Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
Journal 42

The Scottish Astronomy Weekend 2000

15 to 17 September, at the Kelvin Conference Centre, University of Glasgow

In spite of the nationwide fuel crisis, difficulties with transport, ad hoc rearrangement of the programme to suit speakers, etc., an excellent weekend was experienced by all who came along, either to stay in or as day visitors. It was a great pity that neither the Astronomical Societies of Glasgow or Edinburgh were well represented. Top marks go to Dundee Astronomical Society and to new Braemar Astronomical Society (50% attending) for their turnouts. Individuals from England and north Scotland were present.

After registration and dinner on Friday evening Mrs Margaret Morris, Vice President of the host Society (Glasgow) welcomed the visitors. Dr David Clarke, Director of the University of Glasgow Observatory, gave a talk on the Pleiades cluster, describing the constituent stars in terms of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagrams. Various research techniques were discussed, right up to papers currently in preparation. Dr Clarke then took the visitors over to the Acre Road Observatory site where a cloudless night permitted a good observing session. To begin with the northern sky was aurorally active for half an hour or so comprising green glows, green and red rays and a red veil. The 12-inch Meade reflector in the dome was used to observe Vega, the Ring Nebula, the Hercules globular cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy and Saturn with 5 moons. It was noted that Algol was in eclipse and its recovery to normal brightness was followed throughout the session.

Following Sunday breakfast Mr Charles Cavanagh, President of the Astronomical Society of Glasgow, chaired the morning session. Dr David Kerridge, Director of the Seismology and Geomagnetic Section of the British Geological Survey, delivered a talk on the monitoring and forecasting of solar activity, space weather and their effects on human technologies. He outlined work currently being undertaken in conjunction with Scottish Power to forecast magnetic events and measure consequent earth current activity in the power distribution system.

As Dr Francisco Diego's plane was delayed, Dr Dave Gavine filled in a half hour with a talk on the Scottish engineer and astronomer James Nasrnyth, builder of big telescopes of unique design with which he studied the Moon. Dr Diego (of University College London) did arrive, and gave a thoughtful talk on the importance of Astronomy in human culture. He advocated the education of the general public into the facts as indicated by observation, in contrast to theory. He demonstrated the age of the Universe by the 14.5 metre width of the auditorium against which the age of Man was but the thickness of a sheet of paper.

In the afternoon the visitors were free to pursue their own interests in Glasgow but a party under the expert guidance of Mr Michael Dukes of Glasgow University visited the Hunterian Museum, the Bute Hall and the Senate Room, followed by a walk to the storage rooms of the Kelvin Collection of scientific instruments. Mr Dukes gave a very comprehensive description of many items in the collection, with their histories and the scientists associated with them. Lord Kelvin's own depth and breadth of involvement in scientific development was amply demonstrated.

After evening dinner the audience was entertained and enlightened by a marathon 2 hour presentation by Dr Allan Chapman of Wadham College, Oxford, in which he explored the world of the Victorian amateur astronomer. He noted that in contrast to the Continent where the development of science was dependent upon the largesse of the state, British astronomy was being evolved by self-financing individuals, be they landed gentry or working tradesmen. Dr Chapman proposed that it was the difference between the political systems in the British Isles and on the Continent that determined the methods of financing research. It was the enthusiasm of determined individuals that drove the system of amateur astronomy in Britain.

On the Sunday morning Dr Alastair Simmons, the President of the Scottish Astronomers' Group, spoke on the diffuse and discrete forms of the aurora that he had studied in Scotland, with the help of land- and satellite-based observations. He described the geophysical processes forming the two types of aurora. He demonstrated that the diffuse aurora related to the "northern dawn" effect and the discrete aurora to the "merry dancers" of Scots mythology.

After coffee the Members' Session was chaired by Dr Simmons. Ron Livesey reviewed the present state of geomagnetic and auroral activity. John Fitzgerald showed pictures of the Cornish total eclipse, and of aurora from Norway, and Dr Ken Mackay described the geometry of sundials together with the layout of a multi-headed sundial to be erected in a garden at Wormsley. This structure included a graph of the Equation of Time to convert sundial time into GMT. Dr Simmons concluded the session with some photographs he took of the Zodiacal Light, followed by a vote of thanks to all who had made the Weekend possible under difficult circumstances, not least the housekeepers and kitchen staff.

Ron Livesey