SPA Convention 2005 - A short report

Statue of Fred Hoyle
Last Thursday I mentioned that I was hoping to attend the first ever SPA convention at the Hoyle building at the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy. I'm happy to say that I made it and that it was a fantastic day out.

The day comprised of a series of short talks by the directors of each of the SPA's observing sections and a talk by Prof. Carl Murray entitled "Voyage around Saturn — Images from Cassini". As well as the talks there were some trade stands to have a look around — including some equipment to try out — and, of course, the chance to meet other amateur astronomers.

Some of the highlights of the day for me were (in no particular order):

  • Peter Grego's Lunar Section talk. Not only was this an infectious talk (pretty much convincing me that the Lunar Section is one of the sections I should look into joining) I was also delighted to find out that Rupes Recta is still part of the observing programme — when I was a child and a member of the JAS (as the SPA was then called) I was a member of the Lunar Section and did quite a number of drawings of that Lunar feature.

  • The talk about the Solar Section. Again, this was another talk that has me seriously thinking about joining the section. In this case I'd not really considered the Solar Section — incorrectly thinking that there probably wasn't much that could be done or contributed. It turns out that useful contributions can be made with very little equipment, knowledge, experience or time. The idea of spending more time observing and learning about our nearest star holds a lot of appeal for me.

  • The talk about the Variable Star Section. Yet another talk that has got me thinking seriously about looking into this "flavour" of observing. As with the talk about the Solar Section it was interesting to learn how contributions can be made with very little equipment and I'm very interested in the idea of learning the skills involved in estimating the magnitudes of stars.

  • Prof. Carl Murray's talk about Cassini (no, I've not forgotten the Huygens probe — it's just that the talk was mostly about Cassini imaging). While many of the images shown were known to me there were a couple of new ones that I'd not seen yet (one such image, which seemed to draw the biggest reaction from the audience, has just been highlighted over at Tom's Astronomy Blog).

I'm sorry to say that I didn't manage to attend the section talks that were held during the afternoon, partly because these were of a lesser interest to me, but mostly because I also wanted to have a look around the various stands and I also wanted to take the time to have a chat with various names I know from the SPA.

Arguably the joint best and worst experience of the day was getting the chance to have a look at the Sun through a Coronado PST that had been set up outside by Green Witch. Despite the fact that I've seen plenty of images produced via the PST I still wasn't really prepared for the "oh wow!" moment that came with actually looking through it. The reason this is also the "worst experience of the day"? Simple — I really, really, really want one but I just can't justify spending £449 on a telescope that's only good at looking at a single object.

In conclusion I had a really enjoyable day. It was really nice to put faces to names and to meet in person various people who I've corresponded with via the SPA's BB. On top of that I came back having been infected with an even greater enthusiasm for astronomy as a hobby and an interest (this fact alone should tell those who organised the event that it was a great success — hopefully I wasn't alone in being infected this way).

Talking to a couple of the organisers I get the impression that, although the event was planned as a one-off, if they believe it was a success the plan is to hold the convention once every two years. I hope they do decide that it was a success and I look forward to attending it again in the future.

Update: Robin Scagell has posted a gallery of pictures he took during the day.

File Under: Society for Popular Astronomy, Cambridge Institute of Astronomy, Astronomy Convention, Solar Telescope.

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