January 2023 – News

31st January

Pupil Observing: GKWJ made the Dome available to members of Radcliffe Society and the GCSE Astronomers for the evening, allowing them to observe Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). 20 pupils from across the year groups came to observe. They all saw the comet in the 10-inch, watching the fuzzy patch move across the field of view, with noticeable change in even just a few minutes. The comet was also viewed in binoculars outside and the Moon was observed through an ETX.

Shell Visit: The final Shell visit enjoyed clear skies as the 12 boys from Turner joined GKWJ at the Dome along with their HM. There was a bright, 75% Waxing Gibbous Moon. They were given a tour around the main constellations, also spotting Jupiter, Mars and the Pleiades (M45). They observed a faint fuzzy patch above and to the east of Polaris in binoculars, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). The group moved to the 10-inch to observe the Moon, where the Apennine Mountains were looking particularly impressive close to the Terminator. Unfortunately, before being able to move to the Comet, it clouded over, so the session ended with a discussion about asteroid and comet impacts on Earth.

30th January

Pupil Observing: Broken cloud allowed a varied evening of observing for two pupils with GKWJ and JAG. A Hundred pupil continued their Aided project, making observations of Algol in its dimmed state. Photographs of Star Trails were taken. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was first seen by averted naked eye as a very faint fuzzy patch close to Polaris. Binoculars revealed an obvious nebulous region. In the 10-inch, the coma was very clear, along with a suggestion of the dust tail. Sketches were made at roughly twenty minute intervals, showing significant movement. Much to the group’s amazement, the comet could be seen to move before our very eyes relative to the background stars over a period of about one minute. Towards the end of the session, a member of Staff and two family members joined the group to observe the comet.

28th January

Public Open Evening: The Observatory was opened to the public with two ticketed sessions seeing 37 people visiting in total. The public interest in astronomy is evidently high as the limited tickets sold out within 25 minutes of being made available some 10 days before the event. The evening was cloudy, so GKWJ and JAG spoke about the history and current use of the Observatory and showed a selection of photographs taken through the Cooke 10-inch and around the Observatory. The sessions ended with a look at the radio meteor detector live stream (though it was very quiet and only a handful of events were seen) and the Campo del Cielo Wetton meteorite.

27th January

Outreach Lecture: GKWJ delivered a lecture with Friend, Nick Howes, to a large audience of over 160 people in the Town Hall on the topic “How to enjoy the night sky” as part of the continuing Marlborough Dark Skies offering. Before the talk started, clear skies enabled a 4-inch refractor to be set up on the balcony of the Town Hall and many attendees observed the First Quarter Moon and Jupiter with its four Galilean moons. Many excellent questions were asked and all under 16s, which accounted for about half the audience, were given a small meteorite to take away.

26th January

Shell Visit: Nine Shell boys from Summerfield came to the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy. They were shown the Observatory, watched the radio meteor live stream, spotting only a few small events, and enjoyed the iron Wetton meteorite.

25th January

Outreach Visit: The weather finally turned and it was foggy, cloudy and drizzling rain when 29 youngsters from the Aldbourne Cubs and 8 adult leaders visited the Dome in two groups. GKWJ showed them the Observatory, then they looked at a small selection of photographs, observed the radio meteor detector live stream, where the occasional small batch of events was seen and they handled the Campo del Cielo iron meteorite from the Wetton Meteorite Collection. As the second group emerged from the Observatory, they were greeted not only by their parents, but also by a clear sky! A small group stayed a little longer to have a quick look through binoculars at Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which had climbed a little higher in the north, but was still a faint and quite small fuzzy blob.

24th January

Shell Visit: All ten boys from the Shell in Preshute visited the Dome with GKWJ, accompanied by their HM. Another clear sky allowed observing to happen, but it was quite hazy, especially towards the horizon. The session started outside with a fabulous view of the Waxing Crescent 3 day old Moon showing very clear Earthshine. Next was a Sky Tour around the constellations, also pointing out Mars, Jupiter, the Pleiades (M45) and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). We then observed M45 through binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with all four Galilean moons visible, double star Almach and the session ended with a view of Mars.

GCSE Observing: Four pupils from the Hundred GCSE Astronomy set joined GKWJ at the Dome. Another set of photos for the star trails project was taken. Planispheres were investigated, using them to identify stars and constellations, along with an appraisal of their benefits and limitations. The group moved to the 10-inch and observed Mars followed by the Crab Nebula (M1). We then searched for Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), first spotting it in binoculars as a fuzzy blob, not dissimilar to M1. We then moved to the 10-inch and managed to find the comet, this time the large and diffuse coma was clearly visible, along with a short stubby dust tail, but no sign of an ion tail was seen.

