April 2021 News

23rd April

GCSE Solar observing: As part of Topic 10, the Remove Astronomy set of 15 pupils came up to the Dome and were supervised by CEB and GKWJ. The sky was clear and the Sun was observed first in Solar Goggles and then using Solar Scopes. The rotation rate of the Earth was estimated from the projected image. The 2 ETXs were then used with white-light filters to view the photosphere and the 2 sunspot groups were clearly vsisble. The image was as expected clearer at 35x magnification than 70x. The 10 inch was then used with the hydrogen-alpha filter to view the chromosphere and a large, bonfire shaped, prominence seen on the south westerm limb. This was drawn by the students

March 2021 News

25th March

MCBO Outreach: GKWJ presented a live guided tour of the Blackett Observatory to a Zoom gathering of 50+ members from the Basingstoke and Newbury Astronomical Societies. The audience heard about the history of the observatory and its main instrument, the Cooke 10-inch. The session concluded with a live-stream view of the waxing Gibbous Moon through the 10-inch, allowing viewers to enjoy impressive detail of the Montes Alpes, Rima Suess, Schickard crater and more

22nd March

Radcliffe Society: Members of the society met online for the March meeting. First, a pupil spoke about his Royal Astronomical Society award winning poster on radio meteor detection. The group then looked back at the three recent missions to Mars, enjoying the Night Sky News video from popular Oxford astrophysicist YouTuber, Dr Becky Smethurst. The session ended with an appraisal of the scientific accuracy of the film ‘The Martian’. Next meeting: 24th May

18th March

Sun-Earth Day Lecture: CEB delivered the 2021 NASA/ESA Sun-Earth Day Lecture to a group of Friends, pupils and invited guests via Zoom. The lecture title was ‘The ‘computer’ who unlocked the universe’ – a fascinating look at the work of four of the most influential women in the history of astronomy

16th March

GCSE Observing: 10 pupils from the Remove joined GKWJ at the Dome for observing. The session started with a view of the 3 day old crescent Moon in the 10-inch – a marvellous sight! The pupils then made sketches of the southwestern sky, placing Orion carefully with respect to the horizon, meridian and celestial equator. They estimated the right ascension of Betelgeuse, given the local sidereal time and estimated magnitudes of various stars. A most enjoyable return to observing

11th March

GCSE Observing: Members of the Hundred joined GKWJ at the Dome for a long awaited observing session. Conditions were windy with fast moving patchy cloud. Pupils made an observing target list, selecting one of each astronomical object type. Observing started outside with the naked eye, finding: Orion, Orion’s Belt, Betelgeuse, The Orion Nebula (M42), The Pleiades (M45) and Mars. The Right Ascension of Betelguese was estimated using the Local Sidereal Time and finding the Meridian. The group moved inside to slew the 10-inch to The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), but unfortunately thickening cloud brought the session to an end. Irritatingly, the sky cleared some ten minutes later!

2nd March

House visit:7 Shell pupils from PR joined CEB on Zoom for the rearranged Dome visit. This was the last visit this year. Visits will recommence in September (hopefully live)

February 2021 News

20th February

Friends Observing: A small group of Friends met online for a lunar observing session. Unfortunately, the evening was cloudy, but that did not stop the observing, GKWJ had filmed about an hour of footage of the similar 10 day old Moon phase in January, captured on a good clear night through the 10-inch. With commentary from CEB and GKWJ, along with facts and figures from JAG, the group explored the lunar surface at various magnifications, identifying craters, mare, rimae, rilles, wrinkle ridges, landing sites and more. The effects of the seeing were very evident, with the familiar ‘boiling’ effect along with moments of great clarity. There was much discussion and great questioning from the group. The highlights of the tour were the detail and shadows visible in features along the terminator and a fabulous view of the crater Copernicus, with its multiple central peaks

11th February

House visit: 7 pupils from TU Shell joined via Zoom. It was very cold at -3 (for CEB)

Next House visit: Tuesday 2nd March (PR)

4th February

House visit: 10 pupils from SU Shell joined on Zoom. The evening was mild and damp

Next House visit: Thursday 11th February (TU)

January 2021 News

28th January

House visit: 8 pupils from PR Shell joined via Zoom. Unfortunately the wifi was not stable and the evening had to be abandoned. The visit is rescheduled for Tuesday 2nd March

Next House visit: Thursday 4th February (SU)

21st January

House visit: 10 pupils from NC Shell joined CEB via Zoom along with their HM and family and the new Deputy Head (Co-Curriculum) and family. The event was recorded for those not attending, due to time zones. The evening was cloudy.

