2016 News

9th to 18th December

10th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA):Sandor Kruk (PhD student in Oxford Astrophsics Department and Merton College) and CEB led the UK team of 5 students (4 boys and 1 girl) in Bhubaneswar, India. All 5 team members gained awards; 1 Gold (10th overall out of 240 competitors), 1 Silver, 1 Bronze and 2 Honourable Mentions. This ranked the UK 6th out of the 42 countries competing, behind Russia, Iran, India ,China and USA. The effort required in the three 5 hour exams is considerable and we are delighted with the result


6th December

St John’s class: CEB taught a second class at St John’s Academy with 20 pupils from years 7, 8 and 9


House visit: 11 C1 Shell pupils came up to the Dome. The sky was cloudy

1st December

External visit: NMA hosted another group (yr 5) from the Swindon Academy primary school. The sky was clear with a very young crescent Moon


House visit: 12 TU Shell pupils came up to the Dome. The sky was clear and Andromeda M31 and the Milky Way was viewed by eye and notable asterisms identified. The Binos viewed M45 and the ETX Mars. The Dome had unfrozen and thus the 10 inch was used to look at Aldeberan a K Giant (given the Shell are covering HR diagram)

Mext House visit: Tuesday 6th December (C1)

GCSE Observing: 1 Hundred astronomer grabbed another opportunity for star counts. The clouds moved in by 9.30pm

30th November

External visit: Though not as cold or clear as last night, the sky was clear and seeing I/II. A large group of 21 Savernake Explorers, 16 students from yrs 10 to 13 (mainly from St John’s) and 5 adults, came up to the Dome. M45 Pleiades was viewed in Binos and setting Mars in ETX. Sadly the extreme cold had frozen the Dome, so the 10 inch could only view a random star


GCSE observing: 3 Hundreds pupils came up to the Dome to carry out onstellation photography, Messier Drawing (M45 in binos and M42 in ETX) and star counts

29th November

Blackett Science Lecture: The 2016 lecture was given by C. Barclay ‘Tungunska’s legacy – The threat of asteroid impact’ and was attended by local Friends, pupils and visitors


28th November

External visit: 19 pupils from yr 7 of Swindon Academy’s Grammar stream came up to the Dome. The sky was clear with no Moon


GCSE observing: Possibly the best evening so far with a New Moon, so dark and clear Milky Way. Seeing for once was II as the temperature fell. 4 Hundreds pupils came up to the Dome to carry out star counts parallel and perpendicular to the Galactic plane. The Binos showed M45 well and the 10 inch initially viewed M29 Open cluster, then M1 (Crab SNR) and finally for the first time this winter, M42 which, the low, showed good detail and a well resolved Trapezium

24th November

External visit: 16 year 6 pupils from Swindon Academy were hosted at the Dome and Marlburian by DGR and NMA. M31 was visible between clouds


House visit: For the very first time 12 DA Shell pupils and a tutor came up to the Dome. The sky was largely cloudy, though M45 was viewd in Binos just before departure

Next House visit: Thursday 30th November (TU)

GCSE Observing: 3 Hundreds and 4 Remove pupils came up to the Dome and were looked after by CEB and DGR respectively. Whilst Remove drew Constellations the Hundred drew Messier Objects (M45 (Pleiades) in Binos and M57 (Ring) and M27 (Dumbell) in 10 inch. The ETX was used for star counts

23rd November

External visit: 27 visitors from the St John’s Academy community crammed into the Dome, including one teacher, 7 parents and 19 pupils from years 6 to 12. Sadly the sky was cloudy


18th November

External visit: 7 sixth form girls from St John’s Academy came up to the Dome and were hosted by JAG


17th November

House visit: 11 Shell pupils and a House Tutor from NC came up to the Dome. Luckily the rain kept off, but the sky was cloudy with just the waning gibbous Moon being visible and Vega and Polaris in cloud gaps. No Leonids were seen


Next House visit: Thursday 24th November (DA)

