November 2023 – News

30th November

Outreach Visit: A wonderfully clear and very cold evening started with the final visit to the Observatory for the Urchfont Scouts, Cubs and Beavers; this group consisting of 14 Cubs and 6 Cub Leaders. The session started outside where GKWJ pointed out Saturn in the south and the ISS as it passed overhead, disappearing into the Earth’s shadow just past the zenith. The group moved inside to the 10-inch to observe Saturn, with its moon Titan clearly visible. As the telescope performed a meridian flip, the group went outside for a Sky Tour to find Polaris and identify The Plough and Cassiopeia. They then returned to the 10-inch to view Jupiter with three Galilean moons. The session ended outside with a view through binoculars of The Pleiades and the Waning Gibbous Moon as it rose above the trees.

Shell Visit: Next to the Dome were the 9 boys of the Cotton Shell, accompanied by an Upper Sixth pupil. It was very cold and very clear, though increasingly bright as the Waning Gibbous Moon rose higher in the sky. The session started with a Sky Tour outside, identifying The Plough and Polaris along with other main asterisms. The group then went into the Dome and used the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with three Galilean moons, the core of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Moon. The session ended outside with a view of the Pleiades through binoculars.

GCSE Observing: It was the turn of the Remove Astronomers and 11 pupils came to the Observatory with GKWJ to conclude a busy evening. Patchy cloud was starting to infiltrate the sky, but they were able to make sketches of the bright Waning Gibbous Moon using binoculars and the 10-inch, picking out the features learned about in recent lessons. They also enjoyed a view in the 10-inch of Jupiter with three Galilean moons and the Great Red Spot visible.

29th November

Pupil Visit: The L6 Creative Writers group, consisting of 7 pupils and 2 staff, visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was very cold with some breaks in the cloud, sufficient to allow the Waning Gibbous Moon and Jupiter with its four Galilean moons to be observed in the 10-inch. The group then enjoyed a slide show in the warm room that took them from a Partial Lunar Eclipse over the Blackett Observatory, through the Solar System, across the Milky Way and out into deep space past nebulae, clusters, supernova remnants, and all the way to the Coma Cluster, a galaxy cluster some 300 million light years from Earth.

28th November

Blackett Lecture: Dr Henrik Melin from the University of Leicester gave the 19th Blackett Lecture on the topic: “The James Webb Space Telescope: New Eyes on the Universe” to an audience of around 100 pupils, staff and Friends. He spoke about the development, technology and scientific goals of the JWST, going into details about the observations made in the first 18 months of the telescope’s active service and its impact on Astronomy. There was a dramatic moment as the lights were cut to accompany the moments before the Big Bang and the birth of the first star in the Universe! Dr Melin was generous with his time and gave a workshop earlier in the day to a group of 8 pupils, where he introduced them to the methods used to create false colour images from the various infrared wavelengths captured by the JWST. The pupils used data from M16, The Pillars of Creation, to construct their own images, with the best image selected by Dr Melin winning a pin of the JWST mirror array. After the lecture, GKWJ and JAG took Dr Melin to visit the Blackett Observatory. Some gaps in the cloud allowed a view of the 98% Waning Gibbous Moon through the 10-inch.

23rd November

Shell Visit: 10 Shell boys and a Tutor from C3 visited the Dome with GKWJ. Broken cloud allowed occasional viewing in the gaps. The Waxing Gibbous Moon was seen through the 10-inch, first at x90 and then at x220, with beautiful detail in Copernicus, Tycho and Sinus Iridum. The 10-inch was then slewed to Jupiter, where multiple belts, the GRS and all 4 Galilean moons were seen.

22nd November

Outreach Visit: The second group from the Ramsbury Scouts, consisting of 13 Scouts and 5 Scout leaders, visited the Dome with GKWJ. There was total cloud cover to start, so the session commenced with a sky tour using Stellarium. The Scouts then went through to the Dome to see the 10-inch. GKWJ checked on conditions outside and found that the cloud had thinned sufficiently to allow a view first of Jupiter and three of its Galilean moons, followed by the Waxing Gibbous Moon.

21st November

Shell Visit: The 12 Shell boys from C2 and a tutor visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy. The group were amazingly curious and did not hold back with their questions! So much so, that other than a quick look at the 10-inch, the session was dominated by excellent questions and answers.

18th November

Public Open Evening: GKWJ and JAG hosted the Autumn Public Open Evening at the Dome. Two groups attended, with 17 visitors in the first group and 15 in the second. The first group arrived under cloudy skies and were shown around the virtual sky in Stellarium. They were then shown the 10-inch. A quick check outside as the group moved back to the classroom revealed gaps in the cloud, so the group immediately returned to the Dome where they observed Jupiter through the 10-inch, with all four Galilean moons visible. They then moved outside for a Sky Tour of the main constellations and a late Leonid meteor was seen by some of the group. The second group enjoyed clear skies with just occasional passing cloud. The session started with a Sky Tour, including the Andromeda Galaxy just visible by naked eye, and a view of the Pleiades in binoculars. The group then moved to the 10-inch where Jupiter and its 4 moons were observed first, then double star Almach, on to the core of M31 the Andromeda Galaxy, next to the open cluster M34, which was also viewed through the finder scope, giving an idea of what Messier would have seen and hoped to be a comet. The last target in the 10-inch was M1, the Crab Nebula, an optimistic target given its low altitude, but a faint smudge could just be made out. As the group departed, they saw Orion rising in the east.

17th November

Friends Observing: A small group of 4 brave Friends gathered with GKWJ and JAG at the Dome to observe the Leonid Meteor Shower. Cloudy and wet conditions meant that visual observing could not go ahead, so the shower was followed on the radio meteor detector live stream. Over 60 events were seen during the two hour session, with one particularly bright and loud event.

Outreach Observing: Working in partnership with the North Wessex Downs AONB and Sheepdrove Organic Farm, a ticketed public observing session was organised to take place under the dark skies at Sheepdrove near Lambourn. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and wet so observing could not take place; instead, a talk on ‘How to Enjoy the Night Sky’ was given to the 30 participants by GKWJ and a Friend.

16th November

Outreach Visit: 12 Beavers from the Woodborough Beaver Colony, accompanied by 3 Beaver Leaders and 8 Parents, visited the Dome with GKWJ. The forecast was for cloud, but as the Beavers arrived, the cloud appeared to be thinning. Sure enough, the sky cleared and the group enjoyed fabulous views in the 10-inch of Saturn with two moons (Titan and Rhea) and Jupiter with all four Galilean moons. The group moved outside for a sky tour to discover the Plough, Polaris, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle, the Milky Way and the Pleiades. Several early Leonid meteors were also spotted.