Next House visit: Thursday 28th January (PR)

18th January

Radcliffe Society: Members met online to hear GKWJ present an Observing Challenge for the coming weeks, with objects to be viewed by naked eye, binoculars and a small telescope. This was followed by an introduction to the Blackett Observatory Radio Meteor Detection System. Next Meeting: 8th February

16th January

Friends Observing: A group of a dozen Friends met on Zoom for the annual ‘Bring Your Own Telescope / Binoculars’ observing session. Cloudy conditions prevailed, so a Q&A session was enjoyed. A whole range of questions were raised, ranging from ‘how do I actually find objects with a pair of binoculars?’, through to ‘what is the best approach to start astrophotography with my 9.25 inch Celestron telescope?’. It was a stimulating session, with great participation from all attending

14th January

House visit: 7 Shell pupils from MO joined CEB on Zoom. Several were based overseas and thus the event was recorded. The night was mild and cloudy

Next House visit: Thursday 21st January (NC)

7th January

House visit: The first House visit of the term occured remotely via Zoom, a new venture. The majority of Shell pupils from MM were able to attend and the visit was recorded for those in different time zones. The night was cold and foggy, but only CEB was exposed to this. The pupils could sit in the warm in their homes for the observatory tour

Next House visit (Zoom): Thursday 14th January (MO)

2nd January 2021

Friends Observing: A group of around a dozen Friends joined CEB, GKWJ and JAG online via Zoom to observe the Quadrantids meteor shower. It was cloudy, so observation was only possible with the Radio Meteor Detection System. CEB gave an introduction to the Quadrantid shower and GKWJ gave an update on the radio system. We then watched for meteors, but it was relatively quiet with only a small number of short ‘pings’ seen. The peak of the Quadrantid shower evidently hadn’t started yet. The radio detector live stream continued online through the night and activity has increased significantly, with a constant stream of events visible by the morning

December 2020 News

15th December

Great Conjunction: JAG and GKWJ went to the Dome to try and see Jupiter and Saturn as they approached their Great Conjunction. A gap in the clouds allowed the planetary pair to be viewed through binoculars and just in the 10-inch. Their separation of 45 arcminutes put the two planets on the very edge of the eyepiece

13th December

Friends Observing: Cloudy conditions and Covid restrictions did not deter over thirty Friends and members of the U3A from gathering to observe the annual Geminids Meteor Shower. We met online via Zoom; CEB introduced the Geminids, GKWJ spoke about the new radio meteor detector and then we observed the waterfall from the radio system. We saw many ‘pings’ accompanied by the characteristic ‘weeeooo’ sound emerging from the ‘ssssshhhh’ of the static background noise. In the two hours of observing from 8pm to 10pm, we witnessed the system detect over 200 events

10th December

House Visit: 11 Shell pupils from EL came up to the Dome. It was cloudy and raining

Next House visit: Thursday 7th January (MM)

7th December

Radcliffe Society: A select band of members met online. GKWJ gave a round up of What’s Up over the coming months. A pupil read out their essay entitled ‘Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead?’ where the prospect of space travel and extra terrestrial colonisation was explored. Finally, a pupil introduced a video ‘Does Planet 9 Exist?’, which provoked interesting discussion. Next meeting: 18th January 2021

3rd December

House visit: 14 Shell pupils from DA came up to the Dome with a Tutor. It was cloudy

Next House visit: Thursday 10th December (EL)

1st December

House visit: 10 Shell pupils from IH came up to the Dome with a Tutor. It was cold and cloudy

Next House visit: Thursday 3rd December (DA)

November 2020 News

28th November

Meteor Detector: The new Blackett Observatory Radio Meteor Detection System was brought up to the Dome today, following initial set up and testing in GKWJ’s office. It is now up and running 24/7, detecting reflections of the GRAVES radio transmission (143.050 MHz) by ionisation caused by meteors as they ablate in the atmosphere. The signal is processed by software (Spectrum Lab) to produce a waterfall of events. The system will keep track of hourly event numbers and should show increased numbers during meteor showers. The Geminids, with an expected peak on the 13th / 14th December, will be its first true test

