MSAS

"the advancement of education for the public benefit in astronomy and its associated sciences"

Achievements and Performance

The Year in 6 Numbers

36th

Year Promoting Astronomy

35

Community Access and Outreach Events

55

Society

meetings

1,036

Members of the public served

15

Guest

Speakers

£3,595

Surplus for the year

Meeting Programme

The society’s weekly meeting programme is a core activity which contributes greatly to the success enjoyed by the society. In the year to March 31st 2015 a total of 55 meetings were held, this mathematical curiosity is explained by the fact that in addition to the normal Thursday evening meetings two additional meetings were held on Friday evenings to accommodate guest speaker travel requirements and a special Saturday meeting was held when the society hosted the Yorkshire Astromind competition.

Total attendance across the meeting programme was 1,226 members and 131 visitors.

Our guest speakers are always a highlight of the programme and this year has been no exception. Our Honorary President, Dr Allan Chapman, gave two outstanding talks this year on the lives and works of Edmund Halley and Sir John Herschel; Dr Sue Cartwright from Sheffield University gave two excellent talks on Extra-solar Planets and The Photon, we are especially grateful to Sue who stepped in at the last minute when a booked speaker had to cancel at short notice.

Paul Money is an old friend to the society and visited to give a talk on Observing in the Arctic. Dr Bill Leatherbarrow, Director of the BAA Lunar section gave an excellent talk on the History of Lunar Observing in Britain and we hope he will be returning next year. A new speaker to our programme, Prof Albert Zijistra gave an outstanding talk on the subject of planetary nebula. Our Christmas Lecture got the festive season started, quite literally, with a bang when Hanna Hudson-Lee, aka Hydrogen Hanna, gave a talk with several practical – and explosive – science demonstrations.

Other guest speakers in the year were Bob Christy (From Khazakhstan to Siziwang - There's Nothing New Under the Sun), Phillippa Browning (Our Active Sun), Kevin Kilburn (Manchester's First Rocket Man), Gary Poyner (Double Stars), Edward Hand (Robotic Telescopes), Francis Hickenbottom (Light & Spectra), and Harry Page (A Guide to Pixinsight).

Whilst guest speakers accounted for 15 of the 55 meeting held in the year our own members provide the majority of content. Combined guest and member speakers have delivered an informative and varied programme covering a wide range of topics in astronomy and its associated sciences. The society is grateful to all our speakers who continue to deliver a packed and excellent programme.

Community Access & Outreach Programmes

The society’s Community Access and Outreach programmes are vital tools is our work to promote astronomy and its associated sciences to a wider public and provide a showcase for the society’s work. The programmes also play a key role in recruiting new members to the society.

In the period covered by this report there were a total of 22 Community Access events at the J.A. Jones Hoober Observatory which attracted a total of 308 visitors. The events include both evenings with a narrated slideshow and opportunity to observe the night sky, solar observing events which offer an opportunity to view our nearest star, the Sun, safely and a special event for the partial eclipse of March 20th 2015. It is a pleasure to report that a number of events have been arranged for the benefit of local schools; this is due in no small measure to an increase in the pool of volunteers able to staff these events.

In the same period there were a total of 13 Outreach events with a combined audience of 593. Many of these events built on our relationships with our partner organisations: RSPB Old Moor, Thrybergh Country Park, Clifton Park, and Wentworth Castle and Gardens. The society places on record its gratitude to our partner organisations and their staff and volunteers whom we work so closely with.

Thrybergh Country Park hosted two events, a new "Fun Day" and our well established "A Night under the Stars". The former took place on June 29th 2014 with ten members of the society volunteering on the day. Telescopes were provided for solar viewing but sadly the weather did not cooperate which reduced the number of public taking an interest in our display.

"A Night under the Stars" event was held on September 13th 2014, the park ranger undertook a bat walk with visitors and 11 volunteers from the society attended to staff four telescopes and provide a narrated slideshow presentation called "Our Solar System". Observing conditions were poor but the event nevertheless attracted 50 visitors with a good proportion of those being campers on the Thrybergh Country Park site.

Sadly this event was marred be the theft of a society banner from the site entrance.

The society also paid a return visit to Clifton Park Walled Garden as guests of the Friends of Clifton Park; the "Planets in the Park IV" event took place on the evening of February 14th 2014. Attendance was reasonably good with 28 visitors being looked after by 8 volunteers. Although excellent presentations were provided by Tony Morris and Paul D’Silva though sadly the weather again spoiled the observational activities. Generous supplies of tea maintained those involved in good spirits.

The society has teamed up with our friends at the RSPB Old Moor reserve on 6 occasions in the past year; there were 3 "Solar Sunday" events and 3 evening events.

The solar events held on June 15th 2014, July 18th 2014, and August 17th 2014 were well supported with several members bringing their own solar observing equipment for visitors to use. The events were advertised both by society and RSPB.

The evening events were held on October 5th 2014, January 24th 2015, and March 28th 2015 and proved extremely popular with the RSPB taking bookings months in advance and frequently having to turn requests down since they are limited to 100 visitors at each event.

These are well supported events by the society and the society places on record its thanks to all members who give so generously of their time. Les Marsden did 3 talks on the Solar System at each event in the classroom, Phil Muffett showed visitors the interactive night sky using the Stellarium virtual planetarium software, and we also had a book stall.

Outside, members brought their own telescopes to show visitors the night sky. The first 2 events were relatively clear but at the last event only a few visitors who stayed to the end managed to see the Moon & Jupiter through a telescope.

