Thursday 31 December 2020

A Large Reflector for Liverpool


A Large reflector for Liverpool

I came across this very short article, I don't know if this refers to the orginal Liverpool Observatory. 

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Saturday 17th June 1837

A reflecting telescope of very large dimensions has just arrived from Scotland for the Liverpool Observatory, Mount Gardens. It will be ready for use by the public in a very few weeks when the observatory will be opened.

Wednesday 30 December 2020

Rev. T E Espin and Nova Lacerta 1910


Rev. T E Espin and Nova Lacerta 1910

The Rev T E Espin a founder of the Liverpool Astronomical Society discovered Nova Lacerta on December 30th 1910. At maximum it reached a magnitude of 4.6. In the following month it would decline by around 3 magnitudes.

Nova Lacerta 1910 now has the variable star designation of DI Lacerta.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Isaac Roberts and the Andromeda Nebula


Isaac Roberts and the Andromeda Nebula

Born near Denbigh in North Wales in 1829, Isaac Roberts would spend most of his life in the Liverpool area. Although born into a poor family he made his wealth through the building trade which allowed to indulge on his passion for astronomy and in particular astronomical photography. He was a member of the Liverpool Astronomical Society.

Roberts lived in Maghull near Liverpool where he built an observatory which housed a 20 inch reflector and a 7 inch Refractor together with a 5 inch Cooke camera. Isaac Roberts would go on to produce some stunning photographs, in particular there were two lavishly produced star atlases published between 1893 and 1899.

The 20 inch was ordered from Howard Grubb in 1885 but at first there were problems with the instrument, after attention to the telescope it was returned to Roberts in early 1888.

It was on December 29th 1888 that Roberts took a famous photograph of the Andromeda Nebula or Messier 31. Today the Andromeda Nebula is the Andromeda Galaxy. The photograph was so stunning that Sir Robert Ball reproduced the photograph in his book The Story of the Heavens. The photograph had an exposure time of 4 hours.

Isaac Roberts decided to leave Maghull in 1890 for the cleaner air of Crowborough in Sussex. He continued his astronomical work from there. Isaac Roberts died here inn 1904.

Monday 28 December 2020

The Astronomy Show


The Astronomy Show

Join me, Martin Lunn tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, 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 and the Messier Marathon.

The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio 102 and 103.5 FM the show can be heard live on line at and the show can be heard later on the Drystone Radio Podcast.

Accident at the Cooke Works


Accident at the Cooke works

On December 28th 1866 the son of Mr W Tindall printer of Fulford Road, York an apprentice with Messrs Cooke and Sons Opticians, of this city, lost his right thumb which was taken completely off by a portion of the machinery on the works, whilst he was engaged in his ordinary occupation.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Dominic Cummings, Barnard Castle and a Cooke


Dominic Cummings, Barnard Castle and a Cooke

York Herald Saturday 20th January 1875

The New Chiming Clock at Barnard Castle.

The new turret clock, presented to the town by Mr. W. Watson, of Spring Lodge, has just been placed in the tower of St. Mary's church by the makers, Messrs. T. Cooke and Sons, Buckingham Works, York. The clock, which is put together on a principle first used by the constructors of this clock, is arranged with a train remontoire and gravity escapement, the special advantage of which is that any amount of weight can be applied to the main clock train to resist the force of wind or friction on the hands, and it will, not affect the escapement in the slightest. The weight of the clock is about two tons. The dials are fixed on the north, south, and west sides of the tower, and are five feet in diameter, painted ultramarine blue, with gilt figures and hands. The clock chimes every quarter. Yesterday, after many years silence, the curfew-bell was again heard, and will be continued according to old custom.

Is it possible that Dominic Cummings wanted to see this splendid example of a Cooke clock?

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Exhibition of the Phonograph in York


Exhibition of the Phonograph in York

At this time of year Christmas music is being played everywhere, but the first phonograph or record player as it would become known was not invented until 1877 by Thomas Edison.

On the 17th December 1878 the first phonograph to be seen in York was exhibited at the Kenrick Rooms, Spen Lane I York by Messrs T Cooke and Sons. Permission had been obtained by Cooke and Sons from the London Stereoscopic Company who had purchased the British patent from Mr Thomas Edison the inventor.

The phonograph was explained by Mr Cox-Walker of Cooke and Sons. Briefly the phonograph consists of a brass cylinder, around which turns a spiral grove. The operator speaks into a mouthpiece upon a thin diaphragm, exactly like a telephone, to which a metal point is attached. The cylinder is covered with tin foil, and the point being in connection, and the handle turned while the operator is speaking, the point runs in the groove and makes a number of indentations in the tin foil corresponding to the vibrations of the diaphragm caused by the voice. On turning the reverse way the sounds are reproduced, the indentations in the tin foil, acting upon the metal point, causing the diaphragm to vibrate and communicate its motion to the air.