14th November

GCSE Observing: A reasonable forecast led GKWJ to announce to the Hundred Astronomers that the Dome would be open for them to commence their Aided Observing Tasks. It was somewhat disappointing that by the time 11 pupils arrived at the Dome it had clouded over. However, optimism prevailed and the cloud cleared, allowing observing to go ahead. The majority of the pupils sketched The Pleiades (M45) through binoculars or the 4-inch refractor, while two pupils were assisted by GKWJ in setting up a camera to capture star trails around the North Celestial Pole. Unfortunately, regular passing cloud rendered the sequence of images unusable. The session ended with a view of Jupiter through the 10-inch, now with only three Galilean moons visible as Io had moved behind the planet.

Shell Visit: The 11 boys of the C1 Shell, accompanied by a House Tutor, visited the Dome with GKWJ. There was some low cloud that was blowing through quickly, allowing observing to take place. The group immediately went inside to the 10-inch where they observed Jupiter and its four Galilean moons. They then moved outside for a sky tour and a view of The Pleiades through binoculars. Plenty of excellent questions were asked. Observing was cut short by thickening cloud.

13th November

Outreach Visit: A member of staff brought a group of 4 local friends up to the Observatory where GKWJ and JAG hosted them for the evening. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so they were shown around the facility and looked at a selection of images. As they departed, the cloud had thinned sufficiently in places to allow a sighting of Jupiter and the Pleiades.

9th November

Outreach Visit: 15 Beavers and 8 Beaver Leaders from the Urchfont Beaver Colony visited the Dome with GKWJ on a horrible wet and windy night. No real observing was possible, but virtual observing took place in Stellarium and the Moon was investigated through a series of photographs. As the Beavers departed, the cloud had thinned sufficiently to allow the W of Cassiopeia to be seen along with a very hazy Plough and Polaris.

8th November

Outreach Visit: 16 members of the Ramsbury Scouts and 3 Scout Leaders visited the Dome on a cloudy night. Stellarium was used to show the main features of the night sky and how it changes through the night and through the year. The group were shown the 10-inch and the session ended with an excellent Q&A session where topics included: star formation, the Big Bang, an infinite universe and time travel.

7th November

GCSE Observing: Finally a clear sky allowed GKWJ to invite the Remove GCSE Astronomers to the Dome for their first observing session. 15 pupils and one chaperone attended. Unfortunately, the sky was starting to cloud over with high level wispy cloud, but the brighter objects could still easily be seen. The session started with a view of Jupiter and three Galilean moons in the 10-inch (Io was occulted). The group then moved outside for a sky tour, putting into practice all that they had learned for Topic 6 in the classroom. The session ended with a welcome cup of hot chocolate to warm up.

Shell Visit: The 12 boys in the Barton Hill Shell were accompanied by their House Master to visit the Observatory. It was 95% clear, so GKWJ took them straight into the Dome where they first observed Saturn and three moons (Titan, Rhea and Dione) through the 10-inch. The moved on to double star Albireo in Cygnus, and staying in the Summer Triangle, slewed to the Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra. Conditions were deteriorating and the session ended with a laser sky tour outside.

Outreach Visit: 10 members of the Kennet u3a Local History group visited the Dome with JAG and GKWJ during the afternoon. Broken cloud allowed the Sun to be observed (safely, of course!), first in eclipse specs and then through the 10-inch with the white light filter, where one large and three smaller sunspot groups could be seen. The group then learned the history of the 10-inch and the Blackett Observatory. The session ended with ‘the oldest thing they would ever touch’ as the Wetton Meteorites were passed around the group!

6th November

Radcliffe Society: The Michaelmas meeting of the Radcliffe Society was blessed with a clear and dark sky, allowing 22 members to join GKWJ and JAG at the Dome for an evening of observing. The evening started well with an early Taurid meteor. Multiple instruments were used throughout the evening, with binoculars showing the rising Pleiades (M45). The Celestron 8-inch started on Saturn with moons Titan and Rhea clearly visible. The group enjoyed a sky tour. The 10-inch was used first to observe Jupiter with 4 moons, then double star Almach, and on to the open cluster M34. Outside, the 8-inch was used to view the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), open cluster M34, the Pleiades (M45), the Double Cluster and the Crab Nebula (M1). The session ended with the 10-inch returning to Jupiter where the moons had moved significantly, with Io very close to Jupiter, about to transit the planet.

4th November

Outreach Workshop: GKWJ delivered an ‘Impact Crater Workshop’ to 30 Year 8s and 27 Year 7s at Beaudesert Park School. He was ably assisted by two Upper School pupils who were at Beaudesert. The workshop was a great success, with pupils not only learning about the physics of crater creation, but also making a fun mess with flour, chocolate powder and ‘impactors’!

2nd November

Shell Visit: The first Shell Visit of the academic year saw the 11 Shell boys from B1 and a House Tutor visit the Dome with GKWJ. The country was in the throws of storm Ciaran, so no visual observing could take place. The group were shown the telescope and facilities, then they observed the radio meteor detector live stream, where multiple meteor events were seen. They were also introduced to the Campo del Cielo meteorite from the Wetton collection.

Outreach Visit: The first group consisting of 15 Cubs and 4 Cub Leaders from the Urchfont Cubs visited the Dome with GKWJ. The weather was wet, windy and cloudy, so no observing could take place. The Cubs were shown around the night sky (as it would have been visible if clear) using Stellarium, where they learned about constellations and asterisms, identifying The Plough, Polaris, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle and Orion. They were then shown the 10-inch. The session ended with a slide show that studied the Moon and the planets of the solar system, using images taken through the 10-inch at the Observatory.


October 2023 – News

30th October

Outreach Visit: 16 members of the Salaam Seekers group from Reading visited the Dome on a wonderfully clear, though moonlit night. GKWJ and JAG gave a sky tour of the principal constellations. The group then moved into the Dome where the 10-inch gave fabulous views of: Saturn and three moons (Titan, Rhea and Tethys), Jupiter and all four Galilean moons, the 95% Waning Gibbous Moon, Almach and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The session ended with a return to Jupiter where Io was just starting to transit, its shadow becoming increasingly clear close to the GRS. On leaving, the visitors noticed how far the sky had moved over the course of their visit, using the Plough as a reference asterism as noted earlier in the evening.

22nd October

OM Visit: An Old Marlburian with her two children and two grandparents visited the Dome with JAG.

19th October

Outreach Talk: GKWJ gave a presentation on astrophotography to about 30 members of the Andover Astronomical Society at their meeting place in Hurstbourne Tarrant. The talk was entitled ‘From Smart Phone to Smart Dome’ and featured a number of images taken at the Blackett Observatory and through the 10-inch.