23rd January

Outreach Visit: The third group from Cothill House, consisting of 18 Year 7 boys and two teachers came to the Observatory with GKWJ. The clear skies continued and it was so cold that the Dome was frozen solid and would not move. GKWJ set about it with de-icer and a hammer, finally removing enough ice to free the Dome! The session started outside with a magnificent view of the thin Waxing Crescent Moon close to a very bright Venus. A Sky Tour of the main constellations included many satellites and an overhead pass of the ISS, which disappeared into the Earth’s shadow at an altitude of around 50°, clearly turning red before vanishing. Jupiter, Mars and the Pleiades were seen by naked eye and then the Pleiades was viewed in binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch, where Jupiter and 4 Galilean moons were observed followed by M31 accompanied by its satellite galaxy M32 in the same field of view, and finally, the double star Almach. The boys asked a torrent of excellent questions throughout the evening.

20th January

What a week it has been, with ten groups visiting over five nights and all enjoying clear skies!

Friends Observing: A perfectly clear day looked like it would provide the ideal end to a week of clear skies and a chance for the Friends of the Marlborough Telescope to enjoy some observing. However, when GKWJ arrived at the Dome, the sky was starting to cloud over and by the time 9 Friends had arrived for the session, the sky was completely cloudy. The group settled in the warm room to enjoy a slideshow of images. Half way through, GKWJ popped his head out to check conditions only to discover that the clouds had vanished, leaving beautiful clear skies. The group rapidly deployed for observing, slewing the 10-inch first to Jupiter with all 4 Galilean moons visible and then on to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The group went outside for a sky tour and to view M31 and the Pleiades (M45) in binoculars. The session was the ‘Bring Your Own’ event and various Friends had brought a selection of instruments. A Sky-Watcher 130P table top Dobsonian and binoculars were used to hunt down Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). It was low to the northern horizon with some hazy high cloud, making it hard to discern, but it was found. Another Friend had their new Celestron NexStar 127 SLT and progress was made with the set up routine before multiple objects were viewed, including Mars, Jupiter and the Pleiades. At this point JAG arrived with another Friend, who had his Sky-Watcher 72ED set up with an ASiair controller. The small Dob and the 10-inch both slewed to the Orion Nebula (M42) to provide an interesting comparison view, really proving that aperture is everything when it comes to telescopes! Unfortunately, by the time the 72ED was ready for action, clouds had rolled in again, bringing a lovely session to an end.

19th January

A fourth night in a row of beautiful clear skies allowed two groups to visit the Observatory and enjoy the stars.

Shell Visit: The 10 Shell boys from Littlefield, accompanied by their tutor, met GKWJ at the Observatory under spectacular clear skies. They were given a Sky Tour, taking in the main constellations, Jupiter, Mars, The Pleiades (M45), The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Milky Way. They then viewed The Pleiades through binoculars before going in to the main Dome to observe Jupiter and three Galilean Moons followed by the Andromeda Galaxy in the 10-inch.

GCSE Observing: It was finally the turn of the Remove Astronomers to have a session at the Dome. 14 pupils attended and the evening started with an in-depth Sky Tour of all the constellations on view. As GKWJ was pointing out Taurus, a wonderful bright meteor streaked right through that area of sky, inducing an eruption of excitement in the group! The pupils then applied themselves to a Worksheet about Orion, involving naked eye sketches, calculations and a sketch of The Orion Nebula (M42) as seen through the 10-inch. The session ended with a quick hunt for Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) just above the northern horizon with the 10-inch. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful. However, GKWJ persisted once the pupils had departed and eventually spotted the comet in binoculars, followed by successfully finding it with the 10-inch. The comet is really quite dim and is drowned out by light pollution close to the northern horizon.

18th January

The wonderful cold weather and clear skies continue, ensuring another busy night up at the Observatory for GKWJ.

Outreach Visit: The second group from the 2nd Marlborough Scouts and 2 leaders came up to the Dome. They were soon joined by the first group and 3 leaders, who visited last week under cloudy skies and decided that it would be unfair to miss out on the clear sky! A total of 13 scouts and 5 leaders enjoyed a Sky Tour including M45 and M31 by naked eye and M45 through binoculars. They then viewed Jupiter with 4 moons, M31 and Mars through the 10-inch.

GCSE Observing: In an unprecedented move, 8 Hundred Astronomers came up to the Dome for the third night in a row. Great progress was made with their Aided Observing Tasks, taking full advantage of the clear skies. They also observed Mars in the 10-inch.

17th January

Another clear and cold evening made for a busy night for GKWJ at the Observatory!

