Monday 18 December 2023

The Astronomy Show

 Join me, Martin Lunn MBE for a festive Astronomy Show tonight from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, probably the only regular astronomy show on any radio station in the country.

There will be all the regular features plus lots of Christmas cracker jokes to take everyone into an intergalactic festive period.

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.

The Winter Solstice

 The winter solstice, when the Sun lies at its lowest point in the sky, occurs on December 22 this year. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. This is the beginning of the pagan feast of Yule or Yuletide or Sol Invictus ‘The Undefeated Sun’ when there would traditional been a period celebrations.

This is when winter officially begins in the northern hemisphere and summer begins in the southern hemisphere.


Sunday 17 December 2023

The Moon glides past Jupiter on December 21st and 22nd

 As soon as it gets dark on the evenings of December 21st and 22nd 2023 the Moon can be seen close to the planet Jupiter. This does of course assume that there are no clouds to block the view. They can be seen together throughout the evening until they both set.

On the 21st the Moon will be right of Jupiter. The following evening December 22nd the Moon will be to the left of Jupiter.


Saturday 16 December 2023

Leeds Astronomical Society in 1892


Leeds Mercury Saturday 10th December 1892


A meeting of the members of the Leeds Astronomical Society was held on Monday in the library of the philosophical Hall ark-row, for the purpose for the purpose of submitting a scheme for the future conduct of the society, and for the enrolment of members. Mr. Washington Teasdale, F.R.A.S., occupied the chair, and amongst those present were Mr. W. D. Barbour (treasurer). Mr. H. Stockwell (secretary), Mr. S Jefferson, Mr. H. J. Townshed, Mr. D. Booth, Mr. E R. Blakeley (Dewsbury), Mr. Marshall (Church Institute), Mr. Wm. Neil, and others.

At a preliminary meeting of the committee of the society was decided to invite Sir Robert Ball to become honorary President of the society, and that Mr. Washington should continue to be the acting President. —The Chairman said that they had recently held a meeting for the purpose of forming an Astronomical Society, or rather reorganising one which had formerly existed, for Mr Barbour had, fortunately, preserved the record, the Astronomical Society which was formed 1859. They were impelled to do so because had become aware that there were in Leeds a number of students of astronomy who were sending their communications to other societies which were in active existence.

Their society had only been a state of passive existence, and it was only through the Journals of these outside societies that they had become acquainted with each other as astronomical students. He then called on the secretary (Mr. Stockwell), who read a letter from the "Leeds Mercury Supplement." setting forth the objects of the promoter of the meeting. He then read the minutes of two previous meetings, these including the rules that hart been framed and agreed upon. The Chairman said that he felt certain that in a little the value of an astronomical society for Leeds would be thoroughly appreciated and that if once they got established as a working society many would join both in Leeds and the surrounding neighbourhood. They then must promote cordial co-operation with other philological societies, for the astronomer was now largely dependent upon the special knowledge of workers in other branches of science, such as the geologist. the chemist, the photographer, and so forth.—Mr. Barbour, who was treasurer of the original society, gave some account of its proceedings, mentioning that the fine telescope which was handed by the members over to the Yorkshire College. dared say they could have it back again if they asked for it- Mr David Booth, the next speaker, said he quite agreed that a distinct society for the of astronomy be formed for Leeds.

When they got well established they could consider the question joining the British Astronomical Association.—Mr. Townshend said he hoped thev should he able to regain possession of the telescope and obtain a suitable observatory.— Mr Blakeley said he wished to dispel a very prevalent idea, that in order to study astronomy one must necessarily possess a telescope. There was a great deal to study in it without making any use philosophical instruments. A very great deal could be seen with an ordinarily good opera-glass, such, for example, as the satellite’s of Jupiter. Then meteorology was a branch of astronomy. and their friend Mr. Booth, who was an eminent meteorologist, would tell them that no optical instruments were necessary in making meteorological observations.

He hoped to be able to obtain a lumber of members from the Dewsbury district. (Applause.)— Mr. Townshend mentioned that there was an astronomical society at Sheffield, and that its members had the use an observatory belonging to the Corporation of that town two days every week. In reply to Mr. Barbour, he said that members of the Leeds society could, if they so wished, have the use of that observatory.—The Chairman mid it might be interesting to know that the present Assistant Astronomer Royal, Mr. Turner, was a Leeds man. (Applause.) Mr. Turner was also the secretary of the official journal the Royal Astronomical Society. He (the Chairman) trusted they should obtain lady members. (Hear, hear.) —Mr. John Roberts, who was a member the old Leeds Astronomical Society, Mr. Brooks, and other gentlemen having spoken, the proceedings terminated. Several new members were enrolled.