External visit: 26 year 5 from the Woodpecker class at Swindon Academy Primary School came up to the Dome and were hosted by NMA and DGR. In spite of clouid and rain, half the group found some clear sky and managed to see some stars and Mars. As well as using the Observatory, the second group worked at the Malburian Social Centre, where a scale Solar System was displayed with a 3m disc for the Sun and 3cm picture of the Earth

16th November

External visit: 24 Cubs (girls and boys from years 4,5 and 6) from Aldbourne and 10 adults including leaders and parents attended the dome in 2 sessions. The rain had stopped but the sky was completely cloudy, though the waning gibbous Moon was just visible at the end through cloud


10th November

GCSE observing: 3 Hundred and 3 Remove pupils came up to the Dome. The sky was clear between cloud banks. The 8 inch initally viewed M13 and was then used to photograph the 81% waxing gibbous Moon. M45 Pleiades were drawn in Binos and M57 the Ring nebula was drawn in the 10 inch. The ETX was used for Stellar Density counts


8th November

House visit: 8 Shell pupils from IH came up to the Dome. It was wet and cloudy


Next House visit: Thursday 17th (NC)

External visit: 26 year 5 children aged 9 and 10 years old and 4 teachers from the Swindon Academy visited the Observatory in two groups with NMA in charge to learn about the dome, the telescopes, observing the night sky and meteorites. Due to the poor weather, they also took part in activities in the main Pavillion

7th November

Public open evening: Some 25 visitors came up to the Dome, many for the first time. The evening was clear, though moisture scattered the moonlight. Mars was viewed in the Smith and ETX. The first Quarter Moon was viewd in Binos and the ETX. The 10 inch split gamma Delphinus and then delta Cephei. M42 was viewed in ETX when it rose and the Binos were used on M45. M13 was also viewed in the Smith 8 inch. 2 meteors were seen, possibly a bright Northern Taurid and an Andromedid


5th November

Friends Q&A: A small group of Friends braved the first real winter evening, with falling temperature and the best skies this term, to attend a Q&A session on ‘Citizen Science’. Current Zooniverse projects (inclugding Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, Radio Meteors, Finding Comets, Disc Finders and Gravity Wave searcher) were introduced. Given the clear skies, the Binos were used for M45, M31 was easily viewed by eye and the 10 inch was used to split 3 Optical Doubles. First theta Serpens and lovely balanced pair of white stars with a 22 arc sec seperation. Next Albireo (beta Cygni), the famous bright double, seperated by 34 arc sec and clearly coloured (Blue and Yellow) and last gamma Delphinus, an aesthetically pleasing yellow and green Double with a 10 arc second seperation


1st November

House visit: 11 pupils from SU Shell came up to the Dome. The sky was cloudy


Next House visit: Tuesday 8th November (IH)

24th October

Maintenance: The new Drive system returned from AWR Engineering repaired after the August electrical storm damage. CEB wired it up and then re-calibrated the drive speeds on both axes


22nd October

Orionids: a very small group gathered, with clear skies near the zenith and a good Milky Way, to catch some Orionid meteors. None were seen. Neither were any satellites and we suspected that the high misty cloud may have obliterated all but the brightest lower altitude meteors. One bright sporadic was seen and two possible Northern Taurids


10th October

GCSE Observing: One Hundred pupil ran up to get the chance of photographing the 8 day old Moon for his Lunar features project. Initially cloudy, the sky cleared. Seeing was poor but the Moon bright and well placed for observing in the 8 inch Smith


6th October

House vist: 9 pupils from BH Shell came up to the Dome, including the grandson of Basil Blackett, after whom the Observatory is named. The sky was largely cloudy but the Moon was viewed in Binos and the ETX


Next House visit: Tuesday 1st November (SU)