14th October

Friends Observing: The recent spell of cloudy weather finally came to an end in perfect time for the first Friends observing event of the year. A beautiful clear and dark sky encouraged 37 Friends to join GKWJ and JAG at the Dome. The session started outside with views of Saturn and Jupiter through the 8-inch Celestron, an ETX 80 and binoculars. GKWJ gave a sky tour of the main constellations, with bonus items: a bright Draconid fireball in the north and a train of recently launched Starlink satellites passing in the west. The group then moved inside to the 10-inch. Targets observed were: M13, the Great Hercules Cluster, Albireo, Saturn with moons Titan, Rhea and Tethys, M57, the Ring Nebula, Jupiter with all four Galilean moons, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Double cluster and Almach. The session ended outside with a tour of where all the objects seen reside in the sky, views of the Double Cluster and the Pleiades in binoculars, as well as M31 and NGC 457, the Owl Cluster in the 8-inch. It was a superb start to the season, enjoyed by the largest gathering of Friends for observing in some time, if not ever!

12th October

Outreach Visit: 11 Scouts and 7 Leaders from the Urchfont Scouts visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy. Material for the Astronomy Badge was covered, with asterism hunting on Stellarium, navigating the sky with a star chart and the movement of the sky considered in relation to the 10-inch. The Scouts asked a wealth of excellent questions, one leading to the Wetton Meteorite Collection being passed around and discussed.

11th October

Outreach Visit: 16 members of the Bradford on Avon U3A joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome. It was raining. The group were shown around the Observatory and enjoyed a series of images taken through the 10-inch and other instruments.


September 2023 – News

25th September

Outreach Visit: 12 members of the Bath Astronomers visited the Dome on a partly cloudy evening. GKWJ and JAG first slewed the 10-inch to the waxing gibbous Moon, which was visible through the cloud. Small clear patches allowed Albireo to be viewed next; easily split and with a glorious colour difference between the two stars as ever. Unfortunately, observing was cut short by thickening cloud. The group enjoyed a selection of images taken at the Observatory, watched the radio meteor detector live feed, where multiple events were seen, and marvelled at the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

22nd September

Friends 19th Drinks Party: GKWJ hosted the 19th Anniversary Friends Drinks Party at the Observatory. A total of 57 Friends and family were present to help consume the vast array of canapés and drinks. Many new Friends attended, along with longer standing Friends, some of whom had even attended the inaugural party! A lull in the recent poor weather allowed the party to be held on the observing platform, with the First Quarter Moon visible through breaks in the cloud. As darkness descended, the stragglers were treated to a clearing sky. GKWJ and JAG gave a sky tour of the main constellations; multiple satellites and an excellent overhead ISS pass were also seen. One Friend set up binoculars, through which Saturn and Neptune were observed. It was a wonderful start to the 2023/24 Friends observing year.

15th September

SQM Start: GKWJ set up the fixed SQM on the outside of the classroom and configured the software for continuous nighttime data gathering. The first data set of a full night of magnitudes per square arcsecond (mpsas) readings taken every fifteen minutes was gathered, with the highest reading being 20.78 mpsas. We can now empirically monitor the sky quality at the Blackett Observatory. A project to monitor sky quality across the local area will commence this autumn.

14th September

Sky Quality testing: The new Sky Quality Metering project commenced with a kit testing session at the Observatory by GKWJ & JAG. The fixed Sky Quality Meter (SQM) system was successfully connected up and tested in various locations on the exterior of the classroom; a decision was taken for its permanent location.

4th September

Planetary Imaging: Another planetary imaging session through the 10-inch by GKWJ and JAG. Saturn was captured, this time with five moons, including a first capture of Enceladus. Jupiter was attempted, but its low altitude at that hour led to awful data and an unsuccessful image.

2nd September

Planetary Imaging: GKWJ and JAG spent an evening testing a new planetary camera, successfully capturing data of Saturn and three moons through the 10-inch. Results were encouraging, despite Saturn’s low altitude, and this year’s high apparition of Jupiter is eagerly anticipated.


August 2023 – News

12th August

Friends Observing: 15 Friends came to the Dome with GKWJ and JAG to try and observe the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Unfortunately, thick cloud and rain prevented any observing in visual wavelengths, but the radio meteor detector live stream was followed in the warm room. Well over 100 meteor events were seen in the two hour session, with some impressive bright and longer duration events occurring. The Wetton meteorite collection was enjoyed by all.

11th August

Friends Observing: Three Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome for a ‘pre-Perseid-peak-peek’ as clearing skies were forecast for the night before the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. The forecast for the peak itself was not clear. Sure enough, despite occasional passing bands of cloud and a general haziness to the sky, it was clear enough for a two hour meteor observing session. 24 meteors were seen in total, including 21 Perseids and 3 sporadics. The meteor logged at 22:33 UT was particularly spectacular with a bright trail and a significant flash at the end, it was deemed mag -3, so not quite a fireball (needs to be brighter than -4). The group lost count of the number of satellites seen through the session.

2nd August

Summer School Tour 4: The final Observatory Tour of Summer School 2023 started off with heavy rain that eased as the 28 students walked up to the Dome with DGR and a Friend helper. GKWJ welcomed the visitors and split them into two groups, one in the Dome with DGR and one in the classroom with GKWJ. A ‘Moon monitor’ was tasked with checking on the slowly improving sky to see if we could catch a glimpse of the just past Full Moon rising at around 22:00 BST. Sure enough, the thinning cloud allowed both groups to drop everything and head outside at around 22:20 BST to enjoy the Moon rise. The sky continued to clear and a Sky Tour of the main constellations ensued with many satellites seen. The decision was made to head in to the Dome to attempt an observation of M13, the Great Hercules Cluster, with the 10-inch. Unfortunately, the calibration was off, so recalibration was required; Arcturus was selected and seen by the majority of the group. We then slewed to M13 and observers started to admire the great globular cluster. Cloud started to gather again and the session was brought to a close. The Summer School season has been excellent with many delighted visitors to the Observatory.


July 2023 – News

26th July

Summer School Tour 3: The Observatory Tour for Week 3 of Summer School was blighted by pouring rain. 15 students joined GKWJ, JAG, a Summer School tutor and a Friend helper for a look around the Observatory followed by a presentation of images taken at the Blackett Observatory. The session ended with some time spent following the radio meteor detector live stream, where multiple small meteor reflections were seen.

