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Blackett Observatory Dome
Welcome to the Marlborough College Blackett Observatory, home to the largest refracting telescope in Wiltshire. Learn more...
Status CURRENT MOON
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SpaceWeather | More weather... Coordinates: 51.25.25 N and 1.44.24 W
Marlborough College
Oxford Astrophysics
Green Templeton College

Life on Venus?

Astronomers have detected evidence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, which could be the by-product of Venusian life forms. For the full story on the BBC website, click here. Also recommended is the Sky At Night special now available on the iPlayer

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Monday 21st September - Observing Five Planets
From 9pm - Weather Permitting

This event will take place online via Zoom
An email link will be sent out to Friends on the day

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Friday 25th September, 6.30pm - The Friends Virtual Drinks Party

The annual drinks party will take place online this year via Zoom
A link to the party will be sent out on the day

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Unfortunately the Observatory will remain closed to visitors
until all social distancing measures are finally eased

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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day

What's Up!

Week of 14th September

  • Astronomical twilight ends at 21:19 BST at the beginning of the week and at 21:03 BST by the end of the week

  • Mars is appearing ever higher in our evening sky. It is shining a fabulous orange-red colour and is currently at magnitude -2.1; this will brighten to -2.6 when at opposition in October

  • There is only a month or two left to observe Jupiter and Saturn. They are both in our western sky now and have set by about 01:00 BST

  • The Moon will be New on Thursday

  • The Sun is currently blank with no visible sunspots - this spotless stretch is now at 23 days; the deep solar minimum continues

  • The ISS returns to our evening skies with passes this week as follows:
    Thursday: 21:25, SW to SSW, max 14°
    Friday: 20:38, SSW to SSE, max 23°
    Saturday: 19:51, S to ESE, max 16° and 21:26, WSW to SW, max 33°
    Sunday: 20:39, SW to ESE, max 43° and 22:15, W, max 14°

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Random Blackett Image
Projects - GCSE Moon Maps

News

13th September

@MCBO Live: Further testing was carried out by GKWJ, this time of an alternative approach to enable live views of deep sky objects. JAG and another Beta Tester were treated to a Zoom tour of the following: M15, M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), M33 (Triangulum Galaxy), NGC 457 (Owl Cluster), IC 1805, M76 (Little Dumbbell Nebula), M74 (Phantom Galaxy) and finally, Mars, with the southern polar ice cap and some surface detail visible. A very successful session which paves the way for live observing events to come

5th September

@MCBO Live: GKWJ started work on a way to enable live observing over the internet from the Dome to overcome the problem of social distancing measures currently prohibiting gatherings at the observatory. Using a new Canon camera, broadcast software OBS and Zoom, live images were shared online with CEB and JAG, who enjoyed the night sky tour from the comfort of their sofas. We started with the camera attached to the 10inch and slewed to the bright Solar System objects - Jupiter with all four Galilean moons, then Saturn with multiple moons, Titan, Tethys, Iapetus, Dione & Rhea, which became visible when the exposure was altered. We moved on to the double star, Albireo, which was easily split with obvious colour and magnitude differences seen. We then tried the globular clusters M71 & M15, but this did not work with the current set up. We then went outside and used various camera lenses for wide views of Ursa Major and the Summer Triangle, then zooming in a little to Delphinus and Lyra, where we could just make out M57 - The Ring Nebula. We moved to the 87% waning Gibbous Moon close to Mars, finishing with an easy split of Alcor and Mizar. The initial tests were extremely encouraging. There are strategies available to improve visiblity of the fainter deep sky objects, which will be tested under the next clear sky. There is great potential for a winter of fine online observing with @MCBO Live - check back here for updates

19th July

Comet observing: CEB, JAG and GKWJ met at the Dome to observe comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3). As darkness fell the comet appeared, perfectly placed over the Dome for GKWJ to take photographs. It was observed through binoculars and the 10inch, which gave a spectacular view of the coma. CEB made sketches of the comet through the 10inch every twenty minutes showing its rapid movement across the field of view. JAG calculated its speed across our line of sight to be approximately 80 km/s. It was wonderful to observe at the Dome again, though social distancing measures made it a rather different experience

22nd June

Radcliffe Society: Nine members of the society met online for the final meeting of the academic year. What's Up for the summer was presented by GKWJ, followed by three excellent pupil presentations entitled, 'Fractals and Chaos', 'Relatively Good Evidence' and 'SpaceX to Solar Supermarkets'. Next meeting: 21st September

