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.

November 2022 – News

29th November

Blackett Science Lecture: The 18th Blackett Science Lecture was delivered by Dr. Rebecca Smethurst, RAS Research Fellow at Oxford University, to a large audience in the Ellis Theatre. Her lecture was entitled ‘It’s not easy growing a supermassive black hole’. Dr. Becky explained the basics of black hole science (they are sofas, not hoovers!) and then spoke about her research into how black holes increase in size. There is a large disconnect between merger and non merger growth, which is her area of continuing observational based research. Many excellent questions were asked at the end of the lecture, demonstrating how well Dr. Becky had engaged with the audience.

28th November

Outreach Visit: Five members of Marlborough Town Council and the North Wessex Downs AONB came to the Dome with GKWJ and JAG to celebrate the past success of the Marlborough Dark Skies Festival and to look forwards to future collaborations. Patchy cloud allowed opportunistic observation through large gaps. The session started outside to see the waxing crescent Moon, the line up of planets, the Pleiades and a suggestion of the Andromeda Galaxy. The group moved to the 10-inch to view the Moon in great detail, followed by Saturn with its moon, Titan, and then Jupiter with its 4 Galilean moons. Attention turned to the double star Almach and a fuzzy view of the Andromeda Galaxy’s core. The final target was Mars, with a polar ice cap and surface details just visible through variable cloud.

25th November

Outreach Event: GKWJ and JAG were invited to the North Wessex Downs AONB Annual Forum to run a stargazing event in the early evening at the Marlborough Golf Club to highlight the importance of dark skies across the region. A clearing and mostly dark sky provided perfect conditions for over 50 Forum delegates to enjoy a sky tour and views of the Pleiades (M45) through binoculars and Jupiter, Saturn and Mars through an ETX.

24th November

Shell Visit: In an unprecedented run of good fortune for the Shell Visits, predominantly clear skies welcomed the 12 boys from C3 with their tutor, DGR, up to the Dome. GKWJ started the visit outside by pointing out Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and the Pleiades. The group moved inside to the 10-inch to observe Saturn, with Titan visible, and Jupiter with all four Galilean moons visible. The group returned outside to enjoy a closer look at the Pleiades through binoculars and rising Betelgeuse through an ETX. The session ended with a quick look at the Campo meteorite.

Staff Visit: A member of staff with their two young children visited the Dome where GKWJ showed them Saturn and Jupiter through the 10-inch. All 4 of Jupiter’s Galilean moons were visible and at least one moon of Saturn was seen.

22nd November

Shell Visit: Ten Shell boys from C2 came to the Dome with their tutor to meet GKWJ. The session started with a view of M45 – The Pleiades by naked eye, with around 7 stars counted, followed by a view of the open cluster in binoculars, with many more stars visible. The group then observed Jupiter and its four Galilean moons through the 10-inch. Unfortunately, the broken clouds thickened and observing had to cease. The boys enjoyed a short slide show of astro-images and asked plenty of excellent questions.

19th November

Public Open Evening: Two observing sessions open to the public were held by GKWJ and JAG. Conditions were cloudy with some breaks in the cloud. Session One had 12 attendees (20 tickets were issued, but not all turned up) and sufficient gaps in the cloud allowed Jupiter to be observed in the 10-inch, with 3 Galilean moons clearly visible and the 4th moon, Io, in transit, with the moon’s shadow visible as a black dot on the planet’s disc. During the session, Io emerged from the side of the disc and the GRS rotated into view. Next was Mars, with some surface markings visible – the polar ice cap and Syrtis Major. The newly acquired Wetton Meteorite collection made its first public appearance, with a 1kg piece of the iron meteorite Campo del Cielo and a small slice through the meteorite to show its internal structure were studied by all. The second session consisted of 13 members of the public (out of 16 tickets issued) and 13 Friends, making for a full observatory! Unfortunately, the cloud was thickening, but Mars was glimpsed through occasional gaps. A slideshow of images taken at the Blackett Observatory was shown and again the Wetton meteorite collection, this time including a larger but lighter piece of a North West African (NWA) chondrite meteorite, generated much interest.

