Posted by on Feb 2, 2023 in Main |

The first meeting of Keighley astronomical society of 2023, saw a return visit from the popular Dr Sue Bowler from the University of Leeds. The subject of her presentation was ‘Collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers’.

Dr Sue Bowler from the University of Leeds and Society secretary Dominic Curran

She opened lecture with a quote from the emeritus professor of science and technology Hugh Torrens.

An amateur is a) an enthusiast,
b) unpaid,
c) unqualified, or
d) useless.

The time line of Dr Bowlers talk started on 12th January 1820, when 14 men met for dinner and conceived the idea of forming the ‘Astronomical Society of London’. The men who attended that dinner included Charles Babbage and John Herschel; they shared an interest in astronomy and were concerned about its future. The new Society and Council first gathered on 10th March 1820. Sir William Herschel was the titular first President, though he never actually took the Chair at a meeting. A Royal Charter was signed by William IV on 7th March 1831. Since then have been known as the Royal Astronomical Society, and the reigning monarch as Patron.

Sir William_Herschel

The objectives of the Society were the promotion of astronomy in the form of accurate calculations and observations, but also in practical applications such as navigation. Geophysics, which had always been among the interests of the members, came into its own later on. The Society was established as an independent body, run by its members (Fellows) through the elected Council. Women were not initially included in the Society. In 1835 Council awarded Honorary Membership to two highly distinguished women of science, Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville, and conferred this honour upon a handful of women subsequently. It was not until 1916 that women could be elected as Fellows.

Charles Babbage

When the Society was started there were very few professional astronomers; most Fellows had the means to pursue their interest independently. They met to discuss astronomical research at the regular RAS meetings. The Society at first met in various locations, moving to specially built premises in Burlington House, Piccadilly, in 1874, which it has occupied ever since.

Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

Caroline Lucretia Herschel
As mentioned Caroline Lucretia Herschel was an honorary member of the RAS from 1835. She was the younger sister of the first real professional astronomer (He was paid a salary by the King) William Herschel. Caroline worked with him throughout her career. She of course was an amateur. Until she was the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist and the first woman in England to hold a government position. Caroline mainly works recording the findings of her brother.

She made considerable contributions to astronomy in her own right, such as the discoveries of several comets, including the periodic comet 35P/Herschel–Rigollet, which bears her name.

She was also the first woman to publish scientific findings in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of the Royal Society, to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville). She was named an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy (1838). The King of Prussia presented her with a Gold Medal for Science on the occasion of her 96th birthday (1846).

Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750 to 1848)

In the 1770s, as William became more interested in astronomy, he started to build his own telescopes from lenses he had ground, unhappy with the quality of lenses he was able to purchase. Caroline would feed him and read to him as he worked.
She became a significant astronomer in her own right as a result of her collaboration with him. The Herschels moved to a new house in March 1781 after their millinery business failed, and Caroline was guarding the leftover stock on 13th March, the night that William discovered the planet Uranus. Though he mistook it for a comet, his discovery proved the superiority of his new telescope.

Notes made by William Herschel when he discovered the planet Uranus

During 1786–1797 she discovered eight comets, the first on 1st August 1786 while her brother was away and she was using his telescope. She had unquestioned priority as discoverer of five of the comets and rediscovered Comet Encke in 1795. Five of her comets were published in Philosophical Transactions. A packet of paper bearing the superscription, “This is what I call the Bills and Receipts of my Comets” contains some data connected with the discovery of each of these objects. William was summoned to Windsor Castle to demonstrate Caroline’s comet to the royal family. William recorded this phenomenon, himself, terming it “My Sister’s Comet.”

Mary Somerville (1780 to 1872)
She was as a Scottish scientist, writer, and polymath. She studied mathematics and astronomy. She was an amateur.
In 1834 she became the first person to be described in print as a ‘scientist’. When she died in 1872, ‘The Morning Post’ declared in her obituary that “Whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science”.

For almost 40 years before the RAS admitted them to the Fellowship in 1916, women were already playing a serious institutional role in British astronomy. This followed the foundation of several high-powered amateur astronomical societies, in Belfast, Leeds, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle and, especially, the British Astronomical Association in 1890. These societies, moreover, published journals and produced abundant documentation of the practice and promotion of “popular” astronomy in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, most of which still survives.

