Thursday, 7 November 2013

The eclipse seen from the Ghana Planetarium

With Starlearner being global these days, we had a brilliant email from Sarah, one of our distance learners in Accra, Ghana.  Sarah is very involved at the Ghana Planetarium in Accra which was in a great location to view the eclipse at the weekend.  This is what Sarah said:-

The eclipse was fab!!  We had a very successful event at the Planetarium, lots of people, lots of media coverage and perfect weather.  The only downside was that I was so busy organising that I didn't get a chance to take any photos!!  So unfortunately I won't be able to do the eclipse for my practical work. 

You are excused Sarah!  Let the photos that her friends took tell the story.

Thank you to Stephen Adam, Steve Wilson and Jane Ashong (a director of the Planetarium) for the brilliant photos.  Another part of Sarah's email:- 

Steve Wilson was the one who brought that group of local kids from the community where his business is based (I think) - he said most of them have never even been out of their part of the city, so it was a huge adventure for them.  The driver got lost on the way but that turned out to be an added bonus because the kids got to see more of Accra!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

LIVE STREAM of Comet ISON - Join Keck 2 in Hawaii to see the comet

The huge Keck 2 telescope is focusing on Comet ISON today (Saturday).

Use the link to see the action live (hover your mouse to the right of 
LIVE FROM KECK for the direct link to the Keck Observatory website) 
OR type in the URL -

Check the times to view

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

US Federal Government action affects some website links in our e-textbook

Some of the links to the e-textbook will not function at present due to the US Federal government being unable to reach an agreement on the budget for the year ahead.  As a result, many government offices and services have been closed until the matter has been resolved in Congress.  Sites like will display a webpage like this.  Normal service will be resumed soon we hope.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Some feedback from the class of 2013

I'm really pleased with my result and I would like to thank you for all the help and support you've given me.  It was a really good experience and I now know a lot more about astronomy.
Stuart H (Aberdeenshire)   A* grade

Thank you so much for all the help you gave me over the past year and for doing the online course...  
We just wanted to say thanks too, sorry we missed you at the coursework day.  You really inspired Joel.  He is now hoping to do Astronomy at University, so we are keeping all the notes!!
Joel T (Nottingham) B grade  + comments from Julia & Peter T, Joel's mum & dad

Just got an email from the school - managed an A pass.  Happy with that and thanks for all your help - enjoyed the course and I'm sure it will stand me in good stead!
Ian G (Morpeth)   A grade

I got a good solid A, which is what I was hoping for so very happy.  Thanks for all your help and support - I found the course materials really good and it was very interesting.  It was also great to meet you in Edinburgh.
John H (Edinburgh)   A grade

I thought that the exam was really tough so I'm really chuffed to have done so well. Thanks for what was a really enjoyable experience, it's nice to have a reason to look forward to winter evenings now so I can get the telescope out again :-)
Scott L (Mid Calder)   A grade

Thanks for all your help.  It was an interesting course to follow.  You might want to perhaps consider turning you digital material into a proper published book at some point, since most of the current printed publications are not that good!  
Bob A (West Bridgford)   A* grade

Just to let you know our daughter Charlotte got her results this morning and got an A.  We are very pleased of course and look forward to using Starlearner again in the future with our two younger sons who also love astronomy.
Charlotte H (Uxbridge)   A grade

Many thanks to Liz and yourself for the help and encouragement you gave, I really was not sure I wanted to carry on with the course after my problems last year.  As a result of the course, I have been asked to teach my daughters cub group for their astronomy badge, so hopefully I may be able to inspire some of them.
Steve C (Braintree)   A grade

Thank you so much for your excellent course, it was wonderful to have an opportunity to have an extra qualification in something I really enjoyed studying.
Laura D (Alton)   A grade

Thank you for all your generous help and support.  He most certainly couldn't have got there without you!
Rupert A's mum (Cambridgeshire)   A grade

Matt and I picked up our results today.  We are both really pleased.  Many thanks to both of you for helping us through the course and for all the work you have put in to putting it together.  It has been really enjoyable and worthwhile.
Paul and Matt B (Harpenden)  A* and A grades   (Father and son team)

Never had an A* before.
Duncan T (Bramhall)  A* grade

Monday, 23 September 2013

WELL DONE! Star Learners do it again!!

Incredible results again!  100% success for our Starlearner Distance Learners.  An amazing 76% achieving A* or A grades.  All the hard work was rewarded.  We really enjoyed meeting our distance learners on our tour of the UK in April as we supervised the controlled assessment writing up days.  This year we drove up as far as Edinburgh for our record number of entries.  Already, the number entering for June 2014 will be our biggest entry yet.

