Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)
Open Days 1972 - 2019
Friday 27 - Saturday 28 September 2019
Theme: Jupiter and Saturn.
The 2019 Open Weekend was held Friday-Saturday, 27-28 September. The weather in the run up to the event was very poor, and the forecast for Friday night was not encouraging. In the early evening, there was a torrential downpour. By 7.30pm (our opening time) the rain had stopped and the sky began to clear. The clouds gradually dispersed and, by 8.00pm were completely gone, leaving a transparent sky, washed clean by the rain. The conditions allowed us to show visitors the night sky through the Tomline Refractor and also through smaller telescopes on the balconies and on the school playing field in front of the Observatory. One hundred and two visitors arrived during the course of the evening, and were treated to observations of Jupiter, Saturn, M13, Albireo, Rasalgethi, Polaris, and the Milky Way.
Saturday was dry but suffered from increasing amounts of cloud. Dense cloud during the evening prevented the operation of telescopes on the balconies and playing field. We opened the observatory dome to allow visitors to look through the Tomline Refractor at the Butt and Oyster pub across the River Gipping, but had to close up when the forecast rain arrived at 8.30pm. Nonetheless, 103 visitors arrived (one more than on the previous evening) and were shown the observatory and telescopes.
All in all, the weekend was very successful. Two visitors joined OASI and several aim to attend the next meeting of OASI@Newbourne to find out more about the Society.
I would like to thank all members of OASI who help to make the weekend such a success.
Friday 19 - Saturday 20 October 2018
Theme: the Moon and winter constellations.
The 2018 Open Weekend, Friday-Saturday, 19-20 October, marked a welcome return of the event after a break of three years. The sky on Friday night was clear and transparent and we showed visitors the Moon, Mars, globular cluster M13, multiple star Almach, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades and other celestial objects. On Saturday night, there was dense cloud all evening, but visitors were nevertheless able to glimpse the Moon and Mars during occasional small breaks in the cloud. Three visitors joined OASI and many expressed an interest in attending the next meeting of OASI@Newbourne to find out more about the Society with a view to joining.
The photo to right shows Orwell Park observatory tower against the background stars; the constellation Perseus is visible above and to the right of the dome.
2017 - no event
2016 - no event
Friday 27 - Saturday 28 March 2015
Theme: Venus, Jupiter, the Moon and winter constellations.
The 2015 Open Weekend, Friday-Saturday, 27-28 March, turned out to be a decidedly mixed affair! The first night was beautifully clear and we were able to show visitors a selection of astronomical objects, including the Moon, Jupiter, Venus, multiple stars (Polaris, Mizar/Alcor, Epsilon Lyrae, γ Leonis, Θ1 and Θ2 Tauri, σ Orionis), star clusters (The Pleiades, Coma Berenices, M35, M36, M37, M38, M44), and nebulae (M45, NGC 2392, M57). Forty-eight visitors attended, one of whom joined OASI.
The second night was cloudy at first but cleared up later on, and again we were able to share some fascinating sights of the night sky with visitors. There was much informal discussion with visitors about the merits of various beginners' telescopes, and how much it was necessary to spend on optical equipment to make a start in astronomy. (Very little, in our opinion!) This is a subject that OASI intends to develop further. Fifty-one visitors attended.
Following the event, the OASI Committee spent much time pondering why numbers of visitors had been so low, much less than on previous open evenings with comparable sky conditions. We concluded that it was likely due to the very successful observatory tours run by OASI Treasurer, Paul Whiting, FRAS monthly during the winter season: these appear to be satisfying much of the demand by members of the public to visit the Observatory. As a result, the Committee decided not to hold another open evening until we have re-assessed the need for them, in early-2016.
The photo to right shows observers setting up on the playing field at the front of the Observatory, prior to doors opening. It was taken with very low ambient light levels, hence shows little detail. Stars can be discerned above the Orwell Park School building.
Friday 31 October - Saturday 01 November 2014
Theme: the Moon.
The 2014 Open Weekend, Friday-Saturday, 31 October - 01 November, benefited from clear skies and unseasonably mild weather. Over the two evenings there were 78 visitors, fewer than usual because of the competing attractions of Trick or Treating and Bonfire Night! However, this had the bonus for those who did attend that there were no queues to see any of the telescopes and lots of time to talk with members of the Society.
Photos below are by David Murton.
Friday 22 - Saturday 23 November 2013
Theme: Moon and Jupiter.
We held our 2013 Open Weekend on Friday-Saturday, 22-23 November. The sky on Friday was mostly clear, which was good for the telescopes on the field and Belvedere. Saturday evening was initially cloudy so no telescopes were set up in the field. However, gaps in the clouds appeared and grew as the evening wore on revealing, towards the close, fine views of the Pleiades, Hyades, Orion Nebula, Jupiter and much more.
Over the two evenings there were 118 visitors, comprising 84 adults and 34 concessions. There was much positive feedback from people as they were leaving.
I'd like to thank everybody who turned out to help make the event such a success.
Saturday 27 - Sunday 28 October 2012
Theme: Moon, Jupiter and Uranus.
We held our 2012 Open Weekend on Saturday-Sunday, 27-28 October. There were some unexpected obstacles! The first problem was the closure of the main street through Nacton village to permit installation of a new main sewer; this complicated travel to the Observatory from some directions and, indeed, may have dissuaded some potential visitors from attending. Despite the roadworks, several members of OASI arrived before 6.30pm to set up signs, telescopes and the reception desk. However, the "Harry Potter"-style key to open the main school gate could not be found! We had been told that it would be left on a table in the staff room. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case and, after much frustration, it was finally located in the caretaker's pigeon hole. As usual, several visitors arrived before the official opening time of 7.30pm; due in part to delays associated with the hunt for the key, they had to wait until everything was ready.
The sky on Saturday was clear, so we anticipated a busy evening. As usual we ran three observing sites: the Tomline Refractor, small telescopes on the balconies of the Observatory and telescopes on the school playing field. I spent most of Saturday evening on the playing field, where the usual telescopes were in use:
On the playing field, the principle objects observed were the Moon and Jupiter. During the evening, we observed Io drawing further from the limb of Jupiter, having emerged from occultation at 18:14 UT, and Ganymede disappearing in occultation behind Jupiter at 20:10 UT. Around 20:30 there was a short shower of light rain. I immediately disassembled my telescope and took it in to the base of the observatory tower. James Appleton and John Wainwright covered their telescopes and were able to resume showing the night sky to visitors again after only a few minutes. In total, over 90 visitors attended during the evening.
The weather on Sunday was completely different: it was wet for much of the day, making observing during the evening impossible. Despite the weather, about a dozen hopeful visitors arrived; they enjoyed personal tours of the observatory and discussing its history and current usage with members of OASI.
As usual, I'd like to thank all members of OASI who gave their time to make the Open Weekend a success.
Saturday 01 - Sunday 02 October 2011
Theme: Moon, Jupiter and Uranus.
We held our 2011 Open Weekend on Saturday-Sunday, 01-02 October. The week preceding the event was one of the best of the whole summer, with clear skies and high temperatures. The weather forecast at the beginning of the week gave every indication that the good weather would last until the Open Weekend and, fortunately, this is precisely what happened. Our program for 2011 followed the same format as that of previous years. Three observing sites were in use: the Tomline Refractor in the observatory dome, small telescopes on the balconies and a selection of telescopes on the field at the rear of the observatory.
Equipment in use on the field comprised:
The five telescopes in the field covered the range of equipment available to the amateur, from the relatively low cost, low aperture through to fully automated and large aperture. This provided an opportunity for visitors to compare the performance of different telescopes in observing the Moon, planets, stars and nebulae.
Some unusual sounds were audible on the field! The local owl population was making its presence heard and I could also hear the less common, seasonal sound of the local deer stags bellowing during their autumn rut. I heard both sounds several times on both evenings.
Both evenings were clear, so a full observing program was possible. On Saturday, the Moon was very low in the sky, over the River Orwell, but we were able to observe it until it disappeared below the horizon. On Sunday, the Moon set later, and we were able to observe it for longer. We also observed Jupiter, Uranus, double stars, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. There was some hazy cloud on Saturday, but it did not interfere too much with observing. By Sunday, the cloud had vanished, and observing conditions were slightly better.
On Saturday, with clear skies, we would usually expect upwards of 200 visitors. Unfortunately, the good weather this year was probably against us: many potential visitors may have taken advantage of the weather to go out during the day and did not want to venture out again in the evening. However, approximately 110 visitors attended on Saturday and a further 60 on Sunday. We recruited two members to the Society.
As usual, I would like to thank all members of OASI who give up their time to make this year's Open Weekend such a successful event.
Saturday 16 - Sunday 17 October 2010
Theme: the Moon, Jupiter and Uranus.