17th November

Friends Observing: A very uncertain forecast might have led to cancellation of the Leonid meteor shower observing session, but the decision was taken to open the Observatory to the Friends regardless. Six Friends joined GKWJ and JAG, despite deteriorating conditions, with just the brightest objects in the sky showing through the thickening hazy cloud. The group congregated in the warm room and followed the radio meteor detector live stream projected on the screen, in the hour from 22:00 to 23:00 UT, 20 meteors were seen – exactly the predicted rate. To accompany the meteor observing, the MCBO Wetton Meteorite Collection was unveiled as the four pieces of space rock were delivered to the Observatory by a Friend at this session. More details on the collection to follow.

Shell Visit: Predominantly clear skies welcomed the 11 Shell boys from C1 for their visit to the Blackett Observatory. GKWJ started the session outside, pointing out our own galaxy, the Milky Way, running through Cygnus and then using the 4″ refractor to spot a faint fuzzy blob almost overhead – M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest neighbouring galaxy. The group moved inside to observe first Saturn and three moons through the 10-inch, followed by Jupiter with its four Galilean moons visible and clear storm bands across the planet’s disc. Finally, the double star Albireo was admired with its contrasting gold and blue stars.

9th November

Outreach Visit: 21 Year 5 pupils from Woodborough Primary School, accompanied by their teacher, teaching assistant and two parents, visited the Observatory. The were some passing clouds, but the sky was essentially clear, which enabled GKWJ to slew the 10-inch first to Saturn, with four moons visible (Titan, Rhea, Dione and Tethys), then to Jupiter with its four Galilean Moons visible and finally to the 98% Waning Gibbous Moon. The group moved outside for a brief sky tour where The Plough was identified and the pointer stars were shown to point to Polaris. The session ended with a view of Mars as it emerged above a band of cloud on the eastern horizon.

Friends Trip: Sixteen Friends of the Marlborough Telescope, including GKWJ & JAG, visited The Herschel Museum at 17 New King Street in Bath where they were given a private tour of the exhibits. William Herschel’s observing notebooks were on display (thanks to the kind loan from the Royal Astronomical Society), including the entry from 13th March 1781, which reads: “… in the quartile near zeta Tauri the lowest of two is a curious rather nebulous star or perhaps a comet.”. This turned out to be the planet Uranus, perhaps Herschel’s most famous discovery. The visit ended in the back garden where the Herschels made their observations, with the group observing the Sun through a small Coronado PST hydrogen alpha telescope – surface granulation, multiple active regions and two prominences were clearly visible.

8th November

Shell Visit: The 12 Shell boys from Barton Hill were accompanied to the Dome by a member of the L6. The weather was partly cloudy. GKWJ introduced them to Astronomy at the Blackett Observatory and then a large gap in the cloud allowed the group to observe the Full Moon through the 10-inch, followed by Jupiter with its four Galilean Moons all lined up to one side of the planet.

7th November

Radcliffe Society: The second meeting of the Michaelmas term was held on a wet and cloudy night; consequently, the members enjoyed three pupil presentations: ‘Festivals and Celebrations to do with the Night Sky and other Astronomical Objects’, ‘Liquid Rocket Engines’ and ‘The James Webb Space Telescope’.

4th November

GCSE Observing: Six GCSE Hundred pupils joined GKWJ at the Dome. Conditions were not perfect, with some wispy cloud in the sky. Jupiter was observed in the 10-inch with all 4 Galilean moons visible and clear banding across the planet’s disc. Cloud started to encroach and the 10-inch was slewed to clear skies in the east, where Mars was observed as a bright orange disc, but with very little surface detail evident. Unfortunately, too much high cloud gathered and the session was cut short.

Outreach Visit: A relative of Sir Basil Blackett, the Observatory’s benefactor and namesake, visited with a family member, meeting GKWJ, who recounted details of the Observatory’s history. The sky was clear and the Sun was viewed in white light through the 10-inch; four active regions in the northern hemisphere were seen in beautiful detail. The purpose of the visit was to donate a collection of letters that Sir Basil’s first cousin, Frances Blackett, had written to family members recounting her 1927 visit to India to stay with Sir Basil. The letters will find a permanent home in the College archives.

