WMA Open Day 2014 and Summer Events


The Wells & Mendip Astronomers have had a busy summer programme with three major events in August.

The month began with the South West Astro Fair at Sidmouth’s Norman Lockyer Observatory, where members of the group ran several stands, including telescope demonstrations by WMA’s Technical Advisor Adrian Dening and Webmaster Mark Woodland. Chairman Chris Starr also gave a promotional talk at the Fair for the B612 Foundation’s Sentinel Space Telescope project, the first privately funded interplanetary mission, aimed at providing an opportunity for the public to take ownership in a historic space mission that will protect Earth, while prospecting for future resources (see http://sentinelmission.org/ ).

The following week, WMA’s annual Night of the Shooting Stars in Cheddar again enjoyed clear skies for meteor observing, and an enthusiastic gathering of members and visitors also had clear views of Saturn, the Moon and two passes of the International Space Station. Thanks go to Karen Sutlieff for her hard work in organising the evening.

To complete the summer schedule, the group’s Open Day in Wells Town Hall on August bank holiday Saturday was a big success. Over 350 people were welcomed by Vice-Chairman, Keith Cattell, and the WMA outreach team for a varied programme of space-related activities, as well as Simon Ould’s thrilling ‘Space Odyssey’ planetarium shows. Younger attendees joined Jo Richardson’s ‘Space Detectives’ in games, making planets, rockets and constellations, while husband Pete’s exhibition of breath-taking astrophotography was much admired, as were drawings by guest astronomical artist Keston Brill. An extensive poster exhibition on the solar system focused on Mars, asteroids and comets, with up-to-date information about the Mars Curiosity rover, ESA’s exciting Rosetta comet mission  (see http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/ ).

Junior Section leader, Ben Sutlieff, demonstrated the national radio meteor detection network of which he is an active member. Ben begins his studies in astrophysics at university this autumn. In the Hall other WMA members, including Fred, Lisa and Eddie Vanner and Adrian Owen, were on hand to explain telescopes and observing techniques, while outside there was a chance to observe the Sun safely in various ways with Hugh Allen, Mark Woodland and Ron Westmaas. Ron’s H-alpha solar telescope gave spectators a thrilling view of the turbulent solar surface. Hugh also showed how to use a spectrograph to find out what the Sun and stars are made of.

The outreach hospitality team were busy too and special thanks go to Karen Sutlieff, Crystal Golden-Hann, Dani La Roca and Marilyn Cattell, and other WMA members who helped make our first Open Day successful, as well as Dick Cummings and Wendy Carpenter whose raffle and merchandise stand drew many people keen to win one of the top prizes – a specially autographed photo of NASA astronaut Colonel Eileen Collins, a reflector telescope and a selection of beautiful books!