November 2023 – News

30th November

Outreach Visit: A wonderfully clear and very cold evening started with the final visit to the Observatory for the Urchfont Scouts, Cubs and Beavers; this group consisting of 14 Cubs and 6 Cub Leaders. The session started outside where GKWJ pointed out Saturn in the south and the ISS as it passed overhead, disappearing into the Earth’s shadow just past the zenith. The group moved inside to the 10-inch to observe Saturn, with its moon Titan clearly visible. As the telescope performed a meridian flip, the group went outside for a Sky Tour to find Polaris and identify The Plough and Cassiopeia. They then returned to the 10-inch to view Jupiter with three Galilean moons. The session ended outside with a view through binoculars of The Pleiades and the Waning Gibbous Moon as it rose above the trees.

Shell Visit: Next to the Dome were the 9 boys of the Cotton Shell, accompanied by an Upper Sixth pupil. It was very cold and very clear, though increasingly bright as the Waning Gibbous Moon rose higher in the sky. The session started with a Sky Tour outside, identifying The Plough and Polaris along with other main asterisms. The group then went into the Dome and used the 10-inch to observe Jupiter with three Galilean moons, the core of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Moon. The session ended outside with a view of the Pleiades through binoculars.

GCSE Observing: It was the turn of the Remove Astronomers and 11 pupils came to the Observatory with GKWJ to conclude a busy evening. Patchy cloud was starting to infiltrate the sky, but they were able to make sketches of the bright Waning Gibbous Moon using binoculars and the 10-inch, picking out the features learned about in recent lessons. They also enjoyed a view in the 10-inch of Jupiter with three Galilean moons and the Great Red Spot visible.

29th November

Pupil Visit: The L6 Creative Writers group, consisting of 7 pupils and 2 staff, visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was very cold with some breaks in the cloud, sufficient to allow the Waning Gibbous Moon and Jupiter with its four Galilean moons to be observed in the 10-inch. The group then enjoyed a slide show in the warm room that took them from a Partial Lunar Eclipse over the Blackett Observatory, through the Solar System, across the Milky Way and out into deep space past nebulae, clusters, supernova remnants, and all the way to the Coma Cluster, a galaxy cluster some 300 million light years from Earth.

28th November

Blackett Lecture: Dr Henrik Melin from the University of Leicester gave the 19th Blackett Lecture on the topic: “The James Webb Space Telescope: New Eyes on the Universe” to an audience of around 100 pupils, staff and Friends. He spoke about the development, technology and scientific goals of the JWST, going into details about the observations made in the first 18 months of the telescope’s active service and its impact on Astronomy. There was a dramatic moment as the lights were cut to accompany the moments before the Big Bang and the birth of the first star in the Universe! Dr Melin was generous with his time and gave a workshop earlier in the day to a group of 8 pupils, where he introduced them to the methods used to create false colour images from the various infrared wavelengths captured by the JWST. The pupils used data from M16, The Pillars of Creation, to construct their own images, with the best image selected by Dr Melin winning a pin of the JWST mirror array. After the lecture, GKWJ and JAG took Dr Melin to visit the Blackett Observatory. Some gaps in the cloud allowed a view of the 98% Waning Gibbous Moon through the 10-inch.

23rd November

Shell Visit: 10 Shell boys and a Tutor from C3 visited the Dome with GKWJ. Broken cloud allowed occasional viewing in the gaps. The Waxing Gibbous Moon was seen through the 10-inch, first at x90 and then at x220, with beautiful detail in Copernicus, Tycho and Sinus Iridum. The 10-inch was then slewed to Jupiter, where multiple belts, the GRS and all 4 Galilean moons were seen.

22nd November

Outreach Visit: The second group from the Ramsbury Scouts, consisting of 13 Scouts and 5 Scout leaders, visited the Dome with GKWJ. There was total cloud cover to start, so the session commenced with a sky tour using Stellarium. The Scouts then went through to the Dome to see the 10-inch. GKWJ checked on conditions outside and found that the cloud had thinned sufficiently to allow a view first of Jupiter and three of its Galilean moons, followed by the Waxing Gibbous Moon.