The first enduring society was that in Liverpool, founded in 1881, which even from its early days had eight women members and officers. Indeed, in several of the early societies women constituted around 10–15% of the membership. Although Leeds had an astronomical society and an observatory back in 1859, it was not until after 1890 that it was refounded on a permanent footing, and the Leeds Astronomical Society continues to this day. In 1895, soon after the reconstitution, it was minuted that efforts would be made to attract lady members, one of the leading ones being Miss Florence Taylor.

Miss Florence Taylor

Florence Taylor of the Leeds Astronomical Society.
Her interests also included astronomical history and women in science. She lectured to the Leeds society in the 1890s about both Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville. Later marrying a Dr Hildred and living in Minnesota, USA, she continued her membership, and became a benefactress of the Leeds Astronomical Society. (Courtesy of the LAS)
Florence was the highly educated daughter of a comfortably off Leeds amateur astronomer and Society member. And, in addition to observing, she was an active lecturer, with interests in astronomical history and the women’s suffrage movement. In 1897, she delivered and published a lecture to the LAS on Mary Somerville. In 1898, she married an American relative, a Dr Hildred of Nobles County, Minnesota, where she went to live. Her astronomy continued, however, along with her continuing membership of the Leeds society, to which she was also a benefactress.

The British amateur astronomical societies were among the first academic institutions to open their full membership to women, and in their ranks one finds school teachers, professional writers and ladies of independent means, for these bodies conferred an esprit de corps and academic credibility. One also notices that these societies were being established at a time when women were first gaining access to higher education, with the foundation of Oxford and Cambridge colleges such as Girton (1869), Newnham (1871), Lady Margaret Hall (1872) and Somerville (1879), and of Royal Holloway College, London (1879–86).

Miss E Graham Hagerty, Council member and secretary of the Astronomical Society of Wales, gave her address as the Higher Grade School, Cardiff, and put ARCSc. (Associate of the Royal College of Science, now Imperial College, London) after her name: an early example of a woman specifying an academic qualification and professional address. By 1901, moreover, the AS of Wales had a female membership of around 17%.

These amateur societies served a clientele that extended well beyond their home cities; railways, the penny postal service and the electric telegraph meant that memberships could be geographically diverse. The Liverpool society had a branch on the Isle of Man and, rather amazingly, another in the British expatriate community in Pernambuco, Brazil.

Miss Elizabeth Brown
Miss Elizabeth Brown and her sister Jemima were the daughters of a wealthy Quaker wine merchant of Cirencester with a passion for astronomy and meteorology: passions, which his daughters came to share. Elizabeth was especially fascinated by solar studies and, from her private observatory in the garden, undertook serious researches from the 1860s until her death in 1899. She was an early member of the Liverpool Astronomical Society and its first director of solar studies.
By the 1880s, Elizabeth Brown saw a need for a national (or quasi-Imperial) amateur astronomical society. It was largely her energy and drive that brought the British Astronomical Association into being in 1890, she also becoming its first Solar Section director. The BAA soon built up a significant female membership, with women, including Miss Brown, on its council.

Though primarily interested in sunspots and eclipses, Elizabeth Brown belonged to that first generation of astronomers for whom the spectroscope had transformed solar studies during the 1860s, and she especially recommended solar studies to female astronomers on the grounds that it did not involve “exposure to night air”. Even so, when the 69-year-old Elizabeth died suddenly in March 1899, it resulted from a complicating bronchitic infection brought on by observing the heavens from her Gloucestershire observatory on wintry nights! She was, too, a major benefactress of the early BAA, leaving the association £1000 out of her estate.

Elizabeth Brown

She was also an early eclipse-chaser. She had gone on expeditions to Russia, Spain, Norway and other countries in pursuit of the solar corona (she was preparing to go to Portugal when she died). She and other early members of the BAA took advantage of the travel opportunities made available by a new global network of passenger steamships and railways, and by the burgeoning hotel business. The BAA eclipse expeditions of 1896 and 1898 (Norway and India respectively) included several women astronomers, both married and single – Annie and Walter Maunder, Miss Mary Ackworth Orr and others.

