Introduction to Astronomy – Week 1

Tonight I attended the first night of the Cambridge Astronomy Associations Introduction To Astronomy course which was held at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.

Tonights talk was entitled “Things that go bump in the night” by Brian Lister. Brian took us through the basics of the solar system with some very interesting images of various craters. This included the Mead crate on Venus which is 280km wide, as well we the 65km wide crater in Quebec and the 200km Hellas Basin crater on Mars. There were also images of the Abulfeda crater chains on the moon.

Brian also conducted a couple of experiments, one was to demonstrate how stars explode, by inflating and exploding a balloon in a cardboard box full of packing material. See the video of this below, the experiment did not quite work as expected, or as I expected anyway.

After the talk was over and we had our tea and biscuits we headed out to one of the telescopes on the Cambridge site to view Saturn.

Cambridge Institute of Astronomy Northumberland Telescope DomeWe used the Northumberland Equatorial University Observatory which was built in 1838. “The Northumberland” is the only remaining large instrument from the early days of the University Observatory. For many years it was one of the world’s largest refracting telescopes.

The main structure was built by the engineers Ransomes of Ipswich, and the fine mechanical work by the London Instrument makers Troughton and Simms.

The polar axis frame and the telescope tube are made of Norwegian fir. The original Cauchoix lens is not used anymore and the optics are now up to date, with a 12 inch aperture visual achromatic doublet designed by Dr R.V. Willstrop of the Institute and it was constructed by the local firm A.E. Optics Ltd, installed to mark the 150th anniversary of the telescope.

The steel dome covering the telescope was made in 1932, which was a replacement for the original 96 year old wood structure. The telescope was last used in a regular Observatory research programme for the micrometrical measurement of double stars in the 1930s. Although the telescope is still used for visual observations by members of the University Astronomical Society and for public observing at the Institute of Astronomy during the winter months.  So it’s great to see it still being used after 150 years.

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