The singing is very distinct but the reproduced words of a speaker are somewhat thick, though the result is marvellous in the extreme. Two instruments were exhibited, one working by clock work and the other by hand. By the former the tone is reproduced more correctly, owing to the greater regularity in the turning of the instrument.

Monday 21 December 2020

Formation of Manchester Astronomical Society?


Leeds Mercury Saturday 29th December 1838


A few days since a preliminary meeting, consisting of a few scientists gentlemen was held for the purpose of establishing an Astronomical Society in Manchester, with a splendid observatory. James Heywood esq. The brother of Sir Benjamin Heywood was, we believe, the merit of suggesting the desirableness of such an institution. There is no doubt, from what has already transpired that the proposition will be liberally responded to.

The Astronomy Show


The Astronomy Show

Join me, Martin Lunn tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, 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 and the Messier Marathon.

The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio 102 and 103.5 FM the show can be heard live on line at and the show can be heard later on the Drystone Radio Podcast.

Sunday 20 December 2020

The Horrocks Observatory on Kersal Moor

 The Horrocks Observatroy on Kersal Moor

The idea of an observatory on Kersal Moor was still being floated around over 35 yeras after the first idea which was described in yesterday's blog.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Monday 28 December 1874


To the Editor of the Manchester Courier. Sir,

It has been suggested that Lancashire should commemorate the name of Jeremiah Horrocks, who, in 1639 predicted and witnessed the transit of Venus, by scholarship connection with "The Owens College; and it has also been suggested that the building should be erected on Kersal Moor to contain a large telescope (of course of the most modern construction), as a suitable mode of commemoration.

My reason for writing is to suggest a combination of the two ideas—namely, that an observatory, in connection with the Owens College, be erected on Kersal Moor, and the friends of Horrocks raise an endowment. The council of the Owens College, will, no doubt, be disposed to accept the gift, and combine with the telescope, with a complete collection of meteorological instruments and thus make it an observatory, in the strictest scense of the word.

The telescope, which I may call the queen of instruments—though all sciences are, I suppose sisters— the telescope would record the memory of Horrocks, out the observatory as a whole, would prove a valuable' educational addition to the Owens College, of which institution Lancashire justly proud.

The situation of Kersal Moor, N.W. from the Manchester Cathedral (and from the college), is a good one on the grounds of—its comparative immunity from smoke, its. considerable elevation above the sea level, compared with the Owens College (which would be valuable), and as a situation for the anemometer, it would be almost unexceptionable.

If at some future time, someone should erect a lighthouse, by way of illustrating its use, and the mode of its construction, it would be appreciated by those of our citizens, who taken interest in "those that down to the sea in ships;''—and they are legion. The revolving lights would, in some directions, be visible at an immense distance, and would, perhaps, be seen from the parish of Hoole, where Horrocks was curate, and attended his parochial duties, on. the very Sunday when observed the transit of Venus in 1639.

It may seem to some rather late to commemorate the worth of man who died 230 years ago, but if it is likely to advance the cause of astronomical and other sciences it can, surely, never considered too late. At the present day too, there is more hope inraising the sum necessary for the endowment than in the days that are past. Within a radius of thirty-five miles from Kersal Moor, embracing parts of the counties of York, Derby, Chester, and Stafford, well as Lancashire—there are numbers of gentlemen of position and wealth, who, having received university education, are keeping studies in the various sciences by establishing private observatories and who would glad to have the opportunity now, and then of visiting a central observatory within a railway journey of an hour or two. I am sure some of these gentlemen would aid in providing a moderate endowment, sufficient to induce the council of the Owens College to become the custodians of the memory of Jeremish Horrocks.

As a Manchester man, I may allowed be allowed to say that, though the distance from Owens College to Kersal Moor is about three and half miles, it can accomplished, at almost any hour in the day, in 45 minutes, at the cost of a foupenny omnibus fare, presuming that astronomers travel outside, and from the Exchange, within half an hour for 2d.

If you can find room for this note I shall be glad. Not that there need be haste, for It is perhaps desirable to wait until we receive fuller details of the late transit, before public attention called to the matter, in a practical form. These details will, no doubt be ample and interesting, and serve to show in. a clear light how much we are indebted to Horrocks for the work he Initiated long ego.

Have as you know no claim to take the lead in this matter, and having thrown out these few suggestions, I gladly retire and. leave future arrangements in abler hands

Yours, &c, C. 0.0. S.

