This Hubble image captures Caldwell 78 (or NGC 6541), a globular star cluster roughly 22,000 light-years from Earth. The cluster is bright enough that backyard stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere can easily spot it with binoculars.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Piotto (Università degli Studi di Padova); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

Hi everyone. Welcome to the New Year and hope you all continue to be safe.

Well – Wasn’t 2020 a bit of a washout? First we had smoke, then COVID19 and now the La Niña is spreading it’s cloud and rainfall all about. According to Wiki, a La Niña lasts at least 5 months so there is probably 3 months of this to go but hopefully it will all blow over quickly after that.

Whilst 2020 was difficult from an observing point, 2020 was an exciting time from a scientific and historical aspect. Here are a couple of interesting things that came about in 2020;

  • Matter hiding in plain sight – Australian Scientists were at the forefront of finding the missing 2.5% of the universe. One of the problems that has been a challenge in that we didn’t know where this missing matter was. When scientists added up the mass in the Universe for Dark Energy, Dark Matter and normal (Baryonic) matter they could only account for ~97.5% of the mass that we thought there should be. By analysing intergalactic FRB (Fast Radio Burst) data gathered at the ASKAP array in Western Australia, the team were able to determine that different spectrums of light were out of phase with each other which could only be reasonably explained by the FRB passing through and interacting with matter in the Interstellar Medium. Using this observation enabled the team to calculate the density of InterGalactic Medium (IGM), and determine that the missing matter was hiding within.
  • April 2020 celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. The image (C78) above was recently released to recognise Hubble’s achievement. More Info here. Whilst it had a precarious start with image focusing problems it was only specified to last 15 years it has now achieved more than double that.
  • Three independent spacecraft captured or returned samples from various asteroids in 2020. The NASA OSIRIS mission skirted the Bennu asteroid before touching down and collecting more material than it intended. The Japanese were successful in returning its sampled material to outback Australia (Dec 6) from it’s Hayabusa2 mission to Ryugu and the Chinese returned rock samples from the Moon. Images from the Japanese recovery mission show people in what look like bomb flack jackets, but still wearing their Covid-19 masks of 3 layers of cotton. I was a little amused by this. Link
  • One of the most dramatic events though for 2020 has been the enormous resources put into the multiple launches to Mars. With the planned human habitation being voiced as a stronger goal, and development progressing on several stepping stone components as part of a return to the Moon program, Mars is gaining ever increasing popularity amongst the scientific community. With water now confirmed on the planet, albeit in a very salty form, this seems to have garnered more interest with no less than three Mars missions currently en route to the red planet. These missions from the USA, China and UAE, are planned to arrive in February 2021 and hence scientific news and progress will continue for many years to come. It would be ironic if the mass of the 3 spaceships, travelling in close proximity to each other, impact each other’s trajectory due to their space well.
  • This, along with a floating Tesla is space, and the progress of a number of commercial launch companies does suggest that humanity is well on its way to expanding our capability in space. I seem to recall a news article where 3 significant launches to space all occurred within 1 week of each other, and all funded and managed by a commercial company. But true to any commercial enterprise I have also noticed challenges are starting to emerge as companies look to manage their interests. Most recently Viasat has asked the FCC to look into Starlink’s licence. Viasat link. Elon Musk’s response was a tweet referring to Viasat’s profit as being the motivation for the request. So it would seem the Legal profession will continue to be in demand.

So with 2020 behind us, and hopefully an effective COVID vaccine on the horizon, we are looking forward for a more fruitful 2021. The Committee has recently approved a new curriculum which people new to astronomy (and telescopes) should find useful. It is aimed to bring together zoom sessions with Beginners Nights in the Field to provide a combined theoretical / practical structure over a 6 month period to help people become effective using their equipment. More information about the new curriculum will be distributed shortly. We intend this to be able to be delivered in a COVID-safe manner but as everyone would appreciate this is quite a fluid situation.

Speaking of which, with the recent Northern Beaches outbreak still fresh, we are monitoring the situation daily and will make a decision (probably Thursday) if the Members observing can proceed at the Terrey Hills observing site this Saturday. This decision will be posted in the News section of the NSAS website and will indicate if the evening is to go ahead or not – Please make sure to check it. Due to the COVID situation we have already restricted this to be a members only night.

With regard to our new field – the rain will continue to affect construction works and hence will not come online for several months. For the foreseeable future we will continue to use the Terrey Hills site as our observing site.

I wish everyone a safe 2021 and hopefully clear skies soon!

David Stevenson
Club President