AstroNotes 1985 December Vol: 24 issue 11

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A S T R O N OTES
ISSN 0048-8682
The Newsletter Magazine of the Ottawa Centre of the RASC
Vol. 24, No. 11
$5.00 a year
December
1985
Editor..... ..Rolf Meier...... 4-A Arnold Dr.......820-5784
Addresses.... Frank Roy.......3800 Richmond Rd... .737-4110
Circulation...Robin Molson....2029 Garfield Ave...225-3082
Fee Reminder:
Members should note that this is the last
issue of Astronotes that they will receive if they don’t
renew their membership!
A membership application can be
found in the centre of this issue.
* * *
OBSERVER’S GROUP MEETING - NOVEMBER 1
Daniel Dlab
Chairman Doug George opened the meeting at 8:16 pm,
with 66 people in attendance, of whom 15 were non-members.
Several future activities were mentioned. On November 13,
Doug will give a talk on Halley’s Comet at 7:30 pm at the
Nepean Public Library.
On November 15 there will be a
"Comet Halley Night" at the Ramsayville Public School (rain
date the 16th).
The Annual Dinner Meeting will be held
November 22 at Algonquin College.
Frank Roy showed the IRO slide set made available to
the public.
It consists of two groups - 14 slides in the
"solar system" set for $14 and 16 in the "deep sky" set for
$16.
The profits will be used for funding better
observatory equipment.
Because of the recent frenzy in buying telescopes now
that Halley’s Comet will make its approach, Doug George
informed everyone of what to look for in the way of optics,
mounting, and prices.
He also displayed a few slides of
aurora, Halley's Comet, and deep sky objects.
Max Stuart displayed his telescope that he made to
support the high-power refractor he built.
Paul Comision made a generous donation to the Ottawa
Centre. He supplied the Indian River Observatory with the
Meade Research Grade eyepiece set*
-Sandy Ferguson presented some of her observations on a
recent outburst of solar activity.
The final outcome of the elections for Observer’s
Group officers for 1986 is as follows:
Chairman
Vice-chairman
Solar
Lunar and Planetary
Comets, Novae
Radio Astronomy
Meteors
Instrumentation
Occultations
Astrophotography
Deep Sky
Recorder
Variables
Doug George
Sandy Ferguson
Linda Meier
Kyle Nunas
Rolf Meier
Frank Roy
Frank Roy
Max Stuart
Brian Burke
Pierre Deguire
Paul Comision
Daniel Rollin
Sandy Ferguson
The meeting was closed at 10:12 pm.
* * *
OBSERVER'S GROUP MEETING - OCTOBER 4
Daniel Dlab
Chairman Doug George opened the meeting at 8:11 pm
when 56 members and 13 non-members were present.
Occultation coordinator Brian Burke informed people
that Grote Reber will be giving a talk about the origin of
the universe. The precise date was to be announced.
Doug George hypothesised a bit (actually a lot) on
energy requirements to get a human and sufficient food
supplies to the Eagle Nebula and back, given that the
length of the journey could not exceed the person’s life
span.
Frank Roy showed everyone slides of deep sky objects
and what appeared to be a faint glow of Halley’s Comet. He
used Fujichrorae 400D for all these astrophotos.
The film
appeared slightly off colour but yielded good results with
little graininess.
Kyle Nunas, a centre member, gave a talk on Halley’s
approach for the past few years and future expectations.
The comet will be disappointingly faint in the Northern
hemisphere, and Southern views will still not rival the
1910 spectacle.
Instrumentation coordinator Max Stuart introduced the
-2-elaborate structure of the 4.25-inch reflector he commenced
building.
This
strange
type
of
telescope,
named
Schiefspiegler, is known for its high focal ratio (f/27 for
this model) and spectacular high-magnification planetary
and lunar views.
Variable
star
coordinator
Sandy
Ferguson
gave
encouragement to those who are hesitating about starting
recording observations and magnitude estimates of two
long-period variables.
Astrophotography coordinator Simon Tsang dumped all
his photographic equipment on the table and one by one
explained the functions and uses assigned to each of them.
They included some home-made objects such as a polar
alignment helper.
Rolf Meier gave a short description of the 20-page
Halley's Comet manual intended mainly for non-astronomical
people.
It consists of charts and descriptions, and will
be available free to the public.