2nd November

Outreach Talk: GKWJ and JAG delivered their talk ‘Cosmic Recycling’ to around 35 members of the WI Marlborough and guests in the Marlborough Town Hall.

1st November

Shell Visit: The first Shell visit of the academic year saw the 12 Shell boys from B1 and their tutor join GKWJ at the Dome. On arrival, there was broken cloud so immediately the First Quarter Moon was observed in an ETX. The cloud soon thickened and the tour moved inside. For the last part of the session the sky cleared, allowing a sky tour outside and Jupiter with 4 Galilean moons to be observed in the 10-inch. An excitable bunch asked many good questions and an excellent start was made to the Shell visit season.


October 2022 – News

30th October

Friends Observing: The forecast was very mixed for this evening and a Cloudy Alternative was ready to be delivered should the need arise. As the small group of 8 Friends were arriving at the Dome to join GKWJ and JAG for the Double Stars observing session, there were sufficient breaks in the cloud to allow a view of Jupiter through the 10-inch, with 4 Galilean moons visible. The cloud breaks persisted, so the exploration of Doubles started with Almach (Gamma Andromedae) and Albireo (Beta Cygni), two similar doubles. Magnification started at x90, but thankfully the sky was clearing and seeing was relatively steady, so magnification was upped to x140 with great success. Next was Epsilon Lyrae, the Double Double and an increase to x220; both component systems, with separations of 2.2″ and 2.4″, were quite easily split at that magnification. We moved to the lovely Gamma Delphini and on to a new target, 8 Lacertae, which is a clear double in amongst a rich star field. The final double, Mu Cygni, was a challenge at only 1.4″ separation, but at x220 it was successfully split, just. We then returned to Jupiter, noticing the change in position of the 4 moons and the emergence of the Great Red Spot (GRS). Experiments were carried out with various Parks filters and all present concurred that a No. 56, green filter, gave the best enhancement to the GRS and cloud bands. The final target was Mars, rising in the East, a fine orange-red spectacle, with a hint of polar and low latitude surface details. It was an excellent evening of observing, enjoyed by all.

25th October

Partial Eclipse Observing: GKWJ made the Dome available for Friends to view the 13% partial solar eclipse. Just six visitors (four humans and two canines) came to observe the eclipse during the two hours from first to last contact. GKWJ took the opportunity to experiment with a projected live view from the 10-inch in the warm room, with success – see pictures below:


Partial Solar Eclipse at maximum

Projected live view from 10-inch

11th October

Planetary Imaging: GKWJ attempted to image the transit of Io across the disk of Jupiter through the 10-inch. Conditions were sub-optimal, with much haze and moisture in the atmosphere, so results were acceptable, but not spectacular!

10th October

GCSE Observing: 13 Remove Astronomers and 1 Remove pupil (working on a Higher Project Qualification) joined GKWJ at the Dome for an observing session. They were given a sky tour and then made sketches of the northern portion of sky to include Polaris, the Plough and Cassiopeia with a focus on estimating the altitude and azimuth of various stars. In the 10-inch, they observed Saturn with four moons identified (Titan, Rhea, Dione & Tethys), Jupiter with three Galilean moons visible (Io, Ganymede and Callisto) and ended with a detailed view of the bright 98% Full Moon


September 2022 – News

30th September

Outreach Visit: As part of The Great Big Green Week, a nation wide sustainable future event, a total of 31 visitors in two groups came to the Dome. All had paid for a ticket, with all proceeds going to the Sustainable Marlborough fund. Unfortunately the weather was wet and windy, so GKWJ and JAG gave the attendees ‘the cloudy show’, consisting of a history of the observatory, a look at the radio telescope live feed and a journey across the solar system illustrated with photographs taken at the observatory and through the Cooke 10-inch

