ASE logo The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh


No 47 - December 2004

From the President

Welcome to another edition of the Journal and another message from your President.

I must start by thanking all those who have helped with the running of the Society during the last year or so; not only the Council members but also to Dave Gavine for editing this Journal, Alan Pickup for his monthly "night sky" previews and all of the Society members who have given presentations, helped out at Society meetings and other events. Without the support and assistance of these people, we simply wouldn't have a Society.

Thinking about astronomy for a moment (something that I find it harder and harder to find the time for), if 2003 was the "Year of Mars" then for me 2004 must be the "Year of Venus". Certainly the transit in June was the highlight of my observing year so far, although we never know what might happen tomorrow! I would like to thank those who opened the Observatory for the event and I do hope that all of you who got up at such a ridiculously early hour to observe the transit managed to see something, even if the viewing conditions were far from perfect. If you missed it this time, there is another transit in a few years but will not be visible from Scotland.

Part of the role of President is to deal with requests and queries received by the Society and we do get a fair number of what could perhaps be called "unusual requests". We were recently asked if we could suggest an observatory that is open to the public anywhere in the North of Scotland, but unfortunately we couldn't identify one. We were also recently contacted by an individual in North America who has a book that she thinks has been signed by Charles Piazzi Smyth but is asking for our help in confirming this. Perhaps the most difficult requests to deal with are those from other Astronomy Societies in other countries who are desperate for books, equipment or funding. As you may know, the terms of our Society's Constitution prevents us as a Society from providing any assistance to other Societies and organisations but I do always feel some embarrassment in declining such requests. Although the Society as a whole can not offer support, there is nothing to stop individual members or groups of members from providing assistance. If you have any equipment, books etc that you no longer need and wish to help other Societies overseas, then just let the Council know and we can provide you with further details.

We have had a wide range of presentations at the meetings this year. Although we all have slightly different astronomical interests, hopefully there was something that was of interest to everyone somewhere in the schedule. It is always difficult to pick out particular presentations without feeling guilty that you have missed out others. I will, however, just mention a couple that, for me at least, particularly stood out.

Firstly, in May, Professor Jim Dunlop gave us a presentation on Black Holes and Galaxy Formation. This was particularly memorable as being the presentation that introduced the most complicated equation we have seen all year: RS = 2 G M / c2. (Don't ask me what it means, but it looks impressive!) Secondly, I would also like to mention the presentation by David Edwards of the Open University. This was memorable for a couple of reasons - firstly, despite our computer projector breaking, David still managed to deliver a first class presentation and secondly it opened my eyes to the range of astronomy courses available from the OU. I must admit that I have not signed up for any yet, but maybe next year. Finally, when reviewing the recent presentations, I must say a big "thank you" to all who spoke at the Member's Night in August. I always enjoy Members' Night as Astronomy is often a solo activity and we rarely get to hear what other members are observing or what their particular interests are. Members' Night is an ideal opportunity to find out what others are doing - and for you to tell us what you have been up to.

One of the most difficult aspects of running the Society is dealing with the financial issues. There are ongoing expenses in running the Society and we must ensure that we maintain a healthy financial position. In the last few years we have made a couple of major purchases - the computer projector and the solar telescope - and, although are finances are still satisfactory, we have been spending more than we have been receiving and clearly this can not continue indefinitely. The Council discussed this with Society members at the April meeting, which led to the increase in subscriptions for the 2004/05 session. The Council will, of course, continue to monitor the financial position. Having, so far, looked back at what has happened in the last few months, I would now like to look forward to consider what the future may hold for the Society. Personally, I think the Society is reasonably healthy in that we have a reasonably large membership, meetings are well-attended and our financial position (whilst not perfect) would be the envy of many other Societies. Despite this, I think that we could do a lot more to make the Society even more active and dynamic, which I am sure would benefit all members. We have some superb resources available, from the Cook telescope and the solar telescope to our site at Earliburn, however these are often under-used. I know that it is almost impossible to plan observing sessions in advance due to the vagaries of our weather, however I would be keen to hear any suggestions that you may have as to how we could make more use of the equipment we have.

As well as making better use of the Society's resources, I would be keen to see more active involvement of the membership in the Society in general. Unfortunately, attendance at the Messier and Astro-Imaging Groups last winter was rather low and it would be nice to see more members at these meetings this winter. Of course, if Astro-Imaging or observing Messier objects is not your area of interest, then why not suggest another Group be set up to consider whatever particular aspect of astronomy does appeal to you. After all, it is your Society and we would welcome any suggestions from members for new groups or projects. I would also be particularly interested to hear any proposals for how the Society could continue to achieve one of its primary aims, which is to promote the interest in and study of astronomy in the Edinburgh area.

If you are not a practicing astronomical observer and simply have a theoretical interest, then there are still many ways in which you can help in the running of the Society. We have several vacancies on the Council, so if you have been a member of the Society for at least a year, why not apply to join the Council? Even if you are unable to devote the time to sit on the Council, there are many ways you could help - from helping out making tea and coffee at the meetings, to representing the Society at events such as Vogrie Country Park, or even helping open the Observatory to the public on Friday evenings.

Finally, as the end of my second year as President draws towards a close, I do hope that I will pass the Society on in at least as good a condition as I inherited it. We are a good Society but the future very much relies on you. As I have said, it is your Society and its continued growth and development is in your hands so do please get involved, and let the Council know what it is you want from your Society.

Having got the perennial plea for your support and assistance out of the way, I will close by saying that I look forward to seeing you all at the December meeting and best wishes for the festive season and New Year.


Cover page

From the President

Observing Is Not Believing

Eclipsing Binary Star - RZ Cassiopeiae

The BAA Honours our former Vice-President

The Astronomer's Drinking Song

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