20th July

Summer School Observing: On the last evening of GKWJ’s Back Garden Astronomy course, the students were gifted a clear sky to put the theory learned in the classroom into practice. 6 students gathered at the Observatory as twilight darkened. Various instruments were used including binoculars, the 4-inch refractor, two small reflectors owned by the students and the 10-inch. The first target was the Waxing Crescent Moon low in the west – a fine sight in all instruments. GKWJ pointed out the principal constellations and asterisms: the Plough and Polaris, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle and Cygnus. Double Stars Alcor & Mizar and Albireo were found. The ISS made an overhead pass. The hunt then deepened to find M13, the Great Hercules Cluster. The Keystone asterism in Hercules was identified and the rough location of M13 indicated. The globular cluster was easily found in the 10-inch, with the GoTo system. The group then set about the hunt with their own kit outside. Great success was had with all students eventually finding the cluster in all instruments. Exhausted but satisfied, the students departed for a night’s rest before the final day of Summer School Week 2.

19th July

Summer School Tour 2: A beautiful sunset and a mostly clear sky set the perfect scene for the second Observatory Tour of Summer School 2023. 24 visitors were accompanied by JAG and DGR to the Observatory to join GKWJ and a Friend helper. On arrival, they were taken straight into the Dome to view a very low thin crescent Venus through the 10-inch. We then slewed to the nearby even thinner 4% Waxing Crescent Moon. The group moved outside to start their sky tour under the slowly darkening twilight sky and immediately enjoyed an overhead ISS pass. As the tour progressed through the main constellations, unfortunately cloud accumulated from the north, drawing a lovely session to an end.

17th July

Summer School Observing: GKWJ’s class of 12 students spent the afternoon at the Observatory as part of the Back Garden Astronomy course. They got to grips with various instruments, hunting down prints of astronomical targets pinned to trees around the sports fields. Clear sky allowed the group to observe the Sun, safely, in white light through the 10-inch and in hydrogen alpha through the 2-inch Lunt solar telescope. Six sunspot groups were seen along with multiple prominences and filaments.

12th July

Summer School Tour 1: The Summer School Observatory Tour season got off to a good start as 21 students attending courses in Week 1, two Friends and three family members headed up to the Dome under a clear dusk sky with JAG and DGR. GKWJ welcomed them to the Blackett Observatory and immediately Venus, low in the west, was observed through the 10-inch, showing a beautiful waning crescent phase. As darkness slowly descended, the group watched as stars appeared in magnitude order. The Summer Triangle was seen and double star Dubhe (alpha Ursae Majoris) was observed through the 4-inch refractor. Cloud was starting to accumulate, but gaps allowed the group to head back into the Dome and see globular cluster M3 through the 10-inch. As people dispersed the grand finale was performed by the ISS as it made a bright overhead pass.


June 2023 – News

21st June

Friends Observing: A beautiful close alignment of the thin Waxing Crescent Moon and Venus in the west on a calm evening with some hazy cloud greeted the group of 18 Friends who assembled at the Observatory with GKWJ and JAG to celebrate the Summer Solstice and explore the early summer sky. Observing began with the 3 day old Moon in the 10-inch, followed by Venus, which showed a very clear waning crescent phase. As partial darkness slowly descended, the group went outside to see the brighter stars appear in the sky, with Arcturus, Vega and Deneb standing out. Mars was then observed in the 10-inch, its apparent size of just 4 arcseconds being significantly smaller than the view at opposition in December when it was about 16 arcseconds. Outside again to see red supergiant Antares in the south, the double Mizar and Alcor, and the Summer Triangle. Throughout the evening, a large number of satellites were seen all over the sky, more than usual due to the Sun being closer to the northern horizon. Unfortunately, the haze was now turning to bands of thicker cloud and the group started to disperse having enjoyed a relaxed evening of observing.

19th June

Radcliffe Society: 5 members of the Radcliffe Society joined GKWJ and JAG at the Observatory for the final meeting of the year. In what is becoming an annual tradition, various rockets were launched on the sports pitches. This year, two pupils had designed and 3D printed their own rockets to launch alongside the two purchased rockets, Alpha and Wizard. Eight launches were carried out in total with a range of motors. All four rockets were first launched with low power A8-3 motors; the two pupil built rockets gained height successfully, but then span out of control. The Alpha and Wizard rockets were both launched with a B6-4 motor and then a C6-5 motor. Unlike last year, all launches were successfully recovered, thanks to the use of streamers rather than parachutes. Measurements of each launch were made and a new maximum height was recorded with the Wizard reaching about 260 metres.

10th June

Open Day Observing: GKWJ set up the Lunt 50mm solar hydrogen alpha telescope in Court next to the Marquee for attendees of the Open Day. Over 60 children, parents and members of staff observed the Sun safely with eclipse specs and through the Lunt in hydrogen alpha which showed much surface detail and multiple large prominences.

9th June

GCSE Observing: The 15 Remove GCSE Astronomy pupils had their lesson at the Observatory with GKWJ and CJW on a beautiful sunny day for solar observing. The Sun was seen through eclipse specs, in a Solarscope, in white light with the 10-inch, an ETX and the 8-inch, and in hydrogen alpha with the Lunt 50mm solar telescope. Sketches were made and the sizes of features were estimated.

6th June

Outreach Sessions: 28 pupils and 2 members of staff from Pinewood prep school visited the Observatory as part of the ‘Marlborough in Motion’ STEM outreach day. GKWJ hosted two sessions with help from a L6 pupil, introducing the Y6 Pinewood pupils to solar astronomy. Safe methods of solar observation were demonstrated, though unfortunately, cloudy skies meant it was theory only! Features, the solar cycle and space weather were explored. The pupils used photographs to determine differing rotational periods of the Sun according to latitude, and the elliptical nature of the Earth’s orbit. The pupils all thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and asked a fabulous range of searching questions.


May 2023 – News

27th May

Prize Day Opening: GKWJ opened the Observatory on Prize Day for astronomy pupils to show their parents our amazing facilities. A total of 41 pupils, siblings and parents visited through the course of the afternoon. A perfect clear sky allowed for solar observing, with the 10-inch and 8-inch in white light and the Lunt 50 in hydrogen alpha. Many sunspots were seen and a multitude of prominences, with one very large one in particular. On set up, GKWJ observed a bright mass of plasma exiting the field of view from the large prominence.

25th May

Friends Solar Observing: A beautiful warm early summer’s day with occasional small clouds allowed for excellent solar observing. 21 Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Observatory over the course of an hour and a half. Various instruments were used: the Celestron 8-inch and Cooke 10-inch both with white light filters and a Lunt 50mm Hydrogen Alpha double stack telescope on the new solar tracking mount. All instruments offered stunning views of a very active Sun; six sunspot groups were seen, with a large number of individual sunspots (the current sunspot number is 153). Great detail in the main sunspot (AR 3310) was seen through the 10-inch at magnifications of 93x, 140x and 224x. In H-alpha, superb granulation, a large filament and multiple prominences were observed, and even seen to change over the course of the session.