Solar coordinator Linda Meier spoke about the green
flash, which as a phenomenon consisting of a green "flash”
on the upper limb of the setting and rising sun in rare
conditions.
Malcolm Lambourne, a centre member, will try
to get in touch with a person who videotaped the event.
Rob McCallum is starting to take reservations for the
1986 General Assembly to be held in Winnipeg during the
last weekend of June.
He encourages the Centre to enter
displays and try to win many awards again. Tickets for the
1985 Annual Dinner Meeting were made available; the speaker
for this event will be Bob Thirsk, a member of the Canadian
Astronaut program.
Finally, nominations for the 1986 coordinators were
taken. The meeting was closed at 9:59 pm.
* * *
SOCIAL NOTES
October was a momentous month for a number of
Observer's Group Members!
Congratulations go out to Doug George and Mercedes
Pelayo, who were married on October 12.
Congratulations also to Rolf and Linda Meier on the
birth of Matthew, born October 28 , and to John and Jenny
Molson, on the birth of Christian, born October 10.
* * *
-3-SIR EDMUND HILLARY?
Doug George
Last month, Thomas Wray wrote that "Sir Edmund Halley
rhymes with Ottawa Valley". While his article helped clear
up confusion over the famous astronomer’s name, it did fall
into another small trap which even the editors of Sky and
Telescope once missed.
Edmund Halley was never knighted,
and therefore the "Sir” is inappropriate.
One might recall that Halley was made famous on the
predicted return of the comet 76 years before he calculated
it’s orbit.
Unfortunately, Halley had died 17 years
before, and was unable to appreciate this fame, much less
be knighted.
Perhaps the confusion is due to the famous
Sir Edmund Hillary, who is known for being the first to
climb Mount Everest.
(The confusion does not end there!
I have seen the first
name
spelled
both as "Edmond"
(preferred by Sky and
Telescope ) and "Edmund" (almost everywhere else).
Which
is correct? Why couldn’t the man have a less controversial
name? -Ed.)
* * *
RAMSAYVILLE STAR NIGHT
Doug George
The Centre’s first Halley’s Comet Star Night took
place as planned, on November 15.
Despite the comet’s
expected non-spectacular appearance, record crowds attended
the star night.
At least 700 people showed up to view the
famous
comet,
resulting
in
huge
line-ups
at
the
telescopes.
At one time my line-up was counted, and
contained 62 people!
Unfortunately, some people had to
wait over 20 minutes to view the comet.
The public enthusiasm was incredible, with over 100
people showing up an hour before the event was supposed to
start!
A great number of people brought along their
binoculars, and were able to find the comet and other
objects with help from members.
A number also brought out
small 60-mm refractor telescopes, although none to my
knowledge could locate the comet with them.
I tried one,
but was disgusted to find that its minimum magnification
was 80 X. I was using less on my C-8!
Clearly, we cannot
warn people enough about the inappropriateness of these
telescopes.
Reactions to views of the comet varied widely.
"Wow,
-4-that's neat!", "Is that all?", and "Will you have another
one next month?" were typical responses.
While many were
prepared for the relatively dim view of the comet, and the
cold weather, some were not. One person thought that they
would be sitting in a warm room, and a slot would be opened
in the roof for viewing!
I 'm sure many people learned many
unexpected things that night.
All in all, it was quite an experience.
* * *
THE HALLEY'S COMET STAR NIGHT
Brian Burke
When Rob McCallum and I chose the Ramsayville Public
School as a potential site for a Public Star Night to view
Halley’s Comet, we wondered if the public would travel
outside the city to such a location.
We had no need to
worry. After checking the site out at night, we decided to
approach the Carleton Board of Education with regards to
having access to the school, because there would be a need
to get warm at this time of year.
The Science Consultant with the CBE, Peter Stark, was
very enthusiastic about the idea.
Within a couple of days
he called me back to inform me that we could have use of
the school and that the PTA would like to know if they
could look after the refreshments.
That was a great idea
since it would allow more of our members to man their
telescopes.
With the numerous interviews given to the news media
my Doug George and me, it became apparent that the star
night was getting more publicity than we had anticipated.
Phone calls from the public to Doug, Rob, and me increased
as the November 15 Star Night approached. Finally, a phone
call from the CBE on the morning of the 15th informing me
that the telephone at the school has been ringing all
morning confirmed it - we could expect a really big crowd.