Indeed, by the early 1900s, the BAA and other amateur society records present us with an active corps of women observers on eclipse expeditions. These included Mary Proctor, Miss Hart-Davis, Gertrude Bacon and Octavia Stevens, to name but a few. Intrepid ladies, off to India, Algiers and Mauritius – not to mention “safe” places like Europe or Canada – in pursuit of the solar corona. And fully within the British Grand Amateur tradition, these women invariably paid their own way.

BAA eclipse tour to Norway in 1896.

Without doubt, the founding of prestigious amateur astronomical societies in late Victorian England played a major role in empowering women, by putting them on an equal institutional footing with men. Nor was it just in astronomy that this happened, but in other amateur-driven sciences, such as meteorology, archaeology and fossil geology, to say nothing of parallel activities of women overseas, especially in the USA. For these societies gave British women their first serious institutional standing so that, by 1916, the RAS found no shortage of capable women applying to join the Fellowship.

John Goodricke.
He was born in the Netherlands, but lived most of his life in England. He became deaf in early childhood due to a severe illness. His parents sent him to Thomas Braidwoods’s Academy, a school for deaf pupils in Edinburgh, and in 1778 to the Warrimngton Academy.

After leaving Warrington, Goodricke returned to live with his parents in York. There, he became friends with his neighbour Edward Pigott, whose father had built a sophisticated private observatory. Edward was already interested in variable stars, and he gave Goodricke a list of those that he thought were worthy of observation.
Goodricke is credited with discovering the periodic variation of beta Lyrae and Delta Cephei, the prototypical example of the Cepheid variable stars.

Although several stars were already known to vary in apparent magnitude, Goodricke was the first to propose a mechanism to account for this. He suggested that Algol is what is now known as an eclipsing binary. He presented his findings to the Royal society in May 1783, and for this work, the Society awarded him the Copley medal for that year. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 16th April 1786. He never learned of this honour however, as he died four days later from pneumonia. He never married.

Colonel E.E. Markwick, CB, CBE, FRAS (1853 – 1925)
He pursued a distinguished career in the British Army, serving in Great Britain and other parts of the Empire and rising to the rank of Colonel. He was an original member of the BAA and went on to become President between 1912 and 1914. His main observational interest was the study of variable stars and he independently discovered two variables, RY Sgr and T Cen. He directed the BAA Variable Star Section from 1899 to 1909, organising its work along lines that are largely pursued even to this day and which other variable star organisations around the world have emulated.

Colonel E.E. Markwick, CB, CBE, FRAS (1853 – 1925)

Markwick recognised the need for observers to use standard comparison star sequences, which were based on Pickering‘s HCO photometry, and standard methods (e.g. Argelander‘s step method). Observers recorded the full estimate, including which comparison stars were used, an approach which is maintained in the VSS database even today. This allows the reduced magnitude of the variable to be recalculated should the comparison star sequence be updated later . He also required observers to record systematically the accurate time of observation, along with details of the instrument and magnification used, and an assessment of both the state of the sky and an estimation of the quality or ―class‖ of the observation.

As a result of Markwick‘s enthusiastic and focused leadership, the VSS began to flourish and it soon became one of the most active sections, with a multiplicity of reports on its work being published in the Journal as well as the Memoirs. This in turn encouraged new members to join. As John Toone noted in his account of British Variable Star Associations 1848-1908, ―Markwick deserves full credit for transforming the VSS from a minor club style reporting forum into a robust association of variable star observers, with a clear strategy and applying the most professional and exacting standards of the time‖. In his 1904 treatise on ―The Observation of Variable Stars, Markwick commented on the increasing interest in variables shown by professionals in the emerging branch of astrophysics.

Variable stars

Variable stars.
A Cepheid variable star one of a class of variable stars whose periods (i.e., the time for one cycle) of variation tend to be proportional to their luminosity and that are therefore useful in measuring interstellar and intergalactic distances. Most are spectral type F (moderately hot) at maximum luminosity and type G (cooler, Sun-like) at minimum. The prototype star is Delta Cephei, the variability of which was discovered by John Goodricke in 1784. In 1912 Henrietta Leavitt of Harvard Observatory discovered the aforementioned period-luminosity relationship of the Cepheids.