Thursday 14 December 2023

Lord Tennyson, Sir Norman Lockyer and a Thomas Cooke telescope


Westminster Gazette Monday 12th December 1910

The very interesting little book, " Tennyson as a Student and Poet of Nature," by Sir Norman Lockyer, K.C.8., and Winifred L. Lockyer just published by Messrs. Macmillan (4s. M. net), contains the passages in the late Laureates works which deal with the scientific aspects of nature. "

All such references have been brought together and classified, and by means of notes kindly supplied by various authorities it has been shown how very true to fact Tennyson's descriptions are and how keen and careful an observer be was." Quite a number of prominent scientific authorities have given their assistance, and Lord Tennyson has also read some of the proofs and made suggestions.

In the matter of nature knowledge, Dante, it is contended, is the only poet Who can be even named along with Tennyson. Sir Norman Lockyer, in his preface, tells of his own meetings with Tennyson, and of the great interest the poet always took in matters scientific.

Sir Norman was living in 1864 at West Hampstead, and had erected his 6in. Cooke Equatorial in the garden, and concerning Tennyson he says : I soon found that he was an enthusiastic astronomer. and that few points of the descriptive part of the subject had escaped him. He was, therefore. often in the observatory. Some of his remarks still linger fresh in my memory. One night the moon’s terminator swept across the broken ground round Tycho, he said "What a splendid Hell that would make." Again, alter showing him the clusters in Hercules and Perseus, he remarked musingly. I cannot think much of the county families after that."

In the seventies and eighties Tennyson rarely came to London without discussing some scientific points with his friend. In 1890 Sir Norman visited Tennyson at Aldworth, when he was in his eighty-second year : I was then (says Sir Norman) writing the " Meteoritic Hypothesis" and he had asked for proof sheets. Where I arrived there I was touched to find that he had had them bound together for convenience in reading, and from the conversation we had I formed the impression that he had read every line. It was a subject after his own heart. . . . One of the nights during my stay was very fine, and be said to me " Now. Lockyer. let us look at the double stars again," and we did. There was a 2inch telescope at Aldworth. Tennyson's interest in astronomy was, Sir Norman adds, persistent until his death.

The breadth of Tennyson's outlook upon nature is, as Sir Norman Lockyer points out, only equalled by the minute accuracy of observation displayed. Hundreds of quotations are here grouped together from his poems, and they refer not only to evolution but to the starry heavens, the sun and sunlight, the moon and moonlight, bird-life and song, the insect world, animals and their ways, plants and trees, water and aquatic life, the importance of knowledge, and so forth.


Wednesday 13 December 2023

Captain Scott, The South Pole and a Cooke Theodolite

 Most people know of the story of Captain Scott and his expedition trying to become the first people to reach the south pole on Antarctica during the summer of 1911/1912. Unfortunately when he arrived he discovered that he had been beaten by the Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen. Amundsen reached the south pole on the 14th December 1911, while Scott reached the south pole on January 17th 1912. Sadly on the return journey Scott and his team perished in the very cold conditions.

However what is perhaps less well know is that Captain Scott and his team took a light weight theodolite specially made by Thomas Cooke of York with him the mark the position of the south pole. It was one of only 6 of these special theodolites made by Cooke’s for the expedition.

When the rescue team found the bodies of Scott and his team in their tent they also found the Cooke theodolite that was used by Scott to mark the south pole.

This instrument was on display at the physics department at the University of York, however I cannot say if it is still there today.


Tuesday 12 December 2023

Sir William Keith Murray and his 9 inch Cooke telescope

 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 ( today this would be £173,534) 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 don’t know what happened to the 9 inch Cooke Ochtertyre Telescope.


Monday 11 December 2023

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 and Astronomy in Yorkshire - God’s Own Country.

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.

Zeta Taurus observed from India in 1870 with a Thomas Cooke telescope

On December 8th 1870 the Rev J Spear watched for the occultation of zeta Tauri, no occurrence occurred. The Moon passing at least 10 minutes north of the test star to the best of my judgement.

The telescope used was a 4.5 inch Thomas Cooke & Sons , the defining power of the telescope is excellent.

Good nights are not very frequent except in the cold season. Scintillation of the stars within about 12 degrees of the horizon is very considerable, even at my present elevation of about 7,300 feet.

I fear there is nothing else in my notes worth communicating. I have not been able to obtain good views of Venus lately owing to the heavy fogs.

Churkrata N W Provinces, Bengal


Sunday 10 December 2023

Geminid Meteor Shower

 Get set for the Geminid meteor shower: a shooting star spectacular for the end of the year! Many people look out for the annual Perseid meteor shower, which occurs in August. It is, however, not the most spectacular meteor shower. The Geminids hold that title and they can be seen this month. The Geminids reach maximum on the nights of December 13/14 and December 14/15 when up to 120 meteors per hour might be seen.

