Frequently Asked Questions
Joining a society is a good idea for anyone interested in astronomy. There are many different aspects to pursuing the science of astronomy and societies are great places to share knowledge.
The Shropshire Astronomical Society (AS) is a local society which meets on a regular basis in the Telford and Shrewsbury area of Shropshire.
Like many societies all over the UK, the Shropshire AS has members of all levels ranging from casual observers to the more serious deep sky astro photographer. Being a member of a society has huge benefits.
These are just a few of the benefits.
Follow this link to find more information about membership of the Shropshire Astronomical Society.
The Shropshire AS has two regular meeting places;
Our main meeting place is Rodington Village Hall where we meet on a Saturday evening approximately every four weeks (except during June, July and August). Follow this link to find out more about our Rodington Village Hall venue.
We also have members who meet to observe from a dark sky location at Ford Heath Caravan Park just west of Shrewsbury. These meetings, again, are approximately every four weeks and fall between our Rodington meetings. Follow this link to find out more about our Ford Heath Caravan Park observing site.
We have also in the past been involved with public outreach events such as our three evening 'MoonWatch' event at Attingham Park near Shrewsbury and 'Showcase Speaker' events at Meole Brace School Science College in Shrewsbury.
A meteor shower is a regular display of meteors which can be predicted to occur at certain times of the year. They happen when the Earth passes through dust particles which have been left along the orbit of a comet which crosses the Earth's orbit. Because the Earth crosses through the same cometary orbit at the same time each year, it is possible to make the prediction.
All the meteors in a particular shower seem to come from roughly the same point in the sky and is known as the 'radiant'. The shower is usually named after the constellation which contains the 'radiant'. Example shower names are Leonids (Leo), Orionids (Orion) etc.
Perhaps the most predictable of the meteor showers are the Perseids which radiate from (guess where) - Perseus. Under ideal conditions (ie excellent visibilty, good horizons, little light pollution and looking at the peak time) up to about 50 Perseids can be seen an hour although this is rare.
Some of the better known showers are;
These are just a few examples. A search on the Internet will provide a wealth of information about these showers and the best time and direction to look for them.
Always bear in mind that not all meteors are part of a shower. Lone, sporadic meteors may be seen on any night travelling in any direction so the meteor observer should be looking out on every clear night.
A number of things need to be considered before buying a telescope:
These are just a few of the questions you should be asking.
Before making a definite decision, always try to look through as many different telescopes as you can. This is where visiting or being a member of an astronomical society is very beneficial. Established astronomers are usually very willing to answer questions you may have.
To observe the Moon or planets the chief consideration is that of magnification. The planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all relatively bright so a large aperture telescope is not so important for light grasp, however, telescope resolution (ie the fine detail which can be seen) is greater with larger apertures.
Traditionally the refracting telescope, and more latterly the 'compound' catadioptric telescopes such as the Schmidt Cassegrain, have become popular choices for planetary observation as they tend to have long focal lengths which will give the required high magnifications.
Galaxies and nebulae tend to be faint objects so, here, it is important to gather as much light as possible. Probably the most popular telescope type for observing galaxies and nebulae is the Newtonian reflector as the larger apertures required are much less expensive to produce than comparable size refracting or compound telescopes.
It is surprising that many galaxies and nebulae appear large in the sky (for example if the famous Andromeda galaxy M31 could bee seen from edge to edge, it would appear to be about x6 the diameter of the Moon) so a high magnification is not necessarily needed. Therefore a short focal length is more suitable than a long focal length.
Galaxies and nebulae are also good targets for binoculars. A 10 x 50 binocular will show many (as well as craters on the Moon and the four Galilean satellites of Jupiter) plus are small and light and can be used for day time observation.
Many amateur astronomers are interested in observing double stars - these are stars which look close together in the night sky. They may really be close together and orbiting each other or they could just appear close because of the 'line of sight' effect and, in reality, one star is much closer to the Earth than it's apparent companion.
For the amateur astronomer, the usual 'challenge' is to be able to 'split' or observe double stars with ever less and less separation. A number of factors need to be considered when choosing a telescope for double star observation.
Firstly, magnification. A relatively high magnification is required which would dictate a telescope with a long focal length.
Secondly, resolution. The ability to see fine detail (ie in this case, the gap between two close stars). A telescopes resolution is governed by its aperture. The greater the aperture, the greater the resolution.
Thirdly, contrast. Not so important as the first two points above but is often overlooked. A reflecting telescope, because of obstructions in the light path such as a secondary mirror, has less contrast than a refractor. This means, in a refractor, the sky is darker and makes observing double stars easier.
If you wish to observe 'shooting stars', or meteors to use the correct title, do not buy a telescope!
By their nature, meteors are short lived phenomena briefly streaking across the sky. The best equipment to use to observe meteors is the naked eye. A dark location along with as wide a vista of the night sky as possible is recommended and, if possible, the use of a reclining 'sun lounger' to ease the neck strain which will be encountered whilst staring upwards for a long time. Of course, as with all observing types, warm clothing is a must. Remember, a warm and comfortable observer is a more efficient observer.