You may have seen in the media some very welcome news regarding the approval of International Dark Sky Reserve status for the two National Parks located in Yorkshire. The status will provide a huge boost to astro-tourism in the area and hopefully prove beneficial for local Astronomical Societies. 

  [Read more about International Dark Sky Reserve Status Approved]

NASA launched the spacecraft in 2006; it flew past Pluto in 2015, providing the first close-up views of the dwarf planet. After the successful flyby, NASA set their sights on a destination deep inside the Kuiper Belt, Ultima Thule is that object.

This Kuiper Belt object was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.  Officially known as 2014 MU69, it got the nickname Ultima Thule in an online vote.  When New Horizons first glimpsed the rocky iceball in August it was just a dot. Good close-up pictures should be available the day after the flyby.

New Horizons will make its closest approach in the wee hours of January 1st  hurtling by within 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) of Ultima Thule at some 50,700 kph (31,500 mph).  It will take about 10 hours to get confirmation that the spacecraft completed — and survived — the encounter. Hopefully, later on New Year’s day we shall get that, so keep an eye on the media.  It will take almost two years for New Horizons to beam back all its data on Ultima Thule.  A flyby of an even more distant world could be in the offing in the 2020s, if NASA approves another mission extension and the spacecraft remains healthy. [Read more about New Horizons at Ultima Thule]

The Philae Lander on the usrface of comet P67, which went into battery-save hibernation in November, has woken up.  That's according to this BBC report of the European Space Agency (ESA). [Read more about Philae Lander has woken-up]

For all Patrick Moore fans, a new Drama based on his long broadcasting career, is now available on BBC iPlayer.

This is the story of how the self taught astronomer, whose Moon maps were later used by the Apollo missions, became the presenter of The Sky At Night. But it's also the story of a mysterious love affair, and a window into the mind of one of the nation's favourite broadcasters.

It's 1957 and the little known Patrick Moore... [Read more about Radio Drama: Far Side of the Moore]

His lecture to Astromeet was ‘The formation of planetary nebulae’.

M27: Dumbell Nebula
First Planetary Nebula discovered
by Charles Messier in 1764
(Click image for full-size view)

A very apt, timely lecture, given that it’s the 250th anniversary of the first recorded observation of a planetary nebula by Charles Messier – M27; the Dumbbell nebula, and as Albert noted, even then the view would be different to how it looks today, such is the evolution of these beautiful objects.

The term ‘Planetary nebula’ was actually coined by William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus. Through telescopes of the day planetary nebulae somewhat resembled the giant planets like Uranus, At first Herschel thought the objects were stars surrounded by material that was condensing into planets rather than what is known to be evidence of dead stars that have incinerated any orbiting planets!.

The true nature of planetary nebulae was unknown until the first spectroscopic observations were made in the mid-19th century. Planetary nebulae came to be understood as a final stage of stellar evolution. Spectroscopic observations show that all planetary nebulae are expanding. This led to the idea that planetary nebulae were caused by a star's outer layers being thrown into space at the end of its life... [Read more about Astromeet Lecture Write-up: ‘The formation of planetary nebulae’ (Prof Albert Zijlstra)]

In time honoured fashion the final lecture was delivered by Dr Alan Chapman. His subject this year was Edmond Halley, and as we soon learned Halley was not just an exceptional astronomer, his experiments, observations and research extended into many varied fields of science and professions, including fledgling scientific concepts and ideas.

Halley was born in Shoreditch on the 8th November 1656. His father, Edmond Halley Sr. came from a Derbyshire family and was a wealthy soap-maker in London. Apart from the soap business, the Halley’s had plenty of properties in London. Even though, they lost some of their assets during the 'Great Fire of London' in 1666, it hardly affected their financial status; as Alan stated; ‘they were quite well off’. 

As a child Halley was very interested in mathematics and received private tuitions at home till he was admitted to St. Pauls School where he excelled in everything he did and became the captain of the school at the age of just 15. His father had already kitted out Edmond with all the necessary astronomical equipment required and in 1673 Halley went to Queens College;Oxford and whilst an undergraduate, he published papers on the Solar System and sunspots. However, he left the college in 1675 without completing his degree and started working for John Flamsteed who was the ‘Astronomer Royal’ at the Greenwich Observatory. Among other things, Halley had the job of assigning what is now called Flamsteed numbers to stars. ‘Halley was starting to make a name for himself’... [Read more about Astromeet Lecture Write-up: ‘Edmond Halley: astronomer, geophysicist and sea captain’ (Dr Alan Chapman)]

It was a day full of excitement and trepidation, as the drama of the Philae Lander's despatch from the Rosetta's satellite took place, and Philae drifted in super-weak gravity towards the surface on a 7-hour journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

It was a day which almost didn't happen, as overnight preparations revealed a malfunction in the thruster which was to press Philae to the ground immediately on landing while harpoons tethered it to the comet surface were fired.  But the decision was taken to go ahead, and at about 08:30h GMT Philae successfully separated from Rosetta and began its descent.

The landing was confirmed at around 16:05h GMT and verified a few minutes later.  But all was not as it seemed... [Read more about 12th November 2014: The Day Mankind Landed on a Comet!]

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released three short videos about the Rosetta Mission: one focusing on the scientific objectives, another updating their mission summary, and this one - the latest in the children's animations, tells the story of the Philae lander preparing to descend to the surface of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

See the full article for all three videos, and don't forget the landing itself on the 12th of November.

[Read more about ESA releases new videos about the Rosetta Mission]

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has produced a unique composite image of comet Siding Spring as it made its never-before-seen close passage of a comet by Mars.

Here's what we know so far... [Read more about First sight: Mars meets Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring]

First Image of Comet Siding
Spring at closest point to Mars

Comet season is Open!  Not only is the Rosetta Satellite orbiting a comet on which it hopes to successfully deposit a lander next month, but we'll have a chance to observe Comet Siding Spring at close quarters on Sunday 19th October.

For a couple of reasons, Comet Siding Spring is providing us with a rare treat... [Read more about Comet Near Miss with Mars!]