Friday, September 7, 2012

An Obscure Astronomer and the Constellations he named

Have you ever wondered how some of the less well known constellations got their names? A French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the mid 18th century catalogued more stars than all other astronomers of his era combined, and assigned names and places for southern constellations still in use today. He was a pioneer of Southern Astronomy.

Born in 1713, he completed theological studies, but his interest was consumed by science, so he obtained work as a geographer and cartographer. He surveyed the French coast and made precise measurements of longitude. He secured a position as mathematics professor at Mazarin College, with a small observatory at his disposal.

Though he made many celestial measurements from northern France, the other half of the sky beckoned. In 1750, He set sail for South Africa and set up his observatory near the slopes of Table Mountain. In just one year, using only a small 1/2-inch refractor, he measured the positions of 9,766 stars and logged 42 deep sky objects including some of the most famous and beautiful being 47 Tucanae, omega Centauri, and the eta Carinae nebula.

He also named 14 obscure southern constellations that have left many stargazers scratching their heads.

Tools of science and reason were admired in his time so hence the names: Antlia Pneumatica, the Air Pump, Caelum, the Engraving Tool, Circinus, the Geometer’s Compasses, Fornax Chemica, the Chemist’s Furnace, Horologium Oscillatorium, the Pendulum Clock, Mons Mensae, Table Mountain, Microscopium, the Microscope, Norma and Regula, the Level and Square, Octans, the Octant, Pictor, the Painter’s Easel, Pyxis Nautica, the Ship’s Compass, Reticulum Rhomboidalis, the eyepiece reticle, and, Sculptor, the Sculptor’s workshops.

Unfortunately, he died at the age of 49, before he saw his southern catalogue published. According to his biographer David Evans, Lacaille “lived for science and nothing else”. He had few friends and displayed fewer emotions, and left no record of a private life or ambition or the search for recognition. He lived and died for the stars and his work stands as his memorial.

Siding Spring Open Day 2012

On Saturday October 6th, the Annual Siding Spring Open Day will be held here at Siding Spring Observatory. A number of the telescopes will be open during the day to the public. There will be a BBQ lunch available; a shuttle bus on site to help you move around and see all there is to see. You will have the opportunity to talk to astronomers and learn about what science is carried out here. The Exploratory cafe will be opened for a well deserved cuppa, Devonshire tea or try lunch from their international menu. Entry to the event is free. The Open Day will start at 10am and run until 4pm. Visit the various telescopes and listen to astronomers talk about the research they do. Take part in the trivia treasure hunt to win prizes on the day. Solar observing will also be available and there will be talks in the Exploratory lecture theatre throughout the day. For more information on all these events or to make a booking please contact Donna Burton at Siding Spring Observatory on 02 6842 6255 or by email For more information on all these events or to make a booking please contact Donna Burton at Siding Spring Observatory on 02 6842 6255 or by email

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Astronomy Society of Coonabarabran Monthly Meeting with Special Guest Speaker

Next Wednesday (October 20th) we will have Mr Chris Wyatt, the president of UNE & Northern Tablelands Astronomical Society, (Armidale) to speak to the local Astronomical Society of Coonabarabran at our monthly meeting. Chris, who lives in beautiful Walcha, has been interested in Astronomy since he was 7 when Halley's Comet made its most recent visit in 1986. Since then he has had a keen interest in Astronomy, with a particular interest in Comets but also in other facets of astronomy including Variable star observing and Asteroid & Lunar Occultations. It is this latter area of asteroid and lunar occultations he is going to come and talk to us about. All welcome - Rotary Room in the new improved Imperial Hotel Dining Room at Coonabarabran at 7.30 pm this coming Wednesday - we will be meeting for dinner from 6.30pm before hand and sampling the new menu!

Chris is a keen astro-photographer of comets and other wonders of the night sky and some of his pictures can be seen here -

Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information and everyone is welcome and the meetings are free and suitable to all ages.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Astronomy Events in Coonabarabran October 1st – 2nd 2010.

Annual Science in the Pub

This entertaining event starts the weekend off on Friday October 1st, 2010 from 6.30pm.

This annual debate is definitely entertaining and can be thoroughly outrageous at times as a group of astronomers from various backgrounds debate a topic of astronomical interest at the Royal Hotel, John Street Coonabarabran. This event has an entry fee of $5 and provides entry into the drawer for a variety of prizes on the night. A buffet salad with steak meal will be available for $18 and bookings would be appreciated. Vegetarian meals are also available. The topic is “Climate Change: Can Astronomers shed any light?”

