May 2024 – News

20th May

Solar Observing: A clear, bright and sunny day led GKWJ to alert All Staff and members of Radcliffe Society that the Observatory would be open in the afternoon for solar observing. JAG assisted with 54 members of staff and assorted family, 13 pupils and 2 dogs that enjoyed views with: eclipse specs, the Celestron 8-inch in White Light, with a rash of sunspots visible in lovely detail, the Lunt 50mm in hydrogen alpha, giving a detailed view of the full disk with active regions, filaments and multiple prominences, including one vast prominence that stretched about 6 Earth diameters from the chromosphere, and the 10-inch with the hydrogen alpha filter which showed a more detailed view of the large prominence and the main active region, AR 3685. Seeing was good, though variable through the afternoon; in the large clear patches, it settled to give stunning views.

10th May

Aurora Imaging: A truly unexpected news item… GKWJ visited the Observatory at about 23:45 to capture the end of the most incredible display of the Aurora Borealis. Huge active region AR 3664 has been crackling with activity recently, sending five CMEs towards Earth. They arrived on Friday evening, sparking the largest geomagnetic storm for over twenty years. The Aurora was seen overhead in extreme southerly latitudes, including Marlborough. An amazing show to witness and unlikely to be repeated for at least twenty years!

An extraordinary display of the Aurora Borealis over
the Blackett Observatory on 10-05-2024 (photo by GKWJ)

 

 

GCSE Observing: The 16 Remove Astronomers had Period 2 at the Observatory with GKWJ. Sunny conditions, though through hazy high cloud, were perfectly timed to fit in with their current topic about Solar Astronomy. The session started with a look at the Sun through Eclipse Specs, with AR 3664/8 clearly visible by naked eye, it really is a gigantic active region. Outside, the photosphere was observed in white light with the Celestron 8-inch, and the chromosphere in hydrogen alpha through the Lunt 50mm. The group moved inside to the 10-inch, where the full disk was seen in hydrogen alpha at 90x, with multiple prominences, the vast AR 3664/8 and various other filaments and active regions. Magnification was increased to 140x for a close inspection of the large AR and nearby complex prominences. The session ended with the pupils making a sketch of the whole disk or a feature of their choice.

8th May

Outreach Lecture: GKWJ and JAG delivered their ‘Cosmic Recycling’ lecture to a group of 20 members of the Leckhampstead WI. The talk was followed by various questions from members and a delicious sit down WI tea!

4th May

Outreach Observing: GKWJ and JAG hosted 28 members of the public across two groups for the annual solar observing open day. The sky was mostly cloudy, but with sufficient breaks to allow a few glimpses of the Sun. Eclipse specs were used outside, along with the Celestron 8-inch with a white light filter and the Lunt 50mm hydrogen alpha telescope. 7 sunspot groups were clearly visible in both scopes and the Lunt also showed multiple prominences. The second group enjoyed larger gaps in the cloud and the 10-inch was used with the hydrogen alpha filter, first at 90x magnification and then at 140x, to observe the prominences and larger active region in exquisite detail.

2nd May

Astronomy GCSE Field Trip: 15 Remove Astronomy GCSE pupils were accompanied by GKWJ and JAG to the Royal Observatory Greenwich for the annual field trip. It was a grey, misty day, but that didn’t deter the group. The visit involved first a workshop about exoplanets, followed by a picnic lunch. Next, a workshop debating whether civilians in space should be called Astronauts or Space Tourists, then a fabulous show in the Peter Harrison Planetarium. The group then spent the afternoon looking around the old North Site, including Flamsteed House, the Prime Meridian (which isn’t at exactly 0° these days), the transit instruments and the main observatory. The visit ended with an expedition to find the actual Prime Meridian, which was discovered to be a few seconds East, next to a large green bin!

April 2024 – News

23rd April

Outreach Lecture: GKWJ and JAG gave a talk entitled ‘Cosmic Recycling’ to 42 members of the Devizes and District U3a group. The audience were intrigued by the lecture and are keen to organise a visit to the Blackett Observatory later in the year.