Our customary guidelines for choosing a date for staging an Open Weekend revolve primarily around the celestial objects on view (weather permitting!) The Moon must be close to first quarter, so that it is well placed for observing in early evening and prominent craters and other features on the terminator stand out in sharp relief, and there must also be at least one planet well placed. On rare occasions we deviate from this formula, but only when a bright comet or other rarely-seen phenomenon is visible. This year we concentrated our efforts on observing the Moon and Jupiter, and held our Open Weekend on Saturday-Sunday 16-17 October 2010.
The weather during the day on Saturday was very promising, with long clear periods. Members of OASI arrived at the Observatory a little after 18:30 to set up telescopes, prepare the reception desk and deploy signage at nearby road junctions. This year we had observers at the Tomline Refractor, small telescopes on the balconies of the Observatory and three telescopes on the school playing field:
Our official opening time was 19:30, but as is usual the first visitors arrived well in advance. At first, the sky remained clear, promising a busy evening ahead, and the observers braced themselves for an onslaught of visitors! Until about 20:00, cars full of visitors entered the school grounds in a continuous stream. All telescopes were in operation, and by 20:30 over 100 visitors had arrived. However, shortly after 20:30 a bank of cloud slowly drifted across the sky,putting a sudden stop to observing activities. Sky conditions did not improve subsequently, and few more visitors arrived, so the observers on the school playing field, most exposed to the chill of the night air, closed down operations at 21:30, and those in the Observatory followed suit half an hour later.
The weather on Sunday evening was much more promising. Unfortunately, the first members of OASI to arrive at the Observatory on Sunday evening were met by school gates which were resolutely closed and locked! Luckily the school caretaker lives on site and after a quick phone call he opened the gates for us. We always receive fewer visitors on a Sunday than on a Saturday, even if observing conditions are better. However, with fewer visitors we are able to give each a more personal introduction to the night sky.
One hundred and two people visited on Saturday and 77 on Sunday. Over the weekend, two families joined OASI.
As always, thanks are due to all members of OASI who helped to make the event run so successfully.
Some feedback from visitors:
My wife and I wish to thank all of your members who made the open evening on Saturday so very informative. I can't tell you how amazed we were to view Jupiter and the Moon live through your telescopes. The night was ideal for looking at the sky. I have little knowledge of astronomy but your event stirred a desire to know more and I spent most of Sunday on the Internet looking at your website and viewing images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Thanks once again.
Regards Paul & Ria.
Saturday 24 - Sunday 25 October 2009
Autumn Open Weekend
After hosting a successful series of public events during International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) Spring Week, and being gluttons for punishment, we decided to repeat the whole process for the scheduled Autumn Week. Our events commenced with our second public Open Weekend of the year, held Saturday - Sunday, 24 - 25 October.
Saturday did not start promisingly, with continuous cloud cover during the day. However, the BBC weather forecast predicted that the sky should clear by early evening, so we remained hopeful! As predicted, the cloud cover started breaking up before 17:00, and everything began to look favourable for the evening. I arrived at Orwell Park a little after 18:30 under a clear sky. Several members of OASI had already arrived and everyone was busy setting up equipment before the arrival of the first visitors: signposts, the reception table, the Tomline Refractor, smaller instruments on the balconies of the Observatory and on the playing fields of Orwell Park School. (In recent years, telescopes on the playing fields have become a very popular addition to our Open Weekend programme.)
By 19:30 everything was ready and we waited in anticipation of a busy evening. Several early visitors had already arrived. However a large bank of cloud was approaching from the west. It rapidly spread over the whole sky, and much to our horror it started raining! We commenced a very quick manoeuvre to bring the telescopes under cover. Much to our collective amazement, within about five minutes the rain had stopped and the cloud dispersed, leaving the sky completely clear for the rest of the evening.
I decided to give both my small telescopes an outing during the weekend. On the Saturday I brought my 14 cm Maksutov-Cassegrain and on the Sunday my 12 cm short focal length refractor. I had recently purchased an RA drive which proved to be an invaluable addition to my equatorial mount. After carefully aligning the mount I was able to track objects for more than half an hour without manual intervention. This meant that I was able to centre an object of interest in the eyepiece, and then for the next several minutes simply direct visitors to the eyepiece, confident that the object would still be within the field of view, leaving me free to talk to the visitors and explain the object under observation.
For most of Saturday evening I pointed my refractor at the Pleiades (M45). Using a wide-angle eyepiece I obtained a field of view of over 2°, which gave an excellent view of the star cluster. Some visitors told me that the image of the Pleiades through my telescope was better than that which they had seen from the telescopes on the balconies.
In previous years John Wainwright had set up his 20 cm reflector on the playing fields. This year however, John arrived together with a surprise! His latest purchase was a Meade 40 cm Dobsonian and he made the brave decision to bring it to Orwell Park on Saturday night for first light. In addition, Neil Morley brought his 8 cm refractor.
Only 49 visitors arrived on Saturday evening, fewer than expected. We put the low number down to the bad weather during the earlier part of the day discouraging people from attending. As a result, those who did visit enjoyed a very relaxed time with no queuing to access any of our telescopes. Some visitors mentioned that they had been round all three observing locations several times!
On Sunday evening we again enjoyed clear skies, and approximately 100 visitors attended.
Finally, I would like to thank all members of OASI who were able to spare time to make the Open Weekend a great success.
Saturday 04 - Sunday 05 April 2009
Spring Open Weekend
This year, as every member of OASI should know, is International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). Accordingly, we scheduled the OASI spring Open Weekend as the culmination of our initial week of IYA events, holding it on Saturday - Sunday, 04 - 05 April. Our programme was the same as in previous years, with three observing locations in operation: the 26 cm Tomline Refractor, small telescopes on the balconies of Orwell Park Observatory and an observing site on the school playing field.
Some years ago, we used the playing field primarily for naked eye and binocular astronomy. However, the observing site there has been growing in recent years. This year, we chose our usual spot, between the pavilion and the clock tower, and set up two telescopes and two large binoculars. John Wainwright brought his 20 cm reflector: this has become a regular Open Weekend feature in recent years. In addition, James Appleton brought his 25 cm Meade SCT. On the Saturday, this kit had to be manhandled up from the car park behind the school's gym onto the playing field - a lengthy journey when transporting heavy optical equipment! Fortuitously, after John undertook an investigation, it emerged that the gate onto the playing field was not locked, and this discovery enabled he and James to transport their telescopes to the observing locations by car on Sunday.
The weather on Saturday was sunny, which boded well for the evening, However the evening sky was disappointing. Skies were very hazy with a limiting magnitude of approx 6.0. Conditions were so bad that observing any deep sky objects was impossible and we were unable to give visitors a guided tour of the night sky as scheduled. But not all was lost - the cloud cover was thin enough to observe the Moon and Saturn, which kept many of our visitors interested.
Sunday also started sunny, which again boded well for the evening. The skies remained clear while travelling out to Nacton, but this was about to change! At around 19:30 a dense bank of sea fog drifted up the Orwell. Visibility reduced to less than 200 m. As far as I can remember this was the first time that fog had prevented observing at an Open Weekend!
The number of visitors over both days was about 160. As usual, I'd like to thank all members of OASI who gave their time to help make this Open Weekend a success.
Saturday 12 - Sunday 13 April 2008
Theme: the Moon, Saturn and Mars.
OASI has a long tradition of holding Open Weekends. We held our first in 1972; in 2008 we held our fortieth. We schedule Open Events depending on what is in visible in the evening sky. Our usual criteria are that the Moon is near first quarter and one or more planets are visible. We scheduled our 2008 Open Weekend for Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 April. First quarter Moon was on the Saturday, and Saturn and Mars were visible to the East and West of the Moon respectively.
Of course, the weather is always out of our control! Several evenings preceding the Open Weekend enjoyed clear skies - could this last until the Open Weekend itself? The weather on Saturday was a mixture of sunny spells and cloud. This persisted into the evening, with sufficient clear periods to run a full astronomical program for our visitors.
As usual, we ran our observing programme at three sites. In the dome of the Observatory we used the 26 cm Tomline Refractor to show visitors the heavens. On the balconies of the Observatory we made observations with small telescopes and binoculars. In the Orwell Park School playing fields we used binoculars and the naked eye, and for the second year running, John Wainwright showed visitors the heavens through his 20 cm reflector.
In the car park, Martin Cook had the brainwave of arranging visitors' cars in herring bone fashion round the school drive. This was a great success and hugely improved the density of parking - it was surprising that no-one had thought of it before! A few minutes after 19:30, we knew that we were in business when six cars arrived in as many seconds. The new parking arrangements enabled all the cars to park just as quickly; in fact, it was possible for two cars to park at the same time, a feat not achieved previously! A total of 50 cars arrived on Saturday.
Some 30 minutes after the first cars arrived, Dan Wood, a member of the Orwell Park School staff, joined us in the car park. Dan is a member of the School events team, and although I have previously had email and telephone contact with him to make arrangements for the Open Weekend, this was our first face to face meeting. He seemed impressed with our car parking arrangements!
Dan told us that the school had been booked for a wedding reception extending into the evening, and that ceremonies would conclude with a firework display. This was first scheduled for 21:00, but kept being put back as the speeches over-ran. The pyrotechnics finally took place at 21:45. The display lasted for about 10 minutes, using professional fireworks, and made an interesting conclusion to our first evening (probably never to be repeated!)
Sunday evening began initially with more cloud cover than on Saturday, but by 21:00 the skies had become quite clear. As is to be expected on a Sunday we had fewer visitors, but we did have a group visit from an unexpected source. At about 20:00 a fire engine arrived at the main gate. Our initial reaction was: where is the fire? But none of the school fire alarms were sounding. On approaching the appliance I was told that the fire crew had come to visit the Observatory and fully intended to pay the entrance fee. It appeared to be an evening jolly, or was it? The fire crew said that they would not come up to the Observatory immediately as they were expecting more colleagues to arrive. They parked in front of the School and waited. Their arrival caused much comment amongst members on car park duty: ideas ranged from the mundane to the scandalous. Was the fire crew here on official business and if so who had invited them? Or were they the cabaret act booked to celebrate someone's birthday in style? After about 20 minutes, sure enough the second fire appliance arrived. To our great surprise it was a turntable engine. It took several shunt manoeuvres before it was able to enter the School grounds through the narrow gates. Orwell Park Observatory then became a temporary out-station for the entire evening shift from Colchester Road Fire Station. Although the fire crew was on call all the time they were with us, fortunately no emergencies occurred!
The Open Weekend would not have run smoothly without the help of many members of OASI, to whom thanks are due. In total, approximately 190 visitors attended over the two days.
Saturday 24 - Sunday 25 March 2007
Theme: Fortieth anniversary celebrations; the Moon and Saturn.
OASI held its 2007 Open Weekend on Saturday 24 March - Sunday 25 March. The weather was decidedly mixed. Saturday evening was completely cloudy throughout the entire time that the Observatory was open; some 20 optimistic visitors arrived during the evening, but were outnumbered by members of OASI. As recompense, we offered the visitors a free return visit, without further charge, if the weather improved, and they chose to visit us again on the Sunday evening.
The weather on Sunday evening was much better - the skies were clear! We operated four observing sites:
Approximately 60 people visited on Sunday evening. Although a relatively small number, this meant that each could be given rather more time and attention than is often the case. On Monday morning, a colleague from work who visited on Sunday evening with his daughter provided some interesting feedback:
Thanks are due to all members of OASI who assisted with the event.
Saturday 30 September - Sunday 01 October 2006
Theme: the Moon.
OASI held its 2006 Open Weekend on Saturday 30 September - Sunday 01 October. Poor weather during Open Events in previous years meant that the 2006 event was awaited with great anticipation, and for once the weather was on our side! Saturday evening was a little troubled with cloud but fortunately clear periods were of sufficient duration that we were able to host a full programme of observations and our visitors suffered only minor inconvenience and occasionally had to be patient and wait for a patch of clear sky. Sunday evening was even better, with completely clear skies.
Three observing areas were in operation. The principle area was the Observatory Dome, housing the Tomline Refractor, where the Moon was under observation. The second area was the Observatory balconies, where several small telescopes were in use. The third area was on the School playing fields, where I gave tours of the night sky to parties of visitors.
Inclement weather had caused the cancellation of my night sky tours on open evenings for the last several years. Since I had last hosted one, I have obtained a new technological aid, a green laser pointer, which is a useful item for pointing out objects in the night sky. Previously, I had to make do with a torch which could be focussed to produce a narrow shaft of light. However, this suffered from the disadvantage that the light beam tended to obscure the object to which it pointed. On Saturday, Martin Cook, also equipped with a laser pointer, assisted with the night sky tours. So we had two laser pointers in use; sometimes we pointed at different objects and sometimes at the same object. As usual, our publicity for the Open Weekend recommended that visitors in possession of binoculars should bring them. Many visitors did so, and Martin and I were able to triangulate our lasers onto some deep sky objects to indicate them clearly for the binocular observers. We pointed out and observed several objects in this way: the Double Cluster in Perseus, M13, M31, M45 and Epsilon Lyrae. Martin and I hosted two night sky tours on Saturday, for which all the participants were very appreciative. On Saturday, an additional highlight was a bright meteor which we saw beneath Altair. This, as would be expected, was a catalyst for a discussion of meteors.
Activities on Sunday were similar to those on Saturday. As is usual, there were fewer visitors on Sunday, and this resulted in a more relaxed evening, where none of the OASI hosts was too busy, and the visitors were able to spend more time with individual members of OASI. There was demand for only one night sky tour on Sunday evening.
Thanks are due to all members of OASI who gave freely of their time to assist at the Open Weekend.
Saturday 19 - Sunday 20 March 2005
Theme: the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn.
OASI held its 2005 Open Weekend Saturday 19 - Sunday 20 March. Despite unfavourable weather conditions, totally overcast on Saturday evening and not completely clearing until after 8pm on Sunday, we had a turnout of approximately 100 visitors.
All the society telescopes were deployed, along with our display stand and a sales table offering back-issue astronomy magazines. In addition, arrangements were in place for visitors to view the night sky with binoculars from a large gazebo sited on the school field; however, because of the poor weather this facility was utilised only while Roy Gooding was showing visitors the constellations on Sunday evening. A new and very well received feature this year was 'Select-a-talk', where visitors were asked to vote for an astronomy lecture by Paul Whiting from a range of talks on offer. On both evenings our visitors opted for the talk on Solar Eclipses; well, cynics would argue that the Sun is permanently eclipsed hereabouts!
We have received many favourable comments by way of feedback, not least the following by email from a family who attended on Sunday:
Just a note to say that we had a wonderful time at the Observatory Open Evening tonight; the huge telescope was magnificent, and the balcony telescopes were very interesting and demonstrated by very friendly and informative folk. In addition, the talk by Paul Whiting on eEclipses was brilliant.
It only remains for me, on behalf of the whole society, to thank all members who so kindly and freely gave of their time to help over the course of the event. Your efforts are much appreciated and the event raised some £201.71 for Society funds. Thank you!
Ken Goward, FRAS
Saturday 27 - Sunday 28 March 2004
Theme: the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Totally overcast weather did not deter 157 visitors of all age groups from attending OASI's 2004 Open Weekend on 27-28 March. Neither did it deter an encouragingly large number of members from volunteering to help run the event. A great all-round effort ensured that the visitors did not leave disappointed, and Mike Nicholls (operating the Tomline Refractor) even pulled a few celestial strings so that the clouds parted briefly and some visitors obtained fleeting glimpses of the Moon.
Four families took advantage of the special membership rates offered at the Open Weekend to join OASI, and we extend a hearty welcome to them. A grateful thank you goes to all members of OASI who supported the event.
Ken Goward, FRAS
2003 - no event
Saturday 09 - Sunday 10 November 2002
Theme: the Moon and Saturn.
The observing theme for OASI's 2002 Open Weekend was The Moon And Saturn. In order to ensure that the bodies were well placed for observation, we arranged the Open Weekend for 09 - 10 November when the Moon was near first quarter and Saturn was approaching opposition.
The 2002 Open Weekend in fact marked the 30th anniversary of OASI's first Open Weekend. The event also coincided with two other 30th anniversaries, namely the last manned lunar mission, Apollo 17, and the founding of the telescope supplier, Meade Corporation. To mark the anniversaries we arranged a display of the last 30 years of OASI Open Weekends and also a display of lunar rock samples gathered by Apollo 17 which were loaned to us by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).
Trade stands included Anglia Cameras, Earth & Sky Books, Intes Micro (Russian telescope importer) and Aurora Books who travelled all the way from York!
The week leading up to the weekend provided typical November weather, days of rain and wind with isolated short clear skies. However, having experienced a complete wash out at the 2001 Open Weekend, we were optimistic that things could only get better for 2002!
Advertising for the event this year reached new highs. For the first time, publicity included local television coverage as well as newspapers and radio. TV news interviews for BBC Look East and Anglia News were filmed at Orwell Park Observatory on the Saturday morning of the event. Both TV crews descended on the Observatory at the same time on Saturday morning; Ken Goward and Martin Cook took the lead in looking after the reporters. The Ipswich Evening Star publicised the event on the preceding Friday evening and similarly the East Anglian Daily Times carried details in its What's On column. As usual we also advertised on local radio and in the local tourist information offices and local libraries.
