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No 56 - June 2008

28 years of ASE Journal - now online

The first issue of the ASE Journal appeared in August 1980, 28 years ago. All of the Journal is now available on the web, for you to read yourselves.

The Journal was founded in 1980 by Dave Gavine, who remained the editor until No 50 in 2006. The 28 years of Journal history can be divided into four eras:

  1. Nos 1 to 37 (1980 to 1997):
    In this era the Journal was an A4 photocopy with a mix of line drawings, photographs and rasterised photographs. Initially it was typed on a single typewriter, a practice that gave way to collating manuscripts typed by authors, and in later years many manuscripts were computer-printed rather than typed. Over the years Dave was helped by Ray Fenoulhet, Neil Bone, Duncan Waldron, Brian Kelly, Iain Neil, Jim Nisbet and Graham Rule with the production of the Journal. The Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE) provided resources, such as photocopying.
  2. Nos 38 to 46 (1998 to 2003):
    In this era Graham Rule took on a more important role as assistant editor. He collected all content digitally and put it to paper at the end in one consistent layout. Duplication was still by photocopier. This was the computer-age equivalent of typing everything in one go on one typewriter with consistent typing conventions. The figures were now also digital. This was a few years into the age of the world wide web, and part of the rationale for keeping it all digital was to make a web version alongside the paper version.
  3. Nos 47 to 50 (2004 to 2006):
    In this era Dave Gavine was helped by Des Loughney with the word processing and printing. Final editing remained computer-based. While most pages continued to be grey photocopies, a welcome splash of colour photographs was added, making use of an inkjet printer. The web version was discontinued.
  4. Nos 51 onwards (2006 to present):
    After 50 issues Dave Gavine stepped down as editor and I took on that role. The Journal is now published in two equally important versions. The web version uses a conservative and simple style, so as to produce reasonably predictable results in anyone's web browser now and in the future, and so as to obey the reader's preferences for typeface and type size. The paper version continues to be completely computerised, with the typesetting done by the LaTeX software that has been popular in scientific publishing since the early 1990s. The paper copy is no longer a photocopy, instead the computer instructs the printer to spit out so many copies of each sheet.
title page of No 3
Title page of ASE Journal 3 (1981).

What has mostly been called "recent observations" was already there in No 1. This item continues to this day, and members are encouraged to let the editor know about observations they have made. The Journal has promoted observational astronomy in other ways. From the start until 1998 there were regular reports on the activities of the meteor observers of the Northern Network. Neil Bone organised this northernmost of three regions of BAA meteor observers. Until his move to England he wrote regular reports in the ASE Journal. Colin Steele from St Andrews took over the Northern Network in 1986 and continued the reports until he, too, left for England in 1993. Brian Kelly - by then in Dundee - continued the reports for the Scotland / North England region until No 38 (1998).

Neil Bone also wrote on other matters in the ASE Journal. In No 1 he asked "Did life originate in outer space?" and with his remarks on UFOs provoked the first letter to the editor, from Steuart Campbell. Steuart has since been one of the most consistent contributors to the Journal. Other authors have promoted observation, including Gavin Ramsay, Ron Livesey, Des Loughney and John Reid. Notable is the series of entertaining observer's logs that Alastair McBeath from Morpeth sent in between 1985 and 1989. Another regular external contributor was Graham Young from Dundee, with articles that often have a solar-system theme. Duncan Waldron was a regular contributor during the 1980s and early 1990s, often supplying photographs and some articles about photography. He also sent two articles while living in Australia.

Dave Gavine is of course the most prolific author in the ASE Journal, being the editor. Dave's articles tended to be about the history of astronomy in Scotland, the subject of his PhD thesis of 1981. Graham Rule is the second most frequent contributor to the Journal, often writing on history, books or publishing, with a number of contributions ex officio as current Secretary, past assistant editor, and past President.

issues and pages by year
Histogram of Journal issues (top) and Journal pages (bottom) in each year.

Which brings me to the other regular item that started very early. Without fail, Journals 2 to 37 (1981 to 1997) had an item "society news", which listed talks past and future, who had been elected to the Council, new books in the library, publications by members, etc. After 1997 this item was replaced by "From the President", in which Graham Rule, Jim Nisbet, Allan Ellis, Lorna McCalman, Dave King and Des Loughney during their respective reigns provided less formal information about the progress of the Society. I have re-introduced the society news in No 55, but this is intended as a complement to and not as a replacement of the articles from the President.

Soon after I became editor I filled the gap in the web version left by era #3. Nos 47 to 50 on the web use the same layout and style as the later issues. Webifying era #1 would be a more difficult project: Instead of just four there would be 37 issues to process, and none of their content could be obtained in any digital form. As I joined the Society only after that era I do not even have paper copies. For a while I had wanted to read those old Journals, but only in December last year did I discover that the ROE Library had all issues from era #1. I decided to scan all the pages into the computer and assemble text and pictures into a web version similar to the current Journal issues. I would do my reading as a side effect of checking and correcting the text recognition results. The software would make mistakes like taking an "M" for an "H" etc. On one occasion it changed an "H" into and "R", so that the text would speak of "what went wrong with the Rubble Space Telescope".

items by year
Histogram of Journal items in each year.
Green: by the 13 authors with 10 or more items.
Blue: by authors with 9 or fewer items.
Red: items without author.

On average there were two issues per year, during the first 15 years slightly more, since then less than that. Each issue was between 10 and 20 pages long; on the whole the pages per year show the same picture as the issues per year. The grand total of 55 issues is 764 pages.

The web version of Journals 1 to 37 is available on the Society web site, integrated with the web versions of the later issues. Simply go to [1] and use the hyper-links you find. Nos 38 onwards are public, but for the old issues up to No 37 you need to supply a username and password. You may find the details near the back of this paper copy, or you may have received them in an email from the editor. If you have missed out on this, just contact the editor. The authors that contributed in era #1 would have written their material on the assumption that only members of the Society and few others would normally access the Journal. It would not be right to have these old Journals now available to all Internet users and to have them indexed by web search engines.

The web version of the old Journals tries to be true to the original, but it is by no means a facsimile of the original paper version. The markup has been changed slightly, the use of headlines and naming of authors is more consistent, partly to aid the creation of indices. There are indices of all contributions to the Journal from No 1 to the present. One index is chronological, one lists all items by author, and a third lists those items that have no named author. The whole Journal (Nos 1 to 55) has 764 pages and these contain 639 articles and smaller contributions. Of these 252 (40 %) have no author; for the most part these are small announcements or regular items that the editor compiled. But this figure also includes a number of title pictures for the most part by or obtained by Dave Gavine. There have been 73 authors in all, 13 of them with ten or more contributions. Of the 387 items with authors 270 (70 %) have been written by these more prolific authors.

After 28 years the Journal now changes from A4 to A5 format. I hope readers will like the result. I am forced to take this step as a combination of how Royal Mail charges for different sizes of letters and how laser printout suffers from being folded. Since cost stops us from growing the envelope to fit the Journal, we have to shrink the Journal to fit the envelope.


First of all, thanks go to all the contributors to the ASE Journal, they are listed at [2] and some of them have been mentioned above. Second, to Dave Gavine as editor and to his assistants, who have also been mentioned above. Third, to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh for the resources they provided and still provide. Thanks also to the ROE Librarian, Karen Moran, for letting me borrow the Journal for scanning. Finally, thanks to yourselves. For reading this, and for writing something for future Journals (hint!).

Further reading

  1. ASE Journal,
  2. ASE Journal author index,
  3. ASE Journal content 1980 to present,

Horst Meyerdierks


Cover page

28 years of ASE Journal - now online

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