20th April

Open Day Observing: GKWJ set up the Celestron 8-inch with a white light filter and the Lunt 50mm hydrogen alpha solar telescope in Court to show the Sun, safely, to parents and children attending the Open Day. Eclipse specs were also used for a naked eye view of the Sun. The observing station proved very popular with a constant stream of interested observers, a total of around 70 to 80 people must have looked through the telescopes in total – it was hard to keep count!

OM Visit: 3 Old Marlburians who left in 2020 visited the College, hosted by JAG and MC. The group enjoyed a trip up to the Observatory. GKWJ set up the 10-inch with the hydrogen alpha filter, giving a glorious view of the full disk of the Sun at 90x magnification. This was increased to 140x to take a closer look at various prominences and a large active region, AR 3637.

16th April

Solar System Imaging: GKWJ capitalised on a period of clear skies by imaging the Sun in the afternoon, followed by the Moon in the evening. The refurbished hydrogen alpha filter continues to impress and the 10-inch performed with great clarity on both objects. Here are two example images:

 

15th April

Outreach Observing: 19 Brownies and 2 leaders from the 1st Aldbourne Brownies visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was a bright sunny afternoon with broken cloud. The session started outside with a naked eye view of the First Quarter Moon, the Brownies discovered that they could easily cover the Moon with just their little finger at the end of their outstretched arm. They were reminded of the dangers of observing the Sun and introduced to Eclipse Specs. They then safely observed the Sun through the specs and discovered that they could easily blot out the Sun with their little finger, just like the Moon! The mechanics of eclipses was discussed. The group then moved inside to the 10-inch, where they first observed the Moon with excellent detail visible against a light blue background. The White Light filter was safely installed and the group saw the full disk of the Sun’s busy photosphere, with 10 sunspot groups clearly visible. The new hydrogen alpha filter was then fitted and the session ended with a spectacular view of the chromosphere and a gigantic prominence that looked like a forest of trees!

14th April

Friends Observing: 12 Friends came to the new ‘Spring Galaxies’ observing session with GKWJ and JAG. A clear twilight sky showed great promise and the session started with a look at Jupiter and its four Galilean moons through the 10-inch. Next up was the 35% Waxing Crescent Moon, with excellent detail showing in craters Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catherina on the edge of the Sea of Nectar. Darkness descended quite rapidly and the hunt for ‘faint fuzzies’ started in Ursa Major with M101, but first a calibration visit to Mizar and Alcor, where Mizar A & B were easily split. M101 was faint and underwhelming, but two Friends had set up live stacking rigs on the observing platform and showed a more detailed view of M101. Next to M81, Bode’s Galaxy, and M82, the Cigar Galaxy, two excellent galaxies in the eyepiece, with even more structure in the live stack images. Another calibration, this time on Denebola in Leo, then on to M87, Virgo A, in Virgo, an elliptical fuzz ball! Finally to M104, the Sombrero Galaxy in Virgo, which was low down and quite hazy, but definite elongated structure with a dark line visible in the eyepiece. The live stack images were beautiful. Patchy passing cloud hindered progress on occasion through the evening, but some fine galactic sights were enjoyed. As we departed, full cloud covered the sky.

 

March 2024 – News

30th March

Solar Imaging: The Daystar solar hydrogen alpha filter was finally returned after its refurbishment and upgrade to a Quantum PE housing. The sky had sufficient breaks in the cloud to permit GKWJ to test out the new filter, obtaining excellent views of the surface of the Sun with exquisite detail in the chromosphere and prominences. An image of AR 3615 was captured. The filter appears to be performing far better than ever, despite the sub-optimal sky conditions!

22nd March

Friends Observing: At last, the clouds disappeared for a while, allowing GKWJ to call an impromptu extra Friends observing session. The plan was to try and spot Mercury in the fading daylight and then hunt down comet 12P/Pons-Brooks. 6 Friends and JAG came to the Dome as dusk descended. The 10-inch was slewed to Jupiter, which shimmered in the blue sky, at first with no moons visible, but as it darkened, one moon (Ganymede) popped into view. Next on to Mercury, which was easily visible in the dusk, showing an obvious last quarter phase. Outside, the sky was darkening and Jupiter was very clear by naked eye. As the first magnitude stars started to appear, so Mercury could finally be made out by naked eye, a bright spot sinking towards the western horizon. Both planets were easy to see in binoculars. Once it had become sufficiently dark, the 10-inch was slewed to the coordinates of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks. Sure enough, there it was, a fuzzy patch, clearly a comet. Its location with respect to the field stars was noted. Over the course of the next hour, the comet was followed and a Friend set up a portable imaging rig outside. A live stack of short exposures was created, giving an excellent view of the comet’s tail, which was not visible in the eyepiece. The comet proved tricky to find in binoculars, but was eventually tracked down. An overhead ISS pass, fading in to the Earth’s shadow just past the zenith, brought the session to an end, but not before 12P was observed in the eyepiece one last time, clearly having moved with respect to the background stars. A calculation using the first and last live stack images gave a speed of about 56 km/s for the comet across our line of sight. A wonderful and varied extra session at the Dome.