Siding Spring Open Day
On Saturday October 2nd, the Annual Siding Spring Open Day will be held here at Siding Spring Observatory - where we open a number of the telescopes during the day to the public - there will be a BBQ lunch available, a shuttle bus on site to help you move around and see all there is to see - solar viewing, a chance to talk to astronomers and learn about what we do here. Solar observing will also be available and there will be talks in the Exploratory lecture theatre throughout the day. The Exploratory cafe will be opened for a well deserved cuppa or Devonshire tea and entry to the event is free. The Open Day will start at 10 am and run until 4pm. Visit the various telescopes and listen to astronomers talk about the research they do.

Annual Bok Lecture
Saturday evening will culminate with the annual BOK lecture. This is a free lecture, held at the Coonabarabran Primary School in George Street, Coonabarabran. This year’s speaker is Professor Ray Norris, an astrophysicist at the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF). Educated at Cambridge and Manchester, he has been Head of Astrophysics and Deputy Director of the ATNF, before returning to full-time research to study the formation and evolution of galaxies. He also researches the astronomy of Aboriginal Australians, for which he has been appointed as Adjunct Professor in the Dept. of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University.He is a very entertaining speaker and will be sharing some of his knowledge on Indigenous Astronomy with us at this event. This night is open to everyone and is free. The event starts at 7pm.

For more information on all these events or to make a booking please contact Donna Burton at Siding Spring Observatory on 02 6842 6255 or by email or check out

School Holiday Activities at Siding Spring Observatory

The Siding Spring Observatory and Café will be open over the School holidays from 9.30 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday and 10 am to 4pm on Saturday, Sundays and Public Holidays.

Walking Tours of the Mountain:
Take a closer look around Siding Spring Observatory. Join our Guide and explore this special astronomy site and learn about the importance of this area to astronomy research and the natural environment. Enjoy a walk with breathtaking views of the Warrumbungle volcano.

Tours usually take about 1½ hours. Prices include entry to the Exhibition area. Please allow additional time to fully enjoy this experience. If the weather is inclement, you will still have a guided look at the Visitor Exhibition area and Anglo Australian Telescope viewing gallery.

Costs are:
$10.00 for adults, $7.50 for children and Seniors, and $30.00 for a family (2A,2C)

The dates and times for the School Holiday Period tours are as follows:

September 11.00 am on Tuesday 21st. Thursday 23rd, Saturday 25th, Tuesday 28th, Thursday 30th

October 11.00am on Tuesday 5th, Thursday 7th,Saturday 9th,

If you have a group of more than 15 people coming on another day and wish a tour – please contact the Visitors Centre to see if it can be arranged.

Please note it the weather here is quite variable, it can be quite warm or at the other extreme quite cool. Sunscreen, a hat, water and a warm coat/jacket are advisable. The walk takes place on some hilly and uneven ground so sensible and closed in foot wear is essential. Bookings are recommended as numbers are limited per tour and can be made on 6842 6211 or 6842 6399

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Delta-Aquarids Meteor Shower

The delta-Aquarids meteor shower will start to appear from 12 July and they continue through to 19th August with their being on July 28th. At 10 pm, on July 28th , go outside and face east, and look 4 hand spans and two finger widths above the horizon. One finger width right will be the fourth magnitude star delta  Aquarius. The radiant or origin of the meteor shower will be just above this star. This meteor shower should be visible from 10.00pm until dawn, with better meteor rates after midnight. The expected rate is around 20 meteors per hour. However, the full light of the Moon's may significantly interfere with how many meteors you may see.

A nice Sunset Scene

This week take a look west as the Sun sets. Venus is passing by the first magnitude star Regulus which is in Leo. They're only a little more than a degree apart. Bright Venus catches the eye first well above the horizon. Watch as the glow of sunset fades and Regulus pops out of the twilight a little below Venus. The view through binoculars is superb. Not far above them and slightly east are both Mars and Saturn. Regulus is the bright star and the end of the upside question mark which is Leo.

The Planets this Month

Mercury has returned to the evening sky in the latter half of this month and can be seem about a hand span above the north-west horizon an half and hour after sunset. On the 15th, Mercury is nearly one and with the crescent Moon close to Mars and Saturn, this will be a very nice view. By the 27th and 28th, Mercury will be two hand spans above the horizon, an hour after sunset, and only half a finger width from bright Regulus. The close massing of Venus, Mars and Saturn above Mercury will make for a lovely viewing of the planets.

Venus is hard to miss as the “evening star” as it can be seen blazing in the early evening sky throughout this month. On July 15 Venus, Mars and the thin crescent Moon form a triangle about two hands pans across. Venus is just under five hand spans above the north-western horizon an hour after Sunset at this time. On July 31 Venus is over five hand pans above the north-western horizon an hour after sunset. By then Venus forms a nice triangular line-up with Mars and Saturn, and Mercury is not far below.

Mars is still fading rapidly. Mars will not be more than a smallish disk in small to medium telescopes; it is still worth a look. Currently in the constellation of Leo it can be found two hand spans from bright star Regulus, and almost exactly half-way between Regulus and Saturn. On the 30th, Mars and Saturn are just a finger width apart, with Venus forming a triangle with them, and Mercury below.

