February 2024 – News

22nd February

GCSE Observing: 10 pupils from the Hundred Astronomy GCSE class came up to the Dome with GKWJ to continue their Aided Observing Tasks. The 96% Waxing Gibbous Moon did not make for perfect Messier Object observing conditions and there was patchy fast moving cloud. Despite sub-optimal conditions, the group first observed M81, Bode’s Galaxy, then searched for the planetary nebula M76, but failed to spot anything in the bright moonlight, so moved to the brighter object M3, a globular cluster in Canes Venatici. Sketches of the globular were made. Meanwhile, a camera was set up outside capturing images to create another star trails image for the sidereal period of the Earth project.

20th February

Outreach Visit: The first group of Cherhill Cubs (19 Cubs and 3 Leaders) visited the Observatory with GKWJ. It was cloudy. The group enjoyed a virtual Sky Tour in Stellarium, a visit to the Dome and a series of photographs of the Moon.

19th February

Outreach Visit: The final group from Cothill House prep school, consisting of 11 pupils and two staff, visited the Dome with GKWJ on a hazy evening. We tried to observe the Moon through the 10-inch, but the cloud was too thick. The group asked a whole range of great questions, looked at a selection of images and enjoyed the Campo Del Cielo meteorite from the Wetton Collection.

18th February

Friends Observing: 14 Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Observatory for this year’s Lunar Observing event. Conditions were far from perfect, with fast moving cloud, but there were sufficient breaks for observing to take place. We started at 90x magnification and a glorious view of the 68% Waxing Gibbous Moon. Up to 140x for closer views of the Sea of Showers with the Apennine mountain range at its edge, including the tallest mountain on the Moon, Mount Huygens at 6000 metres, then to crater Clavius in the south. Mag up to 220x to spot Rupes Recta, the ‘Straight Wall’ cliff face in the Sea of Clouds, and a view of the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility. The cloud had thickened too much at this point, so the group took a seat in the warm room where a Friend shared some key pieces from his Moon Memorabilia collection with us, including a mission patch worn by Neil Armstrong, the Retro Timer Unit and a ‘Remove before Flight’ tag that still smells of kerosene!

14th to 17th February

Friends Outing: An intrepid group of 17 Friends headed out to Kilpisjärvi, Finland at 69°N in search of the Aurora Borealis. Armed with thermals to survive the -15°C arctic conditions, the group enjoyed a snowmobile safari to the 3 borders point where Finland, Sweden and Norway converge, a Sami reindeer experience learning about the culture and ways of Lapland, and a night time snowmobile safari. Some of the group went on excursions for ice fishing on the lake and snow shoe trekking across the tundra. The absolute highlight of the trip was on the Thursday evening when the sky was perfectly clear following a beautiful sunny day, the group went down to the frozen lake to view the night sky. After about 45 minutes, a strange grey-ish cloud arced over the northern horizon. It soon turned a greenish colour and a stunning display of the Aurora started. The shimmering green curtains of light came in waves, dancing across the sky. The display lasted for about an hour, making the trip a complete success.

6th February

Shell Visit: The final Shell visit of the year saw 11 boys from Turner and their HM visit the Dome with GKWJ under cloudy skies and rain. The boys were shown the Cooke 10-inch and a series of images taken at the Observatory. Over the course of the Shell visits 173 pupils have visited the Dome from the 16 boarding houses, with 8 houses looking through the 10-inch under clear skies and 8 houses looking at the 10-inch under cloudy skies!

5th February

Radcliffe Society: The Lent Term meeting of the Radcliffe Society was clouded out, so no observing. A small group of 5 pupils met in a Physics lab with GKWJ and JAG to hear a pupil presentation entitled ‘Python Solar System’ where the pupil explained how they coded a simulation of the Solar System using Python and generated beautiful ‘spirograph’ patterns using the orbits of the planets. GKWJ then gave a What’s Up to cover the skies until May. The session ended with a discussion about the pros and cons of space exploration, considering whether it is just a waste of time, money and energy. All present concluded that it is not!

1st February

Shell Visit: The penultimate Shell visit saw 10 boys from Summerfield visit the Dome with GKWJ on a hazy evening. There were sufficiently thin patches to allow some observation to take place. The group saw Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons through the 10-inch, first at 140x magnification and then at 220x. The GRS was just visible on the off going limb. Moving outside, they enjoyed an abridged sky tour due to patchy cloud and then observed the Pleiades (M45) and the core of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) through binoculars.