Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Michael makes it 3 years in a row!

Michael Culver has achieved a Top 12 in the country A* grade for his GCSE Astronomy this year. This makes it 3 years in a row (and 5 awards in 5 years) for Starlearner. Many congratulations to Michael for his hard work - this is a terrific achievement. Thank you to Malc Beesley and the team at Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School who made this possible by allowing Starlearners to enter with their candidates. (This is the second Top 12 award in the 3 years that have come via Holmes Chapel)! Michael is seen with his Royal Astronomical Society certificate alongside his GCSE certificate.
Starlearner has had some other remarkable results this year. Our youngest ever entry, Xiaoli Biggs, (just 10 years and 3 months at examination day) gained an amazing A grade.  The Bowers family entered their 3 children Xende, Maeloc and Caleac - they came over to The Trinity School in Nottingham from home in Sant Pere de Ribes, near Barcelona. Three good passes. Well done!  Thank you to Jill at Trinity for all your support with the entries. Congratulations are also due to Clay Smith at Hadley Learning Community in Telford on a fantastic reward for overcoming all the hurdles along the way. A brilliant performance and what a learning support team you have had at Hadley!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Star Learners doing wonderful things!

Martyn Dolton is a Star Learner!  Official. He gained a grade A in this summer's GCSE Astronomy examination. Here's what he has said about our course:-

"I’m sure you’ve seen the results, but I just wanted to say how pleased I am at getting an A overall and to thank you for all of your help and support over the past year. When I consider what a challenging year I faced, it’s quite an achievement! For me, this was an opportunity to study something that I’ve always been passionate about, but I wasn’t able to do at school, and getting a qualification at the end of it was a bonus, so I thank you and Liz for making it possible. It’s amazing at how many people I now find myself explaining things to and see them get quite excited about it all – only the other day a friend sent me a picture on Facebook asking me to identify the ‘really bright star next to the moon’. When I told him it was in fact a planet – Venus – and not a star, he was gobsmacked, and keeps asking me questions, which is great! This course has really helped me find out and understand more about something I’ve been interested in since I can remember, and I’m sure it will continue. Here’s to the Lunar Eclipse at the end of the month and for clear skies!"

And look what Martyn has sent through. Brilliant!

"I attach a montage of my pictures. It was great to watch the eclipse, especially after the extra knowledge gained from the course. I kept looking and seeing all the different features going into the shadow. I particularly remember saying 'there goes Tycho'. Before the course it would have been 'there goes that round bit on the bottom!'

This has really opened up the door for me to learn, so once again, thank you!"

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

My very special Battle of Britain +75 day

I saw an elderly man slowly walking along the path, carefully supporting himself with his stick.  The day was sunny and windy on the Dorset coast and the man sat by the Radar Memorial near Worth Matravers.  I left my post at the National Coastwatch Institution lookout because I wanted to take a photo of the flypast of Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Lancaster bomber with the Radar Memorial in the view. As I approached the man sitting down, I just knew this was a very special person - he was there for a reason - this was a precious place for this man to be at this time. This man was Dr Bill Penley - the man mentioned on the memorial.  He was there that day when the memorial was unveiled by none other than Sir Bernard Lovell.
You see something very, very special went on in the early part of the war at Worth Matravers.  Something 'Most Secret' that was to have far reaching importance, not just for victory in the war, but for Radio Astronomy as well.  At this location Dr Bill Penley (now just 98 years of age) told me how he built the first hut.  Scientists were brought in - 2,000 of them to this remote part of the coastline.  Many became world famous during their careers - Nobel Prizewinners and the father of Radio Astronomy, Sir Bernard Lovell.  Together, these scientists developed radar, bouncing radio waves off the coastguard buildings and off a cyclist peddling along the coast path - the first radar view of a moving target!

We chatted and it was wonderful to listen to Bill sharing those memories of one of the most vital scientific breakthroughs of wartime Britain.  Bill's team of clever minds meant that those airmen that went into battle, "The Few", were given warning of the enemy approaching.  Those vital minutes notice provided by the new radar system were the difference between success and a failure too ghastly to ponder.
With Dr Bill Penley and the Radar Memorial

I told Bill of my Dad being on guard duty at the radar base at Worth Matravers. Churchill realised that after the Bruneval Raid to capture German radar receiver equipment in late February 1942, the establishment at Worth Matravers was wide open to a tit-for-tat raid by the Germans.  Bill spoke of how Churchill ordered the whole of the radar research to relocate to Malvern College 'before the next Full Moon'.  Pickford Removals were commandeered and the move was made.  At around this time Churchill called on mathematicians to train in the new radar and radio systems.  Dad trained at Malvern College and in 1943 went out to serve in Burma, tracking the Japanese behind enemy lines and radioing back their location.  This put a stop to the surprise attacks on allied troops that were causing so much harm.  Dad returned home to Lincoln in January 1946 - mission accomplished.

