International Astronomy Show 2015 – notes from day 1

International Astronomy Show 2015.

Friday 2/10/2015 and Saturday 3/10/2015

Stoneleigh Park, just south of Coventry.

Notes from Day 1 – 2/10/2015.

Report by Andrew Thornett

RAG Members: Andrew Thornett, Pete Hill, Geoff Dryland, Terry Grimes, Ed Mann

This is the third year of the IAS. It was in a new location, as the lecturing facilities were poor in the previous years. The previous location had a massive advantage of a large amount of display space, so I was interested to see whether the new location provided similar excellent display facilities and improved lecture arrangements. I booked off the Friday from work as soon as the date was announced earlier in the year and was looking forward to the event with increasing excitement as time went on. I always love these conferences! A fair number of other members from RAG also planned to attend on one or other of the days, and the group had arranged a meal on Saturday night after day two of the show at Green Tea Chinese Restaurant in Lichfield.

On Friday I drove down to Stoneleigh Park with RAG members Pete Hill and Geoff Dryland and met Terry Grimes in the first talk by Welsh educator, Emma Wride. I love 3D shows and Emma did not disappoint – starting us off with a show of educational 3D videos about space and astronomy. Asteroids flying towards my head, travelling through the valleys of Mars, lying through the clouds of Jupiter. Her next 3D video looked at scale sizes of planets in relation to each other and other objects in the universe. This was followed by another on the smaller objects in the solar system and another on space exploration which included excellent 3D attempts to visualise what it would be like on the unexplored planets and moons of our solar system. All were in 3D and educational, aimed mainly at school children. Still, one hour of 3D Astro presentations – definitely worth the £6.50 entry fee for the lecture! Actually, this type of unusual lecture is what makes IAS special, together with talks by amateurs such as Nik Szymanek, and a much greater display area for exhibitors than Astrofest. Astrofest specialises in lectures by university professors and senior lecturers – updating delegates on latest advances in astronomy but IAS instead brings across the passion and excitement of being an amateur. This is why I always go to both each year! One difference this year to the way that lectures were delivered was that we each had a pair of headphones to provide each delegate with personally controllable volume and keep out the noise from the exhibition area next door. This worked quite well, apart from some initial glitches.

Bargains were less evident this year than previously. I think this reflects in the changing economic environment for astronomy retailers. However, I succumbed to temptation and purchased a 100mm pair of binoculars with interchangeable eyepieces. A stunning piece of kit, it was very cheap due to having been dropped – this has led to a small chip on the dew shield and it is out of collimating. Lee, help please! Thankfully, I already have a heavy duty mount and tripod already I can use for it as it did not come with the mount. Apart from that I bought a cheap Vixen mounting bar for my 80mm Opticstar travel scope and a laser dew heater – lasers are fantastic but terrible for stopping working with the cold. They are also difficult to heat as straps don’t tend to stay around them.

Friday morning has the advantage that it is much quieter and peaceful and provides a great opportunity to browse without feeling crushed. This was helped by the large display hall with wide (or should I say “wife” to emphasise their role in stopping purchases…) walkways between exhibitors’ display stands.

Pete and I watched Jerry Stone speak on whether Pluto is a planet at 11:15 on Friday. I don’t really have a particular issue with the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status, although Jerry quite successfully destroyed the International Astronomical Union’s new definition of a planet by going through the solar system and showing many examples of objects that did not properly comply with the parts of the definition that they are supposed to fulfil. Jerry is worth listening to, although at times it would be worth him speaking up a bit and he does tend to use every opportunity to sell his books or other talks! Nevertheless, this talk provided an interesting summary of the history of the discovery and nomenclature of wondering bodies in the solar system. He also discussed the concept of double planets, of which Pluto and Charon could be an example, although this wasn’t accepted by the International Astronomical Union.

On our way out from watching Jerry speak, we met Ed Mann on his way around the exhibitors – it was a short lived chat as he had booked to see Nik!

After this morning’s enjoyable session, I am looking forward to two further talks I have booked today – Caroline Crawford on the lives of stars and Monica Grady speaking on the landing of the Philae lander on Comet 67P! One talk I didn’t book into was Nik Szymanek’s talk, mainly because I have heard him before but also because his talk was over lunch and he lost out to my tummy. However, Ed did sit in on that talk and said it was fantastic. Now I need to collect that pair of enormous binoculars I bought before I eat…………

Having avoided any other purchases, Pete, a Terry and I went outside to view the sun through two solar scopes – a large 90mm Coronado and a Coronado PST. Great views showing prominences around the disc and a large detailed sunspot just central to the edge of the disc at 10 o’clock extending up to the edge and a prominence at that point – demonstrating in a very clear way that prominences and sunspots are the same thing, differing only because of our angle of view from Earth to the sun. In this case, it looked like the prominence and sunspot were part of the same solar event, appearing like a sunspot over the disc and like a prominence where we could look into space beyond the edge of the disc. The view through the PST compared very favourably with the 90mm scope, although both were showing full sun discs and the difference between the two is likely to have been more obvious if magnification had been greater from use of a lower focal length eyepiece in the two scopes.

Carolyn Crawford talked about the lives of stars. She is a professor of astronomy based at Cambridge with an emphasis on educational work. Her talk explains how stars differ from each other. Initially very basic, she quickly increased the complexity – something I have seen Brian Cox do previously. This means everyone in the audience learns something and gets taken to the edge of their understanding – an excellent lecturer! This was a really interesting talk, exploring the relationship between luminosity, mass and age. I understood for the first time how astronomers can date cluster ages based on colour of stars within them to quite a high degree of precision.

After Carolyn’s talk, Monica Grady spoke on the landing of Rosetta and the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This was today’s keynote speaker and was another excellent talk. I have many articles on Rosetta but Monica’s talk explained better than any of them the background history to this mission, the reason for the choice of 67P and the emotional roller-roaster experienced by the mission team during the landing of Philae on the comet. I hadn’t realised that Rosetta passed by two asteroids early in its journey to Comet 67P. Monica reminded us that the computer equipment on board used technology that hasn’t been in date since 2004, when the probe launched. She also explained why the plastic bath-tub duck shape of the comet caused so much of an issue to the mission team. I had not realised just how much the assumption that the comet would be round had affected the calculations and plans of the team, especially with regards to attempting to land Philae on it.

Overall, at the end of Friday, Pete, Terry, Geoff and I felt that the day had been enjoyable, educational, but we felt numbers of delegates were down on last year, exhibitors bought less stuff with them to sell, and there were fewer bargains than last year. I overheard another delegate commenting that he had really enjoyed the event, preferring it to Astrofest because of its relaxed atmosphere and spacious environment. I learnt that I should always double check batteries on cameras as mine went flat quickly in spite of having charged them only this week.

Andy