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StellarFest 2014 by Carl Knight

posted Jul 31, 2014, 7:12 PM by Stephen Chadwick   [ updated Aug 28, 2014, 6:48 AM ]
Folks, if you are not already, then you should plan to get to StellarFest 2015. This year's event was brilliant.

The "Star" of the show. Milky Way from the campsite - Stephen Chadwick.

Held at the Foxton Beach Bible Camp, the site has excellent accommodation and, given it is on the outskirts of Foxton Beach itself, remarkably dark skies.

So what did we do at StellarFest 2014?

In the daytime there were talks and solar observing...

Solar observing - Edwin Rodley
We kicked off on Friday 25th July with Jeremy Moss giving a presentation called: Telescopes - Beyond the visible." He discussed Gamma-ray, X-ray, Infra-red and Radio telescopes and in particular the Square Kilometre Array which will provide unprecedented resolution of the sky in radio.
Friday night was clear with some breeze. Warm clothes were the order of the "night". The central bulge of the Milky Way was fully in view overhead. For those that do not live in the country it was a real treat. The only light pollution came from near by street lights, but compared to a city view, hardly mattered.

The mornings were cold to say the least. Frosty starts to the days and the hall was a cold place to sit for the talks!

The rising Milky Way - Ian Cooper
Frosty Start - Ian Cooper

StellarFest attendees - Ian Cooper
There was a wide range of experience present and it was good to see experienced old hands willingly helping those new to astronomy.

Processing the night's images during the day - Edwin Rodley
The clear skies meant that some good images were obtained - despite some wind - of objects like M83, Centaurus A and the Eagle Nebula.

Space was available in the hall and laptops were set up allowing anyone to see the image processing in action.

Saturday's talks were:

  • Edwin Rodley's space news update.
  • A presentation from Massey University's Steven Keen on their recent high altitude ballooning efforts. Principally an engineering effort to get instruments to high altitude and back safely and inexpensively.
  • Vicki Irons gave a presentation on meteor watching.
  • Professor Paul Delaney gave his presentation on Mars exploration vis Skype from Canada! This was a tour-de-force of efforts to find the signature of life especially using the Curiosity Rover, and the the Mars methane mystery (a potential signature of organic processes) which remains to be resolved. Why can it be seen from space and yet Curiosity can find none?
  • Dr Catherine Abou-Nemeh from Victoria University Wellington talked about comets in late 17th Century Europe. It was a fascinating historical piece - and most importantly traced the movement of Man's thinking about comets in meta-physical to scientific terms.
  • Frank Andrews spoke about the astrophysics of life. He discussed and related the spectral classes and length of lifetime of stars to the time needed to evolve life and the characteristics of those classes of star to how harmful or not they might be to life. Stars hotter than the Sun pose obvious problems for life, but he also pointed out that stars smaller and cooler than the Sun pose problems we might not have considered - they are often flare stars and flares are particularly harmful for life.
  • My talk was a presentation of a poster paper I did for the RASNZ conference. Factors affecting nova ejecta. The text is available in a blog post here.
  • Owen Moore gave a talk that says it all: "Planning and Constructing an Observatory for the Comfort-loving Astronomer."
  • Steve Chadwick took us on a journey through his astro-imagery deeper and deeper into space in "Wonders in the Ship of Argo".
  • After the healthy Fish and Chip dinner, Ian Cooper talked about Sprites and Elves - the lightening phenomena - not the mythological creatures.
Saturday's observing began with plenty of action on the field adjacent to the main hall at the campsite.

HASI 18" Dobsonian Telescope - Ian Cooper
A variety of telescopes were set up. These included Dobsonians, SCTs and Refractors.

Celestron SCT - Ian Cooper
The evening began with great promise and I spent my time assisting with a new Dobsonian. It had encoders and a handset so given a couple of alignment stars it was able to tell you where to point it on the sky to locate objects. We had just got it set up and found a couple of objects (Eta Carinae Nebula, Swan Nebula (M17) and Alpha-Crucis (double star)) when the cloud

arrived - a little after 10pm - and put an end to the evening. It cleared sporadically after 11pm. It was very cold so in combination with the cloud, most people could be found inside watching the story of Patrick Moore's life: 84 not out.

Sunday began with frost again and more solar observing.

  • The talks began with Grant Christie from Auckland. Grant is involved with MicroFun. The project is discovering exo-planets by using the lightcurve produced by microlensing events in the dense star clouds of the central Milky Way. A foreground star microlenses a background star and the effect of any planets orbiting the foreground star is found in additional peaks in the intensity of the light of the microlens.
    Microlens light curve with planets and model of the corresponding microlensing event - Grant Christie
    (Photo Carl Knight)
  • Peter Felhofer gave a presentation on "The Cosmological Timescale". With props he demonstrated how we get from determining distances by trigonometric means to the inverse square law of light to spectral redshift.
  • John Talbot discussed his occultation work. An occultation is when one celestial body "occults" - blocks - the light from another. The resulting light-curve can reveal information about the size and shape of the object doing the occultation.
  • After lunch (where Peter Wilde and I had Pork Steaks), Otto Gruelbl gave a talk on astronomy and astrology. This led to some of the most "lively" discussion of the weekend.
All and all a very well worthwhile event and I look forward to attending again next year.

Particular thanks go to:
  • Tina Hills.
  • Simon Hills.
  • Steve Chadwick.
  • Ian Cooper.
  • Members of the Horowhenua Astronomical Society that helped out throughout the weekend.

- Carl.