23rd September

Friends Drinks Party: Around 50 Friends assembled at the Dome to celebrate the 18th anniversary of the Friends of the Marlborough Telescope. A beautiful evening allowed the party to be held outside on the new observing patio and the gathering enjoyed flowing drinks, served by barman JAG, and endless sandwiches! There was a great mix of familiar faces and many new Friends, who were welcomed to the group by all. Guest of honour, ex Director of the Observatory, Charles Barclay, addressed the gathering and made the official public handover to the incoming Director, Gavin James. GKWJ then spoke, thanking Charles for all his tireless work for the Friends since its inception and presented him with a framed print of the famous ‘observing blackboard’ from the classroom wall. GKWJ continued on to outline future events and various initiatives that he aims to introduce in the coming year. A very timely overhead ISS pass at 19:36 made an impressive first observation for the Friends in this new year. As the partygoers dispersed, Jupiter shone brightly (mag -2.9) in the southeast and wispy cloud accented a beautiful clearing sky

16th September

GCSE Observing: A clear sky allowed GCSE observing to start earlier than usual this new academic year. Members of the Remove and Hundred joined GKWJ and DGR at the Dome in two separate groups. The Remove were first and following an introduction to observing at the Dome, they enjoyed great views of Saturn in the 10-inch, with moon Titan visible, followed by Jupiter and all four Galilean moons. The planets were also viewed in the two ETXs and Celestron 8-inch outside. Then it was the Hundred’s turn; first they sketched Jupiter, with particular attention to the position of its four brightest moons. They then observed Saturn, with two moons visible (Titan and Rhea). To finish, they returned to Jupiter to sketch the new position of its four Galilean moons, noting with care their movement over the relatively short timescale

10th September

Planetary Imaging: GKWJ and JAG dusted down the 10-inch after the summer holidays and attempted to capture images of Saturn and Jupiter. Some success was had, but poor seeing resulted in sub-optimal image quality


August 2022 – News

12th August

Friends Observing: Over the course of the evening, 15 Friends joined JAG at the Dome to observe the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. The rising Full Moon was not an issue at the start of the session, but became increasingly intrusive as the evening progressed and it rose in altitude. Despite the moonlight, a total of 20 Perseids were spotted as well as 3 sporadic meteors during the two hours of observing. Some meteors were very bright, estimated to be magnitude -4, drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the group of meteor spotters

Outreach Visit: A local relative visited the Dome with JAG. The Sun was viewed with eclipse specs and solar scopes

11th August

BAAO Team Training: CEB led the observational training at the Dome for the 5 UK 2022 BAAO team members who fly out to Georgia to compete in the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics next week. The residential visit has become an annual event in Marlborough as part of an Oxford based training week. The 4 boys and one girl, all 18 and post A-level were supervised by one of the Team Leaders and a past medalist (China 2018). The afternoon was used for solar work and the 4 sunspot groups were viewed in solar scopes and the ETX with white light filter. The 10 inch was used with the H-alpha filter to view a large prominence and good chromosphere detail. Once relatively dark, a series of observational tasks were carried out, naked eye, binocular and telescopic, using the ETX and small Newtonian scopes. The 10 inch was used to view the Full Moon (excellent views of Copernicus and Tycho ray craters) and then Saturn (too close to the Moon to see its moons), Jupiter, Vesta, Uranus and Mars. 3 very bright Perseids were seen during the evening and the radio detector was registering 20 meteors an hour

10th August

Outreach Visit: 6 guests visited the Dome with JAG. The Sun was viewed with eclipse specs and solar scopes

9th August

Outreach Visit: A member of staff with 6 family members visited the Dome with JAG. The Sun was viewed through eclipse spectacles along with diffraction gratings. It was then observed with a solar scope allowing three sunspot groups to be clearly identified

3rd August

Summer School Observatory Tour: The final Observatory Tour of Summer School 2022 started with 26 guests under a clear sky in Court, spotting Vega and Arcturus as they emerged in the fading twilight. The group walked up to the Dome, but by the time they arrived, the sky had clouded over! GKWJ, JAG and DGR entertained the visitors both inside the Dome and outside. DGR set up the Celestron 8-inch outside on the observing platform and announced that Saturn was visible through growing gaps in the cloud. Its moon, Titan could also be seen. The breaks in the cloud grew, allowing a partial sky tour with the Milky Way clearly visible. A rising Jupiter was the next target in the 8-inch, with three Galilean moons visible. The 10-inch was slewed to Saturn, but unfortunately the sky rapidly deteriorated, clouding over and brought an enjoyable visit to an end


