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MBO at Scienceworks with CAASTRO for "Capturing the Cosmos" planetarium show launch

On Monday MBO was invited to bring our Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope tile to Scienceworks as part of the invitation only premiere of "Capturing the Cosmos", the new planetarium show that the Melbourne Planetarium and CAASTRO have been working on for the last 2 years.  We linked up with the Telescopes in Schools project as well as Ben Mckinley and Jack Line from the University of Melbourne (two radio astronomers who use MWA) plus, of course, CAASTRO and Scienceworks to make this happen.

The Sunday before was our March working bee at MBO and myself, Lindsay (who leads the MBO radio astronomy group) and Anthony (our secretary) met up to load up the MWA tile and the newly acquired wire mesh (thanks to Wiebke Ebeling from CAASTRO!) for it to sit on and shipped it all across Melbourne to Scienceworks to be stored until Monday morning.

On Monday I met up with Peter from MBO in the city and to travel to Scienceworks.  Arriving at 9:30am we met up with Kylie from CAASTRO and Jack from the University of Melbourne and proceeded to unbox and construct the telescope, joined shortly after by Jacinta from Telescopes in Schools and Ben Mckinley from UoM.

This was the first time we were able to have a Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) in each of the 16 antennas that make up the tile (huge thanks to David Emrich from Curtin University for that) and so we were able to demonstrate the tile with the all inputs of one polarisation connected - in this case the X polarisation.  We fed the X polarisation output from the beamformer into a R820T2 Software Defined Radio (SDR) received plugged into a Linux laptop running the open source gqrx software and then proceeded to show that there are very good reasons why MWA is out in the middle of the desert in Murchison Shire in Western Australia (population ~120, population density 0.002303/km2).

Currently we cannot control the delays on the beamformer inputs so we demonstrated it in its default state of looking straight up.  Despite that we had a really good reception of ABC Classic FM (and other radio stations) which would have been coming in from a transmitter effectively on the horizon.  You will notice that the software is tuned at 105.9 MHz, which is right in the band that MWA is interested in (80 MHz through to 300 MHz) and a very good signal despite the tile having a beam looking at 90° to the source.

That evening we were joined by the MBO outreach team in the form of Heike, Sue and Lachlan to provide extra support for the launch guests. The official launch event itself was well done with Dr Nurin Veis (manager of Scienceworks), Dr J. Patrick Greene (CEO Museum Victoria), Professor Elaine Sadler (director of CAASTRO) and the unmistakeable Professor Brian Schmidt (Nobel laureate, CAASTRO member and VC of ANU) all speaking in between the two invitation showings of the planetarium show (to which we we were able to go to the second).

The show?  It was my first time to the Melbourne Planetarium and I can say I was impressed - whilst I was familiar with a lot of the content it was very well presented and very accessible and the choice of Geoffrey Rush as narrator was spot on.  Go see it - it's now open around Australia!

- Chris Samuel

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MBO member Jacquie Milner co-author on Pluto occultation paper!

Back in June 2015 our member Jacquie Milner spoke to MBO about "An Introduction to Observing Occultations" and in that presentation mentioned that she was participating in a ground based campaign to observe the occultation of a star by Pluto to characterise its atmosphere. 7 months on from that and there is now a paper from that work published on which she is a co-author!

Jacquie writes:

There was an international campaign to observe an occultation of a star by Pluto two weeks before New Horizons flew past Pluto on 29 June 2015. This was important to see how Pluto’s atmosphere looked from Earth at more or less the same time that New Horizons would be seeing it for comparison, and also to get some idea what might be happening there just before the spacecraft arrived. The path of the occultation was over New Zealand and Tasmania, and professional astronomers from around the world came down to our region to record this event. Amateur astronomers who regularly observed occultations were also observing and their results were combined with professional efforts to provide the result in the paper recently published below. Basically Pluto’s atmosphere is not collapsing as some thought it might, from it moving away from the Sun in its orbit and cooling down, but the occultation result shows it is expanding. Here in Melbourne I just caught the top 15% of the atmosphere, and the lead astronomer on the paper told me that my resulting light curve, while not detailed due to my relative small 20cm telescope, still fits well within their model.

It’s been a big thrill to be part of the campaign and to be able to provide useful data that supports the final result. Astronomy is one of the few areas of science where amateurs can work closely with professionals and produce real science and I encourage anyone who thinks that sounds like a good idea to make the leap and get involved in the area of astronomy of their choice, be it variable stars, planet imaging, asteroid photometry or astrometry, supernova searching, comet searching, exoplanets, meteors or…whatever it is, just start! This was a 10 year journey for me and while it’s not the first occultation paper I’ve contributed to it’s the most important one so far. I hope there will be more in the future, too!

The preprint of the paper is available on the arxiv.org preprint server under the title "Pluto's atmosphere from the 29 June 2015 ground-based stellar occultation at the time of the New Horizons flyby".

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Presidents Message: MBO "Young Prime" Science Prize at Emerald Secondary College

Dear Mount Burnettavistas,

I am very pleased to write about a plan that has come to fruition. About six months ago one of our newest members donated a sum of money to fund a science prize at one of the local schools. So this week my colleague Heike will be presenting the first “Young Prime” award to an Emerald Secondary student. Thank you Mia Cobb for funding this prize and for having the confidence that MBO would look after the request.

The science prize is an example of how MBO is having an impact in our community. We have been building our connection with Emerald Secondary College for some time now. But there are other schools, and other community groups. If you have an idea (no matter how crazy) and you would like to see us run something in or for your school then please let us know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we promise to follow it up.

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Christmas Hamper Raffle 2015

At last nights AGM the 2015 Christmas Hamper Raffle was announced by Marilyn, this year in support of our new dome project.

Tickets are just $2 each for a chance to win this great hamper, and you can get them directly from Marilyn at Members Nights every Friday.

Donations can also be made directly, see the project announcement for more details.