January 2024 – News

30th January

Outreach Lecture: GKWJ gave the lecture ‘From Smart Phone to Smart Dome’ to about 50 members of the Devizes Photography Club. The lecture offered an insight into a range of astro-imaging techniques ranging from what is possible with a standard DSLR, through lucky imaging of solar system objects, to his observatory set up for deep sky imaging.

25th January

Shell Visit: 7 boys from the Preshute Shell visited the Observatory with GKWJ. It was a cloudy night, so no observing took place, but there was much good discussion fuelled by a selection of images taken at the Observatory.

24th January

Outreach Visit: 15 pupils and two staff from Swindon Academy visited the Dome with GKWJ and JAG. The sky was very hazy and bright with the almost Full Moon. Observing started outside with an ISS pass before the group moved to the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with only 2 moons visible, first at 90x magnification and then at 140x. Then on to the 98% Waxing Gibbous Moon at 90x, which required two neutral density Moon filters to quell the intense light, revealing flat but substantial surface detail. The group moved outside for a Sky Tour, though only the brightest stars were visible in the Moonlight. The session ended with a view of the Pleiades (M45) in binoculars.

23rd January

Shell Visit: 6 girls from the New Court Shell and a tutor visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was a horrible cloudy, wet and windy evening, so no observing took place.

20th January

Outreach Visit: GKWJ and JAG hosted two Public Open Evening sessions with a total attendance of 28 visitors. The sky was cloudy, but with variable thickness, allowing the Waxing Gibbous Moon to be seen, along with a faint 22° Moon halo, and Jupiter just bright enough to be discerned through the cloud. Conditions were not suitable to open the Dome, so the guests enjoyed a sky tour on Stellarium, a visit to the main dome and a selection of images taken through the 10-inch. The Wetton Meteorite Collection also featured.

19th January

Outreach Event: An audience of around 50 people enjoyed an hour long session in the Town Hall entitled ‘Astronomy, Landscape, Astrophysics, and more – Q&A’. Their questions were answered by the panel, chaired by GKWJ, with JAG, local astronomy expert Nick Howes, and Director of the North Wessex Downs National Landscape, Henry Oliver. The event was put together by Jacky Akam of the NWD and Clare Harris of the Marlborough Town Council. The best question of the evening won a meteorite courtesy of Nick, who chose: ‘Is there an external force that is influencing and controlling us?’. The answers were extremely varied!

Friends Observing: The annual ‘Bring Your Own’ session attracted 18 Friends to the Dome seeking help from GKWJ. A wide range of kit was brought along including: 2 pairs of binoculars, 2 small table top Dobsonians, 4 small Newtonian reflectors, an 80mm refractor and a 6-inch Cassegrain reflector. The sky was hazy to start, with an impressive Moon halo, but as people set up their kit, the haze lifted to reveal a beautiful star filled sky. Much alignment of mounts and finderscopes took place before a range of targets were explored including: the Waxing Gibbous Moon (a great starter target which is easy to find!), Jupiter (with its 4 Galilean moons in an interesting configuration all on one side close to the planet), the Orion Nebula (M42), the Double Cluster (NGC 869 & 884), various other open clusters and a whole range of bright stars. In the Dome, the 10-inch first slewed to the Moon, then on to Jupiter and ended on M42. The 80mm ‘frac’ and 6-inch ‘Cass’ were both connected to computer systems allowing impressive EAA (Electronic Assisted Astronomy) where multiple exposures were live stacked to give wonderful views on screen; targets were: the Orion Nebula (M42) and Running Man Nebula (NGC 1977), the Horsehead Nebula (B33) and Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), the core of M42, and the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). As the final participants departed after an excellent and varied evening of observing, the haze was returning – a lucky gap in the clouds for the Friends, for once!

18th January

Shell Visit: 14 girls from the Morris Shell, accompanied by their HM and her two children, came up to the Dome on a beautiful clear, cold winter’s evening. GKWJ gave them a Sky Tour of the main constellations. An intermittent bright light was spotted in the north, it certainly wasn’t an aircraft; the best explanation was an out of control rotating satellite that was catching the sunlight in a regular pattern as it passed through that area of the sky. The group moved inside to the 10-inch and observed the First Quarter Moon at 90x magnification. The seeing was good and excellent detail was visible. The magnification was increased to 220x, allowing an amazing view of the mountain ranges on the eastern borders of Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Showers. The session concluded with a view of Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons.

GCSE Observing: 7 Remove Astronomers attended their observing session under a perfectly clear night sky. They completed a worksheet that investigated the equatorial coordinate system, local sidereal time and hour angle by sketching the main stars of Orion, along with the Orion Nebula, Sirius, Aldebaran and the Pleiades. They added in the Meridian and Celestial Equator, allowing them to complete a series of questions. The session ended with a wonderfully sharp and detailed view of the First Quarter Moon in the 10-inch.

17th January

GCSE Observing: It was the turn of the Hundred Astronomers to come up to the Dome with GKWJ to continue work on their Aided Observing Tasks. It was a very clear and cold night with a bright First Quarter Moon. Sketches were made of Messier Objects: M42, the Orion Nebula, M31, the Andromeda Galaxy and M45, the Pleiades, through the 10-inch, the 8-inch and binoculars. Photographs of star trails around the North Celestial Pole were taken to measure the period of a sidereal day.