The public began arriving more than an hour before the
7:30 pm start.
Estimates of the total number of people
have ranged from 500 to 1200.
Although Halley’s Comet was
still dim, it was easily seen in binoculars.
This was by
far one of the most successful star nights that we have had
in a number of years.
I would like to thank Peter Stark and the CBE for
their cooperation as well as Mr. Doug Manship, Custodian of
the school, and Mrs. Fyfe and other members of the PTA, and
to the many members who brought out their scopes.
-5 -THE NIGHT OF THE COMET
Recuperating
Strange,
Every time I would put the receiver down,
the telephone would ring.
It rang again,
"Hello,"
"How
do I get to the Star Night?" the caller asked,
I gave him
the directions.
"But I don’t have a car", he said.
"Umm,
a trick question" I said to myself.
"Well, unfortunately
there isn’t bus service to the site.
The only way is by
car" I responded.
"Oh well, I guess I can’t go, thank you,
goodbye."
The phone rang again.
"Hello."
"Is the star
night tonight?" the voice asked.
"Yes it is."
"Should I
bring binoculars?"
"Yes", I said, "It would be a good
idea."
"Oh, that’s too
bad", he said with disappointment
in his voice, "I don’t
have binoculars."
Another trick
question.
I told him that it was no problem because our
members would have telescopes and binoculars there for the
public to look through.
"Great, I’ll be there!" he
responded.
The theme music to a T.V. show was
playing in
the back of my mind.
"What is it?" There was
no time to
think. The phone was
still ringing and I had to leave. I
was glad the jack was invented.
I arrived at the Ramsayville Public School more than
45 minutes before the scheduled start of the Star Night.
There were cars parked in the front school yard.
I drove
to the back and parked.
There were more cars. About fifty
people were lining up for telescopes that hadn’t been set
up yet.
"This is scary", I said to myself.
Again that
theme music.
"Where is our traffic engineer?" I inquired
as another car arrived.
"Don’t know" came the response
from a voice with a hint of panic in it. "Umm", I thought,
staring at another pair of high beams, "He’s probably stuck
in traffic." I headed out front to direct traffic.
Directing traffic was very interesting.
Trying to
cover two entrances at the same time was a challenge.
Directing cars to dark parking spots with just their
parking lights on was risky. At last
I had a chance to
return to the telescopes.
Suddenly,
there
was
a
blast
of
light
at
the
dark-adapted eyes.
When the photographer and reporter
regained
conciousness,
IRO
meant Indian
Reserve
Observatory. That music again!
After I had some hot chocolate, I went back outside
and was told that the police were there.
Had someone
reported seeing 500 voyeurs?
No, just that police would
like the cars parked on the road moved. Announcements
-6 -were made,
"Will they give tickets?" asked one from the
long line-ups.
"I don't know."
"Well," he said, "I’m not
leaving now.
I’ll lose my place in the line." That would
make an interesting defense..."Not guilty, m ’lord, because
Halley’s Comet made me park there."
"What is that music?"
I asked myself again.
The day after was almost quiet.
The phone rang.
"Hello."
"Is the star night tonight?"
"No," I answered,
looking out at the overcast sky and remembering the
forecast of freezing rain, "it was last night."
"Okay,
thank you, bye."
The phone rang again.
"Hello"
"Can I
see the comet tonight?"
"Well," I said, looking out the
window, "if it clears you will be able to see it with
binoculars in a dark location."
"At what time?"
"You’ll
be able to see it by eight o ’clock" I replied.
"For how
long?"
"Just about all night."
"ALL NIGHT!!!" she
screamed. When I regained my hearing...
Two days after I was thinking, "I’m sure glad Halley’s
Comet only comes once every 76 years" when the phone rang.
"Hello." "Hi! It’s me again" said the familiar voice.
"I
think we should have another Public Star Night in December
or January.
What do you think?"
When I regained
conciousness,
I remembered...that music...The Twilight
Zone!
* * *
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE MEDIA
Doug George
I wasn’t supposed to be worrying about the publicity
for the Halley’s Comet Star Night.
Brian Burke had
everything ready, with notices sent out everywhere, and
some radio stations aired a couple of interviews with him.
