on the night of the 17-18th saw 2!

At the beginning of the session both Jupiter and Saturn were well placed for observation. Jupiter showed considerable activity in its cloud belts. The Great Red Spot was visible as a pale oval followed by two small white ovals which eventually merged. The North Equatorial Belt revealed considerable structure, including a number of dark notches with filaments trailing up into the Equatorial Zone. The Astronomy Secretary was able to record many of these features on CCD. Saturn's rings were well displayed and the planet remains a favourite with visitors.

In the early new year, Jupiter and Saturn moved steadily westward and were joined by Venus. On February 23 a rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter took place when the two planets were separated by only 1/5 of a degree. Needless to say the event was clouded out at Hampstead, but members observed them on the previous evening, when they were about 3/4 of a degree apart. By early March, Mercury appeared just after sunset to join the group and we were able to observe Saturn, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury all in the western sky. Other interesting events included an occultation of the 1st magnitude star Regulus, on the evening of 24th April.

Towards the end of the session, Mars began to rise, coming into opposition in April. The planet is fairly low in the constellation of Virgo, but nevertheless some detail can be seen.

Despite the poor cloudy weather at the beginning of the session, attendance at the Observatory was good. The Golders Green Guides finally managed to visit the Observatory after 4 abortive attempts due to bad weather!

The observatory suffered from some vandalism in March. This was boarded up temporarily but in May there was further damage and theft. The Astronomy Secretary and another member made repairs, but vandalism is a constant worry.

The Astronomy section applied for grants from the Millennium Fund and the National Lottery, for improvements to the dome. However, neither of the applications was successful.

The Astronomy Secretary thanked all demonstrators and assistants for their continued support in keeping the Observatory functioning. It remains an important part of the Society's activities, and is the primary interface between the Society and the public.

Doug / Julia Daniels (Astronomy Secretaries)


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Last modified: Wed Feb 21 21:41:47 2007