19th May

Public Solar Observing: A total of 23 visitors came to two solar observing sessions with GKWJ and JAG. Broken cloud that thickened meant that only the first group were lucky enough to see the Sun with eclipse specs and in white light through the 10-inch. Three large sunspot groups were clearly seen. Near real-time views of the Sun were obtained in multiple wavelengths online.


April 2023 – News

3rd April

Systems Testing: The new 8-inch Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain telescope saw first light and was put through its paces by GKWJ and JAG. The telescope purchase was funded by the North Wessex Downs AONB and will be used mainly for outreach away from the Dome. 25mm, 40mm and 16mm eyepieces were all used on a wide range of targets, starting with Venus and then the Moon, M42, M1, M35, M37, the Double Cluster, Alnitak, Castor, Almach, M81, M82, M51 and a failed attempt to find the small planetary nebula, M97. It is an impressive telescope that will greatly enhance outreach activities.


March 2023 – News

29th March

Friends Outing: A group of 21 Friends, including GKWJ and JAG, visited the National Space Centre in Leicester for this year’s Friends Outing. The plethora of exhibits, ranging from a Soyuz space craft, a piece of Moon rock and a signed first edition of Yuri Gagarin’s autobiography that has been to the ISS twice, once with Helen Sharman and then with Tim Peake, right through to detailed and interactive explanations of a multitude of astronomical facts and figures kept the group enthralled for the day. The highlight was a guided tour by the Curator of the Museum, who showed us his favourite exhibits, telling us their stories with his expert knowledge. All this combined with a stunning show in the largest planetarium in the UK made for a superb day out.

23rd March

Sun-Earth Day Lecture: Over 60 pupils and Friends attended the 2023 NASA/ESA Sun-Earth Day Lecture in the Garnett Room. Delivered by Nick Howes FRAS, the lecture had the overtly dramatic title “OMG – We’re All Gonna Die!”. Nick examined the dangers we face on Earth from space, the greatest of which is an impact with a large comet. Despite a delayed start to the talk due to a new visitor sign in procedure, the audience thoroughly enjoyed the thought provoking lecture and a host of searching questions were asked.

21st March

Outreach Visit: 6 Year 6 pupils from Broad Hinton Primary School and two parents visited the Dome with GKWJ. The evening was cloudy, but the group enjoyed a tour of the Observatory and were fascinated by the Wetton meteorite collection.

2nd March

Outreach Visit: A group of 20 children and parents from the Gloucestershire Home Education Hub visited the Dome with GKWJ on a clear, cold, moonlit night. The session started outside with a Sky Tour, including a view of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter close to the western horizon. The group moved inside to observe Jupiter and its four Galilean moons in the 10-inch. Outside again to continue the sky tour, this time including a closer look at The Pleiades (M45) through binoculars. The session ended back inside with a fabulous view of the Waxing Gibbous Moon through the 10-inch.


February 2023 – News

28th February

Outreach Visit: A group of 12 Upper Sixth pupils and two members of staff from Hardenhuish Academy, Chippenham, visited the Dome with GKWJ. The sky was predominantly cloudy, though this was thin enough in parts to allow the group to observe the Waxing Gibbous Moon in an ETX before going into the Observatory. The group then enjoyed a tour of the facility, a selection of images of objects photographed through the 10-inch and other instruments at the Dome, the radio meteor detector live feed was observed, but only one event was seen, and the Wetton meteorite collection was handled and discussed.

27th February

A level Observing: In a new initiative for the Observatory, a group of 12 Lower Sixth Physics A level pupils came up to the Dome with their Beak, CJW. The plan was to capture some stellar spectra with GKWJ and analyse the gathered data. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, with the occasional break, so it was not possible to capture the spectra. However, gaps in the cloud allowed the session to start with a look at the First Quarter Moon through the two ETXs. The group then moved inside to look at the kit and techniques needed to obtain a spectrum. Existing data sets of stars Menkalinan, Rigel, Capella and Betelgeuse were then processed and analysed. Much good learning took place. At the end of the session, on stepping outside, the sky was clearing.

As GKWJ was departing, he noticed a faint red patch of sky low to the horizon in the north. Aurora alerts had been issued, but could this really be the aurora over the Blackett Observatory?! On continued observation, it was clear that the red patches were not light pollution as they were changing over time. GKWJ set up a camera and proceeded to capture images of the Northern Lights at the Observatory, an extremely rare event.

The Aurora captured over the Blackett Observatory

26th February

Friends Observing: A rare and perfect coincidence occurred for this year’s Friends lunar observing session: an incredibly clear sky, a still atmosphere and an interesting First Quarter Moon phase. This led to fabulous seeing, perhaps even a I/II on the Antoniadi scale. 14 Friends participated in the session. An ETX was set up outside with eyepiece adapter to allow smart phone photography and one Friend set up their own telescope to observe. At the 10-inch, we started with the 41 mm eyepiece at 93x magnification and a whole view of the Moon. Exquisite detail was observed, especially along the terminator, where the changing illumination of features was noticed over time. Magnification was increased to 140x and various areas of the lunar surface were observed in greater detail; highlights included the escarpment Rupes Altai, and craters Theophilus, Posidinius and Sacrobosco, with three smaller craters within the main crater. Given the near perfect seeing, the magnification was successfully increased to 224x and the hunt for craters Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins in the Sea of Tranquility began. Armstrong, with a diameter of just 4.6 km, was quite readily identified, a first for most at the eyepiece. The other two crew members could not be seen, so in a brash move, the 2x PowerMate was added to the optical train, increasing magnification to 448x, a first for the 10-inch, approaching its theoretical maximum magnification of 500x. The neutral density filter was removed and, amazingly, whilst the seeing was noticeably worse, perhaps down to a III, fine detail was easier to observe and in the patches of clarity, both Aldrin (diameter 3.4 km) and Collins (2.4 km) were positively identified by all observers. A wonderful evening of lunar observing that pushed the capabilities of our spectacular old telescope.

24th February

Staff Observing: 11 guests, a mix of staff, their family and friends, visited the Dome on a beautiful clear evening. GKWJ gave a sky tour around the constellations on view, taking in the Plough, Polaris, the waxing crescent Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, the Pleiades (M45) and the Orion Nebula (M42). M45 and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) were viewed in binoculars. The group then moved to the 10-inch, first observing the Moon, then M42, on to Mars, a star patch in Perseus, which included a star registered for a friend of one of the visitors, and ending on double star Almach.

23rd February

GCSE Observing: 10 pupils from the Remove joined GKWJ at the Dome. On arrival, they observed the waxing crescent Moon through the 10-inch. They then progressed through a worksheet on field of view and magnification, with tasks including a sketch of The Pleiades (M45) through binoculars, an estimation of the diameter of the Orion Nebula using a 40mm eyepiece in an ETX, an estimation of the sidereal period of the Earth by timing the passage of Sirius across the field of view of an ETX with a 16mm eyepiece, and finally a sketch of the double star, Almach, through the 10-inch to estimate its angular separation.

