Flamsteed Astronomy Society

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Have telescope.  Will travel

We started our training to assist operation of the 28-inch Great Equatorial.   Robert Massey devoted two hours to the first session on Monday February 28.   Eight volunteers from the Flamsteed turned-out in somewhat chilly conditions.  Experience levels were very varied.   Three or four members present were clearly at ‘expert’ level and engaged Robert in lively debate on the relative merits of various eyepieces and filters.  At the other end of the scale, your humble narrator is just discovering that astronomy is heavy, cold, and can be noisy.

Eddie and Robert had already drafted a procedure manual to give us a guide to the sequence of essential actions to set-up and shut-down the telescope.  For example, its important to remove the lens cap during start-up.   Its also essential to do this before opening the dome shutters to avoid the risk of an unexpected and probably fatal, sudden return to ground-level.  We were reasonably confident about dismantling the barriers which normally separate the telescope from visitors.   Re-erecting the barriers is another challenge altogether though.   Turning off the lights ready for observing seemed straightforward, but the guidance computer software is best left to the professionals.

Many of the museum visitors were quite keen at first to join in, but enthusiasm waned rapidly when it became clear that there really wasn’t anything to see through the telescope at 3pm on a cloudy afternoon.

After an hour or so it began to look as if we were mastering the rudiments of assisting safe operation.  Several of the actions needed to set-up and train the telescope really do require two people.   With a bit of practice, we look forward to being able to help-out at “Evenings with the Stars” and similar events.

With commendable patience and enthusiasm, Robert offered to run a follow-up session, and we hope to arrange an evening or week-end session for volunteers who have employment difficulties or other unfortunate mid-week commitments.   We plan to build a team of around a dozen trained volunteers who will be able to help-out at both mid-week and weekend, daytime and evening events.

Pictures by Mike Dryland © NMM

Training on the 28-inch Great Equatorial

February 28, 2005