GCSE Observing: 1 pupil who is embarking on lunar feature photography cam up to catch the waxing Crescent Moon. The Moon was low by 8.30pm and the heavy 8 inch Smith had to be moved to the top corner of the parking space. Trial exposures were done and despite some tree branches interfering some decent first images obtained 5th October Drive Engineer visit: Following the lightning storms in August, a visit was needed to attempt to locate the cause of malfunction. After a couple of hours of rewiring and testing, it seems likley that the main processor chip needs replacing. It is hoped to get the 10 inch operational after half-term

4th October

GCSE Observing: 4 Hundred and all 10 Remove pupils came up to the Dome, joning CEB and DGR. In light wind and no moon some work was carried out and an introduction for some to the Dome. The binos focused on M31 Andromeda and M45 Pleiades at the end of the evening). The ETX was used for Star Counts (having viewed M82 for the first time before the pupils came up). The Binos were also used to locate and draw M13 in Hercules


30th September

Dr Payel Das visit: Dr Das from Oxford University Theoretical Physics Dept came to attend physics lessons in the morning, have lunch with a number of Astronomy pupils and attend Period 6 with all the Remove and Hundred Astronomers. After supper with invited Physicists, She then gave the lecture ‘Galactic Archaeology’ in L3 in the evening to Astronomers and 6th Form Physicists


29th September

House visit: The first Shell House visit of the year took place. The sky was largley clear and the temperatures were falling. The 10 inch was out of action following the August storms and so M31 Andromeda was viewed in the Binos, having been located by eye


Next House visit: Thursday 6th October (BH)

GCSE Observing: The first evening for observing saw 4 of the Hundred coming up to the Dome for a familiarisation session. M31 was viewed by eye and in binos and the Smith 8 inch was brought out to view Altair and to practice some star photography

23rd September

Friends drinks party: The 12th annual Friends drinks party took place at the Dome with long standing and new Friends having a chance to catch up and look ahead to the winter


23rd August

BAAO Training Camp: A second night of observing for the team. The sky was largely clear at 9.30pm. Past paper observing questions were tackled. Telescopes were used to locate Messier objects and positions and motions in the sky were estimated. The Dome closed at 2pm as tiredness set in. The team then headed next day to Oxford for 3 days of theoretical training


22nd August

BAAO Training Camp: CEB and Sandor Kruk (Oxford Astrophysics) led the first day of the 5 day summer training Camp for the 5 students selected for the UK Team (competionmg in the 10th International Olympiad in Astronomy and Astrophysics in India in December). The Observatory swung into action at 10pm as the sky cleared. All instrumemnts were in use. Targets vairied from Double stars to Open Clusters, Globular Clusters, Mars and Saturn as they set and the waning Gibbous Moon. Drawings were completed of the Moon, Tycho and the Ptolemaeus triplet of craters, Mizar and Alcor and M31. The 10″ initially tracked Uranus then M57 (Ring) Planetary nebula. M13 the Great Globular in Hercules was drawn and then the Open Cluster (Phi Cassiopeia). Separations and distances and magnitudes were estimated. The Dome closed at 2.30am in bright moonlight


12th August

Perseids: A larger group of Frinds gathered with JAG at the dome but the weather prevented all but a couple of sightings


11th August

Perseids: JAG gathered a small group of Friends at the Dome for an early Perseid watch and was rewarded by 78 Perseids (couple of fireballs) and 5 Sporadics


29th June

National Astronomy Meeting: CEB was invited to speak at the Education and Outreach lunch in Nottingham at NAM 2016. The talk was on the new GCSE 2017 Astronomy Specification


18th June

Solstice observing: A small group of Friends gathered in the summer twilight to watch 3 planets appear. Despite the nearly Full Moon, Mars shone brightly in the South and Jupiter in the West. Saturn was rather close to the Moon and dimmer. Red Antares twinkled in the thick lower atmosphere with blue Spice in the South West. The Moon was observed in the ETX and then Jupiter. The 10 inch tracked Saturn as as the sky darkened first Titan then Tethys then Dione appeared. A good Summer Sky tour was also possible.


