December 2023 – News
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.