How amazing to meet Bill today.  We owe him and his team so much.  I was able to give him my thanks.  The planes never came - the weather was against them.  My day was incredible for other reasons.  A few weeks ago I had been with friends visiting the world famous Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope (also the headquarters for the Square Kilometre Array).  What started out as ideas in great minds at Worth Matravers led Sir Bernard Lovell to realise that radio/cosmic waves were entering the Earth's atmosphere from space.  A whole new branch of Astronomy was to begin just as soon as the war was over.
The 76 metre dish at Jodrell Bank

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Great results on GCSE results day!

Congratulations to all the students and teachers Jacquie Milligan and Eleanor Edwards at Glenlola in Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland.  Here's what Jacquie said today on receipt of the GCSE Astronomy results:-

We got our results today and have 70% A*/A grades in our cohort of 34 girls. 

One of the A* grades was achieved by a very bright primary 7 girl, who is just 11 years old!

Thank you for your excellent resources - we'll be logging on again this year :)

Best wishes, 

Friday, 31 July 2015

Blue Moon tonight

Friday 31st July
The second Full Moon in a calendar month is called a Blue Moon.
Check this from our Skylab viewing guide for July 2015:-

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Check out New Horizons for 14th July

Getting close now.  Check the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory posters for the amazing New Horizons mission to flyby Pluto on Tuesday - see where the space probe will pass within 12,500 km of the dwarf planet and also where the moons of Pluto (5) will be:-

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Pluto flyby getting close

New Horizons is soon to flyby dwarf planet Pluto.  Launch was back on 19th January 2006 and at that time Pluto was still a planet in the Solar System = the ninth planet. There have been new moons discovered since launch date too.  The tremendous NASA mission will flyby Pluto on 14th July and will give us the first clear images of Pluto and its main moon Charon - seen in the photographs below:-
The image was taken from the space probe in mid April this year.

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The flyby will last just two hours.  Then New Horizons will continue flying out to the Kuiper Belt until the mission comes to an end in 2026.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

All our best with your GCSE Astronomy

To all Starlearners around the world, we hope that you have a very successful day with your GCSE Astronomy examination on Friday afternoon.
Some of our distance learners writing up their controlled assessments in Lincolnshire on our UK tour this April.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Newton - a special year 350 years on

We visited Newton's House - Woolsthorpe Manor - during our UK tour, when we met with Starlearners as they were writing up their controlled assessments.  This year is 350 years on from Newton's 'Year of Wonders - annus mirabilis'.  In 1665, Newton made his way home as Cambridge University closed down with the Great Plague raging.  Undisturbed in his room upstairs (the top right window in the photo below) Newton confirmed his ideas about gravity and white light being formed from the spectrum of colours.

The picture below shows the famous apple tree (the original lies on the ground and from this old tree a new one has emerged).
The view below is the actual window that Newton used to create a spectrum of light.  A copy of his original drawing and explanation can be seen.
A house that we have always wanted to visit.  What a pleasure to see.  
The National Trust staff are fantastic!  The science exhibition is small, but absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Outstanding eclipse sequence

One of our Starlearners travelled to Lutterworth Country Park to avoid the clouds. Martyn took this fantastic sequence of the partial eclipse.  You can even see some of the sunspots on the surface of the Sun.

                Picture credit : © Martyn Dolton

The eclipse can be seen on YouTube as a time lapse sequence.  Use the following URL:-


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Enjoy the eclipse on Friday 20th March

The large partial eclipse on Friday 20th March 2015 will be well worth viewing (check our earlier post for how to view the eclipse safely - remember, NEVER look at the Sun directly).

Spectacular - not for the majority of Britain - just great to view.  Don't expect too much from the articles as seen below from the Daily Telegraph.  Please also don't be harsh on Sarah.  Some of the comments on her article are uncalled for.  In most of mainland Britain, if you did not know the event was taking place, you would not notice anything at all.  Even with 97% of the Sun covered, there is only a small drop in brightness which you might put down to cloud covering the Sun.

