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Winter Astrocamp 2012

posted Sep 2, 2012, 3:33 PM by Mike White   [ updated Sep 6, 2012, 5:34 PM ]
Frederic Haidekker - impromptu piano recital

 A review from Ian Cooper (President, P.N.A.S.) 

The first Winter Astrocamp to be held on the west coast of the Lower North Island was a huge success . Held over the weekend of August 17th to 19th, 2012. 

Our neighbours the Horowhenua Astronomical Society can be rightly proud of organising their first major event.. Attendees came from all corners of the Lower North Island, New Plymouth, Gisborne, Napier, Wellington and everywhere in between! 

Although the stated theme of the Astrocamp is a celebration of the Winter Milky Way which passes through our zenith as soon as it gets dark, the talks and lectures given over the weekend covered a wide variety of subjects. 

Gary Sparks of the Hawkes Bay Astronomical Society and Holt Planetarium at Napier gave us some detailed background to Archaeoastronomy sites he had visited in Peru as the key note speech on the Friday night. 

The sky was partially clear when it got dark so telescopes were unwrapped to take advantage of this occurrence. Digital cameras were to the fore as well as people took full advantage of their all too brief opportunities. The clouds came and went throughout the night.
The following morning the clouds started to really break up and a solar ‘scope with a hydrogen alpha filter was quickly set up to reveal a good range of prominences on the limb as well as spots and filaments on the surface. The clear skies throughout the afternoon unfortunately didn’t last long after dark. This was more than made up for with the great talks on offer.

  • Edwin Rodley of Wellington showed many examples of the Super Full Moon of last May.
  • Dr Bill Williams of Massey University showed everyone how to compute the astronomical unit (the distance from the earth to the sun) from photographs taken during the recent transit of Venus.
  • Ian Thomas, also of Massey University, spoke about the engineering involved in the cosmic microwave detectors on the Planck satellite that operated successfully for nearly two years in the previous decade.
  • Stephen Chadwick, President of the Horowhenua Astronomical Society and committee member of P.N.A.S. put on a slide show of images from his upcoming publication, “Imaging the Southern Sky,” soon to be published by Springer International, and co-authored by the writer. The slide show was accompanied by a live piano recital by Frederic Haidekker of Napier. Frederic’s performance seemed all the more amazing as he had his back to the slide show the whole time and yet the music seemed perfectly apt for what we were seeing up on the screen!
  • Peter Shelton, an electrical engineer in Palmerston North, gave us an insight into the technical requirements and some of the techniques in instituting measures to overcome light pollution and the possibility of creating a dark region in the Manawatu/Horowhenua area. 
  • Frank Andrews kept everyone enthralled with the latest results from the Curiosity rover on Mars.
  • Carl Knight pitched his talk on “Mr D’s Guide to Stellar Nuclear Synthesis - or how to make gold from the Stars!” just right for an audience of ‘newbies’ and very experienced astro-enthusiasts to enjoy.
  • Stephen Chadwick returned to give an example of mosaicing deep-sky images. Stephen has tackled several areas to mosaic over the past year but chose the Eta Carinae region that wowed the audience.
  • Haritina Mogosanu of Wellington took us on a journey to Mars from New Zealand via the United States in Utah at the Mars Desert Research Station run by the Mars Society. Haritina had already had experience of being at the desert base before with the Romanian Expedition RoMars 2011, 15-30 January 2011 sent by the Romanian Space Agency where Haritina was the First Officer . Haritina was the commander of the New Zealand Expedition KiwiMars 2012 back in April-May this year. The project was organised by KiwiSpace Foundation.
  • Richard Hall took us on a journey to the centre of the Galaxy. This pictorial journey started by showing us where reside in the Galaxy (often referred to as the Milky Way). From there with the help of multi-wavelength images from the greatest telescopes in the world we finally ended up in the vicinity of the amazing black hole Sagittarius A.
On the Sunday morning in lieu of a telescope trail we chaperoned our guests on a visit to the Nelson Bartlett Observatory at Foxton Beach Primary School. The guests were able to see for themselves the state of the old rusting metal dome and our need to have it replaced with a working fibre glass one as soon as possible. The money raised from this event will be added to the growing funds heading towards our target of $18,000.

On our return to the Astrocamp Richard Hall informed us of what is required to find E.T. and what our chances are of doing such a thing!

Kay Leather gave us the low down on what Barbarella (the Queen of the Galaxy) might really look like given the travails of travelling in pro-longed zero gravity.

The writer was up next explaining how to observe the Aurora Australis the next time the sky and the very quiet sun allows us to see “The Sneaky Lady!”.

The final talk was on, “Video Astronomy,” by Mike White of Levin. Mike showed how some stunning images of both solar system and deep sky objects can now be captured on live video or extracted for manipulation later.

At the conclusion of the Astrocamp all of those in attendance, of the 70 people that had registered, agreed that this event should be repeated next year at the same venue. Everyone was impressed with the wide range of talks on offer and the facilities were ideal for a winter gathering.

Ian Cooper

Foxton Beach Astrocamp