ASE logo The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh


No 60 - July 2009

A grand event to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy

Everyone interested in astronomy knows that 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, to celebrate 400 years since Galileo Galilei first used a small telescope to begin unravelling the mysteries of the universe. Many events have been run, and are still to run, all around the globe to mark this milestone in astronomical history. This is the story of one of them.


Mathers Bar, Broughton Road, early October 2008.

Hi Lorna.

Hi Charlie. Guinness and a G&T please.

How's the OU course going?

Never mind that, how do you feel about us organising a day of astro talks for the IYA with top professional people like Brian Cox and Chris Lintott, and well known amateurs too, say Tom Boles and Dave Gavine?

(I try to change the subject)

And we could run a ceilidh in the evening, where everyone would mix, and dance and talk astronomy?

(I try to change the subject again).

And imagine a centrepiece, suspended from the ceiling of the hall - a huge rotating model of Jupiter complete with Great Red Spot and cloud bands?

(I definitely try to change the subject again).

Great plan Lorna. Best have another G&T and a Guinness (or three). How was the biology course?

I found it hard going, but really interesting too.

(Yippee!, managed to change the subject!)

Anyway, we could even have a telescope outside so that members of the public could have a look at Saturn.

(Right, Plan A hasn't worked, better revert to Plan B - play along and smile benignly).

Ok, Lorna, let's think about it over the weekend, and then get in touch. (That'll be right.)

So the seeds of the idea were sown. We realised very quickly that such a plan was going to cost money. There would be speakers' costs and a venue to hire at least. We would need sponsorship, but as two members of the public with an idea, who would pay any heed?


I realised that we needed to pull someone in who had some clout, so I suggested to Lorna that she approach John Brown. I knew she knows him quite well, and thought he might lend his name to any sponsorship application we might make. With hindsight, this was akin to lighting the blue touch paper. John took to the idea with unbounded enthusiasm, and drove it forward with a pace that took our breath away. Within a few short weeks, he had secured a significant grant from the Institute of Physics to cover the costs of speakers and a venue, and had agreement in principle from several prominent professional astronomers including Chris Lintott and Francisco Diego to present talks at the event. In the meantime, Lorna had purchased a 3-metre diameter weather balloon, and had Malcolm, a friend's son, organised to paint it to look like Jupiter, and with her contacts in the folk music scene, had booked a top ceilidh band "The Occasionals" for the evening session. We had also booked the Debating Hall within the Edinburgh University Student Union for both events, and this has an open balcony attached to the bar where we could use a small telescope for the evening viewing, skies permitting. Very quickly, seemingly deranged ramblings were becoming reality.

Philip Perkins
Philip Perkins with one of his stunning photographs.

The day arrives

Saturday 18th April 2009 dawned an overcast, grey but dry day. We hurried up to the Debating Hall, concerned that Jupiter had lost most of it's mass, and resembled a shrivelled melon more than a gas giant. In the foyer, the display of nine astro photos kindly donated by three of the best amateur astrophotographers on the planet, Rob Gendler, Russ Croman and Phil Perkins, looked stunning in the morning light. Jupiter was a fantastic sight, gently silently rotating. We quickly set up for the first talk, and the day was up and running.

  Jupiter and John Brown
  The meeting hall, Prof John Brown opening the event.

10:00-10:25 John Brown Introduction

10:25-10:50 Bill Sampson Public Astronomy in Scotland

10:50-11:15 Pauline McCrae The Dark Skies Scotland Project

11:15-11:40 Dave Gavine Variable Star Observing

11:40-12:05 Charlie Gleed Robotic Telescopes for All

12:05-12:30 Philip Perkins Imaging the Cosmos

12:30-14:00 Lunch

14:00-15:00 Chris Lintott 400 Years of Unveiling the Cosmos

Chris was the main speaker, and almost doubled the number of attendees for the afternoon session. He had a return train journey booked for 17:30, but the lure of the ceilidh was too much, and he stayed on until midnight, getting to bed about 1am. He was up again at 4:30am for a taxi to the airport to catch the first flight to London, to attend a Sky at Night shoot later on in the day. He particularly enjoyed the combination of daytime talks and evening ceilidh, and commented "You're definitely on to something here!" Many agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment.

15:00-15:30 John Braithwaite Making, Buying and Using Small Telescopes

15:30-16:00 Francisco Diego Fire in the Sky

16:00-16:30 Tom Boles Supernova Hunting and Cosmology

16:30-17:00 Helen Fraser How to Hunt for Life in the Universe

17:00-17:30 John Brown Closing Remarks


As if by higher order (surely JB had no part in this?), at 6pm the clouds melted away and a clear sky appeared for the rest of the night.

No time to lose, a quick trip home, and back for the ceilidh. Great band, great dance caller, great turnout, great fun had by all. Almost 90 people looked through a telescope for the very first time. What a night.


If you don't want to have a beer (or three) with some seemingly quite mad person on an autumn evening and you'd prefer to avoid getting tangled up with a crazed plan which will take up vast amounts of your time, cause panic and disruption in your otherwise ordered life and leave you with a wonderful feeling of enjoyment, achievement and fulfilment, then steer clear of Mathers on a Friday night, and whatever you do, don't let the Astronomer Royal for Scotland get wind of it.

One or two people said to us at the end of the evening, "What a great event, let's do it again in another 400 years!" I have a sneaking feeling it may be somewhat sooner than that.


The three organisers - Lorna McCalman, John Brown and Charlie Gleed - wish to acknowledge that there were many individuals and organisations without whose assistance this event would not have run so smoothly, or perhaps at all. In particular, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Edinburgh for grant funding. ROE (Tania Johnston) and IoP (Alison McClure) for the loan of poster boards for the display. Ian McCalman for providing and running the sound system. Douglas McCalman for the ceilidh posters and entry stickers. Graham Rule for supervising PC changeover and troubleshooting between talks. Malcolm Cruikshank for painting, and knowledge of inflation theory.

Charlie Gleed

Photos by Lorna McCalman.


Cover page

Society news

A letter to the Journal of the BAA

A grand event to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy

Forthcoming events

Obituary: Mary Brück

The international month of the Moon?

About the ASE Journal

This journal as a single web page

This journal as PDF file (780 kByte)

web: ISSN 1756-5111
print: ISSN 1756-5103

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