Several of us will be attending Astrofest at Kensington Town Hall at the end of next week. Greg Smye-Rumsby and Richard Dunn are both giving talks on Friday morning (6 February). Greg’s is titled: The Universe in three dimensions, whilst Richard’s is titled: Spying the stars: The invention and development of the telescope. Richard’s new book The telescope: a short history, is published by the National Maritime Museum this March. If you are at Astrofest, do drop in on our stand (stand 20) on the lower floor and say hello.
I have to confess that I wasn’t expecting much from this eclipse! Sure, it’s always nice to see one, but it was only 22% coverage by diameter (12% by area) over London, we are at a solar minimum (so no sunspots were visible) and the weather forecast was looking uncertain. So would any one even turn up to the observatory to look? Would we get to see anything at all?
Any doubts I might have had, had totally disappeared by 9am! The Sun was shining, people were queuing up outside, and our volunteer helpers from the Flamsteed Astronomy Society were working flat out to set up all the telescopes. There was a fantastic buzz about the place – and the gates had not even opened yet!
From the moment the gates opened, the crowds were in, eager to know more about why eclipses occur, how frequently, how long do they last? And astronomers, both from the Flamsteed Astronomical Society and the Royal Observatory itself, were equally keen to answer all the questions.
And then the Moon began to hide the Sun.
Only a tiny amount at first, but enough for the children gathered to celebrate that they had all been the first to see the eclipse start! There is something magical about watching the Moon glide across the face of the Sun – you are seeing the Moon orbiting the Earth orbiting the Sun!
It may only be a small piece of the Sun hidden from view but it’s remarkable that it even happens at all. It was so wonderful to see the Sun, our nearest star, with a piece strangely missing that I had totally forgot about the lack of sunspots!
As the eclipse progressed, visitors to the Royal Observatory from all over the world, of all cultures and of all ages could be seen with smiling faces full of excitement and wonder.
It is always a thrill to see an eclipse, solar or lunar. So when is the next one? Well, we don’t have to wait long – there is a lunar eclipse in just 2 weeks time. And from the UK, the Moon will be rising in mid eclipse – perfect for some unique photography.
The next meeting of the Flamsteed Society will be in one week’s time on Monday November 5 in the NMM Lecture Theatre. Dr Francisco Diego will be talking about “What the stars have done for us: from Astrology to Astrophysics”. Francisco should be good for his usual fireworks (sorry) — following his last set of instructions to us, I’ve almost completed my own home proton cyclotron, but I have to wait until we empty the cornflakes box before I can cut it up.
We’ll also be running the annual Flamsteed Book Sale on November 5. We’ll have over 200 books on offer, mostly astronomy and popular science but all other kinds of subjects too. The book sale will start at 6:30pm and run until Francisco’s talk starts, resuming afterwards.
The new Flamsteed season is off to a great start. Many of us have already enjoyed a Walk the Willett Way with Dave Rooney, and Tony Sizer’s telescope workshop in September. Robin Catchpole’s lecture on stellar evolution got lots of complimentary comments. You can see reports on all these on the Flamsteed website, www.flamsteed.info.
There are lots more excellent Flamsteed events to come. We’re beginning planning for the Flamsteed Xmas Party on December 3, which features a talk on the star of Bethlehem by Rod Jenkins. Now the clocks have gone back and evenings are decently dark again we’re also making arrangements for Flamsteed sessions with the ROG 28-inch Great Equatorial refractor — more later. For details on Flamsteed subs and how to join, see the Flamsteed website.
Comet 17P/Holmes is making quite a splash at the moment. In addition to Das Baskill’s blog, we’ve seen some good observing reports, and Tony Sizer sent in a couple of excellent pics — see the Flamsteed Picture Gallery There’s also a super full Moon photo by John Bartlett — great first effort. Thanks to all!
Let me introduce you to the Flamsteed Astronomy Society at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (ROG). I’ll be reporting on the Flamsteed’s activities and plans regularly in this blog.
The Flamsteed is an amateur astronomy society based at the ROG and National Maritime Museum (NMM), Greenwich. It’s named after the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. We feel very privileged to meet on a site of such historical significance and enjoy the superb facilities of the ROG and NMM. We now have just over 100 members who represent the full range of experience and interests in astronomy. Many are beginners and we pride ourselves that the Flamsteed programme is very enjoyable for people just starting out to learn more about the subject. Several members are professional astronomers, and we have access to the full-time astronomy staff at the ROG.
The Flamsteed programme includes first-class talks by ROG staff and other eminent speakers. The talks cover all aspects of astronomy including cosmology, recent discoveries and space missions, as well as the history of the subject. Talks take place monthly between September and May in the NMM Greenwich. We also arrange visits to the new Peter Harrison Planetarium, sessions with the 28-in Great Equatorial Telescope at the ROG, and telescope workshops on using small scopes. Observing meetings take place using members’ own equipment, both on Blackheath SE3 and at darker sites in Kent. Most recently we met in Kent for the Perseids meteors.
One aim of the Society is to make donations to help the educational work at the ROG. We donated an H-alpha solar telescope, and volunteers from the Society use it to stage public solar viewings at the ROG on weekends and holidays when the weather’s clear. We also arrange visits to outside locations, for example, most recently to Jodrell Bank; last year to Rutherford Appleton Labs, and the Paris Observatory.
Our new season starts on September 1st. You can find full details of the Flamsteed’s upcoming programme, and reports from previous events and meetings, on the Flamsteed website. There’s also information on subscriptions and how to join, and you can be sure of a warm welcome, whatever your interest in astronomy or level of experience.