Members of the Central West Astronomical Society (CWAS) have been sharing their love of astronomy and space exploration with residents of the central west for 10 years now.
They do this through a range of events from monthly meetings at the Parkes Radio Telescope Visitors Centre to public astronomy evenings and even regular radio broadcasts.
However, the jewel in the crown of the CWAS’s calendar of events is the annual CWAS AstroFest.
This annual event attracts amateur and professional astronomers from all over Australia, as well as leading Australian and international speakers on a range of cutting-edge aspects of astronomy that are currently in the news.
This year’s AstroFest will take place this Saturday July 14 and Sunday 15 July.
Most of Saturday’s events will take place in Parkes itself while on Sunday the focus will shift to the Parkes Radio Telescope (The Dish).
Indeed, the keynote presentation is the prestigious John Bolton Lecture, named after the first astronomer-in-charge of the Parkes Dish (on whom Sam Neill’s character was loosely based in the movie).
The 2012 John Bolton Lecture will be given by Dr Nick Lomb, “Mr Transit of Venus”.
Readers may recall the wide attention attracted by the extremely rare Transit of Venus in early June.
Dr Lomb is the curator of the historic Sydney Observatory near The Rocks and a leading world authority on Venus transits from an astronomical and historical point of view.
Another widely-anticipated presentation will be by Terry Lovejoy, a Queensland amateur astronomer who discovered Comet Lovejoy. (Discoverers of comets traditionally get to have the comet named after themselves).
This comet was also dubbed the “Christmas Comet” because it spectacularly graced Australian pre-dawn skies for several weeks in late 2011 and early 2012.
Other speakers will include Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith, who will explain the recent decision to jointly build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Australia, New Zealand and southern Africa.
The SKA is a $2.5 billion radio telescope that consists of 3,000 small radio dishes all connected by optic fibre to form a telescope so powerful and sensitive that it will revolutionise astronomy and our understanding of the Universe.
Dr Marta Burgay will talk about a recently-built giant radio telescope in Sardinia (a large island off the coast of Italy), including the connections between its research and that conducted by the Parkes Radio Telescope.
John Sarkissian, of the Parkes Dish itself, will give a fascinating account of Parkes’ involvement in the Mars Science Laboratory, an important NASA mission that is currently speeding towards Mars and is scheduled to land there on August 6. The mission will be reminiscent of Parkes’ involvement in the Apollo program. Weather permitting, on Sunday a daytime astronomy session will also be conducted where visitors will be able to safely view our Sun (through special equipment without damaging their eyes), and also view planets and stars through telescopes in broad daylight.
Although CWAS events are usually free, a small AstroFest admission charge has had to be made to cover the costs of attracting such high-calibre presenters.
However, concessional rates are available for university and senior secondary students.Primary and junior secondary students are free if accompanied by an adult.
Readers can register from 9.00 am on Saturday and are welcome to attend on Saturday and/or Sunday. Full details of sessions, locations and times can be found at the CWAS website, www.cwas.org.au and follow the AstroFest link.