81 members of the Flamsteed Astronomy Society gathered in the lecture theatre of the National Maritime Museum for our 13th Annual General Meeting, to be followed by a lecture from Dr Radmila Topalovic of the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
Lin Potter, in her last address as chair of the society after 9 years at the helm, started with a review of last season.
Our first meeting of the 2011/12 season saw our old friend Professor Allan Willis talk about ‘Massive stars and super star clusters‘. This was the first John Griffiths Memorial Lecture, presented in honour of Dr John Griffiths who sadly passed away in 2010 and Allan projected some slides of their student life together in the early 1970’s.
At our Annual General Meeting in October 2011, Greg Smye-Rumsby presented a fascinating lecture on ‘Timings‘. November’s lecture on ‘The Cassini Probe and Saturn’s Rings‘ was presented by another old friend of the society, Dr Carl Murray of Queen Mary, University of London. We were treated to some fabulous images of Saturn and its moons. At our Christmas party, Dr Darren Baskill gave us a planetarium show on ‘X-Treme Astronomy!‘. His claim to be only 19 years old was met with astonishment within the Flamsteed audience, until he explained that he was talking in Martian years!
The new year saw the return of Dr Robert Massey to the Flamsteed, who was instrumental in helping to found the Flamsteed Society in 1999. Robert spoke to us about ‘The Transits of Venus‘, in preparation for the transit event on 6 June, 2012. In February, we were treated to a superb lecture on cosmology by Dr Mark Sullivan of Oxford University, entitled ‘Cosmic Explosions, Dark Matter and the Fate of the Universe‘. In March, we welcomed back Professor Nick Kanas who was en-route from Paris back home to San Francisco. Nick’s work with NASA researching the effects of space travel on astronauts made him perfectly qualified to talk about ‘The Psychology and Physiology of Space Travel in Humans‘.
In April, Marek Kukula of the ROG gave us a very entertaining lecture entitled ‘From Egypt to Mars‘ focussing on the history of astronomy from ancient Egypt to today. May saw what many believed was the highlight of the season, with Dr Stuart Clark and Dr Chris Lintott engaged in a debate on ‘Dark Matter – A Two-Handed Discussion‘. The debate even got some coverage in the New Statesman, particularly because the Flamsteed audience had voted to reject the concept of dark matter!
Our final lecture of the season in June saw 3 Flamsteed members, Mike Dryland, Dave Redfern and Ian McDowell, present topics ranging from the Great Melbourne Telescope, Science and Belief and the Mars Science Laboratory in our ‘Jubilee Party: Members’ Talks‘. A perfect end to the lecture season.
Successful stargazing events were held on Blackheath during the season, which were very well attended by Flamsteed members and members of the public. Cudham was somewhat less successful, with most of our ‘meteor-watch’ sessions called off due to bad weather. However, we were able to run a successful ‘Perseids meteor-watch‘ in August, when the clouds parted just after midnight and we were able to spot several very bright meteors.
Romney observing nights are always a delight and we are hugely indebted to Martin and Jane for allowing us access to their wonderful observatory. Several successful sessions were run this year, including an evening dedicated entirely to astrophotography, which proved to be a real treat.
A highlight of the year was the hugely successful BBC Stargazing Live events held at Woolwich and Charlton House. We had around 1,500 members of the public observe the Sun through solar telescopes in General Gordon Square in Woolwich on a bright sunny Saturday in January. At Charlton House a few days later, we were joined by the ROG astronomers in an all-ticketed affair that saw over 600 visitors at BBC London’s flagship event. Visitors were able to observe the night sky through telescopes provided by many willing Flamsteed volunteers, whilst, inside the house, Flamsteed volunteers ran telescope and astrophotography workshops.
On 6 June we were extremely fortunate to catch a glimpse of the Transit of Venus during our event on Blackheath. Given that this was the last transit until the year 2117, the clouds, which greeted us on arrival at 4.30am, were somewhat disheartening. However, during the last few minutes of the transit, the clouds miraculously parted, giving the 140 participants surely the final chance to witness this event during their lifetimes. A truly wonderful morning. One of the participants, Chris Warren, won the ‘Solar System’ category of the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards with an image taken during the Blackheath event.
