2020 started normally but soon became unlike any other year. By the end of March things were totally different and we moved online.

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been very difficult for many people but we hope we’ve helped to engage and distract people from the challenges Covid-19 presented. Our membership has certainly grown strongly and we’ve had thousands of people from Scotland, the UK and all over the world join us online.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in making it happen, to our members and visitors who attended our events. We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2021 – with lots of clear skies.

Here’s a summary of what we did:

Moving online

Very quickly we decided to try and be part of the solution and do more than ever. So we adopted Zoom and YouTube as our platforms and ran a very ambitious programme of 2 events per week, on Wednesdays and Fridays from the end of March. We welcomed guest speakers from all over the world and many members stepped up to give a wide variety of talks. Regular weekly email newsletters, plus reminders, kept members up to date with what was happening and details of how to access the talks.

There have been many positive comments from members, enjoying the number and range of events we’ve been able to provide. Going online has also meant that we’ve gained new members from further away, including the Scottish Borders, Manchester and Surrey.

We had a much needed break in August and when we came back decided to reduce the frequency and hold at least two events online per month, plus the Imaging & Observing Group meetings, plus any ad hoc events that came to mind. Our AGM was postponed from June until October, once we knew what was happening and how the pandemic was progressing. Council meetings were held every 2 months – also online.

Guest talks included:

  • 3 April: Longitude and clocks – Prof Giles Hammond
  • 17 April: ARIEL and ExoClock – Dr Anastasia Kokori and Dr Angelos Tsiaras
  • 1 May: Neutrinos in particle physics and astronomy – Prof Franz Muheim
  • 15 May: Hunting Outbursting Young Stars update – Dr Dirk Froebrich
  • 17 June: Exploring Alien Atmospheres – Dr Hannah Wakeford
  • 3 July: BioRock: wee miners in space – Dr Rosa Santomartino
  • 10 July: Things that go Bang in the night – Prof Andy Lawrence
  • 18 July: Is Earth Special – Dr David Waltham
  • 22 July: Parker Solar Probe – Dr Nour Raouafi
  • 4 September: Fast Radio Bursts – Prof Duncan Lorimer
  • 6 November: Looking for life on Mars with the Rosalind Franklin rover – Prof Andrew Coates
  • 20 November: Edinburgh to Hawaii: the short astronomical career of John Walter Nichol – Dr Rebekah Higgitt
  • 4 December: Asteroseismology & Exoplanets with the NASA TESS Mission – Prof William Chaplin

Member talks included:

  • Monthly sky notes – Alan Pickup, Horst Meyerdierks, Mark Phillips, Andrew Farrow
  • 24 April: Using robotic telescopes – Peter Black
  • 8 May: Ramblings of an astron*t – Tosh White
  • 13 May: Reflections on spaceflight – Jim Nisbet
  • 20 May: Spaceship 1 Circling the Moon in 1941  – Clive Davenhall
  • 22 May: Telescopes and Scope Talks – Horst Meyerdierks, Andrew Farrow
  • 27 May: Speed of Light and other stellar effects – Bruce Vickery
  • 29 May: Residence above the Clouds’ screening to members only – With Prof Andy Lawrence
  • 5 Jun: Virtual pub quiz – Andrew Farrow, Peter Black
  • 12 Jun: ASE-24 scripts for Stellarium – Neil Martin / Scope Talk – John Murrell
  • 19 Jun: Celestial navigation at sea – Jim Anderson
  • 24 Jun: Scope Talks – Tosh White, Mike McGovern
  • 26 Jun: James Bradley and others Fact Checked – Bruce Vickery
  • 1 Jul: The Lundmark Panorama- Clive Davenhall
  • 8 Jul: Scope Talk – Ian Smith
  • 15 Jul: Thomas Henderson first Astronomer Royal for Scotland – Bruce Vickery
  • 18 Sep: Gaia data – John Murrell
  • 16 Oct: Choosing a telescope – Mark Phillips
  • 11 Dec: Virtual pub quiz – Andrew Farrow, Peter Black, Mark Phillips

Imaging & Observing Group

The Imaging Group was renamed to include observing as we talk about far more than just imaging and want to be as inclusive as possible. It is the most active part of the Society with numbers attending and activity increasing. We held a meeting via Zoom every month and we have an active WhatsApp group where people share ideas, images, tips and general astro-banter.

4-Steps to the Stars

As part of 4-Steps programme, Alan Pickup gave his Navigating the Night Sky presentation on 18 February at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and we went outside afterwards to actually look at the sky in some very windy conditions.

We had originally intended to run the Intro to Astro-imaging course face-to-face but instead Andrew Farrow and Mark Phillips presented it online via Zoom and YouTube. We also added an extra part, Imaging for Science Projects,  after two of our talks – ExoClock and HOYS – encouraged us to do more “citizen science with a telescope”. The videos are all on our YouTube channel for anyone to access.

We ran our second Telescope Help Shop on 29 January and a virtual one on 24 September, both very successful.

Live streams

We’ve done a number of live streams on Zoom and YouTube from Mark Phillips’s observatory on the edge of Edinburgh. Objects observed include the Moon, Mars and various deep sky objects using EAA techniques.

Article and video: Mark Phillips