Cepheids are now considered to fall into two distinct classes. The classical Cepheids, which are dependable in their period-luminosity relationship, all have periods from about 1.5 days to more than 50 days and belong to the class of relatively young stars found largely in the spiral arms of galaxies and called Population I. Short-period Cepheids, also called cluster-type variables, or RR Lyrae variables, all have periods of less than one day and show no dependable relationship between period and luminosity; this last fact caused considerable confusion among astronomers before it was recognized. RR Lyrae variables can still be employed as distance indicators because their absolute magnitudes tend to be alike. Short-period Cepheids belong to Population II, a class of older stars found in the core and in the halo of the Milky Way Galaxy.

John Herschel (1815-1979) photographed in April 1867

Classical Cepheids exhibit a relation between period and luminosity in the sense that the longer the period of the star, the greater its intrinsic brightness; this period-luminosity relationship has been used to establish the distance of remote stellar systems. The absolute magnitude of a classical Cepheid can be estimated from its period. Once this is known, the distance of the star can be deduced from a comparison of absolute and apparent (measured) magnitudes.

Citizen Science
Science is an endeavour that has become very specialized throughout the ages. Nowadays, performing scientific research requires a college degree, and leading a study can require higher degrees along with more schooling. This is not to say, however, that only these people have the smarts or perseverance to approach a scientific problem and see it through to its conclusion. The fact is, many ordinary citizens, with no scientific or even college degree to show, have the capability and desire to work on scientific problems.

With the advent of the internet, it has become easy for people with an eagerness to feel a part of discoveries to actually contribute to projects with scientific value. But the opportunity existed long before we all signed online. In astronomy everyone shares the same laboratory, the sky. Astronomers with Ph.Ds use giant telescopes to look at the same sky you can walk outside and look up to. Many amateur astronomers have taken advantage of just that. Many of the comets and asteroids discovered were done so by backyard telescopes like you might receive as a present. ABC News featured an article with seven great discoveries by amateur astronomers, which include comets hitting planets, advances in telescope design, new types of galaxies, and spotting supernovae.

Dr Bowler pointed out some of the best places to do citizen science in astronomy.

This citizen science hub in astronomy is host to a multitude of projects that fit to the researcher’s tastes.

Galaxy Zoo. This is the original Zooniverse project that helps astronomers figure out how galaxies form and evolve by studying their morphologies (shapes). This classification exercise is easy to follow. An image of a galaxy is shown and the user is asked a series of questions to describe the appearance. Is it smooth or shaped? Does it have a bulge/no bulge? etc. The classification has lead to the discovery of new objects in some cases. There are also variations on this theme, ‘Galaxy Zoo Mergers’and ‘Galaxy Zoo Supernovae.

Moon Zoo. Explore images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and help map our Moon like never before.

The Milky Way Project. This tool will keep you busy all day. In nebulae around our galaxy, stars are born and die, and create hot, ionised regions of gas that shape their environments. This project shows the user an image of a nebulae (or part of a nebulae) taken in the infrared by the Spitzer Space Telescope and asks the user to draw “bubbles” using an annulus drawing tool. The user can also flag pockets of red diffuse areas and green knots in the images.

Solar Stromwatch. Spot and Track solar storms to help solar scientists get past the subjectivity of only one person identifying storms and immense amount of data the scientists cannot hope to get through.

Planet Hunters. Easy, look at a time-flux plot to identify possible transit events.

Old Weather. Use observations made by Royal Navy ships in the early 20th century to help recover worldwide weather.

Citizen Sky. A program sponsored by American association of variable star observers to study the mysterious star epsilon Aurigae. This star is an eclipsing variable, which means it has a companion that passes between us and the star resulting in a dip in brightness. The riddle is that the eclipse lasts 2 years! What kind of object could do such a thing? Check out their website to read about some theories and contribute yourself.

Einstein@Home utilizes your idle computer to search for gravitational waves in data from the LIGO gravitational wave detector. The project also utilizes data from the Arecibo radio telescope to search for binary pulsars!

