Monday 15 July 2024

The Astronomy Show

 Join me, Martin Lunn MBE tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, probably the only regular astronomy show on any radio station in the country. 

I will take my weekly look at the night sky and look at all the latest news in astronomy. There will be the astronomical anniversaries this week plus the A-Z of Constellations .

The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio live on line at DAB radio in Bradford and East Lancashire, or 102 and 103.5 FM and can also be heard later on the Drystone Radio Podcast.

A Thomas Cooke telescope in Poland

 In Warsaw in 1898 an observatory was established in an observatory a short distance north west of the university there. The observatory had originally belonged to the Polish amateur astronomer Jan Walery Jedrzejewicz (1835-1887) at Plonsk in central Poland. 

Among the equipment in the observatory was a 5 inch Thomas Cooke & Sons telescope. Among the objects that Jedrzejewicz observed were double stars, sunspots, lunar occultations and the positions of 16 comets.


Sunday 14 July 2024

The Moon close to Antares on July 17th

 On Wednesday July 17th 2024 if the sky is clear it will be possible to see a bright red star just to the right of the Moon. This is the star Antares, the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion.

In mythology it was the Scorpion that killed Orion the Hunter. While Orion was boasting to a large crowd of people of all the animals he had killed he did not see the little scorpion creep up behind him. The scorpion stung him on the ankle and killed him. However the gods were so impressed with Orion’s boasting that he was placed in the sky forever as was the Scorpion. To make sure that they could never meet again Orion was placed in the winter sky while we find the scorpion in the summer sky.

Antares is a red supergiant star which is so big that all the planets out to the orbit of Mars could fit inside the star if it was placed where our Sun is. Antares is around 550 light years away, this means that the light travelling at the speed of light left Antares about the year 1474.

You will notice that Antares looks red, in fact it is often known as the Rival of Mars because of its red colour. The colours of stars tell astronomers how hot or cool a star is. Stars that are blue or white in colour are much hotter than stars that are orange or red in colour.


Saturday 13 July 2024

Thomas Cooke telescope in Nelson New Zealand

 Arthur Samuel Atkinson was born in Hurworth, Durham in 1833 and moved to New Zealand in 1853. He fought during the Taranaki war in 1860 and eventually he entered the legal profession but had a great love of astronomy. 

In 1882 he was asked by the Royal Society of London to be an official observer of the Transit of Venus. To do this he obtained a 5 inch Thomas Cooke & Sons telescope which I believe he purchased second hand. He also used it to observe the total eclipse of the Sun in 1885. 

The telescope was housed in an observatory in Nelson which is on the south island of New Zealand and was originally called the Atkinson Observatory. In 1982 a newer building was opened and in 2008 the observatory was renamed the Cawthron Atkinson Observatory after the wealthy benefactor Thomas Cawthron. 

The Cooke 5 inch telescope was officially retired from active use in 2017 and was placed in a new Cawthron Trust Institute building for people to look at. The Cooke was replaced by a celestron 14 inch telescope.


Friday 12 July 2024

Venus observed from Corsica in 1934 with a Cooke telescope

During the early part of 1934  C V C Herbert made a series of observations of Venus from his small observatory at Carrosaccia, Corsica using a 4.5 inch Thomas Cooke & Sons telescope. Although only a small instrument the quality of the object glass and the steady atmosphere compensated for the small aperture. 

During March, April and May 1934 Venus was observed on 28 days. No surface markings were however noticed. On March 12th the seeing was for a short time superlative. 


Wednesday 10 July 2024

July 15th 1965 - The day the Martians died

 Mars, the red planet, 'the god of war', has fascinated people more than any other in the solar system because of the idea that we might find aliens there.


The debate over the Martian canals began in 1877 when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first described seeing 'channels' on the planet. His word 'canalli' meaning channels was   mistranslated into 'canals', which some people took literally, assuming that if people built canals on Earth, canals on Mars must be built by Martians. Some astronomers disagreed, but the idea took hold.


The argument went on for the next 40 years or so. In 1894 the astronomer Percival Lowell built a large observatory at Flagstaff in Arizona to study the canals. There were polar caps on Mars which appear similar to those on Earth, and the theory was that as the ice melted, the water would flow through the canals. Lowell became the most vocal supporter of the idea of life on Mars and would write books and newspaper articles supporting his argument.


As our knowledge of Mars increased during the 20th century, the idea of Martians and their canals faded. By the 1950s and early 1960s it was still believed that there might be plants and lichens of the kind found in tundra on Earth, and maybe some small rodent-like creatures.


NASA's Mariner 4 space craft launched on November 28th 1964. This very successful mission was the first probe to fly past Mars, at a distance of 6,118 miles (9,846km) above the Martian surface. It was the first time close photographs of another planet were taken. Sadly, from this point onwards, 'Martians' were doomed.


Mariner 4 sent back twenty-one photographs, which were poor and grainy. However, this 1960s cutting edge technology was sufficient. Rather than showing tundra-like vegetation and lakes of icy water, the images indicated that Mars was covered in craters looked more like the Moon.


The idea of life on Mars resembling anything we know on Earth ended on this day.


Today astronomers are certain that there was once water on Mars. Could this mean that life existed there? Mariner 4 killed the Martians, but there are still a number of spacecraft orbiting Mars, and robots driving across its surface, trying to answer this tantalising question.








Cooke telescope at the base of the Himalayas in 1874

 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 

Friday 11th December 1874 

Transit of Venus 

This station (Roorkee) is in fact a contribution made by the Government of India at the suggestion of Colonel Tennant B.E, ( Bengal Engineers), who in and since 1865 has rendered valuable aid in the observations of many interesting astronomical phenomena visible in Indian territory, especially the total eclipse of 1868 and 1871. 

The suggestion of Colonel Tennant was at once warmly taken up by the viceroy in conjunction with the home government with a view to their future use in subsequent inquiries. The instruments sent out by Colonel Strange, of the India Stores Department are of the utmost precession and delicacy.   

The temporary observatory erected by Col. Tennant at Roorkee, the seat of the Indian Civil Engineering College at the foot of the Himalayas, now contain a refractor of 6 inch aperture made by T Cooke & Sons York.