Federation of Astronomical Societies Annual Convention 2017

Ed and I are here in Birmingham University for the GAS annual convention. This is the first time I have been here after Dave gave such a good write-up of the meeting last year. At only  £5 it is also one of the cheapest astronomical conferences you can go to – and local to us in Staffordshire and Derbyshire too.

There are around 100-150 attendees from a range of Astronomic3al Societies that are members of FAS. The talks are excellent from a range of highly qualified university based astronomy departments. Lots of professors! This makes it quite a different animal from other astronomical conferences for amateurs which tend to use either amateur astronomy lecturers or more junior departmental staff. It therefiee compliments those events well. The current prestigious bunch tend to drop in interesting bits of information that I had heard of before – such as the problem of light scatter experienced by GAIA. The talks today were theoretical and about astronomical research rather than practical astronomy. If Horizon and BBC’s Sky at Night TV does not stretch you ant more then you could have found something here to stimulate your astronomy taste buds. However these talks might have been too much for beginners unless you know a lot of physics and were certainly not aimed at children.

Well worth attending. I hope these events will continue. We will find out at AGM this afternoon – as there is a possibility the organisation might have to close due to lack of volunteers for senior positions within it.

Ed busily collected contact information from many of the lecturers during the day – many of them would make great speakers for future RAG meetings and do give such talks.



The programme for the day:

This picture shows me sitting in the lecture theatre:

Professor John Zarnecki discusses the future of Europe in space:

Professor Ian Shipley speaking about what happened next after Higg’s bosun was discovered. By this he meant the role of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope when it is built (LSST):

Professor Tim Greenshaw talked about the Cherenkov Telescope Array:

Professor Donald Kurtz speaking about planets and pulsations: this was about astroseismology.

Professor Carl D. Murray gave the final talk reflecting on Casini mission to Saturn:

Pictures from the convention outside the talks:


Some impressive kit could be seen in the break. This isn’t a conference with many vendors but this new diagonal has a lovely magnetically held filter slider that therefore does not fall out unlike some competitors. I can imagine this being highly sort after by amateurs if priced right. Or at least it would be great if the manufacturer added a brass compression ring and not just two thin screws to drill holes through your Ethos eyepiece! The large eyepiece changer does have compression rings and us therefore better designed in this respect.


RAG First informal Star Party 23-25th September 2017

Hi Folks

Last weekend, Dave Jones, Pete Simkins, Paul Simkin and I went to the Brow Farm campsite near Church Stretton to try out an informal Star Weekend. Heather and Doreen were also there for the Friday night. The second photo shows the view from SE to SW  from the higher part of the site

Pete and Paul arrived on Thursday and had quite a good night’s observing. Unfortunately the rest of the weekend was pretty cloudy and rained some of the time. At least my tent didn’t leak this time as it did at Solarsphere.

Saturday brightened up quite a bit and we all got out our solar setups for a while, until hazy cloud made us give up again. At least we all saw a very nice sunspot for a while

On the Friday night, we all met up with Roy and Peter from the Shropshire Astronomy Society and all had a very pleasant meal and a few pints at the local pub. They invited us to go and see a talk by Pete Williamson at their meeting on Saturday night. It was a very interesting evening and the talk was excellent

Brow Farm is potentially a very good venue with minimal light pollution. There is a flat area with electric hook-ups and a hillside with 3 camping pods. There is also a separate field that is usually used by parties. If we wanted to set up a larger gathering it would be ideal as it is flat and has good visibility all round. It also has an empty caravan that could potentially be used as a presentation room/ meeting place if the owner allowed it

The campsite is less than an hour and a half from most of the RAG members and is very cheap, at £6 per head (plus £5 for electric if required) per night

Great weekend in all and I thoroughly enjoyed it

Keeping a notebook.

This abysmal autumn has not been the expected delight of previous years. Dark before 8 and many hours of great observing . Looking through my simple old notebook , I found a few treasures . Including the bright Delphinus nova , which I had forgotten about . Annoyingly , a lot of clear nights , which we just haven’t had this year or last year.

A spiral bound A5 project notebook is ideal to keep a simple record and a few drawings. It won’t fall apart like a bound one .

It’s a handy reference when planning a session or looking back. Unfortunately , not as far as Andy’s intruiging fossils . My eldest granddaughter is doing a school project on Jupiter and I found my 2010 drawings . The southern belt disappeared for a year , leaving a surrealistic red spot suspended on it’s own. That should go down well when describing what folk can see.

Hoping for a more decent season ahead with clear skies ! Nick.


Microscopy of microfossils and rock formations from Scarborough

These slides were purchased from SDFossils on ebay Sept 2017.

They compose of a five slide set of thin sections – one is of shelly limestone showing fossils. The others show rock structure – including oolites which look for all the world like fossils but aren’t!

All photos on Zeiss IM microscope with Bresser MikrOkular camera. For this post only x4 and x20 objectives were used.


Shelly Limestone

Shelly Limestone x4 objective – microfossils are seen within the stone

For comparison purposes the following photo is from the Museum of Wales, showing fossils within limestone:


Oolite or oölite (egg stone) is a sedimentary rock formed from ooids, spherical grains composed of concentric layers. The name derives from the Ancient Greek word ??? for egg. Strictly, oolites consist of ooids of diameter 0.25–2 mm; rocks composed of ooids larger than 2 mm are called pisolites. The term oolith can refer to oolite or individual ooids. Some exemplar oolitic limestone, a common term for an oolite, was formed in England during the Jurassic period, and forms the Cotswold Hills, the Isle of Portland, with its famous Portland Stone, and part of the North Yorkshire Moors. A particular type, Bath Stone, gives the buildings of the World Heritage City of Bath their distinctive appearance (Wikipedia).

x4 objective:

Laminated sandstone & mudstone

The following are photographs of microscopy of two laminated rock sections (sandstone and mudstone) from Scarborough.

In geology, lamination is a small scale sequence of fine layers (so called laminae) that occurs in sedimentary rocks. Laminations are normally smaller and less pronounced than bedding. Lamination is often regarded as planar structures one centimetre or less in thickness, whereas bedding layers are greater than one centimetre. However, structures from several millimetres to many centimetres have been described as laminae. A single sedimentary rock can have both laminae and beds. Lamination consists of small differences in the type of sediment that occur throughout the rock. They are caused by cyclic changes in the supply of sediment. These changes can occur in grain size, clay percentage, microfossil content, organic material content or mineral content and often result in pronounced differences in colour between the laminae. Weathering can make the differences even more clear. Lamination can occur as parallel structures (parallel lamination) or in different sets that make an angle with each other (cross-lamination). It can occur in many different types of sedimentary rock, from coarse sandstone to fine shales, mudstones or in evaporites. Lamination is a fine structure and hence it is easily destroyed by bioturbation (the activity of burrowing organisms) shortly after deposition. Lamination therefore survives better under anoxic circumstances, or when the sedimentation rate was high and the sediment was buried before bioturbation could occur. Lamination develops in fine grained sediment when fine grained particles settle, which can only happen in quiet water. Examples of sedimentary environments are deep marine (at the seafloor) or lacustrine (at the bottom of a lake), or mudflats, where the tide creates cyclic differences in sediment supply. Laminations formed in glaciolacustrine environments (in glacier lakes) are a special case. They are called varves. Quaternary varves are used in stratigraphy and palaeoclimatology to reconstruct climate changes during the last few hundred thousand years. Lamination in sandstone is often formed in a coastal environment, where wave energy causes a separation between grains of different sizes (Wikipedia).

Laminated sandstone x4 objective:

Laminated sandstone x20 objective:

Laminated mudstone x4 objective: