Astronomers of the Future Club - October 2019 Meeting Report - by Duncan Lunan

by Duncan Lunan - 13:00 on 24 November 2019



Astronomers of the Future Club - October 2019 Meeting Report - by Duncan Lunan


At the meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club in Troon on Thursday October 31st, the speaker was Dr. Alan Cayless, former curator of Stirling Observatory and a senior lecturer and tutor with the Open University, on ‘Astronomy in a Volcanic Landscape’. Alan’s responsibilities include the OU’s remotely operated telescopes on the island of Tenerife. In May 2018 he described taking a party of students out there to maintain and upgrade the telescopes, named PIRATE and COAST. Most recently he accompanied a party from Denny High School, joined at the observatory by a similar class from a local school. Although the telescopes can only be accessed remotely, with no way to ‘look through them’, students watched them at work as they compiled images on request of targets such as the Whirlpool spiral galaxy and the edge-on ‘Sombrero Hat’, to a standard that professional observers would once have found hard to match.


Dr. Cayless showed spectacular videos of the cable-car and footpath approach to the summit of Mt. Tiede, at 3,700 metres the tallest in the Atlantic, followed by the ‘Martian’ landscape of red, brown and green rock, plus volcanic obsidian glass, at the observatory site 13 km from the peak. The OU’s telescopes are installed with many others on the 2,400 m. rim of the crater formed when the original, much higher volcano exploded millions of years ago. Mt. Tiede has regrown since, but is much smaller – still active, but not having erupted for over a century now. After daylight videos, illustrating the clamshell doors of the domes and the nearby weather station, Alan went on to show speeded-up moonlit films of typical viewing nights, featuring the Milky Way, and star trails around the north celestial pole. He also showed course material relating to the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, one of the keys to stellar evolution, and actual studies of variable stars, ending with PIRATE images of the Great Nebula in Orion.


The telescopes are remotely controlled from the UK and while priority is given to professional observers and registered amateur groups, anyone can sign up for the Open University’s FREE ‘Astronomy with an Online Telescope’ course, typically taking 8 weeks, but at one’s own pace, and with access to the smaller COAST instrument. On any given night, once the major assignments have been dealt with, the telescope will work through the list of online requests on a first come, first served basis. A special module has been prepared for use by schools, with Milton Keynes the first to sign up, and it’s hoped that it will soon be available in Spanish for the benefit of schools throughout Spain and on Tenerife itself.


The last full meeting of 2019 of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday November 28th, when the guest speaker will be Robert Law of the Mills Observatory in Dundee, on his latest visit to Kennedy Space Centre and current space developments. The meeting will be from 19:15 to 21:00 hrs at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. For more details, contact Alan Martin on 07947 331632.




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