19th March

Sun-Earth Day Lecture: The 2024 NASA/ESA Sun-Earth Day Lecture was given by Professor David Southwood from Imperial College, London, to an audience of around 90 Friends, pupils and staff in the Garnett Room. The topic was ‘Space Weather: Electromagnetic threats from the Sun’. Prof. Southwood started with the Carrington Event of 1859 and took us through the history of the discovery of space weather, highlighting its impacts on Earth. He ended with a look at the work going on currently to mitigate against the potential harms of solar radiation. An excellent talk that was well received by all attending.

12th March

Outreach Visit: A member of staff brought a group of 7 family and friends to visit the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy, so they were introduced to the 10-inch, enjoyed a selection of photos, and handled the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

6th March

GCSE Observing: A group of 9 Remove Astronomers had a long awaited observing session with GKWJ. They tackled a worksheet that looked into estimation of equatorial coordinates, altitude and hour angle through sketching the naked eye view of the Orion area. They then made a sketch of the double star Castor through the 10-inch at 224x magnification and 0.37° field of view to estimate the angular separation of the pair of stars.

5th March

EP Observing: Finally the clear skies returned, allowing an EP pupil, accompanied by two friends from house, to take photographs of stars through the 10-inch for her project with GKWJ. Targets were M42 – The Orion Nebula, M45 – The Pleiades and M36 – The Pinwheel Cluster. Jupiter was also observed with its 4 Galilean moons.

GCSE Observing: Three pupils from the Hundred came to the Dome with GKWJ to complete observations for their Aided Observing Tasks. Sketches were made of M45 – The Pleiades, through binoculars, then using the 10-inch, M1 – The Crab Nebula, was attempted, but failed as conditions were too hazy. The telescope was slewed to Ursa Major and the two galaxies, M81 – Bode’s Galaxy, and M82 – The Cigar Galaxy. The pupils elected to sketch M82, an unusual looking, elongated galaxy.

 

February 2024 – News

27th February

Outreach Visit: The second group of Cherhill Cubs, comprising of 20 Cubs and 3 Leaders, visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy, so they were shown the 10-inch, enjoyed a virtual sky tour in Stellarium and learned about the Solar System with images taken through the Cooke telescope.

22nd February

GCSE Observing: 10 pupils from the Hundred Astronomy GCSE class came up to the Dome with GKWJ to continue their Aided Observing Tasks. The 96% Waxing Gibbous Moon did not make for perfect Messier Object observing conditions and there was patchy fast moving cloud. Despite sub-optimal conditions, the group first observed M81, Bode’s Galaxy, then searched for the planetary nebula M76, but failed to spot anything in the bright moonlight, so moved to the brighter object M3, a globular cluster in Canes Venatici. Sketches of the globular were made. Meanwhile, a camera was set up outside capturing images to create another star trails image for the sidereal period of the Earth project.

20th February

Outreach Visit: The first group of Cherhill Cubs (19 Cubs and 3 Leaders) visited the Observatory with GKWJ. It was cloudy. The group enjoyed a virtual Sky Tour in Stellarium, a visit to the Dome and a series of photographs of the Moon.

19th February

Outreach Visit: The final group from Cothill House prep school, consisting of 11 pupils and two staff, visited the Dome with GKWJ on a hazy evening. We tried to observe the Moon through the 10-inch, but the cloud was too thick. The group asked a whole range of great questions, looked at a selection of images and enjoyed the Campo Del Cielo meteorite from the Wetton Collection.