9th May

Transit of Mercury: The first of the pair of Transits this decade took place amid very poor weather forecasts. Just on the off chance of a glimpse, CEB and JAG went to open the Dome at noon and were joined by a small groupd of Friends and visitors. Extraordinarily around 12.05 BST the sky largely cleared by high cloud. The 10inch had sufficient light gathering to give a cler view of the photosphere. Seeing made the limb wobbly, but using a radio controlled clock the moment of First contact was seen about 10 seconds late. As the planet moved onto the disc there was a clear ‘dragging’ on the black of space behind it (like a pool with an outflow) giving an indisputable ‘black drop effect’ which lasted a while and was drawn by eye at 11.15.28 UT. Second contact was observed with a narrow arc of light between the planet and the limb at 11.15.31 UT (fractionally before the time predicted). The perfect black dot moved on across the disc and more Friends joined joined to see it between clouds. By 1pm the clouds and then rain ended the observations


5th April

BAAO training camp: CEB spent a day in Oxford on day 2 of the 4 day British Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad training and UK team selection camp (12 yr12 and yr13 pupils being narrowed down to a team of 5 and a reserve for the 2016 International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics in India in December). CEB ran a planetraium session, gave a lecture on Telescopes and Optics followed by some questions and then in the evening oversaw an observing session on level 6 of the Denys Wilkinson Building. 2 ETX 105 Meades were available as well as a small Newtonian and a huge 12 inch Meade (brough by Alan Pickwick). The sky was largely clear and, though the view was restricted by the buildings, Jupiter and its moons were viewed (with Europa and Io in conjuction and visibly seperating over the 2 hours of observing) and Mizar and Alcor (with Mizar A and B resolved) and then h and k Persei, the Double Open Cluster. Individual stars were also identified and pointer patterns discussed


24th March

Sun-Earth Lecture: The 14th lecture focussed on the Vernal Equinox and tackling subjects within the basic field of Sun-Earth connections ‘Transits an Occultations – the importance of shadows’ was delivered to an audience of some 40 Friends and visitors by CEB


19th March

Friends outing: A group of 20 Friends headed to Oxford for visits in the Astrophysics sub-department. A talk on the E-ELT and Oxford contribution to major instruments by Dr Fraser Clarke and tours of the Instrumentation labs. After lunch the group were met by Proffessor Jeff Burley in Green Templeton College for tours of the Tower of the Winds and the old Radcliffe Observatoy


13th March

House visit: The last Shell House visit of the academic year took place with 7 pupils from PR coming up to the Dome. The temperature was falling and the sky very clear. There were also no Astro lights so the conditions were perhaps the best so far since January. The 4 day old Moon was viewed in the ETX and M45 in the Binos. Jupiter shone brightly in the ESE and was viewqed very well in the 10 inch with Europa and Ganymede very close and several storm bands on he planet seen


12th March

Spring Sky: A small group of Friends and visitors, including a family from Oxford and a yr 6 and yr 8 pupil, came up to the Dome. Depsite mist and hazy cloud the 3 day old Moon was viewed in the James ETX and the Pleiades in Binos. The ETX was used for M42 the Orion Nebula earlier. A tour of the sky was given including the Zoiac constellations. The 10 inch tracked Jupiter and its 4 moons. 2 main bands and 2 subsidiary bands were visible on the main planet


8th March

House visit: 9 pupils from C1 Shell came up to the Dome. It was cloudy


Last House visit of the academic year: Sunday 13th March (PR)

6th March

House visit: 7 pupils from CO Shell came up to the Dome. One or two stars were visible in cloud gaps; only Sirius identifiable


Next House visit: Tuesday 8th March (C1)

28th February

House visit: An even better clear night greeted 14 MM Shell. The Pleiades ere viewed in Binos and Jupiter and 4 moons in ETX. The 10 inch showed good detail of M42, the Orion Nebula and the Trapezium


Next House visit: Sunday 6th March (CO)