21st November

Shell Visit: The 12 Shell boys from C2 and a tutor visited the Dome with GKWJ. It was cloudy. The group were amazingly curious and did not hold back with their questions! So much so, that other than a quick look at the 10-inch, the session was dominated by excellent questions and answers.

18th November

Public Open Evening: GKWJ and JAG hosted the Autumn Public Open Evening at the Dome. Two groups attended, with 17 visitors in the first group and 15 in the second. The first group arrived under cloudy skies and were shown around the virtual sky in Stellarium. They were then shown the 10-inch. A quick check outside as the group moved back to the classroom revealed gaps in the cloud, so the group immediately returned to the Dome where they observed Jupiter through the 10-inch, with all four Galilean moons visible. They then moved outside for a Sky Tour of the main constellations and a late Leonid meteor was seen by some of the group. The second group enjoyed clear skies with just occasional passing cloud. The session started with a Sky Tour, including the Andromeda Galaxy just visible by naked eye, and a view of the Pleiades in binoculars. The group then moved to the 10-inch where Jupiter and its 4 moons were observed first, then double star Almach, on to the core of M31 the Andromeda Galaxy, next to the open cluster M34, which was also viewed through the finder scope, giving an idea of what Messier would have seen and hoped to be a comet. The last target in the 10-inch was M1, the Crab Nebula, an optimistic target given its low altitude, but a faint smudge could just be made out. As the group departed, they saw Orion rising in the east.

17th November

Friends Observing: A small group of 4 brave Friends gathered with GKWJ and JAG at the Dome to observe the Leonid Meteor Shower. Cloudy and wet conditions meant that visual observing could not go ahead, so the shower was followed on the radio meteor detector live stream. Over 60 events were seen during the two hour session, with one particularly bright and loud event.

Outreach Observing: Working in partnership with the North Wessex Downs AONB and Sheepdrove Organic Farm, a ticketed public observing session was organised to take place under the dark skies at Sheepdrove near Lambourn. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and wet so observing could not take place; instead, a talk on ‘How to Enjoy the Night Sky’ was given to the 30 participants by GKWJ and a Friend.

16th November

Outreach Visit: 12 Beavers from the Woodborough Beaver Colony, accompanied by 3 Beaver Leaders and 8 Parents, visited the Dome with GKWJ. The forecast was for cloud, but as the Beavers arrived, the cloud appeared to be thinning. Sure enough, the sky cleared and the group enjoyed fabulous views in the 10-inch of Saturn with two moons (Titan and Rhea) and Jupiter with all four Galilean moons. The group moved outside for a sky tour to discover the Plough, Polaris, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle, the Milky Way and the Pleiades. Several early Leonid meteors were also spotted.

14th November

GCSE Observing: A reasonable forecast led GKWJ to announce to the Hundred Astronomers that the Dome would be open for them to commence their Aided Observing Tasks. It was somewhat disappointing that by the time 11 pupils arrived at the Dome it had clouded over. However, optimism prevailed and the cloud cleared, allowing observing to go ahead. The majority of the pupils sketched The Pleiades (M45) through binoculars or the 4-inch refractor, while two pupils were assisted by GKWJ in setting up a camera to capture star trails around the North Celestial Pole. Unfortunately, regular passing cloud rendered the sequence of images unusable. The session ended with a view of Jupiter through the 10-inch, now with only three Galilean moons visible as Io had moved behind the planet.

Shell Visit: The 11 boys of the C1 Shell, accompanied by a House Tutor, visited the Dome with GKWJ. There was some low cloud that was blowing through quickly, allowing observing to take place. The group immediately went inside to the 10-inch where they observed Jupiter and its four Galilean moons. They then moved outside for a sky tour and a view of The Pleiades through binoculars. Plenty of excellent questions were asked. Observing was cut short by thickening cloud.

13th November

Outreach Visit: A member of staff brought a group of 4 local friends up to the Observatory where GKWJ and JAG hosted them for the evening. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so they were shown around the facility and looked at a selection of images. As they departed, the cloud had thinned sufficiently in places to allow a sighting of Jupiter and the Pleiades.