We commenced preparation in earnest at 1.00pm on Saturday afternoon with a flurry of activity. Children's footlockers and desks and general paraphernalia were cleared at the foot of the Observatory Tower. This created space to construct astronomy displays in readiness for the official opening to the general public at 5.00pm. Display boards, extension leads, trailing sockets, DIY clamps, matt black backing sheets and the ever-useful Bluetac were very much in abundance! A private refreshment area serving tea/coffee/squash and assorted biscuits to volunteers was much in demand and very much appreciated.
Saturday evening stayed clear. The evening was the busiest we have had for several years, with over 300 visitors. The weather deteriorated on Sunday evening, reverting to typical November wind and rain. However, an estimated 150 visitors attended. Ironically, after all the visitors had departed and we had returned our location in the School to its original layout, we all ventured outside to be presented with an all most completely clear sky - how much better it would have been if the skies had been this way only three hours earlier!
The event was a great success. We received positive feedback from people manning the the trade stands. In particular, Aurora Books stated they found this event extremely enjoyable and well organised compared to some others they'd attended recently. They fully appreciated that a lot of work had gone into publicising the event which meant they could meet a much wider range of people than would be reached by simply advertising within the astronomical press. They also mentioned that to a large extent the future of astronomical trading lies in events like the OASI Open Weekend which provide the ultimate vehicle for encouraging more people into the hobby and boosting membership of local astronomical societies.
Ken Goward's words of thanks to members of OASI summarise the success of the event:
This year's Open Weekend may be judged a success by any measure and was an excellent team effort which, from initial estimates, appears to have generated around £500 for society funds.
All four traders have asked to come to future Open Weekends and Anglia Cameras, for instance, took firm (cash deposit) orders for a dozen telescopes.
Most of all the event was enjoyable and the society can be proud of putting on an event which is gaining popularity both within and outside the amateur astronomical community.
Many thanks to all who so generously supported us by arranging displays, helping out at the stands, answering endless questions at the eyepieces or marshalling traffic in the car park, all of which helped to make this a most memorable occasion!
Finally a selection of photographs taken during the event.
Neil Morley & Roy Gooding
Saturday 24 - Sunday 25 November 2001
Theme: the Moon and Saturn.
A Quiet Weekend - Reflections From an Unemployed Exhibitor
OASI held its 2001 Open Weekend 24 - 25 November. Taking a Meade LX50 to the event to give visitors the opportunity of 'backyard viewing' was a nice idea. Alas with thick cloud blanketing the whole of the UK for both days, the instrument was not pointed skywards, and this was the case too for the other members who had agreed to be 'outside exhibitors'.
I recalled the 2000 Open Weekend when Les Lamb and I had our telescopes displayed in the corridor leading to the main exhibition but most visitors simply hurried past us to see the Moon rock. This year, the 'Exhibitors' security badge that I wore was a fraud! Upstairs in the dome and on the balconies the observing directors had modest activity, as the Tomline Refractor is an exhibit in itself and encouraged visitors to venture upstairs. The pub sign and Hospital School clock tower, standard terrestrial observing targets for demonstration purposes when the sky is overcast, must have felt over-exposed!
However, the modest number of visitors did have a positive side, mainly in that it was possible to give more time to talk to them. For those of us whose intended function was made redundant by the weather, it was possible to drift around and engage the visitors in deep (or shallow) conversation on astronomical topics. One visitor who wanted to make a kite in the shape of The Plough asked Ken to check the accuracy of the plans! The exhibitors downstairs had more time to explain the computer displays, radio astronomy, and the excellent video shot at the Tomline Refractor of the lunar occultation of Saturn some three weeks earlier. People manning the Anglia Cameras display stand also had more time to talk and explain things.
There was also time for members of OASI to talk amongst themselves. There was a continuing vigorous debate around the Anglia Cameras stand about society-owned telescopes. Light grasp was the topic, and in particular the value to the society of two very different telescopes, the ETX 125 EC and the 48cm Millennium Telescope currently under construction.
Finally a selection of photographs taken during the event.
Saturday 07 - Sunday 08 October 2000
Theme: Moon, Jupiter and Saturn.
Even the severest of critics would have to concede that the OASI 2000 Open Weekend was a resounding success! Over the course of 07-08 October, several hundred visitors were treated to the wonders of the science of astronomy by means of interactive displays and 'hands on' at the eyepieces of several telescopes.
Despite poor weather on Saturday we had an attendance of about 150 visitors. The sky cleared just in time on Sunday and we eventually lost count of the number of visitors, but if it's any kind of indication, the cash tin had almost £600 in it by the close of the show. We signed up six new members during the weekend and more have joined since (a very warm welcome to all our new friends).
As usual, the 26 cm equatorial refractor was the main draw for the public but it was rivalled this year by an exhibition area with a display of lunar rock, meteorite samples, computer displays and radio astronomy. This was the first Open Weekend for more than a decade to have such an exhibition area.
Ted Sampson and Les Lamb were placed, with their telescopes, in the corridor leading from the visitors' entrance to the main exhibition area. As people filed along towards the exhibition it seemed that most thought that Ted and Les were simply there because nobody had cleared them out of the way after the school had closed on Friday! They had to work hard to attract visitors to their exhibits. For Les it was relatively easy - he could say, of his home-made telescope: This is the only telescope like it in the world. I made it myself. Ted tried the apocryphal but potentially space-saving: This telescope doubles up as a vacuum cleaner during the day. The pitch by Ted and Les encouraged some visitors to pause in their journey into the exhibition area and some asked intelligent questions like How heavy is your telescope? Ted's usual response was to allow the visitor to lift the instrument off the tripod to find out. There were a few difficult moments. Ted and Les had no idea when accosting anyone of their level of understanding of matters astronomical, and some visitors were slow in giving a clue. For example, Ted explained to a young lady that the light comes in one end of the telescope, bounces back and forth a few times and comes out of the eyepiece magnified, before she admitted to having recently completed a PhD on spherical and astigmatic aberration. Ted responded with his 'O' level physics. But everyone had great fun.
About 20 enthusiastic members of OASI give their time to organise the event and man the displays, and succeeded in presenting a very appealling event, of which they can be proud. Thanks are due to them, and also to the school headmaster, Andrew Auster, the business manager, David Gilkes and teacher, Rob Hodges.
A selection of comments received after the event:
Mrs Moore of Brandeston. As one of the many visitors to the Open Weekend at Orwell Park Observatory, may I convey very grateful thanks and appreciation to your astronomical society for the wonderful experience that it was. Not only were all the exhibits and displays well set out and accessible, but the helpful and friendly explanations by your helpers made everything really enjoyable; their patience was much appreciated.
Mr Bolton of Newbury, Berks. Astronomy and particularly amateur astronomy has two sides to it: astronomy being done and astronomy being promoted. It was great to see the evidence of the former amid such a huge number of people enjoying the latter. While the Observatory was the magnet, the interest of the people in the rest of the displays was obvious. The financial return for the society must have been encouraging and the return in terms of good will for, and interest in, astronomy will also have been significant.
Andrew Auster- Headmaster, Orwell Park School. What a wonderful few days it has been for the Astronomical Society. I wish to congratulate you and your colleagues on the excellent Open Weekend.
Ken Goward & Ted Sampson
Friday 16 - Sunday 18 October 1998
Theme: Moon, Jupiter and Saturn.
We held our 1998 Open Weekend on 16, 17 and 18 October. On the first two nights we had clouds and some rain but visitors still arrived to have a look at Orwell Park Observatory and to find out more about astronomy. We had telescopes and binoculars on display on the balconies near the club room, together with lots of posters about the Solar System. We also had Mylar viewers on sale for the solar eclipse in August 1999, together with free leaflets on how to observe without risking eye damage. We also had for sale the ever-popular Short History of the Observatory.
On the third night our prayers were answered and the sky was clear. The first members of OASI turned up at the observatory at about 7.15pm, suggesting that we open earlier than advertised. By this time, some six visitors were already waiting to get in and there followed a mad dash for members to set up telescopes and binoculars! Very soon, the main rush of visitors started and many people were forced to queue on the stairs to the dome. We had a very successful evening and finally closed the observatory at about 11.00pm.
Total admissions to the Observatory over the Open Weekend numbered about 225. Four individuals joined OASI at the Observatory and a further twelve took membership forms away to complete later. Because of the growing interest in the solar eclipse next year, we sold several pairs of Mylar viewers. We also sold some 30 copies of the Short History of the Observatory.
Thanks are due to all the members of OASI who helped to make this another very successful open weekend.
Friday 11 - Monday 14 April 1997
Theme: Comet Hale-Bopp.
OASI hosted a very successful Open Weekend 11-14 April 1997 to observe comet Hale-Bopp. The news media had given the comet a lot of coverage during the preceding month; BBC TV weather reports had often referred to it. Hale-Bopp was so bright that people who would not normally even notice a full Moon were able to find it!