18th February

Friends Observing: 14 Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Observatory for this year’s Lunar Observing event. Conditions were far from perfect, with fast moving cloud, but there were sufficient breaks for observing to take place. We started at 90x magnification and a glorious view of the 68% Waxing Gibbous Moon. Up to 140x for closer views of the Sea of Showers with the Apennine mountain range at its edge, including the tallest mountain on the Moon, Mount Huygens at 6000 metres, then to crater Clavius in the south. Mag up to 220x to spot Rupes Recta, the ‘Straight Wall’ cliff face in the Sea of Clouds, and a view of the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility. The cloud had thickened too much at this point, so the group took a seat in the warm room where a Friend shared some key pieces from his Moon Memorabilia collection with us, including a mission patch worn by Neil Armstrong, the Retro Timer Unit and a ‘Remove before Flight’ tag that still smells of kerosene!

14th to 17th February

Friends Outing: An intrepid group of 17 Friends headed out to Kilpisjärvi, Finland at 69°N in search of the Aurora Borealis. Armed with thermals to survive the -15°C arctic conditions, the group enjoyed a snowmobile safari to the 3 borders point where Finland, Sweden and Norway converge, a Sami reindeer experience learning about the culture and ways of Lapland, and a night time snowmobile safari. Some of the group went on excursions for ice fishing on the lake and snow shoe trekking across the tundra. The absolute highlight of the trip was on the Thursday evening when the sky was perfectly clear following a beautiful sunny day, the group went down to the frozen lake to view the night sky. After about 45 minutes, a strange grey-ish cloud arced over the northern horizon. It soon turned a greenish colour and a stunning display of the Aurora started. The shimmering green curtains of light came in waves, dancing across the sky. The display lasted for about an hour, making the trip a complete success.

6th February

Shell Visit: The final Shell visit of the year saw 11 boys from Turner and their HM visit the Dome with GKWJ under cloudy skies and rain. The boys were shown the Cooke 10-inch and a series of images taken at the Observatory. Over the course of the Shell visits 173 pupils have visited the Dome from the 16 boarding houses, with 8 houses looking through the 10-inch under clear skies and 8 houses looking at the 10-inch under cloudy skies!

5th February

Radcliffe Society: The Lent Term meeting of the Radcliffe Society was clouded out, so no observing. A small group of 5 pupils met in a Physics lab with GKWJ and JAG to hear a pupil presentation entitled ‘Python Solar System’ where the pupil explained how they coded a simulation of the Solar System using Python and generated beautiful ‘spirograph’ patterns using the orbits of the planets. GKWJ then gave a What’s Up to cover the skies until May. The session ended with a discussion about the pros and cons of space exploration, considering whether it is just a waste of time, money and energy. All present concluded that it is not!

1st February

Shell Visit: The penultimate Shell visit saw 10 boys from Summerfield visit the Dome with GKWJ on a hazy evening. There were sufficiently thin patches to allow some observation to take place. The group saw Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons through the 10-inch, first at 140x magnification and then at 220x. The GRS was just visible on the off going limb. Moving outside, they enjoyed an abridged sky tour due to patchy cloud and then observed the Pleiades (M45) and the core of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) through binoculars.

 

January 2024 – News

30th January

Outreach Lecture: GKWJ gave the lecture ‘From Smart Phone to Smart Dome’ to about 50 members of the Devizes Photography Club. The lecture offered an insight into a range of astro-imaging techniques ranging from what is possible with a standard DSLR, through lucky imaging of solar system objects, to his observatory set up for deep sky imaging.

25th January

Shell Visit: 7 boys from the Preshute Shell visited the Observatory with GKWJ. It was a cloudy night, so no observing took place, but there was much good discussion fuelled by a selection of images taken at the Observatory.

24th January

Outreach Visit: 15 pupils and two staff from Swindon Academy visited the Dome with GKWJ and JAG. The sky was very hazy and bright with the almost Full Moon. Observing started outside with an ISS pass before the group moved to the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with only 2 moons visible, first at 90x magnification and then at 140x. Then on to the 98% Waxing Gibbous Moon at 90x, which required two neutral density Moon filters to quell the intense light, revealing flat but substantial surface detail. The group moved outside for a Sky Tour, though only the brightest stars were visible in the Moonlight. The session ended with a view of the Pleiades (M45) in binoculars.