9th November

Outreach Visit: 15 Beavers and 8 Beaver Leaders from the Urchfont Beaver Colony visited the Dome with GKWJ on a horrible wet and windy night. No real observing was possible, but virtual observing took place in Stellarium and the Moon was investigated through a series of photographs. As the Beavers departed, the cloud had thinned sufficiently to allow the W of Cassiopeia to be seen along with a very hazy Plough and Polaris.

8th November

Outreach Visit: 16 members of the Ramsbury Scouts and 3 Scout Leaders visited the Dome on a cloudy night. Stellarium was used to show the main features of the night sky and how it changes through the night and through the year. The group were shown the 10-inch and the session ended with an excellent Q&A session where topics included: star formation, the Big Bang, an infinite universe and time travel.

7th November

GCSE Observing: Finally a clear sky allowed GKWJ to invite the Remove GCSE Astronomers to the Dome for their first observing session. 15 pupils and one chaperone attended. Unfortunately, the sky was starting to cloud over with high level wispy cloud, but the brighter objects could still easily be seen. The session started with a view of Jupiter and three Galilean moons in the 10-inch (Io was occulted). The group then moved outside for a sky tour, putting into practice all that they had learned for Topic 6 in the classroom. The session ended with a welcome cup of hot chocolate to warm up.

Shell Visit: The 12 boys in the Barton Hill Shell were accompanied by their House Master to visit the Observatory. It was 95% clear, so GKWJ took them straight into the Dome where they first observed Saturn and three moons (Titan, Rhea and Dione) through the 10-inch. The moved on to double star Albireo in Cygnus, and staying in the Summer Triangle, slewed to the Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra. Conditions were deteriorating and the session ended with a laser sky tour outside.

Outreach Visit: 10 members of the Kennet u3a Local History group visited the Dome with JAG and GKWJ during the afternoon. Broken cloud allowed the Sun to be observed (safely, of course!), first in eclipse specs and then through the 10-inch with the white light filter, where one large and three smaller sunspot groups could be seen. The group then learned the history of the 10-inch and the Blackett Observatory. The session ended with ‘the oldest thing they would ever touch’ as the Wetton Meteorites were passed around the group!

6th November

Radcliffe Society: The Michaelmas meeting of the Radcliffe Society was blessed with a clear and dark sky, allowing 22 members to join GKWJ and JAG at the Dome for an evening of observing. The evening started well with an early Taurid meteor. Multiple instruments were used throughout the evening, with binoculars showing the rising Pleiades (M45). The Celestron 8-inch started on Saturn with moons Titan and Rhea clearly visible. The group enjoyed a sky tour. The 10-inch was used first to observe Jupiter with 4 moons, then double star Almach, and on to the open cluster M34. Outside, the 8-inch was used to view the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), open cluster M34, the Pleiades (M45), the Double Cluster and the Crab Nebula (M1). The session ended with the 10-inch returning to Jupiter where the moons had moved significantly, with Io very close to Jupiter, about to transit the planet.

4th November

Outreach Workshop: GKWJ delivered an ‘Impact Crater Workshop’ to 30 Year 8s and 27 Year 7s at Beaudesert Park School. He was ably assisted by two Upper School pupils who were at Beaudesert. The workshop was a great success, with pupils not only learning about the physics of crater creation, but also making a fun mess with flour, chocolate powder and ‘impactors’!

2nd November

Shell Visit: The first Shell Visit of the academic year saw the 11 Shell boys from B1 and a House Tutor visit the Dome with GKWJ. The country was in the throws of storm Ciaran, so no visual observing could take place. The group were shown the telescope and facilities, then they observed the radio meteor detector live stream, where multiple meteor events were seen. They were also introduced to the Campo del Cielo meteorite from the Wetton collection.

Outreach Visit: The first group consisting of 15 Cubs and 4 Cub Leaders from the Urchfont Cubs visited the Dome with GKWJ. The weather was wet, windy and cloudy, so no observing could take place. The Cubs were shown around the night sky (as it would have been visible if clear) using Stellarium, where they learned about constellations and asterisms, identifying The Plough, Polaris, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle and Orion. They were then shown the 10-inch. The session ended with a slide show that studied the Moon and the planets of the solar system, using images taken through the 10-inch at the Observatory.