Outreach Visit: The second group from Cothill House, comprising 17 Yr 7 boys and 3 teachers, visited the Dome. They enjoyed a Sky Tour of the constellations and naked eye views of Jupiter, Mars, M45, M31 and the Milky Way. M45 was then viewed through binoculars. The group moved inside to observe Jupiter and its four Galilean moons through the 10-inch and then the core of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. Many great questions were asked throughout the evening.

Shell Visit: The 12 Shell girls from New Court, along with the HM and two children, came up to the Dome. They were given a Sky Tour and viewed M45, The Pleiades, through the 4-inch refractor. They then viewed Jupiter and its moons through the 10-inch, followed by M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.

GCSE Observing: The continued run of clear skies allowed six of the Hundred Astronomers to come up to the Dome to start or continue work on their Aided Observing Tasks. Photos were taken for the sidereal day length project, drawings were made of the area around Orion’s Belt seen through binoculars to measure light pollution and observations of variable stars Algol in Perseus and Delta Cephei in Cepheus were made with binoculars. The session ended with a look at M42, the Orion Nebula, through the 10-inch. It looked as clear and dusty as it ever has under the beautifully clear sky. All in all, a fabulous evening of observing.

16th January

Outreach Visit: 18 Year 7 pupils and two teachers from Cothill House Prep School visited the Dome with GKWJ. A beautiful clear sky greeted them, though it was freezing cold. The session started outside with a sky tour of the main constellations, multiple satellites were seen, the Milky Way was fairly clear and M31, the Andromeda Galaxy could just be seen. M45, the Pleiades, was observed first by naked eye and then through binoculars. The group then moved inside to the 10-inch, where Jupiter and 4 moons were viewed, followed by the double star Almach and finally, the session ended with a view of the core of the Andromeda Galaxy. An excellent group of youngsters whose questions never stopped!

GCSE Observing: 9 of the Hundred Astronomers came up to the Dome with GKWJ. They started work on their Aided Observing Tasks, which included measurements to determine the effects of light pollution, taking photographs to measure the length of the sidereal day and making observations of a variable star.

13th January

RAS Award Winner: The Royal Astronomical Society announced the 2023 Medal Winners today and our very own Charles Barclay was the winner of the RAS 2023 Service Award for his significant contribution to astronomy education over a long and distinguished career. For the full story, see the RAS website here: https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/news/royal-astronomical-society-unveils-2023-award-winners. Congratulations to Charlie!

12th January

Shell Visit: The fourteen girls in the Morris Shell came up to the Dome with their Housemistress. The sky was clear, though it was windy with occasional passing cloud. GKWJ started the session outside with a short Sky Tour and a view of M45, The Pleiades, first by naked eye and then through binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch and observed Jupiter with all four of its Galilean moons lined up to one side of the planet. Next, the double star Almach was viewed. The next target was to be M42, the Orion Nebula, but as the telescope slewed, the sky rapidly clouded over. The group moved to the warm room and the session finished with a look at a selection of photos of star trails and the Moon.

11th January

Outreach Visit: Seven Scouts and two Scout Leaders from the 2nd Marlborough Scouts visited GKWJ at the Dome. It was wet and windy. The group had a tour of the Observatory and then saw multiple meteor events on the radio meteor detector live stream. They also enjoyed the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

10th January

Shell Visit: Thirteen girls from the Mill Mead Shell and their tutor came up to the Dome with GKWJ. It was wet and windy. They enjoyed a tour of the facility and opted to view a slideshow of photographs taken at the Dome and through the 10-inch. Plenty of great questions were asked.

9th January

GCSE Observing: Six Remove pupils came to the Dome for observing with GKWJ. The sky was mostly clear, though with some high hazy cloud and a rising Waning Gibbous Moon. The session started with a view of Jupiter through the 10-inch. Four Galilean moons were initially visible, but Ganymede was seen to move behind the planet and be occulted. The group completed a worksheet about LST, RA, HA & Dec, using the Moon, Mars and Jupiter to explore methods of position estimation. The final task was to identify an object given just a set of coordinates. It turned out to be M42 – the Orion Nebula, which was viewed through the 10-inch, with the Trapezium clearly visible along with plenty of nebulosity, despite the increasing moonlight.

5th January

Shell Visit: The 10 girls in Ivy House Shell accompanied by their Housemistress visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy with occasional rain showers. The group were shown around the observatory and then enjoyed the radio meteor detector live feed, where multiple small events were seen. They were also shown the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

3rd January

Friends Observing: A small group of Friends joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome under cloudy skies to observe the Quadrantid meteor shower using the radio detector. The live stream was initially rather temperamental due to interference from the projector, but soon sorted itself out. In the hour from 22:00 to 23:00 GMT, 68 events were seen and from 23:00 to 00:00 just 34 events. The peak was seen to be around 04:00 the following morning, exactly as predicted.