The Solar Viewing team led by Grey Lipley has been extremely active, with some great feedback received from the general public. The Flamsteed society donated a new 90mm solar telescope to the museum this year, which has already provided us with some spectacular views of the Sun. A new development last season was the formation of a Flamsteed Radio Astronomy Group. Although we are still in the early stages of this group, we hope to make progress this season in using basic solar flare detectors and also using the satellite dish, which has been purchased by the museum, to try and interpret radiation emitted from the Sun.
Members of the Flamsteed were again able to use the 28-inch Great Equatorial telescope at the ROG on a regular basis. Our thanks to Tony Sizer who, as well as running the sessions using the telescope, was also able to give participants a planetarium show on the (all too frequent) evenings when weather conditions prevented use of the telescope.
Hare & Billet evenings run by Brian Evans have continued (even during the Olympics) and were always well attended. They prove to be a good forum for new members, or those who are thinking of joining the society, to meet other members in an informal social environment and we are very grateful to those members who regularly turn up to these evenings and make them such a success.
The Flamsteed website was upgraded to a new platform in June of this year and is core to our activities. The success of the new website would not have been possible without the ceaseless work undertaken by Mike Dryland to keep the old one rich and entertaining.
Attendance at all of our events has been aided by our social media communication channels, which have grown gradually during the year. SMS text messaging was made a permanent fixture following a successful trial. Twitter and Facebook continue to grow in popularity.
Lin handed over the meeting to Mike Meynell and Malcolm Porter so that they could give an update on the future strategy for the society.
Mike presented a brief history of the Society and restated the Society objectives: “to enhance the enjoyment and understanding of astronomy for its members, while supporting the programmes delivered by the Royal Observatory Greenwich and promoting the public profile of astronomy.” Benefits of the museum to members and the benefits to the museum were discussed, followed by a presentation of the results of the membership survey. Malcolm then discussed how the society could work together with the museum in the future.
A view of what the society might be like in 2 years time was presented:
Questions from the audience were taken and feedback requested via email.
Two nominations were received and we were delighted to welcome Brian Blake and Chris Mann on to the Flamsteed committee.
Grey Lipley gave a short presentation on the activities planned for the coming season.
While further developing special interest groups such as Solar Viewing, the newly formed Radio Astronomy Group is an exciting addition with over 20 members. Our first Solar Viewing session this season took place on Saturday with over 400 visitors looking at the Sun using two telescopes.
We also intend to increase the number of Blackheath Viewing Events and members were urged to attend at least one of these. Standing under a starlit sky reminds us that the images we see on the screen behind me are real and part of a vast and changing universe. It’s also a good way to try out your scope or newest piece of kit.
Pub evenings are set to continue so, if members haven’t been to one of these there will be ample opportunity. They are very relaxed and informal affairs with conversation drifting from astronomy to just about anything else and back again.
The 28 Inch Equatorial Telescope is once more operational following extensive repairs to the dome. Some members may be disappointed to hear that the roof doors no longer open and close with a frighteningly loud bang like that of a starting pistol at close range!
The dates on which members can observe the heavens using this historic refractor will be available shortly. We are also developing a much wider range of activities for those evenings when observing is impossible due to bad weather.
For those who prefer to observe the night sky using more modern equipment, we’ve already had one very successful evening this season with Martin and Jane at their Romney Observatory and hope to offer more over the coming months. Views from the site are particularly good and we are very grateful to them both for their fantastic hospitality in holding these events.
We also hope to introduce a number of evenings devoted to Astrophotography in response to current interest. Awards for ‘Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ were announced a few weeks ago and winning entries can be viewed in the gallery leading to the newly equipped Harrison Planetarium. This is free to members and well worth a visit.
In addition we hope to hold Telescope Workshops for those buying their first pair of binoculars and members about to purchase a telescope or investing in more advanced equipment. Dates for these and the Astrophotography evenings have yet to be confirmed.
Finally, following the huge success of Stargazing Live last year, the BBC has again contacted us to ask if we can once more organise an event. To build upon the fantastic result achieved last year we hope to use Charlton House again to make this year even better while working closely with those at the Royal Observatory.
Lin Potter is standing down as chair of the society following the AGM. A presentation of flowers was made to Lin Potter by Grey Lipley on behalf of the whole society to recognise her contribution as chair of the society over the past 9 years. Election of the chair and vice-chair positions will take place at the next Flamsteed committee meeting.
As there was no other business, Lin Potter closed the meeting.