Manchester December, 1874

Saturday 19 December 2020

The Royal Lancashire Observatory

 The Royal Lancashire Observatory 

I came across a series of newspaper articles from 1839 regarding a proposed observatory on Kersal Moor near Manchester and from a simple idea it evolved into a Royal Observatory then well I don't know because  I don't have anymore information.  I hope you enjoy the following articles:-

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Saturday 5th January 1839

Proposed Manchester and Salford Observatory.

Something more than two years have elapsed since several gentlemen, favourable to the advancement of science, and the diffusion of useful knowledge, were impressed with the importance of establishing an Astronomical Observatory in the vicinity of Manchester, and adopted some measures to promote that object.

On examining the neighbourhood, they found a situation in Victoria Park, appearing to possess more advantages than any other to which their attention had been directed; and after several interviews with the directors of the park, who met their wishes in a liberal spirit, it was resolved at a general meeting of the proprietary, that a plot of land should be offered for an Observatory, at a nominal chief rent.

With a view of availing themselves of an offer so generously made, they held a meeting at the York Hotel, King-street, on the 11th of August, 1837, at which Josh. Denison, Esq. was called the chair, when a provisional committee, consisting Dr. Dalton, Dr. Jas. L. Bardslev, Dr. Chas. Henry, Dr. Chas. Phillips, Messrs. John Kennedy,, Josh. Denison, James Wood, Wm. Fairbairn, J. C. Dyer, Peter Clare, Josh. Adshead, John Westhead, J. H. Stanway, Lawrence Buchan, William Read, Eaton Hodgkinson, and the Rev. William Giles was appointed, and requested to examine more minutely into the eligibility of the proposed plot of land, and to suggest such arrangements as would conduce to the accomplishment of the object in view.

An immediate compliance with these instructions was somewhat interfered with by the commercial difficulties of that period, but though this was unfortunately the case, the matter was kept constantly in view, and about three months since it was decided that operations should be actively resumed before the end of the year.

The committee accordingly held a meeting at Dr. Dalton's, on Monday last, the 31st ult., at which the Doctor presided, when sub-committees were appointed, for the more readily carrying into effect the resolution of the meeting held at the York Hotel, in August, 1837. —In addition to the instruments which peculiarly belong to an Astronomical Observatory, it is proposed to procure others suitable for investigating and illustrating the sciences of optics, magnetism, meteorology, &c, and to have a library, reading and lecture rooms. Surely the towns of Manchester and Salford, which have long been distinguished for science and manufacturing industry, will support an institution so highly calculated to add to their celebrity, and to afford to their inhabitants not only the means of acquiring much useful information, but of promoting the interests of several departments of science which have hitherto been cultivated by a very small proportion of the immense population of the district.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Saturday 3rd August 1839

Design for an Observatory Proposed to be Erected Kersal Moor.

T. W. Atkinson, Architect.—Most of our readers will be aware that it is in contemplation to establish, in the immediate neighbourhood of this town, an observatory for " astronomical and meteorological purposes," the site suggested for which is a portion of land lying on that side of Kersal Moor nearest to Manchester. The lithographic print before us is a sketch of the design made, for this purpose, by our townsman, Mr. T. Atkinson, who, in this instance, has exercised his talents most advantageously in combining architectural beauty with much of internal convenience.

The design, indeed, in its architectural features, affords great scope for admiration. The domes being essential to the astronomical operations of the institution, a Roman character has been judiciously adopted, for in no other style can the figure of a dome be made to appeal - with propriety. The principal entrance is sufficiently distinguished in importance from the rest of the front by its very suitable decoration, exhibiting, as does every other ornamental feature of the design, both good taste and strict purity of detail; the best and most classical models of the style in which the building is designed having, in this respect, been rigidly adhered to, in the spirit, at least, if not in the letter.

The telescope room, rising over the rest of the building, for the purpose of commanding an extensive view, is wisely employed as a crowning object, and gives that pyramidal form to the structure, which after all, is the soul and essence of the beautiful in every isolated architectural composition. Whilst giving to Mr. T Atkinson that praise which is so justly his due, we must not omit to state that the lithographic execution of the work reflects great credit upon Messrs. Day and Haghe.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Wednesday 4th September 1839

Broughton Observatory.—This project is, we are happy to find, progressing very rapidly. A number of the members of the provisional committee were, on Friday morning, honoured by an interview with Lord Francis Egerton, at the York Hotel. His lordship, with that liberality by which he has always been characterized, accepted the appointment of president. He made a donation of £100, and became a general subscriber. He also presented, for the library, some very valuable books connected with the science.


Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Saturday 30th November 1839


This establishment under the patronage and presidency of Lord Francis Egerton, has been warmly countenanced and actively promoted by Sir J F W Herschel, and several eminent professors in the university of Cambridge, as well by a number of gentlemen of the highest respectability Manchester and the vicinity.

Books are now open for donations and subscriptions at the banks of Messrs. Jones, Loyd, and Co; Sir Benjamin Heywood Bart, and Messrs. Cunliffe, Brooks, and Co; Bank of Manchester: Commercial Bank of England; and at Mr Francis Abott’s , 50, Market-street. Manchester, where the plans may be inspected, and prospectuses obtained, JOHN DAVIES, Chairman of the Provisional Committee.  

Friday 18 December 2020

Christmas --- We Have a Problem

Christmas ---We  Have a Problem

To go with my blogs about the date for Christmas I was asked to take part in with 25 films each about 3 minutes long being produced during December for advent. I am film No. 8 and trying to explain in 3 minutes why the date for Christmas could be wrong was an interesting task.

I hope you enjoy that film and if you get a chance look at the others as well. They are all on youtube at

Thursday 17 December 2020

Cancer the Crab and the Nativity


Cancer the Crab and the Nativity

In yesterday’s blog I looked at what the Star of Bethlehem could have been and when Jesus was born. There was a suggestion that rather than December Jesus was born in either March or April. At this time of the year the constellation of Cancer would be high in the sky. The skies would of course have been much darker with less light pollution making stars easier to see than today.

The area between the stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini and Regulus in Leo the Lion appears very dull and featureless. This area is where we find Cancer the Crab. In April Cancer would have been seen high in the sky. However could there be a biblical connection with Christmas?

Cancer is one of the oldest constellations dating back over 4,000 years, it represents a crab which Juno queen of Olympus sent to rescue the multi headed monster the Hydra which was doing battle with Hercules. Hercules just trod on the crab and squashed it. However as a reward for its efforts Juno placed it in the sky.

Cancer is the only constellation in the sky to have a nebula or cluster that is brighter than any of its stars. This is M44 or Praesepe the beehive which is an an easy naked eye object.

Charles Messier was a French astronomer living in the 18th century and spent much of his time searching for comets, although he didi find some faint comets he also came across lots of faint fuzzy objects or nebula in the sky. These confused him because although they looked like comets they were not. He decided to draw up a list of these non comet objects in his Messier list which astronomers use all the time today while exploring the Galaxy.

M44 is an open cluster about 577 light years away and it is the brightest object visible in cancer. M44 contains around 1,000 stars. Messier 44 is number 44 in his list of 110 objects.

Then we come to the possible biblical connection, because although M44 is often called the Beehive, this is a relatively modern term given to it because it looks like a swarm of bees around their hive.

A much older term for the cluster is the ‘The Manger’. To make the story even more interesting there are two faint stars near the Manger, one above and one below. The star above the manager is called Asselus Borealis or the northern donkey while the one below is called Asseslus Australis or the southern donkey.

Is this part of Cancer a depiction of the nativity scene placed in the sky around 2,000 years ago?

Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Star of Bethlehem an Astronomer's Veiw


The Star of Bethlehem an Astronomer

This is an astronomer's view of just what the Star of Bethlehem might have been.

It is probably the one star that most people have heard of yet we know virtually nothing about it. This begs the question, just what was the Star of Bethlehem? When we look at the problem we have three possible answers.

1. The star was a miracle

2. The star was a myth or legend

3. The star is a report of a genuine astronomical event.

We will look at the third possibility as the first two are beyond the scope of an astronomer to answer.

The only reference we have from the Bible is where it is mentioned just 3 times in Matthew chapter 2 verses 1-12. Very little about the star can be learned from the Bible.

The night sky 2,000 years ago was very similar to the night sky today, astronomers living then were every bit as good if not in some ways better than astronomers today. This certainly applies to the field of naked eye astronomy. They did not have telescopes and computers that astronomers take for granted now. They had just one computer, their brain. They were able to work the dates for eclipses of the Sun and Moon and the movements of the 5 naked eye planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars Jupiter and Saturn. So what ever the Star of Bethlehem was it would have come as a surprise to those astronomers.

The Christmas story is well known and many schools will tell it in their Christmas Nativity plays.

At the time of the birth of Jesus a large part of Europe was ruled by the Roma Empire and the emperor Caesar Augustus decreed that everyone who lived in the empire had to register as part of a census to make sure that everyone was paying their taxes. Joseph and Mary were on their way to Bethlehem which was the ancestral home of Joseph. We know that nature took over there were no spare rooms anywhere and Jesus was born in a stable.