Meanwhile, I had become alarmed at the amount of
advertising hype for inexpensive telescopes, being sold
using pictures of blazing comets. After discussing it with
several people, I decided to write a letter to the editor
of The Citizen, in an attempt to introduce some sanity into
the situation.
To my great appreciation, The Citizen did indeed print
the letter, but sanity did not exactly ensue.
I received 75 telephone calls from members of the
public as a result of that letter and what happened
afterwards.
Apparently, both Brian and Rob McCallum also
received a lot of calls due to the star night publicity.
The day after the letter appeared, I was requested to
-7 -do a live radio interview with Nancy Cooper on CBO
Morning.
We talked about why one should buy binoculars
instead of cheap telescopes for viewing the comet.
The
interview went very well, and I hope it helped some people
get a better start in astronomy.
After that I got a call
from the Wall Street Journal.
I began to get boggled.
Next,
I was asked to do an interview for CBOT
television. The interview took place at Focus Scientific,
where binoculars and telescopes were examined in person, so
to speak.
It was aired on the evening news that day.
Early one morning a couple of days later, I was roused
from my sleep by CBO Radio, who wanted to do another live
interview over the phone.
In 5 minutes.
After 2 minutes
of frantically throwing cold water in my face, I was
ready.
After the interview, I decided to have a nice warm
shower.
When I stepped out, the phone was ringing.
CFRA
wanted to do an interview in 2 minutes.
Well, I was still
sort of wet, but at least I was awake.
Two days later, Jackie Chairmeen of the CBC asked me
to talk her through finding the comet, recording the
results for broadcast. Mercedes and I took her to IRQ that
night, but it totally clouded up.
On the way back, on
Highway 44, I suddenly realized that I could see the Big
Dipper. We zipped down a side road, hopped out of the car,
and there was Halley’s Comet in binoculars!
So we started recording.
It turned out to be a good
thing Mercedes came, because we needed someone to hold the
microphone while we were racing around with binoculars. We
had been at it for 5 minutes when we found that the tape
recorder wasn’t working.
A few more minutes of tinkering,
and we started all over again.
Unfortunately, clouds then
rolled in, and we got in the car to warm up.
Ten minutes later we were in the clear again.
Jackie
found the comet, and recorded her impressions ("That’s it?
It looks like a fluffy little cloud!").
With ominous
clouds approaching, she asked me to set up my telescope to
see it.
A record 2 minutes later, we were looking at the
comet.
I didn’t have time to raise the tripod, so we had
to crouch to look into the telescope.
As soon as we
finished, the sky completely clouded over.
When the results were aired on the radio, it was
pretty humourous.
Jackie opened up with "Here we are in
the middle of a dark farmer’s field" and "Brr it’s cold."
I could hear cows mooing in the background!
She later told
me that it was going to be syndicated nationally.
Now the
whole country is going to know that amateur astronomers
-8-(and me in particular) are totally crazy.
I was also quoted in 3 Citizen articles. One had a
reference to the "Indian Reserve Observatory". It also had
a picture of 10 people staring up with binoculars at the
Ramsayville Star Night.
Well, it was a lot of fun, and probably generated a
lot of publicity for our Centre.
The whole thing
snowballed from just one letter to the editor.
The
question is, do I ever dare write another one?
* * *
HALLEY NIGHT FOR MEMBERS
Doug George
We will be holding a member’s Halley Star Night at IRO
on December 13.
In case of poor weather, it will be held
on
the
14th.
To
help
members
who
do
not
have
transportation to get out to the observatory, we will be
meeting at the Carlingwood Shopping Centre at 7 pm, near
the shopping centre’s large sign.
If you are driving out,
please come and give someone a lift.
If you don’t have a
car, then meet us there for a ride.
It is worth noting that although Halley’s Comet is not
as bright as during previous apparitions, IRO is probably
one of the best places near Ottawa to view it.
This is
also a prime time to see it, as it is still high in the
sky, and will be visible to the naked eye.
This Star Night is primarily for members and guests.
Don’t tell the media; we can’t handle 700 people at IRO!
We are attempting to set up another public event, either on
January 4 (5) or 11 (12). For more information, contact me
at 723-0668 .