13th February

Friends Observing: 11 Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome to observe Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). Unfortunately, the day’s perfectly clear sky was spoiled by the time the session started as cloud rushed in from the south. Thankfully there were sufficient gaps, at times substantial, to allow all observers to see the comet in the 10-inch. It is dimming significantly now and slowing down across our line of sight as it moves away from Earth. Sketches were made at measured time intervals to allow a speed estimate to be calculated; a figure of 28 km/s was obtained, which is in reasonable agreement with the ‘official’ figure of 33 km/s.

8th February

GCSE Observing: It was the turn of the Remove Astronomers to observe and GKWJ set up a range of instruments for them to attempt a worksheet on field of view and magnification. 10 pupils arrived and first observed the rising Waning Gibbous Moon in binoculars – a glorious sight. The 10-inch was tracking Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), the 8-inch was on the Orion Nebula (M42) and the two ETXs were on Betelgeuse. Unfortunately, while the comet was being observed, the run of clear skies came to an end as cloud flooded in from the North. The session was cut short.

7th February

GCSE Observing: The Hundred Astronomers joined GKWJ at the Dome on a clear, cold moonlit night. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was observed in the 10-inch, showing definite signs of dimming, but the main purpose of the session was to finish observations for the Aided Observing Tasks. Sketches to determine the effects of light pollution were made, the apparent magnitude of Algol was observed and star trail photos were taken. GKWJ gave a masterclass on processing and analysing star trails images for the length of the sidereal day project.

6th February

Radcliffe Society: A rare alignment occurred for this term’s fixed meeting of the Radcliffe Society – a clear sky and a comet near the Zenith! 11 members of the Society joined GKWJ and JAG at the Observatory, where they observed Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), first through binoculars, it was not visible by naked eye as a 99% Waning Gibbous Moon drowned out the fainter objects and the comet was about mag +5.8. Two other members of staff also visited to view the comet. It was then observed in an ETX, the 4-inch refractor and the 10-inch. Everyone made a sketch of the comet relative to the background stars through the 10-inch, noting the time of their sketch. Then a second sketch was made around 20 minutes later. This allowed calculations to be made to estimate the comet’s speed across our line of sight. Values of between 35 km/s and 65 km/s were obtained. The ‘official’ value is around 50 km/s.

January 2023 – News

31st January

Pupil Observing: GKWJ made the Dome available to members of Radcliffe Society and the GCSE Astronomers for the evening, allowing them to observe Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). 20 pupils from across the year groups came to observe. They all saw the comet in the 10-inch, watching the fuzzy patch move across the field of view, with noticeable change in even just a few minutes. The comet was also viewed in binoculars outside and the Moon was observed through an ETX.

Shell Visit: The final Shell visit enjoyed clear skies as the 12 boys from Turner joined GKWJ at the Dome along with their HM. There was a bright, 75% Waxing Gibbous Moon. They were given a tour around the main constellations, also spotting Jupiter, Mars and the Pleiades (M45). They observed a faint fuzzy patch above and to the east of Polaris in binoculars, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). The group moved to the 10-inch to observe the Moon, where the Apennine Mountains were looking particularly impressive close to the Terminator. Unfortunately, before being able to move to the Comet, it clouded over, so the session ended with a discussion about asteroid and comet impacts on Earth.

30th January

Pupil Observing: Broken cloud allowed a varied evening of observing for two pupils with GKWJ and JAG. A Hundred pupil continued their Aided project, making observations of Algol in its dimmed state. Photographs of Star Trails were taken. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was first seen by averted naked eye as a very faint fuzzy patch close to Polaris. Binoculars revealed an obvious nebulous region. In the 10-inch, the coma was very clear, along with a suggestion of the dust tail. Sketches were made at roughly twenty minute intervals, showing significant movement. Much to the group’s amazement, the comet could be seen to move before our very eyes relative to the background stars over a period of about one minute. Towards the end of the session, a member of Staff and two family members joined the group to observe the comet.

28th January

Public Open Evening: The Observatory was opened to the public with two ticketed sessions seeing 37 people visiting in total. The public interest in astronomy is evidently high as the limited tickets sold out within 25 minutes of being made available some 10 days before the event. The evening was cloudy, so GKWJ and JAG spoke about the history and current use of the Observatory and showed a selection of photographs taken through the Cooke 10-inch and around the Observatory. The sessions ended with a look at the radio meteor detector live stream (though it was very quiet and only a handful of events were seen) and the Campo del Cielo Wetton meteorite.

27th January

Outreach Lecture: GKWJ delivered a lecture with Friend, Nick Howes, to a large audience of over 160 people in the Town Hall on the topic “How to enjoy the night sky” as part of the continuing Marlborough Dark Skies offering. Before the talk started, clear skies enabled a 4-inch refractor to be set up on the balcony of the Town Hall and many attendees observed the First Quarter Moon and Jupiter with its four Galilean moons. Many excellent questions were asked and all under 16s, which accounted for about half the audience, were given a small meteorite to take away.

26th January

Shell Visit: Nine Shell boys from Summerfield came to the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy. They were shown the Observatory, watched the radio meteor live stream, spotting only a few small events, and enjoyed the iron Wetton meteorite.

25th January

Outreach Visit: The weather finally turned and it was foggy, cloudy and drizzling rain when 29 youngsters from the Aldbourne Cubs and 8 adult leaders visited the Dome in two groups. GKWJ showed them the Observatory, then they looked at a small selection of photographs, observed the radio meteor detector live stream, where the occasional small batch of events was seen and they handled the Campo del Cielo iron meteorite from the Wetton Meteorite Collection. As the second group emerged from the Observatory, they were greeted not only by their parents, but also by a clear sky! A small group stayed a little longer to have a quick look through binoculars at Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which had climbed a little higher in the north, but was still a faint and quite small fuzzy blob.

24th January

Shell Visit: All ten boys from the Shell in Preshute visited the Dome with GKWJ, accompanied by their HM. Another clear sky allowed observing to happen, but it was quite hazy, especially towards the horizon. The session started outside with a fabulous view of the Waxing Crescent 3 day old Moon showing very clear Earthshine. Next was a Sky Tour around the constellations, also pointing out Mars, Jupiter, the Pleiades (M45) and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). We then observed M45 through binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with all four Galilean moons visible, double star Almach and the session ended with a view of Mars.

