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Highlands Astronomical Society

Stargazey Pie April 2008

By Pauline Macrae & John Gilmour

April is always the month of the AGM. This time, Antony got the evening off so it was left to John Gilmour and myself to fill in the blanks. There was a good turn out, perhaps partly due to the lure of a DVD brought in by Tim Schroder. As usual, John provided us with an update of the observatory and also gave us the results of what you, the members, thought of Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre as a meeting place. John Rosenfield provided some evidence as to why comets are thought to foretell disaster and then John Gilmour read out the notices as Eric, our Secretary, was unable to be with us.

  • New HAS Observatory Plaque. £25 buys your own space on the HAS member sponsors plaque. Contact Pat Escott. The plaque is finalised soon so you have one last chance for immortality at Culloden.
  • HAS Seeing Stars. Article about Leo, written by Pauline Macrae, will be published in this Friday’s Inverness Courier. Look for the same article in a few days time on our website.
  • Next meeting. This will be May 6th when the speaker will be Chris Straddling from Sigma who will speak about the Hubble Space Telescope. The meeting and all future meetings until further notice will take place at The Green House.
  • 2009 HAS Calendar Astrophotography Competition. This year we will be holding a competition to select the astrophotographs for inclusion in the 2009 HAS calendar. The competition will be judged by HAS members and will feature some exciting prizes for the winners. Eric has kindly agreed to run a series of workshops for members interested in developing their photographic and image processing skills over the next few months. These are likely to be held in the new observatory at times suitable for participants and trainer.
  • Specialist Sub-Groups. If you would like to join one of our specialist subgroups add your name to the list on the table at the front of the lecture theatre. We will be arranging special activities for each subgroup with sufficient members in the coming months after discussions with each subgroup.
  • Astro-Tripping. If you would like to join us on our Astro holiday to Arizona then put your name on the list on the table at the front of the lecture theatre. We have now been offered free accommodation with American families through our fledgling association with Tucson Astronomy Society while we are in the area. Thanks again to Andy Ferguson for all his hard work with this.
  • Christmas Dinner. If you would like to attend the first society Christmas dinner pleasecontact Chairman John Gilmour.
  • Grand Opening. Opening of the new JSL observatory will take place on the summer solstice Saturday 21st June 2008 - that will be our big day! We plan to have a number of events taking place to mark the day, more details soon. We are honoured that Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland will perform the opening for us. He has told us that he definitely wants to be at the opening as a gesture of his "support and admiration" for all the hard work that we have put into the observatory and all the problems that have occurred.
  • Eastgate Event. We will have an open day in the Eastgate Centre on Saturday 14th June to promote the new observatory opening.
  • 2009 A Space odyssey. Remember the International Year of Astronomy 2009? Well,we will be arranging special events to coincide with the Jupiter week, Moon Week and Saturn week, so look out for more information.
  • Monthly Astronomical Events: Saturn: well-placed all month; Galaxy fields of Leo & Virgo: all month; New Moon: Sunday 06 April.

Ballot Results

The Result of last month’s ballot on the venue for our meetings was 24 votes for the Green House and 8 votes for the Visitor Centre, therefore all meetings will continue at the Green House.

New Observatory update

The opening date has had to be put back to the 21st June. This is because the wooden cladding which was sent away to be treated will not be back until late May/early June.


This must be the quickest AGM we have ever had. The minutes from last year, the Chairman’s report, the Secretary’s report and the Treasurer's report were all adopted without any controversy.

Pat Escott felt she wished to clarify some of the Treasurer’s report and a summary of what she said follows.

Pat wished to make clear that we have to abide by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, OSCR, now we have charitable status. This requires a lot of reading and understanding of the material they send us. There are now two new rules:

1) All mail and e-mail must now include our name and charity number

2) All subscriptions must be paid within three months of the end of the financial year, which for us is the beginning of March

Pat was extremely grateful to our independent examiner for steering us through this minefield.

Observatory: The accounts show the wonderful list of donations and grant assistance received and our thanks go to all those names listed and unlisted.

Our thanks go to Arthur and Lorna Milnes who have arranged raffles to raise money.

