Our new president, Mark Phillips introduced the evening’s event, in which we had a truly tremendous talk, given by Tom Field, with his lecture entitled: Spectroscopy – a practical approach for amateurs.

Tom introduced us to the principles, history and importance of Spectroscopy before discussing his journey from his very first image taken of Vega from a light polluted city to what essentially one can do as a back yard astronomer with basic equipment, to image and produce essentially the ‘elemental bar codes of stars and space bodies!’

  • We were introduced from basics to the theory and history of Spectroscopy, explaining absorption line and emission line spectra and focusing on the true greats of Bunsen and Kirchoff. (Tom also highlighted some of the lesser-known heroines and heroes of the science!)
  • We were shown the ‘periodic table of Spectra’ and learned about how basic the equipment can be, with associated cost and what incredible results can be obtained by amateurs!
  • Tom focused on the ‘Star Analyser 100’ spectroscopy grating and associated software which allows the image spectrums produced to be able to be converted into ‘Bar Code style’ graphical format with elemental properties being identified, by software referencing to Bunsen’s updated spectral catalogue.

In addition to being able to produce the elemental fingerprints of stars and other astronomical bodies, Tom showed us how amateur ‘back yard’ astronomers have been able to image and identify everything from the existence of methane on Uranus and Neptune to incredibly being able to calculate the speed of the expanding shell of a Supernova… And, Wow, all of these and more have been done by amateur back yard astronomers, using basic and relatively inexpensive equipment!
(A very interesting fact is that light pollution has little effect on image spectroscopy, meaning that image spectroscopy can be undertaken from the centres of cities, etc.)

Tom delivered this lecture with huge enthusiasm which is second to none! If you want to know about spectroscopy and if you want to know how you can be able to do Astronomical Spectroscopy Imaging, then this lecture is an absolute must to view!

Finally, from Tom’s own words: “The more we understand about what we are observing, the more interesting that visual observation is!”

Tom Field is a Contributing Editor at Sky & Telescope Magazine, is a software designer with a passion for spectroscopy and its associated imaging. He is the author of the RSpec software which received the S&T “Hot Product” award in 2011. Tom has spoken to hundreds of clubs via the web and in-person at many conferences in the USA and he joined us LIVE from Seattle.

Tom’s website link is: rspec-astro.com and is highly recommended.

Recommended book: Spectral Analysis for Amateur Astronomers by Richard Walker.

Will Joy