GCSE Observing: Four pupils from the Hundred GCSE Astronomy set joined GKWJ at the Dome. Another set of photos for the star trails project was taken. Planispheres were investigated, using them to identify stars and constellations, along with an appraisal of their benefits and limitations. The group moved to the 10-inch and observed Mars followed by the Crab Nebula (M1). We then searched for Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), first spotting it in binoculars as a fuzzy blob, not dissimilar to M1. We then moved to the 10-inch and managed to find the comet, this time the large and diffuse coma was clearly visible, along with a short stubby dust tail, but no sign of an ion tail was seen.

23rd January

Outreach Visit: The third group from Cothill House, consisting of 18 Year 7 boys and two teachers came to the Observatory with GKWJ. The clear skies continued and it was so cold that the Dome was frozen solid and would not move. GKWJ set about it with de-icer and a hammer, finally removing enough ice to free the Dome! The session started outside with a magnificent view of the thin Waxing Crescent Moon close to a very bright Venus. A Sky Tour of the main constellations included many satellites and an overhead pass of the ISS, which disappeared into the Earth’s shadow at an altitude of around 50°, clearly turning red before vanishing. Jupiter, Mars and the Pleiades were seen by naked eye and then the Pleiades was viewed in binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch, where Jupiter and 4 Galilean moons were observed followed by M31 accompanied by its satellite galaxy M32 in the same field of view, and finally, the double star Almach. The boys asked a torrent of excellent questions throughout the evening.

20th January

What a week it has been, with ten groups visiting over five nights and all enjoying clear skies!

Friends Observing: A perfectly clear day looked like it would provide the ideal end to a week of clear skies and a chance for the Friends of the Marlborough Telescope to enjoy some observing. However, when GKWJ arrived at the Dome, the sky was starting to cloud over and by the time 9 Friends had arrived for the session, the sky was completely cloudy. The group settled in the warm room to enjoy a slideshow of images. Half way through, GKWJ popped his head out to check conditions only to discover that the clouds had vanished, leaving beautiful clear skies. The group rapidly deployed for observing, slewing the 10-inch first to Jupiter with all 4 Galilean moons visible and then on to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The group went outside for a sky tour and to view M31 and the Pleiades (M45) in binoculars. The session was the ‘Bring Your Own’ event and various Friends had brought a selection of instruments. A Sky-Watcher 130P table top Dobsonian and binoculars were used to hunt down Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). It was low to the northern horizon with some hazy high cloud, making it hard to discern, but it was found. Another Friend had their new Celestron NexStar 127 SLT and progress was made with the set up routine before multiple objects were viewed, including Mars, Jupiter and the Pleiades. At this point JAG arrived with another Friend, who had his Sky-Watcher 72ED set up with an ASiair controller. The small Dob and the 10-inch both slewed to the Orion Nebula (M42) to provide an interesting comparison view, really proving that aperture is everything when it comes to telescopes! Unfortunately, by the time the 72ED was ready for action, clouds had rolled in again, bringing a lovely session to an end.

19th January

A fourth night in a row of beautiful clear skies allowed two groups to visit the Observatory and enjoy the stars.

Shell Visit: The 10 Shell boys from Littlefield, accompanied by their tutor, met GKWJ at the Observatory under spectacular clear skies. They were given a Sky Tour, taking in the main constellations, Jupiter, Mars, The Pleiades (M45), The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Milky Way. They then viewed The Pleiades through binoculars before going in to the main Dome to observe Jupiter and three Galilean Moons followed by the Andromeda Galaxy in the 10-inch.

GCSE Observing: It was finally the turn of the Remove Astronomers to have a session at the Dome. 14 pupils attended and the evening started with an in-depth Sky Tour of all the constellations on view. As GKWJ was pointing out Taurus, a wonderful bright meteor streaked right through that area of sky, inducing an eruption of excitement in the group! The pupils then applied themselves to a Worksheet about Orion, involving naked eye sketches, calculations and a sketch of The Orion Nebula (M42) as seen through the 10-inch. The session ended with a quick hunt for Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) just above the northern horizon with the 10-inch. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful. However, GKWJ persisted once the pupils had departed and eventually spotted the comet in binoculars, followed by successfully finding it with the 10-inch. The comet is really quite dim and is drowned out by light pollution close to the northern horizon.

18th January

The wonderful cold weather and clear skies continue, ensuring another busy night up at the Observatory for GKWJ.

Outreach Visit: The second group from the 2nd Marlborough Scouts and 2 leaders came up to the Dome. They were soon joined by the first group and 3 leaders, who visited last week under cloudy skies and decided that it would be unfair to miss out on the clear sky! A total of 13 scouts and 5 leaders enjoyed a Sky Tour including M45 and M31 by naked eye and M45 through binoculars. They then viewed Jupiter with 4 moons, M31 and Mars through the 10-inch.

GCSE Observing: In an unprecedented move, 8 Hundred Astronomers came up to the Dome for the third night in a row. Great progress was made with their Aided Observing Tasks, taking full advantage of the clear skies. They also observed Mars in the 10-inch.

17th January

Another clear and cold evening made for a busy night for GKWJ at the Observatory!

Outreach Visit: The second group from Cothill House, comprising 17 Yr 7 boys and 3 teachers, visited the Dome. They enjoyed a Sky Tour of the constellations and naked eye views of Jupiter, Mars, M45, M31 and the Milky Way. M45 was then viewed through binoculars. The group moved inside to observe Jupiter and its four Galilean moons through the 10-inch and then the core of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. Many great questions were asked throughout the evening.

Shell Visit: The 12 Shell girls from New Court, along with the HM and two children, came up to the Dome. They were given a Sky Tour and viewed M45, The Pleiades, through the 4-inch refractor. They then viewed Jupiter and its moons through the 10-inch, followed by M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.

GCSE Observing: The continued run of clear skies allowed six of the Hundred Astronomers to come up to the Dome to start or continue work on their Aided Observing Tasks. Photos were taken for the sidereal day length project, drawings were made of the area around Orion’s Belt seen through binoculars to measure light pollution and observations of variable stars Algol in Perseus and Delta Cephei in Cepheus were made with binoculars. The session ended with a look at M42, the Orion Nebula, through the 10-inch. It looked as clear and dusty as it ever has under the beautifully clear sky. All in all, a fabulous evening of observing.

16th January

Outreach Visit: 18 Year 7 pupils and two teachers from Cothill House Prep School visited the Dome with GKWJ. A beautiful clear sky greeted them, though it was freezing cold. The session started outside with a sky tour of the main constellations, multiple satellites were seen, the Milky Way was fairly clear and M31, the Andromeda Galaxy could just be seen. M45, the Pleiades, was observed first by naked eye and then through binoculars. The group then moved inside to the 10-inch, where Jupiter and 4 moons were viewed, followed by the double star Almach and finally, the session ended with a view of the core of the Andromeda Galaxy. An excellent group of youngsters whose questions never stopped!

