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.