OASI had all the usual publicity in place: posters in libraries, tourist information offices, schools and shops, together with adverts in the local press and an interview with BBC Radio Suffolk.
The weather in the previous week, especially over the previous weekend, had been very good. This did not bode well for the Open Weekend: surely the good weather could not last for another week? But amazingly, on the evening of Friday 11 April, the skies stayed clear, and scores of visitors arrived! Between 19:30 and the official opening time of 20:00, several dozen early arrivals were waiting in the car park. Soon after, the queue of visitors waiting for a glimpse of the comet through the 26 cm refractor extended round the dome, down the stairs, round the club room and continued to the bottom of the spiral stairs. Many visitors had to wait on the stairs for up to two hours before they were able to see the comet through the telescope. We had not experienced such unbounded enthusiasm since the much reminisced-about Open Evening for Halley's comet in 1985. At least 300 visitors arrived on Friday evening, and the last did not leave until about 23:30.
Saturday evening arrived; but skies were still clear, where were the clouds? Once more the Observatory was full of visitors until after 22:30. Again, we primarily relied upon the 26 cm refractor for observing Hale-Bopp, supplemented with binoculars and small telescopes on all five balconies (the smaller instruments also spent some time showing visitors the Moon and Mars). The Observatory was so busy that we also set up two pairs of binoculars on tripods on the grass lawn at the front of the school to provide an extra viewing point.
Skies remained generally clear on the Sunday and Monday evenings, with only occasional cloud intervening. Numbers of visitors on Sunday and Monday were less than on Friday or Saturday, but still very encouraging.
Our Hale-Bopp Open Weekend ranks as the most successful we have staged. Not once did we have to consider the back-up program of slideshows and talks. We estimated the number of visitors over the four evenings to be close to 700.
Friday 20 - Monday 23 September 1996
Theme: National Astronomy Week, Moon and Saturn.
OASI held its second Open Weekend of 1996 on the four nights Friday 20 - Monday 23 September. We selected these dates to coincide with National Astronomy Week, which started on Saturday 21 September.
Although the weather for the weekend was abysmal, with only Saturday evening offering any chance of observing through short breaks in fairly dense cloud, overall the event was very successful. On Friday night about 25 visitors turned up and were given a tour and description of Orwell Park Observatory followed by a slide show and talk on the objects they would have been able to observe had it been clear! The following night, with the Moon every now and again breaking through cloud, about 160 visitors turned up and we were kept very busy trying to give everyone a glimpse of the Moon, and a few very lucky people even a glimpse of Jupiter. A few very keen visitors who stayed late (until 11.00pm, one hour after our advertised closing time!) even managed to get a glimpse of Saturn! Sunday night suffered again from completely overcast skies but we still had about 50 visitors turn up. Again Monday evening was overcast, but a surprising 40 visitors joined us.
In total we hosted approximately 275 visitors over the four nights. They all appeared to be genuinely interested in the subject, not just curious about the Observatory, which I believe bodes well for a growing public enthusiasm and awareness of astronomy. The event raised a total of £236.44 for Society funds.
Saturday 23 - Monday 25 March 1996
Theme: Comet Hyakutake.
OASI held an Open Weekend 23 - 25 March 1996 to provide an opportunity for the public to observe Comet Hyakutake. Details of the Open Weekend and observations of the comet.
Friday 27 - Sunday 29 October 1995
Theme: Saturn without its rings.
OASI hosted its second 1995 Open Weekend 27 - 29 October. The theme of the event was Saturn Without its Rings. Every approximately 15 years, the Earth passes through the plane of Saturn's rings and they appear edge-on. During a crossing of the ring plane, because the rings are only a few tens of metres thick, they become invisible in amateur instruments. This phenomenon was first observed by Galileo in 1612, only two years after he first observed the rings (although at the time, he did not realise their true nature).
The three evenings of the Open Weekend were clear - something of a record in recent years! - and the good weather attracted more than 200 visitors. Through the 26 cm refractor, the visitors were able to observe Saturn as a globe with some surface markings, together with a fine line across the equator (all that could be seen of the rings). Some of the planet's moons were also visible.
OASI also mounted the following displays:
Friday 10 - Sunday 12 March 1995
Theme: First quarter Moon.
OASI held its first Open Weekend of 1995 on Friday 10, Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 March. There were two principal reasons for choosing these dates: they were suitable for observation of the Moon near first quarter (which occurred on 09 March) and the BBC Heavenly Bodies series had completed its run a few weeks earlier. The series invited viewers to send for a guide to astronomy that included a list of local societies holding open evenings. Heavenly Bodies generated about ten inquiries in the month before OASI's open weekend.
Advertising for the event followed similar lines to previous years. Posters ware sent out to all the local libraries and information offices in the area and to individual members of OASI for distribution to friends and acquaintances. Both local radio stations ware notified of the event. BBC Radio Suffolk asked for an interview, which was broadcast on the Friday afternoon. The adverts in the Whats On columns in the local press were mentioned by many of the visitors as their main source of information on the event.
On the Saturday evening, because of the weather, observations were not possible and instead we showed some slides to the visitors. Unfortunately, OASI's slide projector, of many years standing, decided to devour several of the slides, with catastrophic results. As a result the committee has decided to use some of the monies raised from the weekend to purchase a new slide projector.
A minimum of six members are required to run Orwell Park Observatory during an Open Weekend. On this Open Weekend we greatly exceeded the minimum on all three evenings. As well as the 26 cm equatorial refractor, members demonstrated smaller instruments on the balconies. This gave the visitors an opportunity to use and compare different sized refractors and reflectors.
OASI had arranged to open the doors of the Observatory to the public at 8.00pm. However, on some evenings visitors were waiting outside before 7.30pm. The total number of visitors over the Open Weekend is estimated to be circa 250, making this our best open weekend for several years.
Several visitors asked if we will be holding other open evenings later in the year. A second series of open evenings may be arranged for the autumn when Jupiter and Saturn will be visible.
Friday 14 - Sunday 16 October 1994
Theme: Moon and Saturn.
We held our 1994 Open Weekend on Friday 14 - Monday 16 October to coincide with the visit of Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut, to Orwell Park Observatory. Unfortunately, the night sky was obscured for the whole weekend except for Saturday evening when we had brief glimpses of the Moon through thin, patchy cloud. This was the first open weekend in recent memory to be almost totally cloud-bound. Despite the weather, the event was successful and members of OASI entertained visitors with tours of Orwell Park Observatory, slide shows and personal insights into amateur astronomy. Several visitors joined the society.
Friday 02 - Sunday 04 April 1993
Theme: Moon, Jupiter and Saturn.
The 1993 Open Weekend, held 02 - 04 April, began quietly. On the first evening the weather was fine with a few clear patches enabling the Moon and Jupiter to be seen between clouds. Some 30 people visited the Observatory. The second evening was completely overcast, with the inevitable consequence that visitors were very few in number. We entertained those present with a talk on the history of the Observatory and an astronomical slide show. On the third evening the weather pulled out all the stops with unbroken clear skies and some 100 visitors arrived during the two hours that Observatory was open. The equatorial room housing the equatorial refractor was never empty all evening and several telescopes were also in operation on the balconies. The weekend event raised over £80 for society funds.
Friday 10 - Sunday 12 April 1992
Theme: Moon, Jupiter and Saturn.
Pre-planned astronomical events in the UK are often plagued with inclement weather. Just occasionally something strange can happen to the climate and a sequence of five consecutive evenings with cloudless skies can occur! Fortuitously, in this case the five clear evenings coincided with OASI's 1992 Open Weekend, 10-12 April, plus the two preceding days.
We advertised the Open Weekend in the What's On columns of the local press, local libraries and on BBC Radio Suffolk. On the preceding Thursday morning the BBC broadcast a 25 minute interview with me, David Payne and Pete Richards that had been recorded at the Observatory a fortnight before. The publicity achieved its objective and approximately 150 people visited the Observatory during the three evenings of the Open Weekend.
Although skies were cloudless during the Open Weekend, it was hazy and only the Moon and Jupiter could be well seen. The limiting magnitude was as poor as 2.0 on occasions.
1991- No event
Saturday 17 - Wednesday 21 November 1990
Theme: National Astronomy Week.
National Astronomy Week (NAW) was held 17 - 23 October 1990. To mark NAW we opened Orwell Park Observatory to the public for five evenings and held a public lecture meeting at the Friends Meeting House on the last day. We advertised the Open Evenings extensively as follows:
For once, the weather was on our side. Even though the daytime weather was very unsettled, on every evening that the Observatory was open, the skies cleared sufficiently for observing. On the first three evenings we were able to show visitors Mars between the clouds, while on the next two evenings we had a wide choice of observing targets as the clouds were almost completely absent.