GCSE Observing: 9 of the Hundred Astronomers came up to the Dome with GKWJ. They started work on their Aided Observing Tasks, which included measurements to determine the effects of light pollution, taking photographs to measure the length of the sidereal day and making observations of a variable star.

13th January

RAS Award Winner: The Royal Astronomical Society announced the 2023 Medal Winners today and our very own Charles Barclay was the winner of the RAS 2023 Service Award for his significant contribution to astronomy education over a long and distinguished career. For the full story, see the RAS website here: Congratulations to Charlie!

12th January

Shell Visit: The fourteen girls in the Morris Shell came up to the Dome with their Housemistress. The sky was clear, though it was windy with occasional passing cloud. GKWJ started the session outside with a short Sky Tour and a view of M45, The Pleiades, first by naked eye and then through binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch and observed Jupiter with all four of its Galilean moons lined up to one side of the planet. Next, the double star Almach was viewed. The next target was to be M42, the Orion Nebula, but as the telescope slewed, the sky rapidly clouded over. The group moved to the warm room and the session finished with a look at a selection of photos of star trails and the Moon.

11th January

Outreach Visit: Seven Scouts and two Scout Leaders from the 2nd Marlborough Scouts visited GKWJ at the Dome. It was wet and windy. The group had a tour of the Observatory and then saw multiple meteor events on the radio meteor detector live stream. They also enjoyed the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

10th January

Shell Visit: Thirteen girls from the Mill Mead Shell and their tutor came up to the Dome with GKWJ. It was wet and windy. They enjoyed a tour of the facility and opted to view a slideshow of photographs taken at the Dome and through the 10-inch. Plenty of great questions were asked.

9th January

GCSE Observing: Six Remove pupils came to the Dome for observing with GKWJ. The sky was mostly clear, though with some high hazy cloud and a rising Waning Gibbous Moon. The session started with a view of Jupiter through the 10-inch. Four Galilean moons were initially visible, but Ganymede was seen to move behind the planet and be occulted. The group completed a worksheet about LST, RA, HA & Dec, using the Moon, Mars and Jupiter to explore methods of position estimation. The final task was to identify an object given just a set of coordinates. It turned out to be M42 – the Orion Nebula, which was viewed through the 10-inch, with the Trapezium clearly visible along with plenty of nebulosity, despite the increasing moonlight.

5th January

Shell Visit: The 10 girls in Ivy House Shell accompanied by their Housemistress visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy with occasional rain showers. The group were shown around the observatory and then enjoyed the radio meteor detector live feed, where multiple small events were seen. They were also shown the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

3rd January

Friends Observing: A small group of Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome under cloudy skies to observe the Quadrantid meteor shower using the radio detector. The live stream was initially rather temperamental due to interference from the projector, but soon sorted itself out. In the hour from 22:00 to 23:00 GMT, 68 events were seen and from 23:00 to 00:00 just 34 events. The peak was seen to be around 04:00 the following morning, exactly as predicted.


December 2022 – News

16th December

Friends Observing: The continued extremely cold weather had frozen the Dome in place, which could have put an end to observing with the 10-inch, but GKWJ would not be defeated and set about the frozen Dome with de-icer and a hairdryer! High broken cloud allowed the 12 Friends who had joined GKWJ and JAG at the Observatory to view Jupiter through gaps, seeing the planet’s cloud bands and all four Galilean moons lined up to one side in the 10-inch. What should have been the Winter Wreath session then proceeded to the Summer Triangle, which was the only patch of sky visible through a large break in the clouds. The Ring Nebula (M57) appeared as a wispy grey donut in the field of view. Next to globular cluster M56, but only briefly as it was faint and unimpressive low in the westerly sky, then on to double star Albireo, looking magnificent as always. The group stepped outside (briefly as it was about -5°C) to admire the clearing sky and finally see the whole of the Winter Wreath, with a view of The Pleiades (M45) through binoculars. We quickly returned inside to the 10-inch to observe Mars, high in the southern sky, showing plenty of dark surface details and a hint of polar ice cap at the planet’s North Pole. The session ended with the Orion Nebula (M42) and its Trapezium stars surrounded by clouds of hazy nebulosity. A UHC filter improved the view of the nebula dramatically. All in all an excellent and varied evening that was saved from the freezing cold.

13th December

Friends Observing: A small group of six Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Observatory to observe the Geminid Meteor Shower. The sky was totally cloudy, but observing was able to go ahead in radio wavelengths using the radio meteor detector system. Observing was over two hours; in the first hour 119 events were seen and in the second hour 71 events. The group enjoyed hot chocolate and festive treats while observing the shower projected on the screen in the comfort of the warm room!

8th December

GCSE Observing: 9 Hundred pupils came to the Dome. GKWJ gave them a worksheet based on the Full Moon, which they successfully completed, revising many important elements on the way. They observed the Full Moon and Mars through the 10-inch.

Shell Visit: 12 Elmhurst Shell girls and their tutor visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was a very cold and beautifully clear evening. They were introduced to the Observatory facility, given a sky tour outside and then viewed the Full Moon through the 10-inch, followed by Mars, which was at opposition. The group asked many excellent questions.

7th December

GCSE Observing: At last, a properly clear and cold night allowed 11 Remove Astronomers and 1 HPQ pupil to come to the Dome for a GCSE observing session. GKWJ had prepared a Lunar worksheet for them that first required the horizontal and equatorial coordinates of the Full Moon to be estimated along with its hour angle, then a naked eye sketch of the southern view including the Moon, brightest stars, meridian, ecliptic and celestial equator. The pupils then used binoculars, the two ETXs and the 8-inch to make a detailed sketch of the Moon’s surface features. Their final task was to make a sketch of a region of the Moon at high magnification through the 10-inch, however, this was not possible as the Dome was frozen solid and would not budge!

5th December

Radcliffe Society: 11 members of the Radcliffe Society held the December meeting in cloudy conditions with GKWJ and JAG. The group heard the What’s Up for December and January from GKWJ, followed by excellent pupil presentations on ‘The Ethics of Space Colonisation’, ‘The DART Mission’ and ‘The Artemis Mission’. The talks generated much discussion.

Shell Visit: 9 girls from Dancy Shell and their tutor joined GKWJ at the Dome. It was cloudy, but alongside a tour of the facility, some observing was done with the Radio Meteor Detector, where a number of small meteors were seen. The girls also enjoyed the new Wetton Collection ‘Campo del Cielo’ meteorite.

1st December

Shell Visit: For the first time this term, the Shell visit was blighted by poor weather with thick fog. Six boys from Cotton House joined GKWJ at the Dome, accompanied by an ex-GCSE Astronomer now in the U6. They were shown around the facility and looked at a selection of astronomical images.