* * *
HALLEY'S COMET FOR DECEMBER
Rolf Meier
On page 15 of this issue of Astronotes is the December
map for locating Halley’s Comet. Most members, and many of
the public, have now seen the comet in binoculars.
This
month, it may actually reach naked eye visibility.
Also,
watch for the appearance of a tail beginning any time. The
best view, if your horizon is good, may well be at the
beginning of January.
At this time the comet will be
bright and not as low as it will be in the morning sky of
March and April. In any case, get out and see it often.
-9 -ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL
SOCIETY
OF CANADA
PRESIDENT SECRETARY
Brian Burke
521-8856 Robin Molson
225-3082
R.A.S.C., Ottawa Centre
P .O. Box 6617, Station J
Ottawa, Ontario
K2A 3Y7
JANUARY CENTRE MEETING
Speaker: Dr. Ian Halliday of the Herzberg Institute of
Astrophysics, N.R.C.
Topic: The Return of Halley's Comet
The talk will include a brief summary of our
basic knowledge about comets and some historical
background about Halley's Comet, the best known
of all comets.
Although the present apparition
of the comet suffers from unfavourable geometry
for easy viewing, especially from the northern
hemisphere, the scientific returns are expected
to exceed those from any previous program of
comet research.
The wide range of observin g
programs and space missions to Halley's Comet
will be described together with current reports
of recent observations with the Canada-France-
Hawaii Telescope on the island of Hawaii.
The
best times for attempting to see the comet from
Canada will be considered.
Date and Time: Tuesday, January 14, 1986 at 8:00 p.m.
Place: Auditorium of the National Research Council,
100 Sussex Drive
NOTE: This will be a joint meeting with the Chemical Institute
of C a n a d a _____
_ _ ______________ __
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OTTAWA CENTRE
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K2A 3Y7GEMINID AND URSID METEOR SESSIONS PLANNED
Frank Roy
The 1985 Geminids reach maximum on Saturday, December
14, at 01:00 EST.
They have an average single observer
hourly rate of 50. With a normal duration to 1/4 strength
of maximum of 2 .6 days, many meteors will be seen several
days before and after the predicted maximum. The moon this
year is very favourable, as it sets a about 19:00 EST.
The meteor session will be at IRQ for Friday, December
13, and I would like to start the observing at about
21:00.
Be forewarned that it will be very cold. So dress
warmly, and don’t forget your chaise longue.
The Ursids are not so favourable, as
the moon
interferes this 'rear.
But nevertheless, it sets 6 hours
before the predicted maximum of 09:00 EST on December 22.
A session is planned for that Sunday night at IRO. I would
like to start at 02:30.
The moon sets at 03:00 and
twilight begins at about 06:00, so this will give us 3
hours of dark skies.
Again, it will be very cold, so dress warmly.
The
Ursids have an hourly rate of 15 and a duration of 2 days
to 1/4 strength.
* * *
DIGITAL PHOTOMETER PRELIMINARY RESULTS
Frank Roy
The first successful results were obtained from the
IRO Photon Counting Photometer on September 24/25 at IRO.
The photometer was actually completed before this time, but
the initial trials showed low sensitivity.
Doug George and I made some measurements on stars and
found that we could easily measure 9th magnitude with the
16-inch.
As an initial calibration we measured the sky
brightness around a 75% lit
moon. (see results on next
page).
For this test the diaphram was not used, and the
telescope
was the 16-inch.
The scope
was moved in
10-degree
increments away from the moon.
The moon was
about 25° above the southwest horizon and the sky was very
clear.
We used a gate time of 1 second for all of our 10
measurements.
The Y axis is the log10 of the photometer
count.
The X axis is distance from the moon in degrees.
As you
can see, the curve appears hyperbolic, with an
asmyptote
on the X axis.
With a bit
of
luck and
encouragement, observers may want to try their luck with
the photometer (Sandy?) and show results in Astronotes.
-10-- 11-T HE BEGINNER AND WHERE TO BEGIN
David Monoogian
It can be rather exciting finding yourself interested
in things astronomical, but after an initial foray into the
field, it can also be rather humbling finding yourself in
the midst of talk of "millions of light years", "expanding
universes", and red giant stars; so much so that it can be
difficult to figure out how to make the leap from all this
new and exciting knowledge into systematic and rewarding
observation.