Fundraising has included the sale of the old observatory, calendars (thanks to Eric), Google ads (thanks to Antony) and advertising banners on the website, sale of old magazines and old books, car boot sale and the open day.

Some confusion has arisen over the totals of plaques (£850) and raffles (£815) but totals from these = this year’s figure and last year’s figure.

Also, any money over £25 given for plaques has been treated as a donation so it can be used for Gift Aid, this is therefore not in the plaque total. The plaque money cannot be used for Gift Aid.

Meetings and membership: The venue is our biggest expense but it is excellent and we enjoy it. Thank you to Green House staff, particularly Fiona, and to John for security so we don’t have to pay for a security guard.

Membership numbers are up but subscription fees are down. This is due to us having more children who pay less and this year we have two life members as well as two honorary members.

Gift Aid came to almost £1000 this year collected from September 2005 (when we became a charity) to early this year so there won’t be as much to claim next year.

Income is also received from Inverness Courier articles – thank you to all authors; thanks also to Linda and her team for the tea and coffee.

In addition thanks to Christine for welcoming visitors and to Trina for taking over from Pat when she is away.

Pat has had an immense number of problems with the Halifax Bank of Scotland with whom we bank. She has been trying for quite some time to get some compensation out of them and has now, at last, been promised something.

Election of Secretary

Eric Walker has been acting Secretary since September 2007. Although absent he had agreed to continue as Secretary should he be proposed and duly elected. Eric was unopposed and is now officially Secretary for the Society.

Vote of thanks to outgoing Secretary

I (Pauline) thanked Pat Williams for all her hard work since she was elected four years ago. It was at the time we became a charity and involved a lot of reading and understanding of the rules we now have to abide by but Pat was more than up to the task. Her other major achievement was the Scottish Astronomer’s Group weekend; it was meticulously organised and thus a great success. I don’t know what I would have done without her to steer me through my time as Chairwoman and especially at AGMs which I still didn’t have the hang of even after seven years!


Subscriptions are to be discussed at a Committee meeting.

Vote of thanks to Chairman

Arthur reminded us all of the work that John has put into the observatory project, considering the numerous problems and setbacks that have occurred, as well as running the Society. He was to be commended.

John Rosenfield and a comet

There was no other competent business so John Rosenfield then took the floor to remind us that comets were often associated with doom and disaster and he thought we might find interesting some historical information which helps to provide evidence for that claim.

In 1618, a comet first noticed over Africa, was seen to pass over London heading north in December. The comet became vertical and was found to measure the length of a sword held at arms length.

The comet became a great talking point and it was said to threaten all of Europe. It was the same year that saw the start of the 30 Years War and on November 17th of that year, Queen Anne of Denmark dies.

The Historian John Rushworth commented, “Princes were of the opinion that the blazing star rather betokened the death of the Queen”

The Main Event

'The Astronomical Patrick Moore' with thanks to Tim Schroder

We were treated to a DVD brought in by Tim Schroder called The Astronomical Patrick Moore - the Authorised Version. For copyright reasons, Tim had obtained special permission from The Moving Image Company, the makers of the film, for the HAS to show this. We had hoped to watch this last year but unfortunately the sound system didn’t work...

Charles Wallace of The Moving Image Company wanted to produce a biography of Patrick Moore and the BBC were involved in the discussions. However, Patrick would only accept Charles Wallace as director and, despite initially amicable negotiations, more and more demands and restrictions were made by the BBC until eventually Patrick decided to accept an exclusive contract with Charles Wallace and The Moving Image Company.

The DVD is perhaps not the usual biography of a well-known person. Most of the old clips of Patrick presenting The Sky at Night had apparently been destroyed by the BBC to make way for new offices. So instead, Patrick talks about his life and the things he got up to along with a few old friends adding their memories in the form of many anecdotes. The result is a humorous, potted history of this famous amateur astronomer.

Patrick was born on 4 March 1923 and he says this was not accompanied by any celestial manifestations! He was very close to his Mother who was a singer and very good artist. He was mainly educated at home, spending only one term at prep school. He was not very good at art and was advised to take up music instead, which gave him his love of music.