Alan sent this photo in after completing his exam - it is great to know that the GCSE is just the stepping stone to really enjoying the night sky, having learnt so much more about Astronomy through the course. 

Congratulations again to all of the Starlearner Distance Learners who've worked so hard - it was totally worth it and we're very proud of all our STAR LEARNERS!  If you are reading this and wondering about having a go?  Give it a go!  The GCSE Astronomy course is superb and one to be enjoyed.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Pluto's 4th and 5th moons named

The IAU (the International Astronomical Union) has naming rights for astronomical objects.  Not the most cheerful of mythological options for the most recently discovered moons of Pluto - KERBEROS was a three-headed dog and STYX was a river that separated the living and the dead.  Whatever takes your fancy!  The image below was taken by the Hubble telescope and the new moons were spotted, one in July 2011 and the other in July 2012.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


To all Star Learners around the world, we hope that you have a very successful day with your GCSE Astronomy examination.

Some of our distance learners writing up their controlled assessments in St Albans on our UK tour.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Mauna Kea - our amazing visit

4th March 2013.  We left Hilo on Big Island in Hawaii on our visit to the amazing telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea.  From sea level to 13,700 feet in 3 hours. We stopped at the Visitor Information Station at 9,200 feet to acclimatise for 30 minutes as the air was rarified at the summit.  A school were on a trip from one of the other islands.  What a school trip!

As we stepped out at the top of Mauna Kea, we both had to stop and make sure we did not fall over.  The lack of oxygen was quite something.  Once we had caught our breath, we looked out at a fantastic array of telescopes.  Clear blue skies, hardly any wind - perfect.  A snowball whizzed past!  This is a dream come true.

1 The Subaru telescope to the left of David and the famous Keck 1 and Keck 2 to the right
2 CalTech Submillimetre (left) : James Clark Maxwell : Smithsonian Submillimetre Array (right) 
3 Looking from the Keck telescopes back towards the summit area of Mauna Kea
4 Gemini North
The inactive volcano looked at its best today. The day before there were winds of 45 mph - a very different place.  The reddish ground is caused by a high iron content and the dark grey is like pumice.   One of the most impressive telescopes was the Gemini North (seen on the right). The size of all the telescopes is staggering.
Apart for maintenance, there are few people around. The astronomers work from centres near sea level, controlling the telescopes by remote control. The Keck 1 and 2 telescopes are controlled about 20 miles away at Waimea. This saves the astronomers working in very tough conditions. 
Not the most scenic of entrances to what was the biggest telescope in the world until July 2009. The Keck telescopes both have 10 metre primary segmented mirrors and can work together using interferometry - making them the most powerful optical telescope in the world.  The Keck 1 and 2 telescopes are absolutely incredible and it was the hope before we set off to Hawaii that conditions would allow us to view the famous pair.  We were so fortunate to have perfect conditions.

We moved into the very cold viewing gallery of Keck 1. This was kept cold so that the air inside the observatory would not be affected by warm air currents that would create wobbling of the atmosphere when the telescopes were in use. The picture above shows the secondary mirror that helps to collect the light reflected from the primary mirror made up of 36 hexagonal segments.  The dome is enormous!  What an impressive piece of engineering.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Remembering Challenger

Liz and myself were at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Oahu on our trip to Hawaii this month.  An incredible setting in the Punchbowl Crater of an inactive volcano.  

As well as honouring the fallen in the Pacific battle arenas, we paid our respects to Ellison S Onizuka, Hawaii's first astronaut.  He was one of the seven astronauts killed on that dreadful day in January 1986 when the Challenger Space Shuttle disintegrated just after take off.  Also buried at the Punchbowl is the NASA astronaut Charles L Veach.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Close shave with an asteroid tonight

Try to get out and see an asteroid tonight.  You will need to use binoculars or a telescope as the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye at magnitude 7.  You should see the asteroid moving against the background stars because it is so close to us - closest approach is just 27,700km away at 19.26.  Use the Plough as your guide. Look at the stars in the Plough to judge the position of the asteroid at any given time from 21.00 onwards.  

Meteorite injures 500 in Russia today

A fireball was seen by thousands zooming across the morning sky in Russia. The meteorite hit a zinc factory and 500 people were injured by the explosion and flying glass from buildings in the town of Chelyabinsk.  Drivers caught views of the fireball on their car video cameras.  Spectacular! 

The smoke trail was then followed by the impact on the zinc factory in Chelyabinsk.

Have a look at some video clips of the meteorite on its way to impact Earth:-

See the news cast from Russia Today:-