The first few months of 2019 have been a very busy time for the society. As well as our regular meetings and lectures at the Environmental Centre, we’ve been working on the observatory and have also been involved in several outreach events. I thought it might be worth having a look back on our activities in the first part of 2019 in the virtual pages of Lyra.
On Saturday 9th February we had our first group visit to our new observatory. It was fantastic to finally ‘unveil’ the pod and show members around. We’ve already started using the dome, (see previous Lyra article on comet 46p/Wirtanen). The dome currently houses the society’s 16″ Orion Optics Dobsonian, and observations made in the early months of 2019 have been recorded for a future Lyra article.
The week following the observatory visit, on the 13th, Doug and Steve gave a talk on the Faulkes Telescope Project at Wolverhampton University. A chance meeting between Steve Wootton and Dr Andrew Gascoyne (senior lecturer in Maths & Physics) had started this off. The University then contacted our Society with a view to collaboration between us, Doug followed it up and they all met up to have a chat.
A few weeks ago I was asked by a work colleague if I would help the children of a local Beavers Group out with their Astronomy Badge. Of course I said yes and then set about recruiting help as I was told there could be around 20 to 30 children! Fortunately the first person I asked, Richard Harvey, said he would come along and help.
Dad was born in 1936 in Colchester as his father Tom Dovey was stationed in army barracks there at the time. Shortly after, the family relocated to Shropshire and Dad was raised in Sutton Maddock near Madeley. When Dad left school he held several forms of employment including coffin maker before commencing his stint in National Service. During this period Dad served in the Military Police and was mainly stationed in Germany. Upon leaving the army in the late 1950’s Dad joined the Police Force where he remained until the late 1960’s before successfully securing a job in what was then Wolverhampton Borough Council Finance Department based in the old Town Hall in North Street. Dad remained with the Council up until he retired in 1995.
Simon Barnett, son of Leslie and Helga, was born in Scotland on January 4th 1966. The family soon moved to Helga’s homeland in Germany, where Simon went to Kindergarten, and he and Leslie then relocated to England when the latter’s marriage to Helga failed. Accordingly, Simon’s very early childhood was somewhat unsettled. They laid down roots in Cannock, Staffordshire, in 1974, when Leslie married Mary Oates. The new family – including Mary’s children, Philip and Carolyn – established a family home in Hatherton Road. Simon was eight years of age, just old enough to start school at Walhouse Junior School in the same year as his step-brother. The union of Leslie and Mary was a marriage that would last for almost forty years.
46P/Wirtanen is a small short-period comet with a current orbital period of 5.4 years. It was discovered on January 17, 1948, by the American astronomer Carl Wirtanen, and expectations were high for the comet’s 2018 visit.
Many astronomers hoped for naked eye brightness reminiscent of 1997’s Hale Bopp, (which I remember seeing easily over the Albert Memorial from Queens Square, Wolverhampton. Hard to believe that was over twenty years ago!). Unfortunately, comet 46P/Wirtanen appeared fainter than hoped. At its closest approach, on the16th December 2018, it was only visible in binoculars from semi-rural sites. But even so, it gave amateur astronomers a fantastic, rare chance to study a comet.
Three weeks ago I went on a very interesting visit to St Michael’s Church, Much Hoole near Preston. I have recently read two books about transits of Venus and I wanted to see the windows in the church commemorating both Jeremiah Horrocks’ observation and the 2004 event. I have always been fascinated with eclipses and transits. In fact I have been on three total eclipse trips but have only seen one, last year in Tennessee. The previous attempts: Cornwall 1999 and Faroes 2015 were failures. I was lucky to see the Venus transit though in 2004. As I am sure you all know Jeremiah Horrocks was of course the first person to observe a transit of Venus in 1639. It is thought that he was a cleric at the church and also likely that he was a tutor to the Children of the Stone family who lived at the nearby Carr House. The former is disputed as it is thought he was not old enough to be a cleric. Horrocks is thought to have observed the transit of Venus from the room at the front of Carr House directly over the porch. He predicted it would occur at 3 pm and it actually occurred about 3:15 pm one November day. Of course he was on the Julian calendar as the UK unlike some European countries did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until the mid eighteenth century.
We held another observation session at our Trysull site on the 9th October. The sky was 100% clear from clouds for once, with a slight haze in the air as the evening drew on. Half a dozen members turned up at various times, and we were lucky to enjoy a very comfortable, mild, Autumn evening’s observing.
Three scopes were in use tonight. Steve bought along his Skywaytcher ED80 refractor with a go-to mount, and Martyn bought his pillar-mounted 110mm reflector. I took my Skywatcher 8” Reflector, so we were lucky once again in being able to use a range of different scopes.
A report from our Spanish correspondent (aka Doug Bickley)
I remembered on this holiday to Gran Canaria to pack some binoculars. I chose my trusty old Tasco 40mm 8-16x zoom which to my mind are a good compromise between light gathering power and portability. I also took a lightweight tripod. [Pic 1 & 2]