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