Listening to the stars

I have taken up astronomy. Being a keen photographer I went on a photo shoot at Mansfield and Sutton Astronomical Society (MSAS) in November 2017. Unfortunately the skies were not as clear as I would have liked, though we did get to see a couple of stars. I came away with few pictures but a sense of wanting to return and try again. Sadly England is not always blessed with clear skies, clouds being the order of the day. Some 4 months later and I still don’t have any photo’s though I have joined MSAS.

I am taking the basic course, a very well prepared and presented 6 week course. The course runs for 2 hours on a Friday night with a different topic each week. In between I have attended members evenings with guest speakers and taken to reading a few magazines such as The Sky at Night and Space, amongst others. It’s a very steep learning curve, with mind blowing numbers and fantastic images, when the clouds are not there.

Friday night I was on the course and again the clouds were out. No stars again this night. It’s not that we never get to see the stars it’s just that it’s hit and miss, this being England and just coming out of winter. Clear skies on Thursday don’t necessarily translate into clear skies on Friday. So it was a chance conversation with another member that lead to a sudden and unexpected change of direction. “Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow night with the new radio astronomy section”? Me – “Whats radio astronomy”?

24 hours later and I have just come out of the Radio Astronomy meeting, and yes I now know what it actually is. Apparently you don’t just have to look into space, you can listen to it as well. Guess what? It doesn’t matter if there are clouds or not, it still works. Ok so you need some clever people to turn those beeps into images, but we have access to a programme that does it all for you.

2 hours of Q&A has given me a fascinating insight to Radio Astronomy. Too much to go into here and now. There is meteor detection which involves Back scatter and Forward scatter; Solar observations using portable radio dish, pop bottle magnetometer and SuperSID. No I hadn’t heard of any of them before tonight either. I now have a very basic understanding of these concepts and more. I’m no scientist, A level Maths and Physics 35 years ago probably doesn’t count. Do you know how they predict aurora borealis? I do, I didn’t before tonight, but I do now, Radio Astronomy!

There is a lot to learn, I know the meaning of space concepts that I had never heard of before tonight but I am at the level of someone who has just done a taster session. It is my intention to learn a little more about this subject and write about it as I go. Follow my progress here, and please comment.



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