26th November

GCSE Observing: Despite freezing fog, Remove astronomers came to the Dome to sketch the Moon. They started with a naked eye view, showing the 11 day old phase, a double aureole and Mars only a few degrees away. They then sketched a more detailed view given by the two ETXs and a close up of the crater Tycho, through the 10-inch. Photos were taken with their mobile phones through an ETX

House Visit: 10 pupils from Cotton Shell came to the Dome. Despite the fog the Summer Triangle and Polaris were visible and bright red Mars. The Moon and Tycho crater were viewed in the 10 inch

Next House visit: Thursday 3rd December (DA)

25th November

EP Observing: Under clear skies, but with a Waxing Gibbous Moon, the L6 EP pupil continued his astrophotography work at the Dome with GKWJ, gathering data sets of M45 (Pleiades), the Double Cluster and M81 & M82 (Bode’s & Cigar Galaxies). Photographs of the Moon were also taken, along with ‘test shots’ on a number of targets

19th November

GCSE Observing: Pupils from the Hundred continued their Aided Observing Tasks. Sketches were made of Messier objects – M45 (Pleiades) through binoculars, M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) through an ETX and M57 (Ring Nebula) through the 10 inch. Photographs were taken of star trails around the NCP and of the sky to try and catch meteors. Several late Leonid meteors were seen through the evening

House Visit: 12 pupils from C3 Shell came to the Dome with a tutor. The sky was clear if very damp. M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) and the Milky Way were seen by eye. M45 (Pleiades) was veiwed in Binos and M57 (Ring) was viewed in the 10 inch.

Next House visit: Thursday 26th November (CO)

17th November

Friends Observing: A group of some 23 Friends and pupils gathered online via Zoom to observe the annual Leonids meteor shower. While cloudy conditions meant that optical observing was not possible, all was not lost. The group was introduced to the new radio meteor detection system that is in development for the Dome. CEB introduced the Leonids and GKWJ introduced the radio system. One meteor ‘ping’ was seen on the radio feed – a first for the Marlborough College Blackett Observatory! The challenge is to have the radio system fully installed and operational for the Geminids in December

12th November

House visit: 8 pupils from LI Shell came up to the Dome. Initially it was raining but a break in the cloud allowed views of the main Autumn asterisms and the Milky Way and also all present were able to see M31 by (averted) eye

Next House visit: Thursday 19th November (C3)

9th November

Radcliffe Society: The Society met on Zoom for the November meeting. The topic of ‘Life Elsewhere’ was explored through three videos (phospine in the atmosphere of Venus, tidal heating and the Drake equation) and discussion amongst the group. Next meeting: 7th December

6th November

EP Observing: This year’s astronomy focussed Extended Project pupil had his first evening at the Dome with GKWJ, starting to learn the basics of astrophotography. Images of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, were taken through the Smith 8-inch under a predominantly clear sky, but intermittent cloud hindered perfect progress

5th November

GCSE Observing: The Hundred GCSE astronomers started their Aided Observing Tasks at the Dome tonight. Sketches were made of M45 (The Pleiades) through binoculars and of M57 (The Ring Nebula) through the 10-inch. Photographs of star trails around the North Celestial Pole were taken

House Visit:11 pupils from C1 Shell came up to the Dome with a Tutor. The sky was largely clear with falling temperatures. A tour was given outside the Dome and then the 10 inch was used to view Mars. The ice cap and some dark green markings were discernable

Next House visit: Thursday 12th November (LI)

3rd November

GCSE Observing: The Remove GCSE astronomers joined CEB and GKWJ at the Dome for an excellent evening of naked eye observing. They made sketches of the main asterisms looking north and then south, adding in the waning Gibbous Moon and a wonderfully bright Mars. Apparent magnitudes of the principal stars were estimated and calculations using local sidereal time were attempted

October 2020 News

18th October

Friends Observing: Unfortunately cloud prevented the scheduled observing of double stars, but that did not deter us from meeting. A group of around a dozen Friends gathered online for the first ‘Cloudy Alternative’ and considered the topic of ‘Life Elsewhere’, inspired by the recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. A fascinating discussion ensued, though ultimately inconclusive, we all agreed that simple life forms are probably abundant while complex life forms require a complex set of conincidences and are therefore likely to be extremely rare