Many visitors asked why it was not possible to observe the Moon and we had to explain that the Moon had set before the Observatory was open. The Moon is such an obvious object of interest for the layman that every year we try to hold our Open Weekend when the Moon is well placed for observation (around First Quarter) - there appears to be a lesson here for the organisers of National Astronomy Week.
The week concluded with a public lecture given by Konrad Malin-Smith. He gave an interesting account of his many trips to the Canary Islands and his work at the observatories on La Palma.
Over the Open Weekend we attracted over 400 visitors and added some £170 to Society funds.
Friday 06 - Monday 09 October 1989
Theme: Moon and Jupiter.
We held the 1989 Open Weekend 06-09 October. The weather during 06 October was overcast until, to the surprise of everyone involved, just as the Observatory was opening to the public at 8.00pm, the skies began to clear. Some 40 visitors arrived and were able to view the Moon and Saturn through the equatorial refractor.
The next evening was similar, with periods of clear sky. On the third evening, the sky was overcast. This was unfortunate as the evening proved to be very popular with visitors: more than 30 had arrived before the official opening time of 7.30pm and altogether during the evening some 100 arrived. We entertained the visitors with slide shows on the history of the Observatory and on the Solar System. On the final evening, we benefited from intermittently clear skies, however few visitors arrived.
Altogether, some 200 people visited the Observatory and we raised some £80 towards Society funds.
Saturday 16 July 1988
Theme: 21st Anniversary Convention.
Friday 25 - Monday 28 September 1987
Theme: Moon and Jupiter.
OASI opened the doors of Orwell Park Observatory to the public 25-28 September 1987 for our annual Open Weekend. The first three nights were blessed with clear skies so visitors were able to use the 26 cm refractor to look at a range of astronomical objects including Jupiter and its Galilean satellites, M13, M31, M57 and double stars in Lyra. Unfortunately, on the fourth night it was cloudy so visitors were unable to use the telescope at all.
Altogether, approximately 100 people visited the Observatory over the Open Weekend, and the Society raised almost £120.
Results of the prize draw, held at 9.00pm on 28 September, were as follows:
Friday 19 - Monday 22 September 1986
Over the weekend Friday 19 to Monday 22 September, OASI opened Orwell park Observatory to the public for the second Open Weekend of the year. We had originally intended to hold the event on the previous weekend (the VERY wet one) but Martin and Judith decided to get married on the Saturday of the earlier weekend (congratulations from all at OASI!) so we postponed the event by one week.
The weather was excellent apart from Sunday night when it clouded over. Three clear nights out of four for an Open Weekend must he some kind of record! Unfortunately attendance by the public did not match the superb weather on the three good nights. On Friday night we hosted some 30-40 visitors. Things improved on Saturday night with an attendance of around 80 visitors, better than Friday night but well below our typical attendance for a Saturday night. On Sunday night, despite the cloudy conditions, some 30-40 visitors arrived (this is around the norm for a cloudy Sunday evening). Monday night was again clear and about 50 visitors attended during the evening. Again, this is similar to Monday evening attendance on previous Open Weekends.
In total, only around 200 people visited the Observatory during the Open Weekend, approximately half the number we have attracted in previous years - what is the reason?
Whatever the cause, we hope to do better at of next year's Open Weekend!
The Open Weekend raised approximately £70 for Society funds.
David Payne & Roy Gooding
Friday 25 - Saturday 26 April 1986
Theme: last chance to see Halley's Comet!
On Friday and Saturday 25-26 April 1986 we opened Orwell Park Observatory to the public for a last chance to observe Halley's Comet. Friday evening offered near-perfect conditions for observing the comet: the skies were completely clear with an air temperature near heat wave levels, a welcome contrast to the sub-zero temperatures experienced during the previous open evenings held in December 1985!
Skies did not become dark enough to find the comet until about 9.30pm so we entertained early visitors with a talk about the 26 cm refractor and an opportunity to observe Venus. At least 100 visitors arrived during Friday evening and used both the 26 cm refractor and a pair of 10x80 binoculars to observe the comet.
The Saturday evening was a more typical British astronomical evening! It rained almost non-stop all evening and fewer than 30 visitors arrived. Fortunately, Roy Cheesman was able to fill the time for the visitors most entertainingly by describing his recent trip to Australia with Alan Smith to observe Halley's Comet, from which he had returned on the previous Friday.
Wednesday 11 - Sunday 15 December 1985
Theme: Halley's Comet.
After experiencing only one clear evening out of four during the first Open Weekend in 1985 to observe Halley's Comet, the OASI Committee decided to organise an additional four public observing evenings on Wednesday 11, Thursday 12, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 December.
Unfortunately, in the month between the November and December Open Weekends, the weather did not improve. Skies were filled with cloud and rain apart from brief clear periods of up to perhaps an hour on the Wednesday and Sunday. Often the Observatory was empty apart from members of OASI. We offered the few visitors who did arrive the opportunity to visit again on any clear Wednesday. On the following Wednesday, 18 December, the sky did clear, and the dome was again busy for about an hour as some of the visitors took up our offer.
Sunday 13 - Wednesday 16 November 1985
Theme: National Astronomy Week, Halley's Comet.
During National Astronomy Week 1985, OASI opened Orwell Park Observatory to the public Wednesday 13 - Saturday 16 November for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe Halley's Comet.
Skies were clear all through the day on Wednesday, boding well for the evening. Most members of OASI who were on duty on Wednesday evening had many years experience of open days and group visits and did not anticipate any difficulty in hosting the event. How wrong they turned out to be! Roy Gooding arrived at the Orwell Park School car park with Martin Cook and David Barnard at 7.30 pm, 30 minutes before the official opening time. The parking area was already awash with lost people trying hard to find the entrance to the Observatory. The Observatory in fact was already operational so some visitors had found it without the use of the still-to-be-erected direction signs. Roy, Martin and David quickly proceeded to the Observatory club room, with the visitors bringing up the rear, to collect the signs and then erected them around the entrance to the school and the Observatory. At this time there were some fifty visitors either in the club room or the equatorial room. Visitors were arriving all the time and the Observatory was still some way from being completely ready to receive them.
By 8.00pm cars were arriving at a rate of one every 10 seconds. Martin and Roy stationed themselves at the entrance to the School and began their strange initiation into the world of combined car park attendant/night sky guide. They briefed visitors arriving at 8.00pm that there would be a half hour wait to see the comet through the 26 cm refractor; by 8.30pm this had increased to one hour and by 9.00pm it reached at least one and a half hours.
The number of visitors stretched our resources to the limit. The school's photocopier was constantly printing additional copies of our handouts to replace our grossly under-estimated original quantities. The number of visitors queuing to observe the comet through the 26 cm refractor broke all previous records. At one point the queue extended from the club room all the way down the stairs to the classroom in the entrance passage. Some people patiently waited for over two hours before glimpsing the comet through the telescope. Fortunately many members of OASI were on duty to help manage the large number of visitors.
Visitors on Wednesday evening included one gentleman of 86 years who remembered seeing Halley's Comet at its last apparition in May 1910. We issued each person who observed the comet with a certificate signed by a member of the society witnessing the fact. Observing continued until 12:30 am on Thursday morning in freezing conditions. The total number of visitors to the Observatory on Wednesday evening was circa 500.
On Thursday evening the weather was cloudy with drizzle. However, about 150 people turned up for a look at the Observatory, the 26 cm refractor and a slide show.
According to the weather forecast, Friday night would be clear. In the event there was patchy cloud with far more patches than clear spaces. About 300 visitors arrived and a lucky group of about 40 managed to get a glimpse of the comet during the only extended clear spell of the evening (which occurred between 10.00 pm to 10.20 pm).
During Saturday the weather continued to deteriorate and by evening it was raining steadily and continued to do so all night. Despite the weather, approximately 200 people visited the Observatory and were given slide shows about the comet and a description of the 26 cm refractor.
In terms of public interest and attendance, the weekend was our most successful ever despite only one night out of the four being clear. In all about 1150 people visited the observatory. Unfortunately because of the bad weather at least half of them did not see the comet. Needless to say, thanks to entrance donations by the visitors, society funds have never been so healthy - however, this may have to last us for another 76 years!
Roy Gooding & David Payne
Friday 28 Sep - Monday 01 Oct 1984
Theme: Moon, Mars and Jupiter.
OASI held its 1984 Open Weekend Friday 28 September - Monday 01 October. The Saturday evening enjoyed the best weather conditions with the sky being clear all the time the Observatory was open. We showed visitors the night sky through the 26 cm refractor, a 7 cm Maksutov and an 11 cm reflector. Shorter periods of clear sky occurred during the other three evenings and cloud prevailed so much on Friday and Sunday that we abandoned the use of telescopes and instead entertained visitors with astronomical slide shows. On Monday evening we held the prize draw.
