Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)

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Historical Footnote On Meteor Observing In Suffolk

Some of Suffolk's most prominent amateur astronomers included meteor observing amongst their fields of interest. Alice Grace Cook (1877-1958) and, later, John Philip Manning Prentice, FRAS (1903–81), held the post of Director of the Meteor Section of the British Astronomical Association (BAA) and thus headed a team of some of the best meteor observers in world. Cook, who was one of a handful of leading meteor observers at the beginning of the 20th Century, was inspired by and worked with the doyen of meteor astronomy, the Bristol amateur, William Frederick Denning (1848-1931). Prentice subsequently learnt observing from Cook.

In the late 1940s, Prentice conducted co-ordinated observing sessions with George Eric Deacon Alcock (1912-2000). Prentice observed from his home in Stowmarket, Suffolk and Alcock from his home in Peterborough. By triangulating their observations, they were able to determine the height of meteors. Prentice's meteor work inspired Bernard Lovell to start observing meteors by radio at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire and he thereby played a part in founding professional radio astronomy in the UK. He travelled to Jodrell Bank for several years to provide visual observations to correlate with the radio observations and provided expert advice on meteors thereby supporting the fledgling discipline of radio astronomy. The impact and importance of his meteor astronomy work is recognised worldwide.

One famous late member of OASI, Edward Howard Collinson (1903-90), was also an active meteor observer, working with Prentice for some time. In the 1930s, Collinson experimented with pioneering photographic techniques for meteor work, using a gramophone player motor to automate the taking of pictures at regular intervals throughout the night by a camera fitted with a wide-angle lens.

The BAA Meteor Section collates amateurs' meteor observations as it did in the time of Cook and Prentice. The International Meteor Organisation (IMO) co-ordinates the observations of amateurs throughout the world and the nature of meteors means that the work of amateurs is highly valued by professionals and contributes greatly to the science.

Pete Richards