He met Albert Einstein during the war through music; Einstein was a very good violinist and Patrick met him at a conference reception. Somebody asked Einstein to play a tune on the violin which he had with him and Patrick accompanied him on the piano.

Patrick became interested in astronomy when he was six years old by reading a book belonging to his Mother called The Story of the Solar System. He subsequently learned his way around the night sky, then used binoculars and later bought his first telescope for £7 10s. He was elected to the British Astronomical Association (BAA) at the age of 11 and exactly 50 years later, to the day, he was made President of the BAA. His particular interest was the Moon and he had his first paper (entitled Small Craterlets in the Mare Crisium) published when he was just 13. He also ran an observatory as a young teenager when its incumbent director was killed in a car accident.

He spent time in the RAF as a navigator during the war and afterwards he became a teacher at Holmewood House School. A former teaching colleague spoke of an occasion on which Patrick allegedly set fire to the library …“It wasn’t me”, Patrick proclaimed! A story was also related about Matron who was having a bath while he was outside on the balcony with his telescope.

Patrick has written numerous books on astronomy but has also tried his hand at science fiction. He tells us his only real ‘job’ was as Director of the Armagh Planetarium. He also spends time talking about his passion for cricket and cats. He has some very forthright views and told a number of stories connected with these. He mentions his house, Farthings, in Selsey, where he has lived for 40 years, his various telescopes and how he got started with The Sky at Night.

Paul Johnstone a BBC producer wanted to do a new kind of programme. He had read one of Patrick’s books and decided to ask him if he would present The Sky at Night for a trial period of three months. Patrick felt his entire career now depended on what he did over the first twenty-minute programme. Fortunately he must have done something right as the series caught on and is still going strong half a century later. Patrick covered many topics but his favourite was always the Moon, about which he knew a great deal, having spent many hours drawing the lunar surface. His maps were so accurate that they were used by the Russians to tie in the details with the photographs taken of the far side of the Moon. Patrick became so well known around the world that the BBC could film in any observatory simply by mentioning his name.

Patrick is always very keen to be known as an amateur astronomer; professionals often didn’t know their way around the night sky! He told one tale in which a professional astronomer contacted Patrick to say he had found a nova – except that it turned out to be Saturn. Patrick said that as long as he has been able to switch children onto astronomy he would be happy and hoped that as an amateur he has been able to achieve this.

Speaking throughout the DVD were Sir Arthur C Clarke, Professor Richard Gregory, Dr Allan Chapman, Professor Garry Hunt, Dr Iain Nicolson and two producers from his time at the BBC, with anecdotes about Patrick’s life and how they had been inspired by him. There are too many to mention here but I shall give one, which illustrates nicely the kind of man Patrick is.

He once received a letter from the mother of a boy in hospital who wrote that her son was very ill and it would cheer him up if Patrick could possibly send him a picture postcard. Instead, Patrick bought a small telescope, drove all the way to Penzance and visited the boy in hospital, telling him he was to get better so he could write to Patrick to tell him what he had managed to see through the telescope. The boy recovered and grew up to become a famous astrophysicist.

I shall finish with a comment from Professor Garry Hunt who said that Patrick has done more for astronomy than all the Astronomers Royal in history put together.

The DVD ended with some humorous credits about Patrick’s dress sense, his hair and his monocle!

Thank you to Charles Wallace, The Moving Image Company and Tim for allowing us to see this DVD packed full of information about Patrick’s life.

Copies of the DVD may be purchased by going to The Moving Image Company website (

Next Time. The next meeting will take place back at the Green House on Tuesday 6th May, whenChris Straddling from SIGMA will talk to us on The Hubble Space Telescope. The meeting will start at 7.30pm so we hope you can attend. Don’t forget you will have the chance to have tea or coffee at half time when you can catch up on what everyone else has been seeing in the night skies. Remember that the website is always open, and you can leave a message on the message board if you spot something interesting in the sky or want to ask a question or seek advice. Lighter skies are now making their presence felt but there is still plenty to see. Until 6th May.

A Final Note from Antony: Thank you to Pauline and John for undertaking this month's newsletter duties. It is much appreciated and they have done a grand job! :)

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