Member attends ORION open evening, Oak Ridge (USA)

One of our members recently attended an open evening lecture on 19th September 2018 hosted by ORION (Oak Ridge Isochronous Observation Network) at the Roane State Community College in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The meeting was attended by a broad range of ages including a group of high school students studying Astronomy.

The guest speaker was Mark Uhran who is currently employed at the local Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the ITER fusion reactor initiative.  Previously Mark has spent 28 years working with NASA on design, development and operation of the ISS. He retired from NASA headquarters in 2012 at the conclusion of the station assembly phase having completed his last 7 years as ISS Division Director.

His hour long lecture entitled “Human Space Exploration: The Merits of Avoiding Gravity Wells!” discussed the current US plan of placing future habitable orbital platforms at known Lagrange points before 2030.

The main reason to using the Lagrange points is that maintaining position and moving between these points takes little to no fuel at all especially when using ION drives.

The Lunar Lagrange platform would be habitable allowing it to function as a jump point to targets further afield such as a mission Mars. Another advantage of the Lunar Lagrange point is being able to observe the activities of other nations on the dark side of the Moon.

He also went on to discuss the use of private companies and emerging technologies that will to be needed to be employed in order to fulfil the project goals in a timely and cost effective manner.

One interesting point was the recent change of US policy to allow the use of Nuclear Fission reactors (U235) rather than radiothermal generators (RTG) that utilise Pu238 such as those used for the Cassini mission. The rationale behind such a decision is due to the energy output boost of fission reactors. This would allow the the outward journey time to Mars to be reduced from 300-150 days (depends on planetary positions) to 30 days. This would vastly reduce the effect of the potentially life threatening radiation on the human crew.

There is an open conference in Oak Ridge October 23-25th entitled “The TVIW Power Of Synergy Space Symposium” to promote safe, fast, and affordable human development of the solar system.

ORION also have regular public observation meeting at Tamke-Allan Observatory in Rockwood, Tennessee on the first and third Saturday of the month.  The facility has an indoor classroom with available toilet facilities.

Members Visit Kelling Heath Star Party

On the 10th September, members Mark Radice and Dave Shave-Wall set off for the remote corner of East Anglia, the most north easterly part of England to attend the Kelling Heath Star Party. The roads to Kelling from the South East of Englands home county of Hampshire never seem to end, but after nearly 6 hours of driving in Friday afternoon traffic we arrive is this very rural part of England.

We set about setting up tent, cooking some food on the stove and watching the light fade, then we venture out to see who and what have arrived to one of the darkest sky sites and largest star parties England offers.

Many people are still setting up, deep sky imaging rigs are being attended to by budding astrophotographers who dart from here to the there, the red light from their head torches betraying their location as the tighten bolts and attach cables whilst waiting for the clouds to clear. Meanwhile deep sky visual observers sit and relax in their large lounge chairs, massive dobsonian beasts lie still facing horizontally on the grass surrounding the tents.

The Kelling Heath site is massive, over the course of the nights Mark and I walk in the region of 8 miles, back and forth from the Blue to the Red fields, stopping every now and then to ask what people are up to and to hopefully be offered a view through their scopes. Most people are pleasant and welcoming, some less inviting people make a few comments about viewing when people have left their little ‘dell’. In the main though the majority of folk are very nice indeed and this is what makes this star party special. The community of strangers with astronomy in common becomes a close community of friends who want to share.

After a whiles Mark and I stop at a pair of massive binoculars, that turn out to be 5″ APMs and we stare through with eager interest of what is on view. The sight that greets your eyes is pronominal. I had forgotten the effect of using both eyes. Despite the stars being appreciably far away that depth is not really seen, you fall into the large binoculars, eyes darting left and right, up and down, soaking in the view that is most definitely 3D in its nature. M81 and M82 that I had previously looked at through my 6″dob now looks like someone is holding the on a piece of fine fishing line, dangled in front of the stars the actually sit behind. This is the moment of conversion for me, an epiphany, a calling, I commit at this moment in time to go back into visual. No I won’t give up astrophotography, of course not. I will move my setup at home to Spain and gain more data, but I will also buy a pair of these wonderful binoculars and use my 6″ dob to view the night sky, connecting in a way which no other astronomy can connect you to the majesty of the universe.

We wonder here and there, look through the mighty 22″ UC Obsession dob owned by the extremely pleasant and knowledgable Owen Brazell and spy the comet of the moment 21p Giacobini-Zinner just above the hedgerow. The tail definitely showing as it points to around 7 o’clock in the field of view. A view through a set of 6″ binos produces a slightly wider view as the comet sets. We went on to have around a few hours of clear skies, I bagged a handful of objects in the 6″ reminding me just how good this little scope it that is owned by my daughters.

The next day brings conversation with many astronomers after a leisurely bacon fried breakfast cooked by my good friend Mark. We head across to the trade stalls and I decide to dive into the purchase of The Night Sky Observers Guide, Mark had shown me the night before. Think of it as the serious astronomers version of Turn Left at Orion with over 5000 objects to hunt down and see. I purchase volumes 1 and 2 along with a years membership of the Webb Society, with it’s quarterly magazine, The Deep-Sky Observer.

After looking through both 5″ and 6″ binoculars I bump into Altair Astro and their own pair of 4″ binos, much more portable for me for Tenerife and superb quality. They are even about to produce and sell their first bino wedge for the binos which is very akin to the APM wedge on show. A must buy before this years November trip to La Palma.

Again we meet with long lost friends such as Keith Venables whom started my observatory building 14 years ago by borrowing his dome mould that build the IMT-1 and IMT-2 at Bob’s house.  After another night with cloud in toe, we wake, have another breakfast and pack up and head home across the South East. I must admit it was a good trip, great conversation with my friend Mark and having learnt a lot from the new astronomers I met a real change to the direction my astronomy will take over the next 14 years. I look forward to returning one day to Kelling Heath.