23rd February

House visit: At last a clear night and LI Shell drew the lucky card. 8 pupils came up to the Dome. The sky was bright with the waning just off Full Moon beutifully in conjunction with Jupiter less than 2 degrees away. The Binos were used to view the pleiades and the ETX Jupiter and 3 moons (Io in Occcultation) The 10 inch tracked M42 (Orion nebula) and gave a super viw of the Trapezium and good detail in the nebula itslef. The bottom right star inthe Trapezium could just be resolved into two


Next House visit: Sunday 28th February (MM)

GCSE Observing: The last chance for Coursework to be completed by Hundreds. With CEB, NMA and DGR at the Dome, 6 pupils came up to complete stellar density and Messier drawings and photographs. All the instruments were used, Binos, 2 ETXs and the Smith Newtonian. Several Remove also came up to fisnish Constellation drawings , using Orion and Cassiopeia. Io was seen to appear from occultation and the Spring marker, Arcturus, rose in the East. A close call, we have never had to wait to so near March to complete observations

10th February

GCSE Obsertving: At last a clear night and an emergency observing session with 5 out of the 6 Hundred pupils joining NMA at the Dome to complete drawings


7th February

House visit: 14 Shell pupils form EL came up to the Dome in rain and high winds, having been out climbing during the day. One of the most miserable evenings but lots of good questions


Next House visit: Tuesday 23rd February (LI)

31st January

House visit: 10 pupils from TU Shell came up to the Dome in high winds but at least no rain


Next House visit: Sunday 7th February (EL)

21st January

External visit: Some 26 Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery visited for a double evening combining a visit to ‘In the Marlborough Night Garden’ with Gavin James and then a trip to the Observatory. Sadly the sky had clouded and only the Moon occasionally got through the cloud. Before the groups came up the sky was clear and Comet Catalina had been located in the 10 inch and a drawing made showing it close to a 9th magnitude star in Draco, several degress away from its position on Tuesday


19th January

Comet spotting: A clear night at last and the chance to see Catalina. The 10 inch found it straight away with coordinates input. Finding it in the binos was harder and needed the old technique of finder charts, A small group of Friends and staff gathered in advance of the GCSE observing session. The 9-10 day old waxing Gibbous Moon really washed out the sky and the Comet was not much more than a faint blur. Some assymetry was visible suggesting tails. Seen against a couple of faint stars the motion was perceptable over 3 hours and was estimated to be 1-2 arc minutes. It was good to be visited by a couple of past GCSE astronomers too


GCSE Observing: 10 Remove astronomers came up, some not in very warm clothes as temperatures dropped to -5 degrees. Constellaon drawings were completed. Sadly the Moon was very close to Orion, Only one Hundred astronomer appeared and managed 3 Messier drawings though again the mMoon rendered M42 and M45 less than perfect

17th January

House visit: 11 Shell pupils from BH came up to the Dome. It was cloudy


Next house visit: Sunday 31st January (TU)

16th January

Stargazing Event: CEB assisted at Oxford Astrophysics Department’s annual Jnauary Stargazing event. Some 1300 visitors were entertained in the Department from 2pm till 10pm


14th January

GCSE Observing: NMA and DGR were at the observatory and a number of Remove came up to continue Constellation drawing. Sadly Hundred pupils had mocks the next day


Astrophotography exhibition: Some 60 Friends and visit0rs attended the private viewing of Gavin James’ ‘In the Marlborough Night Garden’. A stunning array of 17 images taken with modest equipment from his garden in central Marlborough

10th January

House visit: 12 Shell pupils from B1 came up to the Dome. The sky was clear until 30 mins before they arived and then clouded over


Next House visit: Sunday 17th January (BH)

7th January

GCSE Observing: DGR gathered a group of 5 Remove astronomers in a short cold clear break to continue Constellation drawing


3rd January

Quadrantids: A small number of optimistic Friend gathered for 40 minutes of clear sky in between clouds. One meteor was seen!