In total, the Open Weekend raised approximately £170 for Society funds.
Friday 22 - Monday 25 April 1983
Theme: Moon, Venus and Saturn.
The 1983 open weekend, held 22-25 April, raised approximately £60 for Society funds.
Friday 07 - Monday 10 May 1982
Theme: Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
OASI held its 1982 Open Weekend Friday 07 May to Monday 10 May, with the main subject for observation being the planets. The event was something of an experiment, with the format changed from the Open Day held in previous years to four consecutive Open Evenings, which could be staged with much less work. The committee was unsure how many visitors would be attracted, and estimated circa 30-40 on each evening.
On Friday evening, the anticipated 30 visitors did attend. The weather kept dry with clear patches of sky and all visitors got at least one look at the planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and towards the end of the evening, the Moon. The visitors were all very interested and asked many questions of the members present. All the members who helped during the evening agreed that the evening had been a great success and had been worth the effort.
On Saturday evening several members turned up again to help. They anticipated a similar number of visitors to Friday night, maybe a few more as the sky was clear. However, by 8.30pm there were about 50 visitors in the equatorial room with more arriving all the time. Very soon it was necessary to set up two small telescopes on the club room balconies to reduce the queues on the stairs. In all, around 250 visitors arrived during the evening, far exceeding expectations.
Sunday night was again clear and although not as popular as Saturday, nevertheless some 130 visitors arrived.
Finally, on Monday evening, again under a clear sky (fourth in a row!) approximately 60 visitors arrived making a total over the whole weekend of about 470.
The event raised a total of £128.36 through the sale of stickers, history booklets and donations to Society funds. The success of the event clearly illustrates that public interest in astronomy is certainly very much alive. Special thanks are due to Roy Adams and friends for arranging the OASI display in the window of Radio Orwell, to the radio station for allowing use of their window and to Ian Angus for use of facilities at Orwell Park School.
Saturday 10 October 1981
OASI opened Orwell Park Observatory to the public for the second time in 1981 for an open day on 10 October. Despite exhibiting the huge amount of work done in decorating Orwell Park Observatory (by the usual handful of members!) and a magnificent display of astronomical items, the event was not well attended by the public. This was largely because rain started during the morning and continued hard all day. Even so, the few members who did turn up to look after the various astronomical stands were hard pushed and would have appreciated help from more other members of the Society.
On a final tally, the event raised just over £100 for Society funds, a lot less than we have made in previous years. The prize draw which normally provides the bulk of our income at open days provided only a very small profit as we were able to sell only approximately half of the tickets.
Monday 20 - Sunday 26 April 1981
Theme: National Astronomy Week, Moon, Venus and Saturn.
OASI opened Orwell Park Observatory to the public Monday 20 - Sunday 26 April 1981 to coincide with National Astronomy Week (NAW). It was very unfortunate that NAW should fall during the coldest and wettest week in April of the 20th century, but we did enjoy two crystal clear nights, on the Monday and Thursday.
Our advertising for the event included a very good window display in Radio Orwell, a ten minute talk by me on the radio station and numerous posters placed around the town. Unfortunately, the level of interest by the public did not match the level of advertising; but we can blame the weather for that.
On Thursday night visitors packed the equatorial room, all wanting to look at Saturn and Jupiter. The lecture on Friday at The Friends Meeting House on Quasars was reasonably well attended.
Saturday 20 September 1980
Theme: the Moon.
Saturday 20 September was the date of OASI's 1980 open day. After terrible weather on the preceding Friday night together with many other functions going on in and around Ipswich, not to mention a home football match at Portman Road, many expected that the event might not live up to expectations. Poor weather during the day on Saturday reinforced this opinion.
However, after a lot of hard preparatory work, over thirty members turned up to host the open day. We could not use the new school sports hall so we returned again to using the school gym as main venue for the event. At first it seemed that members of OASI would outnumber the visitors! However, these worries were unfounded and at 13:40 visitors started arriving in large numbers.
The gym was full of games, astronomical equipment and displays. A video game was overworked and we kept on losing the colour on the TV display and had to switch it off every half an hour or so to allow it to reset. The astronomy games seemed to play second best to the boxing game and at 10p a go it made over £9 towards Society funds. Thanks go to Mr Parish and Mr Barriskill for use of their equipment. Meanwhile, at the other end of the gym, David Payne was attracting a queue to play on his home made Shoot the UFO game and at the end of the day had a kitty of nearly £15! The ladies worked endlessly on the food counter making a net income for the Society of about £28. The Spot the Nova game made another £7 while the sale of posters, books, histories and stickers produced another £15.50. Mr and Mrs Sanigar were doing a roaring trade selling tickets for the prize draw; total sales of tickets came to £172.57½ (someone had half a ticket!) Thanks are due to all members for selling tickets. Special thanks of course go to David Brown who organised the prize draw.
Meanwhile, back at the gate, William Crooks spent the whole afternoon collecting entrance fees and amassed the staggering total of £111.80!
During the afternoon visitors were entertained by six films which Charles Radley had borrowed from NASA. In fact, Charles brought so many films back that he did not have time to show them all.
Up in the Observatory we had a constant flow of visitors, some of whom thought that the Barrell Telescope in the Club room was the 26 cm Orwell Park Refractor. From the conversations that our members had with visitors it seemed that the open day exceeded their expectations, as indeed it did ours.
In total the event boosted OASI's funds by £246.90. I personally would like to thank every member for doing so much to make this open day a tremendous success, to mention names would be unfair as so many members contributed so much!
Winners of the prize draw:
Saturday 29 September 1979
Theme: the Moon.
After many last minute panics and several members of OASI taking days off work to make the necessary preparations, the OASI open day held on Saturday 29 September 1979 was the best to date!
Orwell Park School had arranged a concert for the Saturday which clashed with our open day so we could not use the school hall for our film shows. We therefore used the gym as the main hall for our event and a neighbouring large classroom (newly built) for slide shows on the Space Shuttle and the History of Space Flight. We filled the gym with exhibits including a corner on UFOs by Brenda Butler and another corner by Ron Hebbs from Bretmains Ltd. In another part of the gym we ran a continuous slide show on subjects of astronomical interest. Members' wives, girlfriends and mothers staffed the refreshments corner. The cakes overflowed and special thanks are given to all the many people who cooked these goodies. Our Treasurer, Mrs P A Bearcroft, made a celebration cake but we were too busy throughout most of the day and could not get enough members together to cut it, and when we did assemble lots of members we could not find a knife, so the cake has gone into the deep freeze until the next committee meeting!
Over twenty members together with wives, children and parents turned up to act as hosts for the day, coming from as far afield as Bury St Edmunds and Botesdale. Visitors started arriving at 2.00pm and for the next nine hours or so some three hundred arrived. The weather, although slightly cold, was on our side apart from a little cloud about 9.00pm. Altogether the open day raised £180 towards Society funds: £60 at the gate; £47 on the sale of refreshments; over £70 on the grand draw; with the remainder comprising donations, sale of Orwell Park Histories, etc.
Thanks are due to everyone who helped to make this day so memorable. Special thanks go to Mr Angus (Headmaster) and the staff of Orwell Park School who made the day possible.
Winners of the prize draw:
1978 - no event
Saturday 24 September 1977
Theme: the Moon and Jupiter.
We held our 1977 open day on Saturday 24 September. This year the number of visitors was noticeably down on previous years and although we sold more tickets for a prize draw than ever before, the total net income was just over £90. Thanks are due to all members who helped with the preparations and on the day itself.
Saturday 18 September 1976
OASI held its 1976 open day on Saturday 18 September. The skies were clear and we showed visitors the night sky through the 26 cm refractor and, in the school grounds, with the naked eye. We were unable to open up the NCC Barrell Telescope because it, and it alone, was covered by a pocket of mist.
Over 150 people visited Orwell Park during the event. As in previous years, we were very short of members helping but the day went well apart from a short delay in the first lecture programme. Some visitors were upset that we had sold all tickets for the prize draw (generating £115 for OASI funds) but this was due to so many members, to whom I extend my thanks, selling tickets.
In total, the open day increased OASI funds by just under £120 (including a donation of £18). Thanks are due to all members who did so much before and on the day itself; although there are too many to mention by name I think I should mention David Barnard and Martin Cook who spent most of their holiday from the Civic College repairing and repainting the Observatory. Another band of people who I would like to thank is the wives, girlfriends and other people who baked cakes to sell on the refreshment stall. The tables were full again and by the time I had finished my talks at 5.00pm, all the baking had been sold! The profit from the sale of refreshments was just over £10.
Saturday 04 October 1975
Approximately 150 people attended the 1975 open day, held on 04 October. Although attendance was down on the 1974 total, entrance donations for the event helped to swell Society funds.
