NACAA 2012: a personal summary

The National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) is held every two years over the Easter long weekend. This year, the 25th NACAA was held in Brisbane at the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus. The two main convention days are on Saturday and Sunday with Friday and Monday reserved for workshops, colloquia, symposia or other activities.

On Friday April 6th I attended the 2nd Variable Stars South (VSS) colloquium. In the first session, I gave a VStar development update. At the 2008 NACAA I’d met AAVSO Director Arne Henden where we discussed VStar as a possible volunteer project. At NACAA in 2010 I held a one day hands-on workshop covering the initial development since May 2009. VStar has matured somewhat in the last two years and the focus was on new features. I noticed a shift in emphasis from 2010. At that time, workshop attendees were interested in using VStar and looked forward to watching it evolve. This time, I spoke to people who had been making use of it for their research and our conversations over the weekend focussed upon additional features that would help them do what they needed to do.

Subsequent VSS colloquium sessions included:

  1. A number of presentations and discussions about the SPADES exoplanet project.
  2. Presentations about techniques in DSLR photometry and photometric data reduction.
  3. Summary of a paper concerning the eruption of the recurrent nova T Pyxidis in 2011.
  4. “Observing the observers” of Eta Carina through its light curve.

Simon O’Toole from the Anglo-Australian Observatory was at the colloquium, primarily for the SPADES sessions. I had some interesting conversations with him about possible VStar futures and data analysis in the morning tea break.

In parallel with the VSS colloquium on Friday was an Astronomy 101 workshop, attended by a mixture of beginners and experts.

There were two streams on each day of the weekend, although both days had a keynote or invited speaker.

Saturday began with a keynote by Dr Tamara Davis and Professor Michael Drinkwater and although wide-ranging, the topic was focussed upon the bulk of the Universe we apparently know little about: Dark Energy and Dark Matter, confirmation of Lambda Cold Dark Matter model, and some trivia about the recent Nobel Prize for Physics, such as the quality of the “paparazzi” (professional astronomers).

Sunday’s John Perdrix address was given by Martin George and was a fascinating glimpse into the life of Grote Reber, the radio astronomy pioneer who moved from Illinois to live in radio-quiet Tasmania. Martin’s historical research and personal anecdotes always make for an entertaining talk. Having lived in Launceston for a decade, I always enjoy catching up with Martin at NACAA.

Here’s a sampling of talks over the two main days:

  • Building and using spectroscopes for amateur variable star spectroscopy.
  • Making and submitting double star measurements to help improve catalogues, which have a surprising number of errors.
  • Analysing an eclipsing binary variable star from observation through to creation of a physical model.
  • Supernova discovery methods.
  • A talk about Comet Lovejoy, by Terry Lovejoy.
  • Talks about this year’s transit of Venus and Total Solar Eclipse.
  • Variable star photometry and data analysis talks.
  • Meteor observing systems.

Presentations about asteroidal occultation observation and analysis.

There was also a talk about “teaching the teachers” and an interesting presentation about the likely prevalence of life elsewhere in the Universe from a presenter with qualifications in microbiology and chemistry.

For the final Sunday session, I opted for the Brisbane planetarium visit.

I flew back to Adelaide on Monday morning, but that day had two parallel streams: the Sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations and an Eclipse Imaging Workshop.

After each day’s sessions we were kept busy with some social event or other: a welcome function on Friday, a dinner on Saturday, and a BBQ on Sunday. At the Saturday dinner, Anthony Wesley was presented with the Berenice and Arthur Page medal for his amazing planetary imaging work.

I stayed at Toowong and took the CityCat ferry to and from the University most days. This and the train made it fairly cheap to get around Brisbane during the weekend.

Overall, it was a great event. It’s my sixth NACAA and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in communicating with other amateurs around Australia (and a few from New Zealand), finding out what’s going on beyond our borders. The next NACAA will be held in 2014 in Melbourne, hosted by the Astronomical Society of Victoria. I hope to see you there.

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