July 2022 – News

27th July

Summer School Observatory Tour: 23 guests from Week Three of the Summer School visited the Dome with GKWJ, JAG and DGR. It was cloudy, so as in Week Two, they enjoyed ‘The Cloudy Show’

20th July

Summer School Observatory Tour: 11 students from Week Two at the Summer School visited the Dome with GKWJ, JAG and DGR. It was cloudy, so they were given an overview of activities at the observatory, a history of the Cooke 10-inch and a slide show of images taken through the 10-inch and at the Dome

13th July

Summer School Observatory Tour: 33 Week One Summer School guests joined JAG and DGR at the Dome for the Observatory Tour. Conditions were partly cloudy, but the enthusiastic star gazers were able to spot, through gaps in the cloud, many major stars and prominent asterisms, as well as the ISS (and other satellites), a meteor (much to DGR’s annoyance, who had his back to it) and the rising supermoon. Inside, the visitors were briefed on the need for a warm room and dark adaption and the history of the 10-inch was outlined. The clouds may have put a slight damper on the occasion, but visitors still left with big smiles on their faces

7th July

Staff Visit: A member of College staff visited the Dome with JAG in the evening twilight. The First Quarter Moon was viewed through the Celestron 4-inch and the Sun was viewed through eclipse glasses, along with the solar spectrum when paired with diffraction glasses

June 2022 – News

30th June

Scholars Visit: 9 Remove Scholars with their current tutor and next year’s tutor visited the Dome with GKWJ. The question ‘Are we alone?’ was considered, with an in-depth look at the search for extraterrestrial life across our galaxy, including the Drake Equation, which gave a result of 3.75 intelligent civilisations currently resident in the Milky Way – the search for them continues…

20th June

Radcliffe Society: The final meeting of the year was enjoyed by ten members of the society who joined GKWJ, JAG and CJW at the Dome for an attempt to launch two small model rockets. Three sizes of motor were available: A, B and C, increasing in power. The first task was to establish safe practice for launch and landing. Wind speed, direction and maximum altitude were accounted for to identify a safe landing zone. Two A motor launches were completed successfully, with measurements taken of altitude and distance, max altitude being 63m. The first B motor launch was then attempted. Lift off was a success, but the parachute descent was far slower than predicted and the rocket found its landing spot in a tree. The parachute of rocket number two was modified to decrease its descent duration and it was launched. Unfortunately, whilst it did indeed descend more rapidly, it too found a tree, albeit a different tree, as its landing spot. Max altitude of the B motor rocket was 124m. No C motor launch was attempted. Much fun was had by all and some interesting science was carried out. Next meeting: 19th September

14th June

Outreach visit: 18 members of Owl Class (Years 5 & 6) from Oare Primary School, together with a teacher and two parent helpers, enjoyed a guided tour of the Observatory with JAG, ably assisted by a L6 pupil. There was much excitement as they looked at the Sun through eclipse glasses and realised that it appears to be the same size as the Moon, being 400 times larger but also 400 times further away from us. Inside the Dome, they appreciated the importance of red light in maintaining night vision, watched their pupils shrink as the white light dazzled them, opened and rotated the roof, admired ’the oldest computerised telescope in the world’ and asked lots of excellent questions, the last of which was ‘Can we come back for another visit when it’s dark, please?’

8th June

Observing: The twilight waxing Gibbous Moon was observed by GKWJ and JAG, who were carrying out tests of two new eyepieces. Purchased with help from the Friends and funds raised by the sale of two redundant eyepieces, the new Tele Vue eyepieces offer optimum quality for increased magnification observing with the 10-inch. Copernicus, Tycho and Clavius craters were viewed at 140x magnification with a 27mm Panoptic and 224x with a 17mm Nagler. The contrast and detail were superb, despite the poor seeing, and the eyepieces will definitely enhance future observing