National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers

The National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) is a biennial national forum for amateur astronomy in Australia.

In 1966 two enthusiastic amateur astronomical groups, the James Cook Astronomers Club and the Canberra Astronomical Society met in Katoomba to discuss holding an astronomy convention in Australia. The first national Australian astronomy convention was subsequently held over Easter in Canberra in 1967, jointly hosted by the James Cook Astronomers Club and the Pacific Astronomical Society (both Sydney-based organisations). Subsequent conventions were held in Port Macquarie (1968), Ballarat (1969), and Wollongong (1970). After four initial annual conventions, it was agreed to hold the event biennially.

The first convention using the title NACAA was held in Melbourne in 1972, hosted by the Astronomical Society of Victoria. The title was devised by John Perdrix by arranging pieces of cardboard, each with the letter of a suitable word, until an appropriate acronym was found. The pronunciation rhymes with "backer".

The choice of Easter as the date to hold the conventions has been problematical. In the early years, the four day holiday provided sufficient time for attendees to travel the long distances involved, mostly by car or train. The convention usually began with a welcome reception on the Friday evening and ended on Monday morning with two days of technical sessions in between. Faster transport in later years lead to suggestions to move the event to a three day holiday weekend instead. The absence of a common holiday weekend shared by all Australian states has prevented this from happening. Instead, the event has expanded in recent years to include additional workshops and symposia, and to encompass most of the four day holiday.

An interesting aspect of NACAA is that for nearly forty years there was no national steering committee to coordinate the event. The organisation of each NACAA was left entirely to the hosting group or society. This arrangement worked surprisingly well for many years, due mainly to the dedication of a small number of regular attendees from the various amateur societies. However, it suffered from problems such as the financial capacity of the hosting society, the level of understanding of the requirements of hosting the event, etc.

A group of regular attendees decided at the 2006 NACAA, following slowly dwindling attendances over the preceding ten years, to create a body to ensure that the tradition of NACAA would continue. NACAA Inc was incorporated in December 2006, only a few months short of forty years after the first national convention. The new body consists of a Secretariat of seven members, assisted by a local organising and a programme committee. Further details can be found at http://nacaa.org.au.

To date, there have been 24 national astronomy conventions in Australia, as detailed below (from Perdix, 2004.)

Year City Host(s)
1967 Canberra James Cook Astronomers Club, Pacific Astronomical Society
1968 Port Macquarie Port Macquarie Astronomical Association
1969 Ballarat Ballaarat Astronomical Society
1970 Wollongong Illawarra Astronomical Society
1972 Melbourne Astronomical Society of Victoria
1974 Adelaide Astronomical Society of South Australia
1976 Sydney Astronomical Society of New South Wales
1978 Canberra Canberra Astronomical Society
1980 Geelong Astronomical Society of Geelong
1982 Brisbane Astronomical Association of Queensland
1984 Perth Astronomical Society of Western Australia
1986 Hobart Astronomical Society of Tasmania
1988 Sydney Astronomical Society of New South Wales, British Astronomical Association (NSW Branch), Sutherland Astronomical Society
1990 Frankston Astronomical Society of Frankston, Astronomical Society of Victoria
1992 Adelaide Astronomical Society of South Australia
1994 Canberra Canberra Astronomical Society
1996 Brisbane Astronomical Association of Queensland, Southern Astronomical Society, Brisbane Astronomical Society, Southeast Queensland Astronomical Society
1998 Sutherland Sutherland Astronomical Society
2000 Perth Astronomy WA
2002 Adelaide Astronomical Society of South Australia
2004 Hobart Astronomical Society of Tasmania
2006 Frankston Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society
2008 Penrith DMR and NACAA Inc
2010 Canberra Canberra Astronomical Society
2012 Brisbane Astronomical Association of Queensland

The Astronomical Society of Australia has since 1973 presented the Berenice Page Medal to recognise the contributions to astronomical science by Australian amateur astronomers. The Medal has been presented at the NACAA convention dinner since 1986. The recipients (to date) are:

Year Recipient For
1973 Mr Sid Elwin Photometric observations of the occultation of Beta' Scorpii by Jupiter
1975 Mr Dave Herald Observations of Baily Beads in the solar eclipse of 20 June 1974
1981 Mr Bill Bradfield The discovery, up to that time, of 11 comets
1983 Mr Byron Soulsby Work on the oblateness of the umbral shadow
1986 Rev'd Robert Evans Visual discoveries of supernovae
1988 Mr Robert McNaught Photographic nova and supernova observations and discoveries
1990 Mr Barry Adcock Telescope design work and planetary observations
1992 Dr Mal Wilkinson The design and construction of a radio-telescope and subsequent observations of the Io-Jupiter system and for his development of a model for the emissions
1994 Mr Paul Camilleri Discoveries of novae and Mira variables and the development of simple photographic techniques for nova searches
1996 Mr Peter Williams Extensive on-going visual observations of variable stars, especially the R Coronae Borealis variables
1998 Mr Gordon Garradd Significant contributions in the observation of asteroids, comets, novae and supernovae
2000 Mr Andrew Pearce High quality visual observations of comets, variable stars and novae
2002 The Reynolds Amateur Photometry Team Work in association with professional astronomers to provide data on objects such as supernovae, blazars and gamma ray bursts, using the Reynolds 30" telescope at Mount Stromlo Observatory
2004 Mr Colin Bembrick Significant contributions to astronomy from photometric observations of minor planets
2006 Dr Tom Richards Broad ranging CCD photometry lightcurve observations, particularly of minor planets, variable stars and exoplanet searches
2008 Mr John Broughton Systematic survey for southern declination Near Earth Objects, and numerous occultation timings
2010 Mr David Gault Significant observations of Pluto occultations

As well, the Astral Award, originally sponsored by John Perdrix's Astral Press, has been presented for the best presentation at the convention. The recipients of the Astral Award (to date) are:

Year Recipient Title of paper
1986 Tom Cragg CV Aquarii
1988 Peter Jones Computer star maps
1990 Peter Nelson, JL Blanksby, and AW Kruijshoop Recent planetary and lunar occultations by the Occultation Section of the ASV
1992 Peter Nelson and Jim Park Observing mutual phenomena of Jupiter's moons 1991
1994 Fraser Farrell The recruitment and supervision of amateur variable star observers
1996 Zac Pujic The Cookbook CB245 CCD camera: evaluation of performance
1998 Vello Tabur Computer-aided comet hunting
2000 Stephen Russell Chasing shadows: photographing solar eclipses
2002 Colin Bembrick Minor planet light curve determination
2004 Tom Richards Amateurs getting violent: black holes, synchotrons and magnetic flares
2006 Jeff Byron Itokawa, YORP and the Cecil Sayers Observatory
2008 Surjit Wadhwa Light Curve Analysis of Contact Binary Stars
2010 David O'Driscoll Robotic Research for the Amateur Astronomer

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