23rd January

Shell Visit: 6 girls from the New Court Shell and a tutor visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was a horrible cloudy, wet and windy evening, so no observing took place.

20th January

Outreach Visit: GKWJ and JAG hosted two Public Open Evening sessions with a total attendance of 28 visitors. The sky was cloudy, but with variable thickness, allowing the Waxing Gibbous Moon to be seen, along with a faint 22° Moon halo, and Jupiter just bright enough to be discerned through the cloud. Conditions were not suitable to open the Dome, so the guests enjoyed a sky tour on Stellarium, a visit to the main dome and a selection of images taken through the 10-inch. The Wetton Meteorite Collection also featured.

19th January

Outreach Event: An audience of around 50 people enjoyed an hour long session in the Town Hall entitled ‘Astronomy, Landscape, Astrophysics, and more – Q&A’. Their questions were answered by the panel, chaired by GKWJ, with JAG, local astronomy expert Nick Howes, and Director of the North Wessex Downs National Landscape, Henry Oliver. The event was put together by Jacky Akam of the NWD and Clare Harris of the Marlborough Town Council. The best question of the evening won a meteorite courtesy of Nick, who chose: ‘Is there an external force that is influencing and controlling us?’. The answers were extremely varied!

Friends Observing: The annual ‘Bring Your Own’ session attracted 18 Friends to the Dome seeking help from GKWJ. A wide range of kit was brought along including: 2 pairs of binoculars, 2 small table top Dobsonians, 4 small Newtonian reflectors, an 80mm refractor and a 6-inch Cassegrain reflector. The sky was hazy to start, with an impressive Moon halo, but as people set up their kit, the haze lifted to reveal a beautiful star filled sky. Much alignment of mounts and finderscopes took place before a range of targets were explored including: the Waxing Gibbous Moon (a great starter target which is easy to find!), Jupiter (with its 4 Galilean moons in an interesting configuration all on one side close to the planet), the Orion Nebula (M42), the Double Cluster (NGC 869 & 884), various other open clusters and a whole range of bright stars. In the Dome, the 10-inch first slewed to the Moon, then on to Jupiter and ended on M42. The 80mm ‘frac’ and 6-inch ‘Cass’ were both connected to computer systems allowing impressive EAA (Electronic Assisted Astronomy) where multiple exposures were live stacked to give wonderful views on screen; targets were: the Orion Nebula (M42) and Running Man Nebula (NGC 1977), the Horsehead Nebula (B33) and Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), the core of M42, and the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). As the final participants departed after an excellent and varied evening of observing, the haze was returning – a lucky gap in the clouds for the Friends, for once!

18th January

Shell Visit: 14 girls from the Morris Shell, accompanied by their HM and her two children, came up to the Dome on a beautiful clear, cold winter’s evening. GKWJ gave them a Sky Tour of the main constellations. An intermittent bright light was spotted in the north, it certainly wasn’t an aircraft; the best explanation was an out of control rotating satellite that was catching the sunlight in a regular pattern as it passed through that area of the sky. The group moved inside to the 10-inch and observed the First Quarter Moon at 90x magnification. The seeing was good and excellent detail was visible. The magnification was increased to 220x, allowing an amazing view of the mountain ranges on the eastern borders of Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Showers. The session concluded with a view of Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons.

GCSE Observing: 7 Remove Astronomers attended their observing session under a perfectly clear night sky. They completed a worksheet that investigated the equatorial coordinate system, local sidereal time and hour angle by sketching the main stars of Orion, along with the Orion Nebula, Sirius, Aldebaran and the Pleiades. They added in the Meridian and Celestial Equator, allowing them to complete a series of questions. The session ended with a wonderfully sharp and detailed view of the First Quarter Moon in the 10-inch.

17th January

GCSE Observing: It was the turn of the Hundred Astronomers to come up to the Dome with GKWJ to continue work on their Aided Observing Tasks. It was a very clear and cold night with a bright First Quarter Moon. Sketches were made of Messier Objects: M42, the Orion Nebula, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy and M45, the Pleiades, through the 10-inch, the 8-inch and binoculars. Photographs of star trails around the North Celestial Pole were taken to measure the period of a sidereal day.

