March 2024 – News

30th March

Solar Imaging: The Daystar solar hydrogen alpha filter was finally returned after its refurbishment and upgrade to a Quantum PE housing. The sky had sufficient breaks in the cloud to permit GKWJ to test out the new filter, obtaining excellent views of the surface of the Sun with exquisite detail in the chromosphere and prominences. An image of AR 3615 was captured. The filter appears to be performing far better than ever, despite the sub-optimal sky conditions!

22nd March

Friends Observing: At last, the clouds disappeared for a while, allowing GKWJ to call an impromptu extra Friends observing session. The plan was to try and spot Mercury in the fading daylight and then hunt down comet 12P/Pons-Brooks. 6 Friends and JAG came to the Dome as dusk descended. The 10-inch was slewed to Jupiter, which shimmered in the blue sky, at first with no moons visible, but as it darkened, one moon (Ganymede) popped into view. Next on to Mercury, which was easily visible in the dusk, showing an obvious last quarter phase. Outside, the sky was darkening and Jupiter was very clear by naked eye. As the first magnitude stars started to appear, so Mercury could finally be made out by naked eye, a bright spot sinking towards the western horizon. Both planets were easy to see in binoculars. Once it had become sufficiently dark, the 10-inch was slewed to the coordinates of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks. Sure enough, there it was, a fuzzy patch, clearly a comet. Its location with respect to the field stars was noted. Over the course of the next hour, the comet was followed and a Friend set up a portable imaging rig outside. A live stack of short exposures was created, giving an excellent view of the comet’s tail, which was not visible in the eyepiece. The comet proved tricky to find in binoculars, but was eventually tracked down. An overhead ISS pass, fading in to the Earth’s shadow just past the zenith, brought the session to an end, but not before 12P was observed in the eyepiece one last time, clearly having moved with respect to the background stars. A calculation using the first and last live stack images gave a speed of about 56 km/s for the comet across our line of sight. A wonderful and varied extra session at the Dome.

19th March

Sun-Earth Day Lecture: The 2024 NASA/ESA Sun-Earth Day Lecture was given by Professor David Southwood from Imperial College, London, to an audience of around 90 Friends, pupils and staff in the Garnett Room. The topic was ‘Space Weather: Electromagnetic threats from the Sun’. Prof. Southwood started with the Carrington Event of 1859 and took us through the history of the discovery of space weather, highlighting its impacts on Earth. He ended with a look at the work going on currently to mitigate against the potential harms of solar radiation. An excellent talk that was well received by all attending.

12th March

Outreach Visit: A member of staff brought a group of 7 family and friends to visit the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy, so they were introduced to the 10-inch, enjoyed a selection of photos, and handled the Wetton Meteorite Collection.

6th March

GCSE Observing: A group of 9 Remove Astronomers had a long awaited observing session with GKWJ. They tackled a worksheet that looked into estimation of equatorial coordinates, altitude and hour angle through sketching the naked eye view of the Orion area. They then made a sketch of the double star Castor through the 10-inch at 224x magnification and 0.37° field of view to estimate the angular separation of the pair of stars.

5th March

EP Observing: Finally the clear skies returned, allowing an EP pupil, accompanied by two friends from house, to take photographs of stars through the 10-inch for her project with GKWJ. Targets were M42 – The Orion Nebula, M45 – The Pleiades and M36 – The Pinwheel Cluster. Jupiter was also observed with its 4 Galilean moons.

GCSE Observing: Three pupils from the Hundred came to the Dome with GKWJ to complete observations for their Aided Observing Tasks. Sketches were made of M45 – The Pleiades, through binoculars, then using the 10-inch, M1 – The Crab Nebula, was attempted, but failed as conditions were too hazy. The telescope was slewed to Ursa Major and the two galaxies, M81 – Bode’s Galaxy, and M82 – The Cigar Galaxy. The pupils elected to sketch M82, an unusual looking, elongated galaxy.