Then we have the three wise men who were almost certainly not kings, they were more likely to have been priests or astronomers, they would arrive almost unnoticed as kings then as today would have been surrounded by a small army of soldiers to protect them. Which would have attracted a lot of attention.

Most people know the carol “We three Kings of Orient Are…….” yet we have no idea where they came from. They brought with them gifts.

Gold which is mined

Frankincense which comes from the Frankincense tree, Boswella Sarca. The frankincense is milked from the trees in the same way that rubber obtained. A yellow liquid oozes out of the tree slowly solidifies and gives rise to a resin that gives a sweet scent when heated or burned.

Myrrh comes from a shrub called Commiphora Myrrha and is produced in the same way. It can be used as a perfume or medicine.

In those days a major producing area for Frankincense and myrrh was in Southern Arabia and along the North Somalian coast. Does mean this is where the three kings came from? We simply don’t know.

If we are trying to find an astronomical answer to try to identify the Star of Bethlehem we need to know when Jesus was born.

We take time for granted it is all around us but time is complicated, very complicated. In the year 525 a Scythian monk named Dionysius tried to work out what the year was. Dionysius looked at the problem logically he went back to the beginning of the Roman Empire in 753BCE and noted how long every emperor had ruled for. It was a cracking idea but unfortunately he made at least 2 errors. He forgot the 0 year and he also missed that Caesar Augustus reigned under his given name of Octavian for 4 years. This means he made a 5 year error in his calculations.

In fact this error would not be noticed for another 1,000 years, this would be by another monk called Laurentitius who was Polish. Does this mean that we can see that Jesus was born in 5 BCE, well possibly.

To go back to our story, it was King Herod a puppet ruler for the Romans who ruled the area where Jesus was born. When he heard of the birth of Jesus he ordered that all boys under the age of 2 had to be killed. This was the slaughter of the innocents. We might assume that Jesus was about 1 year old when Herod heard of his birth. We also know that Herod died shortly after the slaughter and also just after an eclipse of the Moon but before the fast of Passover. This feast occurs during the Jewish month of Nisan we now have to convert the Jewish calendar to ours which means that Nisan becomes our month of March. I did mention that time is complicated.

Was there an eclipse of the Moon that fits this time line, well yes there was, an eclipse of the Moon occurred on March 23rd 4BCE, so does this imply that Jesus was born in 5 BCE, well possibly.

I have mentioned how complicated time is and some people reading this may have already worked out that this is not the year 2020 it is actually 2015. And for all those people who celebrated the millennium on December 31st 1999 you missed it. The millennium mark was passed in 1995.

Today we celebrate Christmas Day on December 25th but only since the year 336 CE has Christmas Day been celebrated, it coincides with the pagan festival of Sol Invictus ‘The undefeated Sun’ This is December 21st the shortest day of the year. This Christmas Day ceebrations could have been started by the Roman emperor Constantine who had converted to Christianity. The traditional name for this celebration is the feast of Yuletide. In other words December 25th just happened in a manner of speaking.

So what could the star have been? Remember there were astronomers living at this time who knew the sky. What ever the Star of Bethlehem it caught the astronomers unaware.

Many people wondered if it could have been Halley’s Comet, it’s a good idea but sadly it does not fit our dates, it was visible in the sky in the year 12 BCE.

Another suggestion is that the star was a conjunction of planets, we will witness a conjunction of planets with Jupiter and Saturn on December 21st this year (2020). A conjunction occurs when two planets appear so close in the sky that they appear to touch each other. They are in fact separated by vast distances it is purely a line of sight affect. This is a rare, spectacular and wonderful sight in the sky, but the astronomers of the time would have known of such conjunctions, so although spectacular would not be unexpected.

Should we then consider the Star of Bethlehem as a star. The most obvious idea would be a supernova, this is a star that destroys itself in a massive explosion and becomes very bright in the sky. The last bright supernova in our galaxy was in the year 1604. They are rare. Luckily for astronomers when supernova explode they leave a radio source that can act as a fingerprint in identifying them. Unfortunately for our story there are no known radio sources 2,000 light years away. The closest supernova to the date we are looking at was in 185 CE.

If we are looking at the star option the only possibility left to us is a nova which is a less cataclysmic event when compared to a supernova. In the case of a nova we have a star system comprising 2 stars one a very hot white dwarf star which is a very old star and a larger cooler giant star. The white dwarf is a star in the process of dying. Our Sun will go through a white dwarf stage several billion years from now. The material that makes up this star is super dense or degenerate as is described by astronomers, a teaspoonful would weigh around 50 tons!!