As Sarah rightly says, the North of Scotland will be the best place in the UK for viewing.  Wherever you are, have everything set up by 0915, building up to the maximum from 0923 in Penzance and steadily getting later (0931 in London).  Keep viewing until 0945.  Outside these times, if you are projecting the view with a telescope, the inside of the telescope may get too hot.  Our previous post shows binoculars for viewing.  You could view the eclipse from start to finish this way.  To view the whole eclipse, have everything set up for about 0830 and view until the eclipse is over about 1030.  Times vary where you are in the UK.  On the south coast, 84% of the Sun will be eclipsed, rising up to near 98% in Northern Scotland (mainland).  If you want to view live on the internet, use the link below to see the event on the Slooh Community Observatory:-


Monday, 16 March 2015

Be safe with the partial eclipse on Friday

I agree with what Sir Patrick Moore used to say "NEVER look directly at the Sun" - meaning even with solar eclipse glasses.  A woman went to view a Total Eclipse in Nigeria in March 2006.  She took a pair of the simple eclipse glasses that she had kept in a drawer since 1999.  When she returned to the UK having seen the amazing eclipse, one of her eyes was found to be permanently damaged.  Why?  The drawer she had kept the glasses in since 1999 had scratched one of the filters.  The scratch was less than a hairline scratch - far too small to be seen.

The most important thing with viewing the partial eclipse on Friday 20th March 2015 in the UK is to play it safe.  The very best way to observe an eclipse is to record it on a camera attached to a telescope, or to take photographs of a projected image from binoculars or a telescope.  NEVER line up the optical instruments by looking through them to the Sun.  The arrangement shows my viewing of the Venus transit in June 2004:-
More details for the day on Friday will be issued soon.

Friday, 27 February 2015

See three planets in a line on 1st March

Use the very bright planet Venus as your guide to also see Mars and Uranus closeby. The attached image (with thanks to the superb Stellarium planetarium software) shows the arrangement:-

A pair of binoculars is all you need, but a telescope will allow you to see more (including the phase of Venus).  If you look low down to the west at 19.00 on 1st March, Venus will be easy to spot as it is very bright.  Then look down to see the slightly red Mars, appearing as a very small disc.  Now the tough one.  Uranus is very faint, but just check the image above before you go out to look for the planets. Move in a straight line from Mars up to Venus.  Continue this line the same distance the other side up from Venus. Look hard and you will see Uranus.  If you look very carefully, you may be able to see the tiny disc that shows you have the planet rather than the dot of a star. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

View Venus and Mars close together

21st & 22nd February - Mars & Venus are very close at dusk in the west.  
Look at the view this evening (20th February):-

The crescent Moon was spectacular and you could see the rest of the Moon by the light reflected back from Earth.  The very bright gibbous phase of Venus was easy to see and then, just above, you could make out the slightly red view of Mars.  The Moon will have moved on tomorrow and the crescent will have increased in size, but Venus and Mars will be even closer than seen in the photograph above.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Get out and look at Jupiter in February

February is a great month to view planet Jupiter and the Galilean moons. Why? Jupiter is at OPPOSITION on 6th February which means it is closest to Earth and therefore looks at its largest in telescopes.  Also, the maximum amount of light is reflected back to Earth from the planet.  At magnitude -2.4, it is very bright and stands out in the evening sky.  If you use a telescope, you will see the large disc of the planet, some of the cloud bands and check the dates below because you may get to see effects as seen in the image below:-
Image Credit : NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
The image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft and shows the sort of thing that you will see through a telescope this month.  The dark dot is the shadow cast on to the surface of the clouds of Jupiter by one of the Galilean moons.

When and where to look for Jupiter and its moons

Jupiter rises in the east at dusk and is visible all night, steadily tracking westwards through the night.  A telescope will allow many special effects to be seen in the month with the Galilean moons.


 2nd             - Io occults Europa @ 03.30 to 03.34
 3rd             - Io (and its shadow) transit Jupiter @ 19.30 to 21.47
 23rd & 24th  - Ganymede (and its shadow) transit Jupiter @ 19.26 to 00.45
 27th            - Io transits Ganymede @ 02.17 to 02.24

Occults means that one object blocks out the view of the one behind.
Transit is where one small object tracks in front of a larger object (like the shadow in the image above is in front of the planet).

Image Credit : Jonathan Foster (Star Learner)
The Galilean moons can be seen in binoculars and if you are a good photographer, make excellent opportunities for solar system images.  See what one of this year's Star Learners, Jonathan Foster, has found from his great photo of 9th January 2015.  If you measure the diameter along the line of the moons (the equator of the planet) you get 0.8 units.  Measuring at 90 deg through the poles you get 0.7 units.  So, your photo shows that the planet has been ‘stretched’ at the equator - which is what you get with spinning gas planets.  Now look at the moon that is ‘touching’ Jupiter.  It does not look like the moon on its own, which appears as a circle.  What you have is something called the ‘tear drop’ effect which is seen as two objects come alongside each other.  The classic one is in the transit of Venus across the Sun when Venus ’touches the edge of the Sun’.  So, Jonathan's picture has some amazing extras!

Have a great time looking at Jupiter.  Remember to wrap up warm!