This is the position I found myself in when, this past
July, armed with a new pair of binoculars and a set of
variable star charts, I headed off for Northern Ontario for
a holiday under dark skies, intent on becoming an observer
in a less casual sense,
I spent three weeks getting my feet wet, keeping an
eye on a variety of summer variables.
In fact, I found
this excercise such a valuable way to begin observing that
I want to share it with other beginners.
So, what is a variable and what is the general
approach to observing them?
A variable star is one which
varies in luminousity periodically, irregularly, or even
explosively in the case of recurrent novae,
(Although not
technically correct, it does help initially to think of the
star varying in "brightness".) The goal of observation is
to illustrate graphically the peculiar behaviour of a star
by plotting these against time.
The result of this
plotting is the star’s light curve, which demonstrates its
rise to maximum and decline to minimum.
Periods (i.e. the
times between maxima) range from a few hours to years, and
the variations in luminousity can range from fractions of a
magnitude to 9 or 10 magnitudes.
In the latter case, the
change can be characterized as "watching a star gradually
disappear from the sky", or the opposite, of course, its
"return".
This fact was the feature which led to the
discovery
that
stars
in
fact
do
vary,
and
very
dramatically.
There is much information avaiable concerning the
categories and types of variables, and the explanations and
theories accounting for the variations are quite worth
pursuing.
The
accompanying sample chart from the American
Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) for the
variable star R Aquilae is an example of one of the
essential tools you will use in observing variables.
In
the middle, left of centre, notice an "R" beside a small
-12-circle,
identifying
the
location
of
the
variable R
Aquilae.
The R designates the specific star in the
constellation Aquila.
Surrounding it are locations of
stars, some of which are identified with numbers such as
66, 70, and 74. These numbers are their magnitudes, which
are given without a decimal point so as not to confuse the
positions of stars, which are also dots.
These stars'
luminosities are considered stable and have been estimated
accurately so that they can be used as references with
which
to
compare
the
variable’s
current
degree
of
brightness.
When significant numbers
of estimates have been
collected, they are plotted on a time/luminousity graph and
the result is a light curve, as illustrated on the
accompanying diagram, which is the light curve for R
Aquilae.
The advantages of variable star observing have been
many and here are some of them for you to consider:
It
helped me to learn the constellations, to find ray way
around the night sky, to understand star maps and atlases,
I developed the method of starhopping (which I think is
fundamental for the beginner), I developed a sensitivity to
star colour, it taught relaxation and patience, it put me
in the practice of carefully recording my observations, and
finally, it imposed the necessity to make, as accurately as
possible, estimates involving some very small differences
in magnitudes between stars (this can open the door to a
variety of more refined and systematic techniques).
A list of equipment and aids should also convince you
that variable star observing is perfect for the novice.
I use the monthly sky guides from Sky and Telescope,
a star atlas, AAVSO charts provided by the variable star
coordinator, a pair of 8 x 40 binoculars, a red-filtered
flashlight, and finally a lounge type lawn chair.
So even
with the purchase of a medium to high quality pair of
binoculars, an investment of $200 should cover the cost of
all the equipment you need.
Variable star observing quickly opens up the field of
observational astronomy and invariably leads to a pursuit
of greater understanding of the events and phenomena you
can witness nightly.
After six months of carefully
observing variables, one thing is certain, and that is that
astronomy will take on and entirely new and personal
meaning.
* * *
-13-14 -
--15-THE SEARCH FOR THE FLASHER
Ken Tapping, Paul Feldman
During 1984, Bill Katz, along with some of his
colleagues with the North York Astronomical Society,
reported the observation of transient, starlike objects
which flashed to magnitude -1 or so for a fraction of a
second before fading again to invisibility.
They had
observed several flashes during the previous year.
The
position estimates were only rough, but the flashes seemed
to be coming from the same area of the sky, close to the
boundary of Aries and Perseus.
Bill was understandably excited by what he had
observed and contacted some professional astronomers for
advice and ideas.
Having met one of the authors (KT) at
Starfest
’84,
he
phoned
the Herzberg
Institute
for
suggestions as to what to do next.
Up to the time of his report, all observations had
been made by eye; the flashes had been seen during meteor
observing sessions.