Dr Bowler highlighted as an example of citizen science, the story of Dutch schoolteacher Hanny and her mystery ‘Voorwerp’. In 2007 while classifying galaxies on the fledgling Galaxy Zoo website, citizen scientist Hanny van Arkel came across an object that she was unsure how to classify. It appeared as blue squiggle (for want of a better word) near the spiral galaxy IC 2497. She flagged it, and further investigation revealed that it was at the same distance as IC 2497 and comparable in size to the Milky Way. It was a brand new type of astronomical object previously unknown to scientists, and discovered by a citizen! ‘Voorwerp’ is a Dutch word meaning ‘object’ (squiggle might have been better), and now thanks to further

Dutch schoolteacher Hanny and her mystery ‘Voorwerp’.

examination of the Galaxy Zoo data by citizen scientists several more of these objects have been discovered.

Damian Peach
Another amateur Dr Bowler highlighted was Damian Peach. His interest in astronomy began around the age of 10 when he first started reading books on the subject at school and quickly became enthralled by the spectacular photographs that graced their pages. Then further inspired by well-known astronomers such as Patrick Moore and Donald Parker, over the last 25 years he has gone on to develop his expertise within the field of Astrophotography, and is now widely considered one of the foremost Astrophotographers in the world.

Damian Peach

Over his career his images have appeared in countless books, magazines and science papers. He has also appeared numerous times on television within the UK promoting astronomy and astrophotography, often on the well-known Sky at Night TV program with Sir Patrick Moore. He is also authored and co-authored many articles, book chapters and science papers on the Planets. He has also regularly lectured both at home and abroad on astrophotography.

He was awarded both the British Astronomical Associations Merlin Medal and the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers Walter Haas award for outstanding contributions to planetary astronomy. In 2009 he was part of a record setting team that produced the largest ground based image mosaic of the Moon ever taken. He was featured in the acclaimed national Explorers of the Universe photographic exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall and also had his work featured at the Edinburgh Science Festival.

Jupiter as imaged by Damian Peach on 22nd September 2022

His work was used by NASA and ESA to illustrate the importance and quality of amateur planetary images to help support the upcoming JUNO and JUICE missions at Jupiter. In 2011 he was crowned overall winner of the Royal Greenwich Observatory Astrophotographer of the year competition, and was a prize winning finalist in 2012 – 2015. In 2017 asteroid 27632 was re-named in his honour for his contributions to astrophotography over the past 20 years. He also won 1st place in the National Science Foundation’s Comet ISON photo competition for his spectacular image of the comet, which was used by the media throughout the world during the comet’s close approach to the Sun. He is also author to two popular astrophotography tutorial DVDs which went on to become very successful.

National Schools observatory

The National Schools Observatory.

Liverpool John Moors University started the National Schools’ Observatory (NSO) with the mission ‘Access to the Universe for All’.

They use the wonders of space to inspire the next generation of scientists, programmers and engineers. They provide quality programmes designed to have a positive impact on teaching and learning in schools. They also deliver outstanding public engagement.
That’s why they give free use of the world’s largest robotic telescope, the Liverpool Telescope (LT), to schools around the world. Unlike traditional telescopes, there is no need to stay up through the night. The LT collects observation requests, schedules them, and automatically returns them to your account when they’re done. Controlling a professional telescope is not straight forward, so the NSO was created to link schools with the telescope.

Along the way, the observing time dedicated to schools through the NSO has grown from 5% to 10%. They currently have over 16,000 active users, including 13,000 school students. They have created a user-friendly Go Observing interface for everyone. Users have made over 175,000 observations since it was founded.

But despite its name, the Liverpool Telescope is not in Liverpool. It is on the Spanish island of La Palma.

Juno Cam
NASA’s Juno mission arrived at Jupiter on 4th July 2016, new views of the planet are being sent back to Earth, courtesy of its colour camera, called JunoCam. The public can act as a virtual imaging team, participating in key steps of the process. Amateur astronomers are invited to submit images of Jupiter from their own telescopes. These views are the basis for online discussions about what JunoCam should image as it passes over the planet. The public process the images to create colour pictures.

An Artists concept of the Juno Mission at Jupiter.

There was a loud round of applause as she concluded the presentation.