16th January

Outreach Visit: The second group of 13 pupils and 2 teachers from Cothill House came to the Dome on a clear evening, though there was some hazy cloud passing by. GKWJ greeted the group outside and much excitement ensued as a pupil spotted a string of Starlink satellites crossing the sky in the southeast. The group moved inside to the 10-inch where Saturn and two moons (Titan and Rhea) were seen first, followed by a fabulous view of the Waxing Crescent Moon. Moving outside, the group were given a Sky Tour before going back to the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with all 4 moons and a shadow transit of Io.

Shell Visit: The 14 girls of the Mill Mead Shell, accompanied by their HM and Dame, visited the Observatory. GKWJ first showed them Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons through the 10-inch, followed by the Waxing Crescent Moon. The group then moved outside for a Sky Tour, including views of the Pleiades (M45) and the Orion Nebula (M42) through binoculars.

15th January

Outreach Visit: The first group from Cothill House Prep School, consisting of 11 pupils and 2 teachers, visited the Dome with GKWJ on a cold and hazily clear evening. The session started with a Sky Tour of the main asterisms, finding Polaris and identifying visible solar system objects. The group moved to the 10-inch, where the Waxing Crescent Moon was viewed first, with excellent surface detail visible. Jupiter was seen with all 4 Galilean moons, though 2 (Io and Europa) were very close to the planet, about to be occulted. The session ended back outside with a view of the Pleiades (M45) through binoculars and a look at how the sky had moved over the course of the session.

13th January

Outreach Visit: 5 members of the Bridgend Astronomical Society, including the Director of the Brecon Beacons Observatory, visited the Dome on a cloudy evening. GKWJ and JAG recounted the history of the Cooke 10-inch and the Blackett Observatory. The group then enjoyed a series of images taken with the 10-inch and watched the radio meteor detector live stream, where multiple events were seen. The Wetton Meteorite Collection was inspected. There was much discussion about all things astronomy and outreach. A return visit to the Brecon Beacons Observatory will be arranged, especially as their Director revealed that they regularly have skies measuring 22.5 mpsas, and have had as dark as 23 mpsas as measured on their SQM – astoundingly dark! A small gap in the clouds revealed Jupiter as the group exited the Observatory; there was a moment of temptation to open the Dome, but the gap was short lived.

11th January

Shell Visit: The 10 boys in the Littlefield Shell, accompanied by a House Tutor and his wife, came to the Dome on a cloudy evening with GKWJ. They were a most inquisitive bunch with an almost incessant stream of questions! They were also shown the Cooke 10-inch.

10th January

Radcliffe Society and Staff Observing: A very busy evening under clear, dark skies, but with a freezing cold biting wind concluded with an ‘open observatory’ for members of the Radcliffe Society and all staff and families at the College to enjoy an evening of Astronomy. 5 pupils, 8 members of Common Room, 18 support staff and 2 members of Security joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome. Splitting into smaller groups, outside they were given a sky tour and looked at the Pleiades (M45) through binoculars, while inside, the tour with the 10-inch started on M31, moving to Jupiter, with 4 moons and the GRS, on to Almach and ending up on the Orion Nebula (M42). An excellent evening with many first time visitors to the Observatory.

Outreach Visit: 3 doctors from the Ramsbury Practice with various family members, a group of 8 in total, made up the second visit of the evening under clear skies and a very cold wind. Patchy cloud threatened, but thankfully passed quickly. GKWJ and JAG started the session outside with a Sky Tour and views of the Pleiades (M45) and the Orion Nebula (M42) through binoculars. The group then moved in to the Dome and observed Jupiter with 4 moons and the Great Red Spot visible. We then moved to double star Almach and finished the session with a view of the core of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

Staff Visit: A member of staff with partner and three children visited the Dome on a clear and very cold evening. GKWJ gave them a Sky Tour and then showed them Jupiter and its 4 Galilean Moons in the 10-inch, first at 90x magnification, then moving up to 140x. They then viewed Almach.

9th January

GCSE Observing: 14 Remove Astronomers came to the Dome. GKWJ gave a quick sky tour and then the pupils made sketches of the northern view, with The Plough, Polaris and Cassiopeia, before attention turned to the southern view, with Orion, Sirius, The Hyades and The Pleiades. The Andromeda Galaxy could just be seen by naked eye. It was bitterly cold, so the pupils were delighted to warm up inside with a hot chocolate. M31 and Jupiter, with 4 moons, were observed in the 10-inch, where the Dome offered protection from the biting wind.

