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.


Tuesday 9 July 2024

The Kodailkanal Observatory in India and a Cooke telescope

 The Kodailkanal Solar Physics Observatory in southern India undertook much work studying the Sun. If possible it was photographed every day using the 6 inch Thomas Cooke &Sons telescope. On the same mounting is a small telescope used for projecting an 8 inch image on a chart on which can be marked the positions of the spots and faculae visible on the day of observation.


In a separate building was a Thomas Cooke & Sons 12 inch photovisual telescope. Which is fixed horizontally and is supplied with sunlight by an 18 inch siderostat. Between the siderostat mirror and the photovisual can be placed other object glasses, which can be used to form solar images for use with the large grating spectrograph, the collimator of which is fixed horizontally at right angles to the beam of light from the siderostat.


The 12 inch Cooke forms an image of the Sun 60 mm in diameter on the split platen of the spectroheliograph.


Monday 8 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 Cooke telescope for Calcutta in 1903

 In 1903 Thomas Cooke & Sons of York supplied a 4.5 inch telescope to the Government Observatory in Calcutta, India. The head of the observatory was Mr Evershed, Attached to the telescope was a 5 inch Camera also supplied by Cookes.

The telescope was mounted on a Cooke iron pillar which were housed in a shed. This shed was mounted on wheels and rails that allowed it to be moved when the telescope was to be used.



Sunday 7 July 2024

Launch of a British Skylark in July 1964

 The first sounding rocket to be launched by the European Space Research Organisation, a British built Skylark is fired from the Sardinian base of Salto di Quirra on July 6th 1964. Two chemical release payloads were carried to support upper atmospheric research.


Saturday 6 July 2024

Jupiter observed from Canada in 1896 with Cooke telescopes

 Attempts were made on May 22nd 1896 at several points across Canada to observe the occultation of  a 9th magnitude star in Cancer by Jupiter. 

At the Toronto Observatory Mr F L Blake using the Cooke 6 inch refractor found the planet was too low in the sky for first class seeing, although the night was clear. 

Dr J C Donaldson of Fergus Ontario using a 3.25 inch Cooke & Sons refractor obtained a glimpse of the star, but the nearness to the horizon made observing very difficult. 

It is not known if any other observers further to the west observed the occultation.


Friday 5 July 2024

Happy Aphelion Day

On July 5, Earth is at aphelion, or farthest point from the Sun, on its yearly orbit. At aphelion Earth will be 94,510,539 million miles (152, 099,968 million km) from the Sun. In the northern hemisphere we are now experiencing summer. In January however, Earth was at Perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, being only 91,404,095  million miles (147,100,632 million km) away. The seasons are caused not by how close Earth is to the Sun, but by which hemisphere is tilted towards it. In July the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun, while in January when Earth is closest to the Sun, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from it.


The Cooke telescope at the David Dunlop Observatory

 The University of Toronto’s David Dunlap observatory at Richmond Hill near Toronto, Canada today houses a 74 inch Grubb Parsons reflector that was installed in 1935. However there was a much older observatory in Toronto. 

This was the Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory at the University of Toronto which  housed a 6 inch Thomas Cooke & Sons telescope that was installed in 1880. The Cooke was used in particular for the study of sun spots in conjunction with magnetic measurements made at the observatory. I believe that the Cooke may have been used until around 1910.




Thursday 4 July 2024

How monks stopped people seeing the supernova of 1054

 How could an object brighter than the planet Venus not be recorded by astronomers in Britain or Western Europe? In the year 1054, before telescopes, a supernova was visible to the naked eye in daylight for at least three weeks, and for nearly two years after that in the night sky.

The supernova was reported by astronomers in China, Japan and the Arabic speaking world. Astronomers in these parts of the world were far more advanced in astronomical knowledge than their European counterparts, but that doesn't explain why something easily seen was not recorded in Western countries.

So, what was going on? It would be wrong to believe that the supernova was not seen in Europe, because clearly, it was. The answer probably lies with the people holding the power. Monks had astronomical knowledge and the wherewithal to record the event. Monasteries were the seat of knowledge and power in Europe at this time and had sufficient control to decide what became news – and what did not. Did the monks suppress reports of this spectacular occurrence, and if so, why?