Meteors are connected with comets. As a comet, which is essentially a dirty snowball, travels around the Sun, it leaves a trail of dust behind it. If the Earth happens to pass through such a trail we see a meteor shower. The Earth passes through many such streams each year. Some of the meteor showers are spectacular; others less so, but they are all predictable. The Geminids are so called because the meteors all seem to come from the constellation of Gemini the Twins. They are special because they are associated not with a comet but with an asteroid, called Phaethon.

The pieces of dust produced by asteroids are slightly larger than those produced by comets and because of this they travel through the Earth’s atmosphere more slowly, making them much brighter than the usual meteors. The Geminids travel at about twenty miles a second, while most other meteors travel at speeds closer to forty miles per second. The dust particles burn up due to friction in the Earth’s atmosphere.

If there are no clouds we should be in for a spectacular event. If you see a meteor or shooting star in the sky, remember to make a wish!


Saturday 9 December 2023

Transit of Venus seen from India 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.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser

Saturday 12th December 1874

Colonel Tennant from Roorkee says that during the transit one hundred photographs of the planet had been taken.

Probably if nothing else had been done, this would have secured to England an honourable place in the record of investigations.


Friday 8 December 2023

Sun Pillars seen at the Harrogate Observatory in 1902

At the Harrogate Corporation Observatory on January 7th 1902 Sun Pillars were seen. Earlier displays were seen on December 3rd 1901. On both occasions the following was noted:-

a) The presence of Cirrus Cloud.

b) These clouds must be in a banded or striated form.

c) They must lie at right angles to the path of the Sun.

d) These clouds must of course be present in the immediate neighbourhood of the setting Sun.

The altitude of this station is 480 feet Latitude 54 degrees North, 1 degree 36 minutes west.

G.Paul Corporation Observatory, Harrogate

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Halley’s Comet is furthest from the Sun on December 9th 2023

Possibly the most famous comet, it was observed by Edmond Halley in 1682 who realised that it seemed similar to the comets of 1531 and 1607. He predicted it would return in 1758, Halley himself died in 1742,. Then on Christmas night 1758 the comet was seen right on schedule. It has since been known as Halley’s comet.

Although on average it takes 76 years to orbit the Sun, the orbit of comet Halley can vary between 75 to 79 years.

A comet is really like a giant snowball travelling around the Sun, as it approaches the Sun it heats up, and gas and ice are melted off the comet producing the wonderful tail that people associate with comets.

As a comets travels around the Sun it leaves a trail of dust behind it. If the Earth happens to pass through any of these dust streams we see what astronomers call a meteor shower. There are several well known ones each year. Meteors or shooting stars as they are often referred to are grains of comet dust burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Earth passes through the stream of dust left behind by comet Halley not one but twice a year. In May we have the Eta Aquarid meteor shower and in October we see the Orionid meteor shower. If you see any meteors from these showers you are looking at tiny grains of dust from comet Halley burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

So on December 9th 2023 comet Halley is at its furthest point from the Sun in its orbit. A point that is referred to by astronomers as its point of Aphelion. In fact at the moment Halley’s comet is actually beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune.

After that it will begin its journey back to the inner solar system reaching its closest point or Perihelion point to the Sun on July 28th 2061


Monday 4 December 2023

The Astronomy Show

 Join me, Martin Lunn 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 and Astronomy in Yorkshire - God’s Own Country.

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.

Large fire near Dunsink observatory in 1895

Bradford Daily Telegraph Monday 7th October 1895

A fire occurred on Saturday October 5th at Rathbone’s candle factory near Dunsink Observatory, county Dublin, and properly estimated £80,000 was destroyed. The heat was so intense that it was found impossible to reach a water tank in the yard attached to the premises, and the only supply available was procured from an old quarry nearby. Tons of finished candles were and the buildings completely destroyed.


Sunday 3 December 2023

An astronomical observatory for Grimsby in 1899?

 Bradford Daily Telegraph Wednesday 24th May 1899

The Mayor of Grimsby has promised to erect an observatory in the public park. The observatory is to have an approach of 80 steps to correspond with Her Majesty’s years of life.


Friday 1 December 2023

Discovery of Himalia with the 36 inch Crossley Reflector in 1904

On December 3rd 1904 Charles Perrine using the 36 inch Crossley reflector at the Lick Observatory in California discovered the 6th moon of Jupiter, Himalia. The moon was named after a nymph on the island of Rhodes and according to Greek mythology she was one of the lovers of Zeus.

Himalia is the 5th largest moon of Jupiter it has a radius of 85 km and lies at a distance of 11.5 million km for Jupiter and takes 251 Earth days to complete one orbit of Jupiter.

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.