It was pointed out to him that there
would
be great difficulty in overcoming the healthy
skepticism of the professional community with regard to
such observations. The human eye is a terrible instrument
for spotting flashes; it is liable to "detect" spurious
flashes at the edge of the field of vision and it fatigues
rapidly.
For those reasons, along with lack of hard
evidence, Bill was urged not to report the sightings in any
official way until he obtained some credible photographic
data. These would also provide a good position measurement
without which the report would be unlikely to attract much
professional
interest.
Observing
time
at
large
observatories is allocated on a priority basis.
It would
be most unlikely that enough observing time would ever be
available on large instruments for searching about 100
square degrees of sky for a sub-second flash which may
occur several times a year.
In order to give Bill and his co-workers a chance to
photographically check out their observations and reap
whatever credit due them, the number of people told was
kept to a minimum. KT discussed the Flasher only with Fred
Lossing, and with Henry Matthews, Peter Millman, and Ian
Halliday of the HIA.
When first published
reports
appeared, they attracted the attention of Paul Feldman; he
teamed up with Alan Blackwell and Ian Halliday.
It was
only during a random conversation over coffee that it
emerged that KT and PF were working on the same thing. The
presentation
at
the Observer’s Group Meeting was a
-16-consequence of that discussion.
Two approaches were made to the problem.
KT and Fred
Lossing started making a photographic search for new flash
events. PF, together with Alan Blackwell and Ian Halliday,
set
out
to find out
if previous flashes had been
fortuitously recorded in all-sky photographs taken by
cameras of the MO RP network.
When we made some estimates
of the sensitivity of these systems to flashes we found
that only very bright events would be detectable. However,
in hope, appropriate MORP frames are being obtained.
Unfortunately, in those examined so far, the already
marginal sensitivity was further degraded by twilight
fogging and other effects; there were no visible signs of
the Flasher.
Finally, on March 18, 1985, Katz and Adair obtained a
photograph (published in the July, 1985 edition of Sky and
Telescope ).
They used a fixed camera and a long
exposure.
A flash event would make a dot on the film, but
all other objects would leave tracks and could easily be
eliminated.
The photograph was shown to Ian Halliday, a
meteor astronomer with the HIA.
He pointed out that the
starlike image produced by the Flasher did not look like a
"head on" meteor, as there was no sign of coma.
The
position of the object in the photograph is:
RA 03h 14m , Dec +32° 15' (2000.0)
It is easy to discard these observations as spurious,
but it may be a mistake to do so; they may be showing us
something of scientific value.
There are currently a
number of professional astronomers who are paying attention
to the Flasher reports and who are pursuing the matter
further.
At this point though the investigation is far
better suited to amateur astronomers.
There has been at least one report of a similar type
of event in the past.
On October 9, 1961, a possible
flash was observed by Paul Roques of Newhall, California.
The source was a main sequence star (spectral type K3V),
normally of magnitude 11.
It appeared as a brightening of
a star track [on a photograph].
This was in a different
part of the sky, though, in Cassiopeia, close to the star
Ross 15 (see Sky and Telescope , October 1984).
If we assume tht the Flasher is real, what could it
be? One object that springs to mind is an X-ray burster.
It is known that they occasionally produce optical bursts
like those from the Flasher.
We don’t know for sure what
-17-the X-ray bursters are; a current idea is that they are
compact, stellar remnants, probably neutron stars, onto
which matter is accreting. The X-rays are generated by the
infalling material.
It seems unlikely that the optical
flashes which accompany many of the X-ray bursts are
excited in the accreting material by the X-rays.
The
optical
luminousity
is
always
less
than
the
X-ray
luminousity. The sky has been very well searched for X-ray
bursters, and none of the known objects are consistent with
the position given above.
This does not rule out this
identification but it makes it less likely.
(To be continued.
Below is a map
location of the Flasher. -Ed.)
showing
the
possible
Articles for the January, 1986 issue of Astronotes are
due by December 20, 1985. Note date carefully.
-18-ASTRO NOTES
c/o H e r z b e r g I n s t i t u t e o f A s t r o p h y s i c s
Nati onal R e s e a r c h C o u n c i l of C a n a d a
100 S u s s e x Drive
O t t a wa C a n a d a
K 1A 0 R 6
MS. ROSEMARY FREEMAN
NAT. SECRATARY RASC
136 DUPONT ST.
TORONTO ONT.
M5B 1V2
6