The white dwarf pulls gas from the larger but less massive star and the material forms a disk or as astronomers call it a Roche Lobe. Eventually this cooler gas fills up the Roche Lobe and the cooler gas then cascades down onto the hotter star which then throws a shell of gas into space. Where once no star could be seen one suddenly appears. In medieval times people called these stars, Nova which is Latin for new, today astronomers realise that they are not new stars, however we still use the term.

Its a great idea, the only problem is we need a star, but is there one? Well yes there is.

In China, astronomers had been observing the sky for thousands of years before the birth of Jesus. The Chinese astronomers recorded a ‘Guest Star’ that is a star which appeared where none had been seen before. I am afraid we are going back to complicated time again The records tell us that in the 2nd year of the period CH’IEN-PING a guest star appeared. When we convert the Chinese calendar to ours we discover that the star was first observed between March 10th and April 7th in the year 5BCE the star was visible for 70 nights.

So can we say that Jesus was born in March rather than December. Well not for certain, but when we put all the information about the missing 5 years in the calendar, the death of Herod following an eclipse of the Moon on 23rd March 4BCE, the Jewish festival of Passover in March and then the star that the Chinese saw. We have an interesting story.

Science and miracles can some times work together and maybe the miracle here is that somewhere in our Milky Way Galaxy, a star went nova and the light reached Earth at the same time that Jesus was born.

If in this most difficult of years due to Covid 19 and if people are not able to celebrate Christmas on December 25th and postpone the celebrations to next year and hold their celebrations between March 10th and April 7th it could just be that these celebrations could just coincide with the time when Jesus was born.

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Moses Holden and Astronomy Lectures in Liverpool in 1837


Moses Holden presents Astronomy Lectures in Liverpool in 1837

On Monday, the 23rd Tuesday the 24th, and Wednesday, the 25th 1837 , Mr. HOLDEN will Deliver a COURSE of ASTRONOMICAL LECTURES in the Liver Theatre Liverpool, and repeat them on Thursday 26th Friday the 27th and Saturday, the 28th 1837 illustrated with his beautiful Transparent Orrery, twenty-four foot in diameter. Also a great quantity splendid Scenery, Telescopic Views of the Sun, Moon, Planets, Comets, Stars, Nebulae, &c. shining as in Nature, enlightening all the place.

For particulars, order &c. see the Syllabus.

Ticket's may be had at the Mercury and Courier Offices; of Mr. CANNEL, Bookseller Castle street; Messrs. Wilmar and Smith, Church Street; Mr Walker, Optician, Pool- lane; Mr. H Penn,  Baths, George’s Pierhead; and of the Lecturer, at Mr. Killey’s 42, Russell-street.

The Lecture commences each Evening at seven o'clock. Boxes, 3 shillings; Pits, 2 shillings ; and Gallery, 1 shilling each Lecture.

The Review of Mr Holden's Lectures

Mr. Holden concluded the three courses of astronomical lectures last week. We were glad to find that they were so well and respectably attended. The boxes were crowded every evening; indeed in the first two courses many had to go into the pit who wished to be in the boxes. We have no doubt that whenever Mr. Holden repeats his visit to Liverpool, he will be well received, for he is truly a practical man, and a clever and indefatigable lecturer.

He has voice equal in compass to the largest building, is quite at home even in the details of the science, often relates an anecdote with a pleasing humour and much force of expression. The Orrery is indeed grand, and the scenery excellent, for the Solar System is brought home as it were to the understanding of the most uninformed, and the Telescopic views of the various planets are so admirable, that we question whether the reality would afford more satisfaction or instruction.

We understand Mr. Holden is about to visit Warrington and Wigan.

Monday 14 December 2020

Moses Holden and Jupiter


Moses Holden and Jupiter

Mr. Moses Holden, the astronomer from Bolton, has written to the editor of the Preston Pilot, to the following effect. 

The planet Jupiter has been a beautiful object for the telescope for more than a month, and still continues to be so; not only are the belts seen, but I have seen spots on those belts, two on the upper and two on the lower, as distinctly no doubt as M. Cassini saw them in 1655 by which he determined the time of the rotation on its axis, or the length its day and night. These spots have appeared and disappeared at very uncertain periods. I have never seen them so as to be able to trace them across the planet before. They come on at the east side (with an erect telescope) and move to the west edge of the planet in less than five hours, and return to the same place in about nine hours and fifty-five minutes. “The spots are dark."

The Astronomy Show


The Astronomy Show

Join me, Martin Lunn tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, 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 and the Messier Marathon.

The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio 102 and 103.5 FM the show can be heard live on line at and the show can be heard later on the Drystone Radio Podcast.

Sunday 13 December 2020

Wold Cottage Meteorite


Wold Cottage Meteorite

This is the oldest known British meteorite in ‘captivity’ in a museum. It would prompt the first full scale investigation into meteorites.