Grateful thanks go to all members of OASI and their wives who participated to make the day a success. Of course thanks are also due to all visitors who attended and gave us their support.
Saturday 28 September 1974
Theme: the Moon.
OASI held its second open day of 1974 on 28 September. The Society put major efforts into preparing the Observatory for the occasion, with half-day sessions on 08, 15 and 22 September to clean the building and make everything ready. Although the date fell during a spell of generally abominable weather, the heavens cooperated and providing superb conditions for astronomical observing to coincide with the event! The good weather attracted about two hundred people to the Observatory during the afternoon and evening.
During the afternoon we set the 26 cm refractor on Venus and entertained those visitors not at the telescope with two film shows. The first film turned out to be too long so we shortened it on the second showing. Nevertheless, the film shows were enjoyed by all. During the evening we viewed the heavens through the 26 cm refractor and many visitors stayed late into the evening to enjoy the superb views.
It was pleasing to see so many members helping to get the Observatory ready during previous weeks and helping on the open day itself. In particular, Mr D Brown, who was in charge of many fair damsels at the tea and biscuits counter, did a roaring trade in cakes, buns and Coca Cola and his efforts, together with those of the many mums, wives and friends who baked the cakes, helped to swell the income generated during the event. The open day raised a total net income of almost £60. Thanks are due to all who helped to make the occasion a truly memorable event.
Wednesday 16, Friday 18 and Saturday 19 January 1974
Theme: Comet Kohoutek.
Comet Kohoutek (C/1973 E1) was discovered on 07 March 1973 by Czech astronomer Luboš Kohoutek. At the time of its discovery, it was a diffuse magnitude 16 object with a central condensation but no tail. Media expectation (much hyped!) was that the comet would provide a magnificent display in late autumn-winter 1973-74 as it neared perihelion on 28 December 1973. However, in fact, although the comet achieved naked eye visibility, it failed to live up to expectations. The OASI Newsletter in late 1973 through early 1974 contained many articles encouraging members to observe the comet visually and photograph it.
OASI opened Orwell Park Observatory on Wednesday 16, Friday 18 and Saturday 19 January 1974 to provide an opportunity for the public to observe Comet Kohoutek through the 26 cm Orwell Park Refractor. On 16 January, only some 20 visitors attended, but this was not surprising as there was heavy rain and gale force winds! However, between gaps in the clouds and rain we did manage to show the visitors Venus and Jupiter with the telescope.
On 18 January, the skies were dark and clear from 4.30pm giving the most favourable viewing conditions for many weeks. At 5.00pm, over 60 visitors invaded the Observatory, posing a real headache for the few members of OASI then present. At 7.00 pm, more members arrived, but with them came crowds of visitors! We made urgent telephone calls to ask still more members to attend the Observatory and, until they arrived, chaos reigned! At one point, the Dome was so full of people that it was impossible to move the telescope, and visitors were also queueing down the stairs and in the club room! Although the sky was clear we were unable to find Comet Kohoutek, so instead we entertained the visitors with views of Mars and Saturn plus other celestial objects.
On the evening of 19 January, the sky was again clear, providing another opportunity to search for the comet. Before the sky grew dark some 20 visitors had arrived at the Observatory, and we observed Venus and Jupiter again before they set. From 6.00pm until 10.00pm a steady flow of visitors arrived, but this time we were prepared with more members present! Even so, we were all kept very busy. We again looked for Comet Kohoutek but to no avail.
Altogether, during the three evenings, over 150 visitors attended.
Although members of OASI spent many hours searching for Comet Kohoutek over a period of several months, few were successful. What was predicted to be the greatest cometary apparition of the 20th Century instead turned out to be a damp squib! Observing the comet from the ground has been disappointing for astronomers worldwide, and it seems that some American astronomers have hired an aeroplane to get above cloud level to observe and photograph the comet. Even so, they have been disappointed with its size and brightness. It seems that the only people to have seen the comet in its full glory are the crew of Skylab! Never mind, we have only another few thousand years to wait before the comet comes to perihelion again, and is perhaps visible from Earth under more favourable circumstances!
Saturday 21 April 1973
OASI opened its doors to the public on Saturday 21 April 1973, during the Easter Weekend. The event was even more successful than the previous year's open day; its popularity can be ascribed at least in part to our increased advertising, which included:
We opened all the facilities of Orwell Park Observatory to visitors and organised several displays as follows:
One hundred and fifty-five people came to see the film shows and slides in the afternoon and evening.
In 1972 we had a display of telescopes organised by Dixons camera shop. Unfortunately, this year, although Dixons wanted to have a display again, this proved impossible as the relevant staff were all on holiday.
The weather during the day and evening was cloudy and wet but there were frequent small gaps in the cloud cover allowing us to project the Sun during the afternoon, and from 21:00 - 23:00 to provide views of Saturn and the stars to a large number of visitors. (We were pleasantly surprised that the hundred year old floor of the equatorial room supported the weight of all the visitors!)
Due to the generosity of the Headmaster of Orwell Park School, Mr Brian Belle, the magnificent grounds were open for visitors. Between the April showers, when the Sun shone, the huge green, well-kept lawns provided a very pleasant environment for the visitors.
We held a raffle with tickets selling at 3p each sold in books of five. The licence ensuring legality cost £1.25. The lucky winners were:
The balance sheet for the event:
|Income||Amount (£)||Expense||Amount (£)|
The event raised the grand total in our treasury to £150. The Committee subsequently deemed this amount sufficient to start spending on some rather expensive, necessary matters, including repairs to the 26 cm refractor objective glass and electrical rewiring (to a limited extent) of the observatory tower's lighting and power system. Fire extinguishers are also necessary. There are still many things that must be bought for the observatory, so more money is still needed but at last there are some substantial funds available.
Once again I would like to pay tribute to everybody who helped at the open day. Many thanks to Geoffrey Collier, Phil Lucas and Nigel Gage who ran the film show. A medal should be awarded to Dr Craig who took admission fees in the freezing cold entrance. How can we repay Nigel Gage and John Easty who were soaked outside in the rain showing people the way in and guiding and parking cars? Thanks are also due to those who came to clear up on the following Sunday (the same day in fact that we arrived home at 1.00am): D Bearcroft, Michael Stowe (and their wives), Roy Cheesman, Barry Horne, Janet and John Haywood, Mark Rogers and Jairaj Mohtran. Thanks are again due to the wives and mothers of members who helped at the refreshment stall.
Note: From about the middle of May until August 1973 the 26 cm refractor will be out of action while the objective lens is taken out to be re-polished and if necessary reground by Horace Dall. Because of this there will be no nights for observation during June and July.
Roy Cheesman & Charles Radley
Saturday 30 September 1972
We intended to host our first open day on Sunday 28 May 1972, to mark the supposed centenary of the opening of Orwell Park Observatory. (Unfortunately, later research established the event to be two years too early!) Plans for the event included an entrance charge of 10p per head, refreshments on sale "at a modest price", and the availability of leaflets telling the story of the building.
In fact, due to problems with the shutter of the equatorial dome, the event had to be rescheduled to 30 September 1972. Advance preparations included appeals in the Newsletter to members to attend to assist with a wide variety of tasks: welcoming and guiding visitors, helping with car parking, supervising exhibits and ensuring that visitors did not cause any damage, and preparing and dispensing refreshments. Those with any kind of optical equipment were encouraged to bring it. The event was advertised with posters in newspapers and on radio. The advertising was successful and over 200 people attended.
Attractions included a chance to look through 26 cm refractor, a display on the walls of the club room of photostats of numerous documents about the history of the instrument and screening the following short films and slides in the main hall of Orwell Park School:
There were two screenings; some 40 people watched the first and 150 people the second.
The 26 cm refractor was particularly popular! Shortly after sunset, at approximately 18:30 UT, we sighted the instrument on Jupiter. Io, situated just to the west of the planet, was occulted at 18:52 UT; Europa and Ganymede were visible further to the west and Callisto to the east. When Jupiter set, we turned the telescope to Mizar & Alcor, Vega and some interesting star fields. At one point, the queue of people waiting for a glimpse through the refractor stretched almost the entire height of the spiral staircase from the dome to below the level of the club room.
The photograph to the right, from a report of the event in the Ipswich "Evening Star" of 02 October 1972, shows committee member David Bearcroft sighting the telescope for a group of visitors.
Among the visitors were Mr E H Collinson, who used the telescope in the 1930s, attending the open day with his wife.
Thanks go to Mr Roy Cheesman, Mr David Brown, Mr David Bearcroft, Mr John Easty, the ladies serving refreshments, and other helpers. Finally, thanks are due to Mr Belle for permission to host the event at the school.
Income for the event was as follows:
Roy Cheesman & Charles Radley
The following photographs illustrate various open days from the 1970s.