Welcome to the personal blog of Peter Drew, Project manager of the Astronomy Centre based above Todmorden in the North West of England near the Lancashire border.
The intention of this site is to provide up to date news and information from the Astronomy Centre covering subjects such as Projects, Events and more general announcements as well as providing the means for all amateur Astronomers to submit articles they feel of interest.
The site is still a work in progress so please feel free to post any comments, good or bad, on the website development forum Here
Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy the site!
One of my resolutions was to get going on my Blog again and being as we are nearing the end of January I think it’s about time I started. I will try and keep up a monthly update.
The main activity this month was the Centre’s involvement as a partner to the excellent BBC2 Stargazing Live event. As a precursor, a BBC NW film crew visited the Centre, interviewed some of us and filmed us using the 16″ SCT’s. This took all afternoon in freezing conditions and was finally whittled down to a couple of minutes and shown during a lunchtime feature on Look NW. Never mind “15 minutes of fame” more like 15 seconds, surprisingly I’ve bumped into several local people who said “saw you on the telly!”.
Along with Andy, we did a couple of stints live on Radio Lancashire at which time we were able to highlight the aims and objectives of the Centre and advertise our involvement with the BBC2 event.
We made a more concentrated effort this year following the success of the previous year, more preparation, special handouts for the younger visitors including the BBC event handouts and better presentation by way of upgraded media equipment. We opened during the three televised evenings plus our usual Saturdays so five enenings in total. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate this time resulting in fewer visitors, the one night when the sky was the best we’ve seen for a very long time was completely fogged out elsewhere. Despite all this we had over 200 visitors many of whom were keen to return during better weather.
Overall, the event greatly raised the Centre’s profile locally, resulted in a number of new members and gave us the opportunity to introduce a large number of visitors to the wonders of the night sky.
Since then, the weather has deteriorated, the snow that fell over a week ago is still thick on the ground around the Centre with little hope of it thawing during this freezing period. Although parking is relatively restricted, the Centre is still “open for business” as usual on Saturday evenings. Last Saturday, although it was not possible to see anything, we still had 7 visitors and 6 members on site.
Today (Jan 22nd) saw the first clear sunshine for some time so I set up one of the modified PST Hydrogen-Alpha telescopes (90mm F10). The seeing was rather unsteady due to solar radiation reflected from the snow but there were a couple of impressive prominences and filaments on show.
I’m afraid this latest post is to report that the Astronomy Centre Observatory was broken into late last week Unfortunately this isn’t the first time this has happened although much more was taken this time and has knocked Peter over as most if not all of the items taken were expensive and unique and virtually impossible to replace with the Astronomy Centre’s low turnover.
More details and photo’s of the items and any progress with the police investigation will be added to the website but in the meantime if people could be aware and report to either us or the police any suspicious items from the following list being offered for sale or any information it would be extremely helpful.
6″ Refracting Binocular
This was made using 2×6″ F8 Skywatcher Refractors andwere badged ‘Terrascan’ They had 90° erect images and white solar filters fitted inside the objective covers.
6″ Solar Telescope
This was made from a black 6″ F8 Helios refractor. It had a 5″ red glass front end and a very modified Coronado PST black box, different internal prism with external adjusters and also a 1 ¼ fit aperture to the rear. The OTA also had two access slots cut in the side during earlier experiments.
Meade 12″ Lx 200 SCT OTA
Fitted with dovetail and SmartAtronomy Crayford focuser.
More items and pictures will follow soon and a reward of £1000 has been offered for the complete safe return of the missing equipment or pro rata for individual items.
We were wondering whether the BBC Stargazing Live event would have any lasting effect on visitior numbers on a “normal” Saturday night. Well, despite a very cold night and one that had not liiked very promising weatherwise earlier, about 40 visitors turned up and were treated to some excellent views of the Moon and Jupiter. The smaller observatory was completely frozen solid so we used the 16″ SCT in the main observatory. Andy had fixed the drive problem so the telescope was driving properly, however, the visitors were each offered the handset which allowed them to pan round the surface of the Moon, the youngsters declared this as “really cool”, that’s about as good as it gets!. Whilst we were reasonably snug inside the dome, Dave was outside in the cold showing the visitors other objects in the sky with 6″ and 8″ Dobsonians. Again, the visitors were very appreciative of our efforts and generous in their donations.
Im writing this whilst on holiday in Tenerife, an island, part of the Canaries, noted for their astronomical connections. I’m not on a mountain top however, just around 50 metres above sea level and in an urban location. Despite this, due to the lack of atmospheric pollution and the astronomically sympathetic street lighting, astronomy is still well worthwhile. Add to that the fact that it is nearly always clear and the seeing can be very good it makes a change from the Winter in the UK. And it’s HOT!
My main interest here is solar observation by day and the Moon and planets at night. I have a 80mm Ha solar telescope and observe the Sun’s activity at regular intervals, it sets at around 6.45pm at present. It gets dark very rapidly after that so it’s away with the solar telescope and out with a Celestron C8se. Tenerife is about +28 degrees latitude which means that the Moon and planets are some 26 degrees higher in the sky than at home, that’s 52 full Moon diameters!. The combination of the improved planetary elevation and the usually steady seeing conditions means that much higher magnifications can be used revealing better details, definitely the place to come for any special astronomical event.
Well it had to happen, after three glorious clear nights out of three, our final effort for the BBC Stargazing Live on Saturday 21st was a complete weather washout. Cloudy skies and gale force winds made it impossible to do any observing during the planned afternoon solar session and we fared no better during the evening. Around a dozen optimistic visitors had to be content with a tour of the observatory and verbal descriptions of items of astronomical interest. All were locals and were keen to return on a better night.