The meteorite fell at around 3.00 o’clock on December 13th 1795 in a field near the Wold Cottage in the East Riding of Yorkshire on land which was owned by Major Edward Topham. The fall was observed by several people and landed a few yards from ploughman John Shipley.

A sound like gunfire was heard by people who thought that French warships were bombarding Bridlington. Britain was at war with France at the time. People described seeing a dark object passing through the air.

The meteorite weighed about 56pounds (25kg) and made a hole 19 inches deep passing through 12 inches of top soil and 7 inches of chalk. The meteorite is a L6 chondrite the second,most common type of meteorite. It is what astronomers call a stone meteorite although about 25% of the meteorite will still be made of iron.

Topham erected a plinth in 1799 to mark the site of the meteorite fall, he didn’t keep the meteorite. In 1804 he sold it to James Sowerby for 10 guineas or £10.50 in today’s money. That £10.50 today is worth around £1,060. In 1837 Sowerby sold the meteorite to the British Museum for £250. A substantial amount in its day which would be worth £28,175.

Only 20.6 of the 25 kg made it to the British Museum to be part of their collection. The remainder is believed to have been broken off and given away prior to acquisition.

Astrognome 100 Great Stars No 100 Zubenelgenubi



Most of the names of the stars we use today are of Arabic origin which is why they can sometimes be a little bit difficult to pronounce and can sound a little different to us. Take Zubenelgenubi which is alpha Libra, its name means the southern claw, originally this star was part of the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion but around 2,000 years ago when Libra was created it was given a free transfer.

Zubenelgenubi is one of the few naked eye stars that is also a double star. The two stars shinning with magnitudes of 2.7 and 5.1. They take around 1,500 years to orbit each other. The star lies at a distance of about 77 light years.

If people are taken aback with the name of Zubenelgenubi it always worth mentioning that beta Libra is called Zubeneschamali or the northern claw. Again identifying that it was once part of the Scorpion.

Well That’s it folks for this list. I will have a rummage around and see what next year’s list might be.

Saturday 12 December 2020

Astrognome 100 Great Stars No 99 Y Canes Venatici


Star 99

Y Canes Venatici or La Superba

Y Cannes Venatici is in the constellation of Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs, it's a variable star which varies between magnitude 4.8 and 7.3 meaning it can be followed when at its brightest with the naked eye and through its whole cycle with binoculars. It is what astronomers called a semi regular variable star reaching its brightest every 160 or so days.

It is known as La Superba because it is one of a rare group of stars that astronomers refer to as carbon stars, these are stars very close to the end of their lives, La Superba only has a temperature of around 2,700 degrees making it one of the coolest known true stars. La Superba lies at a distance of 760 light years and is in the process of becoming a planetary nebula leaving behind its core which is a white dwarf. This is the eventual fate of our own Sun.

The name La Superba was given to the star in 1866 by the Italian Catholic Priest astronomer Father Secchi due to its very deep red colour.

The Geminid Meteor Shower seen from Huddersfield in 1901


The Geminid Meteor Shower seen from Huddersfield in 1901

The Geminid Meteor Shower is due on the night of December 13th/14th 2020 weather permitting, but people were watching the Geminids over 100 years ago. The Geminids are the dust grains left behind behind by the asteroid Phaethon. When the Earth passes through these dust streams we see meteor showers.  There are several notable meteor showers that can be seen each year.

Mr C L Brook from Meltham near Huddersfield saw 19 meteors on the 11th December 1901 of which 11 were Geminids. He saw a further 25 meteors on December 12th including 17 Geminids.

Friday 11 December 2020

Astrognome 100 Great Stars No98 W Ursa Major


W Ursa Major

A noted dwarf variable star in the constellation of Ursa Major the Great Bear which was discovered in 1903. It is a binary system W Ursa Major varies between magnitude 7.7 to 8.5 so it cannot be seen with the naked eye, binoculars are required to see it. The star is the prototype of the W Ursa Majoris type variable stars. W Ursa Major lies at a distance of 169 light years.

The W Ursa Majoris stars are binary systems which are so close together that they are touching each other. Astronomers call these kind of stars contact binaries. This will ensure that the two stars are not spherical but ellipsoidal or egg shaped. The system takes around 8 hours to orbit each other. W Ursa Major is the brightest of this kind of star.

The 9 inch Cooke at Ochertyre

The 9 inch Cooke at Ochertyre

On December 11th 1858 Sir William Keith Murray (1801-1861) of Ochertyre near Crieff in Scotland purchased a 9 inch telescope from Thomas Cooke of York. The telescope was massive and had a tube that was 13 feet long and was mounted on a stone pier 9 feet and 3 inches tall. Up until this point in time it was the largest telescope that Cooke had constructed and it was also at the time the largest refractor in Scotland.