16th January

Outreach Visit: The second group of 13 pupils and 2 teachers from Cothill House came to the Dome on a clear evening, though there was some hazy cloud passing by. GKWJ greeted the group outside and much excitement ensued as a pupil spotted a string of Starlink satellites crossing the sky in the southeast. The group moved inside to the 10-inch where Saturn and two moons (Titan and Rhea) were seen first, followed by a fabulous view of the Waxing Crescent Moon. Moving outside, the group were given a Sky Tour before going back to the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with all 4 moons and a shadow transit of Io.

Shell Visit: The 14 girls of the Mill Mead Shell, accompanied by their HM and Dame, visited the Observatory. GKWJ first showed them Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons through the 10-inch, followed by the Waxing Crescent Moon. The group then moved outside for a Sky Tour, including views of the Pleiades (M45) and the Orion Nebula (M42) through binoculars.

15th January

Outreach Visit: The first group from Cothill House Prep School, consisting of 11 pupils and 2 teachers, visited the Dome with GKWJ on a cold and hazily clear evening. The session started with a Sky Tour of the main asterisms, finding Polaris and identifying visible solar system objects. The group moved to the 10-inch, where the Waxing Crescent Moon was viewed first, with excellent surface detail visible. Jupiter was seen with all 4 Galilean moons, though 2 (Io and Europa) were very close to the planet, about to be occulted. The session ended back outside with a view of the Pleiades (M45) through binoculars and a look at how the sky had moved over the course of the session.

13th January

Outreach Visit: 5 members of the Bridgend Astronomical Society, including the Director of the Brecon Beacons Observatory, visited the Dome on a cloudy evening. GKWJ and JAG recounted the history of the Cooke 10-inch and the Blackett Observatory. The group then enjoyed a series of images taken with the 10-inch and watched the radio meteor detector live stream, where multiple events were seen. The Wetton Meteorite Collection was inspected. There was much discussion about all things astronomy and outreach. A return visit to the Brecon Beacons Observatory will be arranged, especially as their Director revealed that they regularly have skies measuring 22.5 mpsas, and have had as dark as 23 mpsas as measured on their SQM – astoundingly dark! A small gap in the clouds revealed Jupiter as the group exited the Observatory; there was a moment of temptation to open the Dome, but the gap was short lived.

11th January

Shell Visit: The 10 boys in the Littlefield Shell, accompanied by a House Tutor and his wife, came to the Dome on a cloudy evening with GKWJ. They were a most inquisitive bunch with an almost incessant stream of questions! They were also shown the Cooke 10-inch.

10th January

Radcliffe Society and Staff Observing: A very busy evening under clear, dark skies, but with a freezing cold biting wind concluded with an ‘open observatory’ for members of the Radcliffe Society and all staff and families at the College to enjoy an evening of Astronomy. 5 pupils, 8 members of Common Room, 18 support staff and 2 members of Security joined GKWJ and JAG at the Dome. Splitting into smaller groups, outside they were given a sky tour and looked at the Pleiades (M45) through binoculars, while inside, the tour with the 10-inch started on M31, moving to Jupiter, with 4 moons and the GRS, on to Almach and ending up on the Orion Nebula (M42). An excellent evening with many first time visitors to the Observatory.

Outreach Visit: 3 doctors from the Ramsbury Practice with various family members, a group of 8 in total, made up the second visit of the evening under clear skies and a very cold wind. Patchy cloud threatened, but thankfully passed quickly. GKWJ and JAG started the session outside with a Sky Tour and views of the Pleiades (M45) and the Orion Nebula (M42) through binoculars. The group then moved in to the Dome and observed Jupiter with 4 moons and the Great Red Spot visible. We then moved to double star Almach and finished the session with a view of the core of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

Staff Visit: A member of staff with partner and three children visited the Dome on a clear and very cold evening. GKWJ gave them a Sky Tour and then showed them Jupiter and its 4 Galilean Moons in the 10-inch, first at 90x magnification, then moving up to 140x. They then viewed Almach.

9th January

GCSE Observing: 14 Remove Astronomers came to the Dome. GKWJ gave a quick sky tour and then the pupils made sketches of the northern view, with The Plough, Polaris and Cassiopeia, before attention turned to the southern view, with Orion, Sirius, The Hyades and The Pleiades. The Andromeda Galaxy could just be seen by naked eye. It was bitterly cold, so the pupils were delighted to warm up inside with a hot chocolate. M31 and Jupiter, with 4 moons, were observed in the 10-inch, where the Dome offered protection from the biting wind.

Shell Visit: 9 girls from the Ivy House Shell and their House Mistress visited the Dome with GKWJ on a very clear, but freezing cold evening. First they were given a sky tour outside, including a bright meteor right overhead. They looked at The Pleiades (M45) through binoculars. The group moved inside to the 10-inch, where they observed Jupiter with 4 moons, double star Almach and The Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

4th January

Friends Observing: 6 new Friends came to the Observatory on a wet and horrible night, joining GKWJ and JAG to observe the Quadrantids meteor shower. They followed the radio meteor detector live stream between 22:00 and 00:00, seeing a total of 120 events. The group were also shown the Cooke 10-inch and the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

SQM Training: 9 members of the Marlborough Dark Skies SQM monitoring project met at the Observatory with GKWJ and JAG for a training session. Groups were assigned, locations were identified and the methods of capturing and uploading data with the Sky Quality Meters were discussed. The Team is now ready to start gathering data at the next clear and dark night opportunity.