The BBC are to be congratulated on hosting an event that highlighted the increasingly popular field of amateur astronomy. The TV programmes themselves, containing a wide variety of content and the excellent handouts provided free to participating organisations will have done much to raise the profile of the subject. Closer to “home”, the Astronomy Centre entertained around 250 visitors in total, many of whom had little idea that we existed let alone what we had to offer. Several new members were enrolled and only time will tell what future spin-off will emerge
Monday 16th January was our second session in conjunction with the BBC2 event. Another perfectly clear night attracted around 100 visitors on this occasion. Our experience of the first session the previous Saturday showed that a change of presentation would be beneficial. The majority of the visitors seemed to arrive at a similar time so this time they were directed first of all to the main observatory where I was waiting to “meet & greet”. The 16″SCT was dedicated to looking at Jupiter as the large dome, although motorised, is too slow to cover the many widespread objects in the sky. As each visitor came to the eyepiece I advised them how to focus the telescope and explained to them what they were seeing. They were amazed how the bright “star” that they could see through the dome opening, was transformed into a planet with surface detail and surrounded by four moons. It was good to see how many mums came along bringing their children, many of whom had to be virtually dragged away from the eyepiece. For some reason, still not investigated, the tracking on the telescope failed, this meant that the instrument had to frequently be adjusted with the handset. Fortunately, this turned out to be a bonus as most of the viewers, particularly the children were able to have a go at driving it themselves.
After the Jupiter viewing the visitors dispersed outside where Dave was giving a guided tour of the most popular astronomical objects using a laser pen to point out their positions and then show them telescopically with a 6″ and 8″ Dobsonian.
In the meantime, Andy was manning the other 16″ SCT in conjunction with a laptop to locate other objects in the sky and even display some of them on a monitor by way of a high sesitivity video camera.
Ultimately, a good proportion of the visitors congregated in the middle floor of the main observatory to warm up and enjoy the hot drinks and nibbles that had been provided.
Tuesday 17th January was our third Stargazing Live event. The weather forecast had not been particularly favourable and by 18.00 the sky was clouding over and the wind was picking up. It looked as though we were going to have to fall back on our contingency plan of powerpoint presentation and videos of astronomical observations recorded at the Astronomy Centre. However, by some miracle, just as the first visitors arrived, the sky cleared and became probably the best so far. Around 75 visitors were treated to the same format that was so successful the previous night. Judging by the happy faces and the complimentary comments entered into the visitors book, it seems that our efforts had been well appreciated.
Andy, Keith and myself went up to the observatory again on the Wednesday just in case anyone else might have expected us still to be open. We had no takers so we just relaxed, sat back and watched Stargazing Live on a laptop!
We are offering the same event on Saturday January 21st, weather permitting.
Saturday Jan 14th was our first open evening linked to the BBC 2 Stargazing Live event. A perfectly clear sky attracted around 50 visitors of all ages. Andy manned the 16″ SCT which being computer controlled was able to show the maximum number of interesting objects to the visitors in the time available. Jupiter was the first port of call, seing the moons and the main cloud belts is always a showstopper for first time viewers. Dave set up a 6″ Dobsonian to cope with other groups, this is a very easy telescope to use particularly for the youngsters who can have a hands on experience. I was on “meet and greet” duty, showing people round, explaining the workings of the Centre and the equipment as well as offering information and advice on astronomy in general. Other members were on standby keeping groups occupied and entertained. Some visitors brought along their own telescopes to add to the interest and judging by the comments left in the visitors book, all had a very enjoyable time. The BBC have to be congratulated on this initiative and particularly on the excellent handouts that they made available to participating organisations, hopefully this will become an annual event.
A day off today but we will be doing it all over again tomorrow night!
Happy New Year to all Members. We begin the year with our contribution to the BBC’s “Stargazing Live” event, details on the Astronomy Centre website. The wet and windy weather of late has meant that we have been unable to re-erect the observatory for the solar facility as yet, in the meantime a new hydrogen-alpha telescope 6″ aperture operating at F10 is under construction and will be completed as soon as the ordered Istar objective arrives. With the main observatory dome now fully operational we can now make use of both the 16″ Schmidt-Cassegrains as well as the 8.8″ F12.5 refractor. On the few occasions when the weather has permitted, solar observations by day and Jupiter by night have shown some excellent views, Mars is still some way off its best, the relatively small image reveals a bright polar cap with a grey collar and a few vague dark markings, it should get a lot better as the year progresses, as will Saturn which currently low in the sky just before dawn. A lot still to look foward to!
First of all apologies for the lack of updates recently, things have been hectic for me during the summer holidays and Peter has been flat out working on various projects with Keith, more on that later!
After a quick dig around I cant find out any new info on when helioviewer.org will be back online However when I first noticed the site was down it did provide a couple of links to similar sites although unfortunately I cant link updated images direct to this site on the sidebar.
I’ll edit in the links to the alternative solar websites as soon as I find them again as the helioviewer site now just returns a server not found error.
Back to the projects now, I thought it best to post up a few teaser photos whilst a more detailed write up is prepared for the projects page but I can say that all are in an advanced state and should be ready soon, weather permitting!
Peter at work on top of the dome
Peter at work
Make sure its level!
Detailed write up to follow!
Hmmm, I noticed the other day that the site that provides the solar image was under repair although it was supposed to be back online by now I’ll keep the widget in place for now and investigate further!
News and progress report’s should be up tomorrow, sorry for the delay.