The weather conditions were often poor at the location of the observatory and Murray was only able to use the Cooke for a short period before his death in 1861. Following his death the telescope was offered for sale unfortunately with no initial interest.

In 1863 a number of gentlemen raised £1,120 to purchase the telescope for the observatory at Glasgow University. It was sited at the Horselethill Observatory and used there until 1939 when the building was demolished. The 9 inch was always referred to as the 9 inch Ochertyre Telescope.

Following the demolition of the Horselethill Observatory a new student observatory was built in the University Gardens to house the 9 in Cooke. This was closed in 1969 after which I have no idea what happened to the 9 inch Cooke Ochtertyre Telescope.

Thursday 10 December 2020

Astrognome 100 Great Stars No 97 VV Cephei


VV Cephei

The constellation of Cepheus is not very easy to find and it is often eclipsed by other brighter constellations, to make up for this it does contain some interesting stars, including delta Cephei the prototype Cepheid variable star, the red supergiant Mu Cephei and VV Cephei.

VV Cephei is a colossal eclipsing binary, the primary star being a red supergiant with a small blue companion star. VV Cephei is so big that all the planets out to Jupiter from the Sun would be inside it. Its normal magnitude is 4.9 but it does vary between magnitudes 4.8 to 5.4 and lies at a distance of about 5,000 light years. As the larger red giant expands the smaller blue dwarf actually ends up inside the edge of the gas of the larger star.

As large as VV Cephei is astronomers do not classify it as a hypergiant merely a supergiant. It will at some point in the future become a supernova.


Wednesday 9 December 2020

Asteroid 1899 FD Discovered by Crossley Reflector


Asteroid 1899 FD Discovered by Crossley Reflector

The Asteroid 1899 or 452 Hamiltonia was discovered by James Keeler using the 36 inch Crossley Reflector at Lick Observatory on December 6th 1899. The asteroid is named for Mount Hamilton where Keeler was working and where the Lick Observatory is located. 1899 FD was the last asteroid discovered in the 19th century.

The 36 inch reflector had been owned by Edward Crossley of Halifax, Yorkshire who owned Crossley Carpets the largest carpet manufacturer in the world in the 19th century. He purchased it in the 1880s from A. A. Common of Ealing, London. Although it was at the time the largest reflector in England due to the poor observing conditions in the skies over Halifax which was due to the pollution from the many factories in Halifax it was impossible to use the telescope to its best.

In the mid 1890s he donated the telescope to the new Lick Observatory in California. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Crossley reflector at Lick proved to be a real trail blazing telescope leading in astronomical research in many different areas. It was also the largest reflector in America until the building of the 100 inch telescope at Mount Hamilton.

Astrognome 100 Great Stars No 96 V818 Scorpius or X1


V818 Scorpius or X1

V818 or Scorpius X-1 is located around 9,000 light years away in the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion, it was the first extra solar X ray source discovered outside the solar system, this was in 1962 by an Aerobee rocket. Apart from the Sun it is the strongest X ray source in the sky.

V818 has a visual brightness of magnitude 12.2 which can vary by about a magnitude within a 24 hour period. Scorpius X 1 is a neutron star which is pulling gas of from its companion star. It had been predicted before the 1967 discovery by Jocelyn Bell of Pulsars that a neutron star was at the centre of this system. V818 or Scorpius X1 is often regarded as a low mass x ray binary system.

Tuesday 8 December 2020

Astrognome 100 Great Stars No 95 V476 Cygni


V476 Cygni

Nova Cygni 1920 or V476 Cygni as it is now known was discovered on August 20th 1920 by William Denning (1848-1931) when it was seen at magnitude 3.5. It would reach a maximum brightness of 1.8 on August 24th. Denning was known for his work on meteors and would discover 5 comets.

After a nova has been observed and has faded it is usually allocated a variable star designation as in the case of Nova Cygni 1920, it is today usually referred to as V 476 Cygni. It is believed that the star lies at a distance of around 4,000 light years. No photographs of the area have found any stars brighter than magnitude 15 indicating that the star brightened by around 13 magnitudes that is an increase of about 160,000 times within a few days.

A Nova is comprised of a binary system of two stars with one being a white dwarf the other an older larger red star. The white dwarf pulls gas from the red star which then forms a disc of cool gas which then falls onto the hot white dwarf, this then results in a shell of gas being thrown into space. We then see a star appear where none had been seen previously, in the medieval time these were called Nova, which in Latin means new. The stars are not new but we still use the term today.