21st June

Solstice observing: Stargazing live at MCBO! Thanks to Gavin and some excellent new camera technology, CEB and GKWJ were able to hold a live streamed (via Zoom) stargazing session. Starting in Civil Twilight just after the Sun set, we identified the northern Solsticial setting point. Stars were then observed as they came out in order of magnitude, once Nautical Twilight started. By luck we were then treated to the best Noctilucent Cloud display so far this season (always best near the Solstice) and were able to watch as the luminous, bluey and greeny wisps changed formation. Typically looking like ripples on the shore or sand wind-blown into peaks and troughs, the clouds are not part of the weather system and are much higher at 80km or so. They are now thought to be ice crystals seeded by meteor impact trails. The group of Friends disbanded around midnight, after we had toured some prominent Summer asterisms and finished with Jupiter in the South East

21st May

Solar open day: The annual solar observing session could not take place at the Dome this year due to the social distancing measures in place. Not wanting to be thwarted by this, CEB and GKWJ attempted the first ever live streaming astronomy event for Friends and College staff. High hazy cloud rendered the 10inch ineffective, so live views from the River Park Observatory through a Lunt 2inch H alpha solar telescope were streamed via Zoom. Around 40 visitors dropped in to the event over the course of the afternoon. The seeing was poor at best. Two plage areas were observed on the surface, but otherwise it was featureless, to be expected given that we are still in the solar minimum. The main attraction was a large prominence on the northeast, oncoming limb. It extended to about four Earth diameters above the solar surface, with two loops extending out in opposite directions from the main area. This prominence complex was clearly seen to develop and change over the two and a half hour session. Numerous small explosions of plasma were seen to bubble up and collapse nearby on the limb. Unfortunately, gathering cloud spoiled the view towards the end of the session, but it was a great success and opened the way for new methods of astronomical observing at Marlborough College.

4th May

Radcliffe Society: The society met online via Zoom for the first time. GKWJ gave the monthly What's Up, JAG presented on Current Comets and two pupils gave presentations on 'The Baryon Asymmetry Problem' and 'Physics in Cinema'. Next meeting: 22nd June

22nd March

Messier Marathon: it was a great shame that the College Messier Marathon attempt had to be cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Typically, conditions could not have been more perfect: New Moon and clear skies. GKWJ and JAG could not let the opportunity pass by, so decided to make the Messier Marathon 2020 attempt 'behind closed doors' on Sunday night. The session started at 19:20 with a stunning view through the 10inch of Venus in its dichotomy phase. The hunt for as many of the 110 Messier objects with the 10inch then started in earnest. Two online Zoom sessions were held during the evening, allowing a number of the GCSE pupils and DGR to join the hunt from home. As we were working in very dark conditions this was more of a radio link than video! Highlight objects through the night included: open clusters M34, M35, M38, M52 and M67, galaxies M51, M81 and M82, planetary nebulae M27 and M57, nebulae M17 and M42 and globular clusters M3, M13, M14 and M92. During the night, Comet ATLAS was viewed twice and its significant movement was noticed. Great empathy was felt with Messier, who was of course trying to find new comets, compiling his catalogue of objects that were not comets and to be avoided on future nights. It is amazing how much a globular cluster looks like a comet! Several breaks were taken and the night sky outside was admired; Betelgeuse was noted to be markedly brighter at around mag +1. Saturn and Jupiter, with all four Galilean moons visible, were viewed through the 10inch in the morning twilight. The Marathon finished with M2 being the final observation at 04:53. In total, 96 out of 110 Messier objects were seen. The fourteen missed were due either to the bright evening and morning twilight sky or because they were below the horizon for the 10inch. It was a very successful night, but hopefully the 2021 attempt will be enjoyed by a full team of pupils too.

11th March

Radcliffe Society: 10 pupils from Sixth Form, Hundred and Remove attended the March meeting of the Radcliffe Society with GKWJ and JAG. GKWJ gave the monthly What's Up guide, a video interview with Subir Sarkar (University of Oxford) discussing 'The Evidence for Dark Energy' was watched and then two Upper Sixth pupils gave presentations on 'The Standard Model and Neutrinos' and 'Entropy'. Next meeting: 4th May

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