Here you’ll find brief reports of the talks we’ve heard at Society meetings. In these we try to include any web links or other pointers to further information that were provided by the speaker at the meeting. If you were at one of our meetings and would like to correct or expand the report relating to it then please use the Society’s contact form.
Our arranged speaker Jeff Wagg was unable to attend November’s society meeting, so Tony Sizer stepped in to talk on ‘The Vulcan Affair’.
Tony started by taking us back to the 1878 USA eclipse and comparing it with the recent 2017 USA eclipse and the vast differences in prevailing conditions. Whilst eclipse seekers in 2017 had modern safe travel and few accommodation problems, competition for viewing locations was substantial given the millions flooding into the best viewing areas; whereas in 1878, travel was difficult and accommodation mostly non-existent or poor and, in the best viewing areas, unsafe due to Indians. However, few people knew or cared that the eclipse was happening. However, on top of the eclipse was the potential to find the proposed existence of the planet ‘Vulcan’.
Tony then segued nicely across to talk about the discovery of Uranus by Sir William Herschel in 1781 continuing on to the discovery of Neptune. This planet, although possibly plotted by Galileo as far back as 1612, was proposed as an unknown celestial body by the noting of deviations to the tables outlined by Alexis Bouvard in 1821. Tony then outlined the story of the final discovery of Neptune by both John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier. I won’t go into the full story here but suffice to say that is a good read if you get the chance.
It was here that I really enjoyed the talk as, although I was familiar with the story, Tony was able to provide a more personal touch to the intrigue and machinations that took place between both men and their respective countries. One result was that for quite some time, about 70 years, Neptune was known as ‘George’s Star’ or even, in France, ‘Le Verrier’. Finally, common sense prevailed and Neptune became the internationally known name.
Segueing nicely again, Tony talked of the interest then placed on the perturbations of Mercury and whether this planet was being influenced by an ‘unknown planet’, which was to become known as ‘Vulcan’. Le Verrier became convinced that such an unknown planet existed; his theories seemingly supported by a number of alleged sightings by transit of the Sun on previous occasions from observers around the world.
This led us back then to the American eclipse of 1878 when the obvious opportunity to confirm or deny the existence of this ‘planet’ could be determined. Regrettably the two observers of note, James Craig Watson and Lewis Swift both confirmed an erroneous sighting! Le Verrier continued to believe in the existence of this planet until he died in 1877, although no conclusive proof ever became known.
Finally, in 1915, Einstein’s theories explained the Mercury orbital peculiarities as perihelion precession; and all was resolved.
Thanks again Tony for a really interesting talk.
The ‘Members Evening’ was split into two parts with three presenters. The first part was a report of their visit to the USA for the much anticipated 21st August 2017 Total Eclipse by Ken Pearson and Iain Pringle. Supported by … Continue reading
I don’t know about you but I struggle with astrophotography; for me it is a bit of a black art. Not that I don’t appreciate the results. One of my highlights of every society meeting is the ‘Members Images’ section … Continue reading
Like many, I have watched some of the Royal Institution’s (RI) Christmas Lectures but not all of them. That’s not a bad thing as they have been happening since 1825 and I could not have done that anyway. However, having … Continue reading
Our June 2017 Society Meeting saw a wonderfully entertaining talk from Dr Francisco Diego, University College London, who is currently a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Dr Diego hails originally from Mexico and is a … Continue reading
In November we scheduled an extra meeting “It’s About Time” presented by Professor Donald Kurtz. Don Kurtz is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire. His research is in asteroseismology and magnetic stars and he teaches the undergraduate … Continue reading
A talk by Greg Smye-Rumsby. The planet Uranus is named after the Greek god Ouranos, meaning ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’. It is the coldest of the planets, an ice giant with a tumbling orbit which takes 84 years to orbit the … Continue reading
Roy Easto from Croydon Astronomical Society led a QI type quiz with two teams of two ‘volunteered’ from the membership. This was a change from our usual Christmas Quiz when everyone participates, but the teams played their parts sportingly and … Continue reading
Chris Lintott was unable to visit us as he was on La Palma, so Tony Sizer stepped into the gap at short notice, and gave us an informative and entertaining talk entitled Violent Universe. The Universe is not as benign … Continue reading
At our April meeting Andrew Norton of the Open University spoke to us about Finding Exoplanets. The idea of exoplanets has been around for a long time, but it is only in more recent years that they have been identified … Continue reading
The subject of March’s OAS meeting was The Antikythera Mechanism and the Mechanical Universe and it was presented by Professor Mike Edmunds. He started his talk with a brief history of its discovery. In 1901/2 a hoard of magnificent objects … Continue reading
Our November meeting was addressed by Jack Carlyle, a PhD student at MSSL, who gave us an entertaining and informative talk on how they observe the Sun. With the help of some amazing animations, including one of a collapsing sun, … Continue reading