Jupiter is prominent as the “morning star” in our sky this month. By the 15th Jupiter will be nine hand spans above the northern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. On July 31 Jupiter is eight hand spans above the north-western horizon an hour and a half before sunrise. Jupiter is also a hand span above the Moon.

Jupiter is still within a binocular field of Uranus, making the seventh planet a bit easier to find as a greenish blue disk. However during the month Jupiter is drawing further away from Uranus.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

ATNF - Australia Telescope NARRABRI - Open Day!

This is a rare opportunity to tour the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the largest and most powerful radio telescope array in the Southern Hemisphere. Come along and learn about the cutting edge science and how the telescope works.

•• Telescope tours (flat enclosed shoes MUST be worn)
•• Astronomy talks
•• Displays & expert advice
•• Hands on science activities with CSIRO Education
•• Jumping castle and bbq lunch

Saturday July 17th

Time :10:00 am – 4:00 pm (Telescope tours)

Paul Wild Observatory
1828 Yarrie Lake Road
20km west of Narrabri NSW

Reminder: OPen Day at Siding Spring and Sidewalk Astronomy in Coonabarabran! this Saturday July 26th!

Don't forget Open Day on Saturday at Siding Spring - come along with lots of warm clothes and ride a vintage bus between telescopes - enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate in the Cafe and talk to astronomers and best of all it is free!!!! Then come down to the Visitor Information Centre in town and join us with the guys with... the Obsessions from Three Rivers Foundation! From 5.30pm

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Horizons Spacecraft Wakes up for Checkup at the Midway Point of its Journey

New Horizons is a NASA robotic spacecraft mission currently en route to the dwarf planet Pluto and then onto the Kuiper Belt. It was launched in January 2006 It will study Pluto and its 3 moons, Charon, Nix and Hydra. It passed Jupiter in February 2007 and crossed Saturn’s orbit in June 2008. In March 18 2011, it will pass through Uranus’s orbit. The spacecraft, which is about the size of a grand piano and is nuclear powered.

It is traveling through space at nearly a million miles per day, NASA’s New Horizons probe and is now halfway to Pluto and just woke up for the first time in months to look around.
As New Horizons passes into Pluto’s shadow in 2015, a UV imaging spectrometer named “Alice” will look back toward the sun through Pluto’s atmosphere. This should reveal how molecules in Pluto’s atmosphere absorb sunlight, and thus what the atmosphere is made of.
Cameras and spectrometers won’t be the only busy instruments. REX, New Horizon’s Radio Science EXperiment, will detect and observe radio signals coming all the way from NASA’s Deep Space Network on Earth.

This wake up period is the perfect opportunity to test New Horizon’s instruments before the probe reaches Pluto in 2015. IT is important to check things out and ensure all is working order well before it gets to Pluto.

The 9 weeks of testing commenced on May 25th. Mission controllers plan a thorough checkout and recalibration of all seven science of the instruments onboard.
First up is LORRI, the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, one of the largest interplanetary telescopes ever flown.

The plan is that on July 14, 2015, the date of closest approach, to the little planet, it should be able to distinguish objects on Pluto as small as a football field, which is about 300 times better resolution than anything that exists at present.
LORRI will be working together with “Ralph,” a spectrometer designed to probe the surface of Pluto at visible and infrared wavelengths. Ralph will reveal Pluto’s temperature, color, and chemical composition.

During the current tests, both LORRI and Ralph will be pointed at something in the sky to make sure they can be operated together with full sensitivity. Since New Horizons is far from any large bodies right now, they will aim the cameras at a star field to test them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

WInter Solstice

This solstice occurred on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 11:28 Universal Time or 21:28 AEST. It is the shortest day of the Southern Hemisphere’s year, while in the Northern Hemisphere it the longest day and the start of their summer.

The earliest humans knew that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year. They built monuments, such as Stonehenge, to follow the sun’s yearly progress.
Today, we know that the solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis, and its motion in orbit around the sun. You may recall that the Earth is tilted on its axis by 23.5 degrees, so that Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly.

At the June solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that the North Pole is leaning 23.5 degrees toward the sun. As seen from Earth, the sun is directly overhead at noon 23.5 north of the equator, at an imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Cancer. This is as far north as the sun ever appears to be.

This means that all locations north of the equator have day lengths greater than 12 hours at the June solstice. Meanwhile, all locations south of the equator have day lengths less than 12 hours.

About Me

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I am an amateur astronomer who also gets to study as a professional astronomer. I also enjoy flying light aircraft, reading, writing, social media and sharing my love of the sky with others. I also love to encourage young women and girls to l consider science and technology careers. I am available to do talks or video linkups to schools and other groups.