It was on July 4th 1054 that a star in the constellation of Taurus the Bull destroyed itself in what astronomers call a supernova. The remnants of this star are now known as the Crab Nebula. This was a spectacular and rare event: the last bright supernova we are aware of was in 1604.

In 1843 the Earl of Rosse named the Crab Nebula, observing it through a 36-inch telescope from his observatory at Birr Castle, Ireland. He clearly had some imagination because it is not easy to see the image of a crab in the nebula. Today, astronomers can see the remains of the destroyed star at a distance of around 6,500 light years.

The nebula is also known as M1, or Messier 1. This name comes from a catalogue of objects drawn up by the 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier. He spent his time searching for comets, discovering around a dozen, none of them very spectacular. During his search he came across over a hundred 'comet lookalikes'. To avoid confusion in future searches for comets, he drew up a list of 'non-comet objects'. This 'Messier list' is still of great use to astronomers as they explore and study the constellations.

At the time of the1054 supernova, monasteries were the seats of learning, with massive libraries and people who could read and write. They had already become very wealthy institutions. This was not a deliberate policy as they were built originally for purely religious studies, but they had many bequests of land and money left to them by rich lords and barons.

Monasteries studied many subjects in addition to religion, astronomy among them. The monks followed the teaching and ideas of Aristotle (384 BCE- 322BCE) from ancient Greece. One of his ideas would cause trouble for over 1800 years.

Aristotle developed the 'geocentric' view of the solar system, where the Earth was accepted as the centre of everything, with the Sun, Moon and planets orbiting around it. This geocentric view would only be changed in 1543 by Nicolas Copernicus, a Polish monk. His theory placed the Sun at the centre to give us the 'heliocentric' view. Although not everything Copernicus said was correct, he made massive strides in the right direction.

Aristotle also said that everything in space moved in circles. The circle was seen as a 'perfect' shape, and the heavens, of course, had to be perfect. We now know objects in the solar system move in ellipses rather than circles.

Aristotle’s idea that the heavens were perfect and unchanging caused trouble with both the 1054 supernova and that of 1181. When people saw the new star appear they went to the monasteries because they were the centres of learning, and the monks would know what was going on. At least that is what people thought.

To the monks, however, the supernova posed an irreconcilable problem. They could not admit that there was a new star. They had told everyone that the heavens were perfect and unchanging. Consequently, people living close to the monasteries were convinced, by the monks, that there was nothing there. Although they could see this new star, the monks had such authority that the people believed them when they were told that this was the work of the devil, trying to corrupt their minds.

Today, this is the prevailing theory as to why an event recorded in many parts of the world was ignored in Europe. It simply did not fit in with the accepted view of the most learned people; the monks in the monasteries, and thus power came to define knowledge.


Wednesday 3 July 2024

Bloodhound removed from service in UK in 1964

 Because manned aircraft are no loner a major threat to the UK's defences the Bloodhound Mk1 is being withdrawn from operation. This was announce on July 3rd 1964 by Mr Hugh Fraser, Minister for Defence for the RAF at RAF Newton, Notts. As the status quo is different overseas Mr Fraser said that the greatly improved Mk 2 Bloodhound is being placed in service abroad by the RAF at several locations.


Tuesday 2 July 2024

The Rothschild's Cooke telescope

 A report from 1889 says that Baron Albert von Rothschild’s observatory within the precincts of his palace is a bijou. A splendid equatorial by Thomas Cooke & Sons with a 9 inch aperture, to which the Baron has fitted notions of his own. Observations of double stars are made by him, and astronomers may in a year or two receive published results. Dr Palisa is the Baron’s court astronomer.


Monday 1 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.

Occultation of Saturn in 1917 seen with a Cooke telescope from Australia

 Ernest Wunderlich at the Wyone Observatory, Port Hacking which is about 14 miles south of Sydney observed the occultation of Saturn by the moon on March 14th 1917. The telescope used was a 4.5 inch Thomas Cooke & Sons telescope.  

The sky was at the commencement of occultation was, owing to slight haze, rather more luminous than usual, and this caused the loss of the “inner edge of ring” and “first limb” of the ball at ingress. At egress the definition was all that could be desired, but the first edge of ring was decidedly outside the Moon’s illuminated edge before it was noticed, and thus was “lost”.