15th October

GCSE Observing: 8 Hundred astronomers had their first evening of the year at the Dome. It was cloudy to start with, but soon cleared to enable a revision session Sky Tour

9th October

GCSE Observing: 10 Remove GCSE astronomers came up to the Dome for their first evening of observing. Under a cold and clear autumn sky, they enjoyed a Sky Tour around the major asterisms, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way and the planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. The invisible ‘lines in the sky’ were identified. They then used the clinometers they had made in class earlier to measure the altitude of Polaris, calculate the altitude of the Celestial Equator, measure the alitude of the star Deneb and calculate its Declination. They were also able to estimate Deneb’s Right Ascension given its distance from the meridian and the local sidereal time. Finally Mars was viewed through the 10inch, where some surface detail was visible

8th October

House visit: 12 pupils from C2 Shell and a Tutor came up to the Dome. The sky was largely cloudy, though allowed sights of 2 major asterisms, the Saucepan and Polaris and the Summer Triangle. Jupiter and Saturn were also visible as the group departed

Next House visit: Thursday 15th October (IH)

1st October

House visit: 11 Shell pupils from BH came up to the Dome. The sky was cloudy and it was raining by the end of the evening

Next House visit: Thursday 8th October (C2)

September 2020 News

29th September

Lecture: CEB delivered the talk ‘Stories in the Stars – Cultural interpretations of the night sky’ via Zoom to an audience of some 40 pupils and staff

25th September

Friends of the Marlborough Telescope 16th Anniversary: A select group of Friends gathered via a Zoom link to chat and hear CEB look back and then forwards at the Friends Diary. GKWJ ensured that we had a live stream from the Observatory. The Friends were able to stay on to view the waxing Gibbous Moon through the 10 inch, with clear views of craters near the terminator and some super mountain shadows

24th September

House visit: 10 pupils from B1 Shell were the first to come up to the Dome this year. Socially distanced and in masks, they saw the sky darken and the Summer Triangle appear, with Arcturus setting in the West. They then had an introduction to the workings of the Observatory and then we turned the 10inch on Saturn. We were able to get a clear view of the rings and Titan. Mars was rising as they left

Next House visit: Thursday 1st October (BH)

21st September

Friends Observing: History was made at the Blackett Observatory tonight as, for the first time ever, live views through the 10inch were streamed across the internet to over 30 Friends in 24 households, watching from the safety and comfort of their own homes. CEB anchored the online presentation, with JAG providing supporting information and GKWJ controlling the telescope and camera. Observing started with Jupiter and its four Galilean Moons; surface details including the Great Red Spot were visible. Next was dwarf planet, Pluto – only the second time that Pluto has been observed at the MCBO. We then moved on to Saturn and through the use of long exposure photography, the group was able to identify 6 moons: Dione, Tethys, Enceladus, Rhea, Hyperion and Titan. A brief interlude outside while the 10inch carried out a meridian flip offered a chance to enjoy wide views of the sky. Observing continued back at the 10inch with blue tinged Neptune and another first for the Dome, its moon, Triton was clearly identified in the live images. The tour continued to Mars, which made a spectacular sight, resplendent in its orange-red hues, with very clear surface detail across the disk and the South polar ice cap easily visible, looking smaller than usual, a sign that it is currently Summer in the Southern Hemisphere of Mars. The session ended with Uranus and again, a first for the 10inch, four moons were identified: Oberon, Titania, Umbriel and Ariel. A wonderful night of observing with excellent participation from all attendees. This surely bodes well for Friends observing through the coming winter

Radcliffe Society: The first meeting of the new academic year took place and eight members joined GKWJ, JAG and CEB on Zoom. We started with What’s Up using Sky Safari, including a look at the sky view from Bangkok, Thailand – noticing that Mars is directly overhead from that latitude. Future plans and projects for the year ahead were discussed and then the members enjoyed a live observing session using a camera attached to the 10inch. We found Jupiter, with its four Galilean moons all visible. We then moved on to Saturn, where the Cassini Division could just be made out and four moons could be seen with a long exposure view; the moons were Dione, Tethys, Rhea and Titan . The session ended with a view of Neptune and its moon, Triton. Next meeting: 9th November

13th September

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

5th September

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

July 2020 News

19th July

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

June 2020 News

22nd June

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

21st June

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

May 2020 News

21st May

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

4th May

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

March 2020 News

22nd March

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

11th March

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