Shell Visit: 9 girls from the Ivy House Shell and their House Mistress visited the Dome with GKWJ on a very clear, but freezing cold evening. First they were given a sky tour outside, including a bright meteor right overhead. They looked at The Pleiades (M45) through binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch, where they observed Jupiter with 4 moons, double star Almach and The Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

4th January

Friends Observing: 6 new Friends came to the Observatory on a wet and horrible night, joining GKWJ and JAG to observe the Quadrantids meteor shower. They followed the radio meteor detector live stream between 22:00 and 00:00, seeing a total of 120 events. The group were also shown the Cooke 10-inch and the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

SQM Training: 9 members of the Marlborough Dark Skies SQM monitoring project met at the Observatory with GKWJ and JAG for a training session. Groups were assigned, locations were identified and the methods of capturing and uploading data with the Sky Quality Meters were discussed. The Team is now ready to start gathering data at the next clear and dark night opportunity.

 

December 2023 – News

29th December

Staff Observing: A member of staff requested to visit the Observatory with his two sons, so GKWJ and JAG met them on what turned out to be a reasonable evening with broken cloud. The session started with a view of Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons through the 10-inch. The group then went outside for a Sky Tour and observed the Pleiades (M45) and the Orion Nebula (M42) with binoculars. Then back to the 10-inch to view a beautiful 94% Waning Gibbous Moon with superb detail along the Terminator, particularly the border of the Sea of Crises and the central peak of crater Petravius emerging from the surrounding darkness. Next was M42, where the Trapezium was very obvious, but the surrounding nebulosity was mostly hidden by the hazy cloud. The session ended with an exploration of double stars, starting with Pollux, not split, on to Castor, an easy split at 5″ and similar magnitudes, then Alnitak, the 2″ ‘Snowman’ star with a protuberance rather than a split, and finally sigma Orionis, a quintuple star system where four of the five stars were easily seen.

15th December

Friends Observing: 11 Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome under hazy, but mostly clear skies. The session started with the 10-inch on Jupiter, where much detail was visible in the bands and the Great Red Spot was clearly seen. All four Galilean moons were visible, with Io approaching the planet, moving onto the disc of Jupiter at about 20:00 UT and still visible as a bright dot. We then moved to the obvious green-blue disc of Uranus, then on to Almach, which was easily split, and then to Alnitak, a much harder split, but all agreed that the circumference was bulging in the same area. Thick cloud rapidly spread across the sky, bringing observing to an end. The group enjoyed a well earned cup of hot chocolate in the warm room with the radio meteor feed on the big screen (only 34 meteors were seen in one hour, the Geminid peak has certainly passed) and the Wetton meteorites were investigated. A fine end to Friends observing for 2023.

14th December

Friends Observing: Unfortunately the favourable Moon phase made no difference for this year’s Geminid meteor shower as it was totally cloudy. GKWJ and JAG enjoyed the Radio Meteor Detector Live Stream at the Dome, while various other Friends watched the stream from the comfort of their own homes. A total of 236 events were seen in the two hours of observing.

7th December

Shell Visit: The last Shell visit of the term saw the 14 girls from Elmhurst visit the Dome. It was cloudy. GKWJ showed them the Observatory and much discussion was enjoyed, including an attempt to comprehend the idea of an infinite universe – not easy!

6th December

Outreach Visit: 16 Brownies and 3 Leaders from the 1st Upavon and Pewsey Brownies visited the Dome on a totally cloudy night. GKWJ encouraged the girls to ask questions and they did not hold back! A continual stream of questions ensued throughout the evening ranging from ‘why is the Sun yellow?’ to ‘how many stars are there in the Universe?’ and ‘what are the Northern Lights?’. Despite not seeing a single star, the group had an enjoyable and fascinating evening.

5th December

Shell Visit: 13 girls from the Dancy Shell and a House Tutor joined GKWJ at the Dome on a cloudy night. They were shown around the Observatory, looked at a small selection of images and followed the Radio Meteor Detector live stream, where multiple events were seen. The group asked a wealth of intriguing questions.

 

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.