Star Gazing – A New Era

Following the restoration of the 10 inch telescope, the College have embarked on a programme of public outreach and increased access to the Dome under the auspices of the new post of a Director. The level of interest in Astronomy both among locals and surrounding primary schools had already been seen to be huge, following the Venus transit event in June 2004. Initially, under the Chairmanship of Mr Philip Wetton CMG, FRAS (founder of the Oxford Chair of Astrophysics and donor of the University 16 reflector telescope) a group, the Friends of the Marlborough Telescope, was set up to run independently of the College. The Friends group was launched in October at a party in the Marlburian attended by 60 guests including notable astronomers and founding supporters. Mr Wetton and the Master (in an early public appearance) spoke briefly. The number of Friends continued to grow and now includes supporters both locally and even abroad. Sir Patrick Moore, who has supported from the start, agreed to be Honorary Patron. A Diary of events, lectures and observing evenings, was arranged for the year and a brochure of the observatorys activities published. There have also been public events advertised locally via the town library, local press and on local radio and these have been fully subscribed. The 14 local primary schools are being invited one at a time and groups from Ogbourne, Bedwyn and Preshute have attended so far. A firm link now exists with Oxford Astrophysics and thanks to a small award grant from PPARC (Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council) doctoral students are able to assist at public and primary school events. The grant has also covered the publicity for the venture. In return, the College is now invited to bring pupils to internal Oxford physics lectures and in June a Hundreds pupil will join the research department for work experience. In April we were able to join a post-doctoral research programme whilst in La Palma as part of the College Astronomy trip and had two nights observing alongside the 3 Oxford students. There have been two main lectures during the year on Exobiology (Life elsewhere in the Solar System) and the NASA sponsored 2005 Sun-Earth day lecture on Archaeoastronomy (Ancient Observatories). During Summer School, where the two astronomy courses are full, Professor Roger Davies (Philip Wetton Chair of Astrophysics at Oxford) will speak on Galaxies and black holes. Groups from other schools, scouts and astronomical societies have visited and included an ex-president of the British Astronomical Association. The GCSE Astronomy course at Swindon New College are also now linked to the Dome and will access the telescopes for coursework. With the help of Oxford graduate Ryan Houghton the observatory website has been designed and is run and updated daily form the Dome [visit the site for more information on or via Google] Since September the observatory has been active on some 50 days and open for 140 hours with 83 hours of observing. A total of 733 visitors have attended events including 302 College pupils. A similar Diary is proposed for next year with a lecture from Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell In pursuit of Pulsars (of which she is credited with the discovery in 1967) in November. The 2006 Sun-Earth day event will focus on the Solar eclipse on 29th March 2006.


C.E. Barclay