The society visited Wentworth Castle Gardens twice during the year; November 29th 2014 and March 7th 2015. Poor weather kept visitors and volunteers indoors at the November event but dryer conditions prevailed in March, one of the better events at this venue.

The public were supportive whatever the weather and attendance was 35 in November and 22 in March.

Presentations were given by Les Marsden and Phil Muffett on the Solar System and the Stellarium planetarium respectively with the Solar System display and books being on show and for sale in the cafe.

The better weather conditions of the March event allowed telescopes to be used giving the public a reasonable view of the night sky.

The society wishes to place on record its appreciation of our partner organisations, their staff and volunteers who work so closely with us to promote and deliver our Outreach programme; we very much look forward to building our relationship in the year ahead.

BBC Stargazing Live

BBC Stargazing Live returned to the nation’s television screens for a fourth annual series, this was a little later in the year to coincide with the partial solar eclipse visible from the UK on March 20th 2015.

Unfortunately, due to changes in BBC terms and conditions only three events were deemed to fit their criteria for inclusion under the Stargazing Live banner, furthermore the BBC "Things to do" website was removed which resulted in there restricted publicity of our events by the BBC. The society’s own publicity efforts secure coverage in local media.

Messenger

The society published 11 issues of its monthly newsletter during the year, with the months of December 2014 and January 2015 being combined in to a single edition. The Messenger is edited by Roy Gunson and we are grateful to Roy for this.

Electronic distribution of the newsletter was introduced in the last year; planned enhancements to the society website will eventually simplify this and make back issues available for download to members.

Permission has been obtained to use articles from the "One Minute Astronomer" website provided that appropriate credit it given.

J.A. Jones Hoober Observatory

In the year to March 31st 2015 the observatory has been heavily used, on an almost weekly basis. The Imaging Group used the observatory on 39 separate occasions either imaging or image processing in addition to the usual Solar Sundays and the Community Access Programme events. The momentum built by the Imaging Group has also fed through into the annual imaging competition with a wide range of images being shown taken using the equipment in the observatory and techniques shared amongst members. The elevated use has created interest in enlarging or enhancing our present observatory to cater for the extra demands it is now seeing; a feasibility group has been working on various observatory upgrade options over the last year, further details can be found later in this report.

This year has seen a number of enhancements to the observatory equipment and also a number of equipment failures.

The electronic focuser has been installed on the C14 telescope and the primary mirror has been locked in place using components made by one of our members, Gary Gawthrope. These additions have made focussing very easy especially with the various focussing aides at our disposal. However there have been 3 separate failures of the focussing system, two of which relate to issues with the Paramount drives internal wiring and one due to failed components in the focus controller. At the time of writing a work around is being sought for the recent wiring issue as we don’t want to remove the telescopes to fix the wiring.

The shutters had proved to be reliable until a total failure of the upper shutter drive. New components have been purchased and a slight re-design is being undertaken to strengthen the belt drives and bearings. The shutter drive control box power supply failed early in the year and was quickly replaced with a better specified unit from Farnells Ltd.

A new set of ladders has been purchased to provide safer access to the top of the dome from the inside.

A larger capacity 12 volt battery has been purchased for the shutter drives and will be installed with upgraded wiring once the upper shutter drives had been repaired.

The observatory grounds have been well maintained by the usual volunteers which paid dividends when representatives from Yorkshire Water, our landlords, visited the site. The dome has been scrubbed externally to remove the green deposits growing on it, it now looks much better. Thanks to our members involved in this activity.

The outsides of the top of the shutters are in quite a bad state again with rust showing and flaking paint, a complete clean and re-paint will be required in the summer of 2015.

Observatory Improvement and Extension Feasibility Study

With the increased use of the observatory several members of the society were concerned with the lack of space and facilities at the J.A. Jones Observatory. A proposal was passed at the AGM 2014 to explore possible solutions. All members were invited to take part in the project.

A group of 11 members has been formed and met four times in the year.

The remit developed and agreed by the group was to explore options to provide:

  1. Toilet – with disabled access.
  2. Small kitchen area –sink, kettle, microwave, hot and cold running water.
  3. Space for at least 6 members to use computers in comfort.
  4. Space for a large table to study star maps (up to A2).
  5. Larger presentation space for 10 people and 2 presenters.

In addition the group also identified two options for investigation

  1. A maximum 5m X 5m extension.
  2. A zero extension, rearranging the current use of space.

The group explored the need for a water supply and waste management system. It is the latter which has created a "pinch point". Yorkshire Water, the land owner, has been contacted and are considering our request to install a waste storage tank (water and toilet waste) on the site.

Through our contact with Yorkshire Water the possibility of the society buying the land has arisen; currently Yorkshire Water is exploring both possibilities on our behalf and the group will continue with its work once further information is received from the company.

Membership

At March 31st 2015 membership of the society was 47; the society has accepted eight new members in the year and we extend a warm welcome to them.

Accommodation

In our report for the year ended March 31st 2013 we identified as a major risk the long-term future of our accommodation at Swinton Working Men’s Club (which is owned and operated by Swinton Bottom Club Ltd.). A number of alternatives have been investigated but none, to date, has offered quality, dedicated alternative accommodation.

Representatives of the society attended the Annual General Meeting of Swinton Bottom Club Ltd. in March 2015, the clubs accounts were in equal measure alarming and depressing. The trustees are urgently considering options for relocation, including emergency measures should the worst happen leaving the society homeless at very short notice.

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Mexborough & Swinton Astronomical Society is a Registered Charity in England & Wales, Registered Charity No 1064103.

Affiliated to the Federation of Astronomical Societies.

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