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  • Writer's pictureTej Dyal

GET’s Back: Great Equatorial Telescope Viewing - 7 November 2023

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

A new season of the popular Viewing with the Great (and very old!) Equatorial Telescope commenced on Tuesday, this week.

On arrival at the main entrance of the Astronomy building, member guests including yours truly chatted enthusiastically about our lives and the surreal realisation that there is a new genuine Beatles single out. We looked up at the enticingly clear skies to see the odd sparkle of diamonds in the sky... oh we couldn't wait to take a closer look at those, could we, especially that shiniest one, Jupiter, dancing voluptuously above the courtyard's nearby tallest tree. Our Flamsteed hosts, Barry Cassels, Gurinder Lall and Mike Meynell announced the start of session and guided us to the Observatory dome.

Flamsteed members gather in the GET dome

Awaiting us at the dome, was ROG Astronomer, Jacob (Jake) Foster who cheerfully welcomed us and introduced himself. This was the first time Jake was presenting a GET session for us but straightaway we were taken in with his spritely energy.

"So, you will have noticed that the skies are clear!" Jake exclaimed.

"Oh yeah!" we all sang... (well not aloud, just collectively in our minds)

"And you will have noticed the dome is closed" Jake continued.

"Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" we chorused collectively but mindlessly.

"So, there will be no viewing through the telescope, this evening, unfortunately".

"Yeah baby, let's roc...wait, what?".

While we gently wept, all Jake was saying was that the dome has a low wind tolerance of up to 15mph and winds were predicted to be higher. Therefore, it won't be safe to have it open.

Our astronomer, Jake, talks about the Great Equatorial Telescope

So, we let it be, gave Jake a chance and as he commenced his history talk of the Telescope, we couldn't help bopping along with his contagiously energetic and entertaining narrative.

I have been to most of these GET back in the past decade, because in every session I either learnt something new, relearned what I have forgotten, or observed something new even in targets I have already seen before. But on top of those reasons, we have a variety of ROG Astronomers who give their own fresh perspective, personality, and emphasis of their own research on the history of the telescope and its journey. This session was no different as Jake gave his own entertaining spin on the telescope's epic journey across three centuries from its commissioning based on an intriguing (deliberate?) oversight in the late 1800s, to its travels to safety in Herstmonceux away from the London Blitz to its vintage status as a museum piece that it is today.

Along the journey, Jake injected some humorous anecdotes that I have not heard before. One was about a team of ROG astronomers including the Astronomer Royal who were granted to live in the grand accommodation of Herstmonceux Castle during the decades that the Telescope was moved to its new home at Herstmonceux Observatory. As the astronomers enjoyed their highly prestigious dwellings for the first year, the finance management decided to tell the Astronomers to find cheaper accommodation elsewhere... but not the Astronomer Royal, who got to stay in the castle and it is said, the other astronomers never talked to him ever again.

Flamsteed members get a chance to move the Telescope

Jake also engaged us in the operations of the telescope, inviting us to move the telescope and operate the dome. We enjoyed asking him some tough questions all of which he answered triumphantly with some fascinating and sometimes candid replies while rather charmingly, self-congratulating himself for knowing the answer (this is one of his first GET, remember, and we Flamsteed lot were his toughest test!).

As Jake wrapped up this segment of the "poor" weather backup program, we thanked him profusely for his generous time in delivering an entertaining interactive talk for us.

We were than herded by our Flamsteed hosts back to the Astronomy building for a Planetarium presentation delivered by ROG Astronomer, Jess

ROG Astronomer Jess presents in the Planetarium

Again, every GET back-up program always offers something new, and that includes the Planetarium. Jess gave us a unique and entertaining presentation of the cosmos whilst she too sprinkled some amusing anecdotes including one story about a star cataloguer vainly naming stars after himself without anyone noticing. We learnt some interesting new ways to finding celestial targets with the aid of the constellations. She talked about Jupiter, the Ring nebula, Andromeda Galaxy which she says is the furthest thing we can see with the naked eye, although Mike whispered to me "I think it's Triangulum Galaxy"...well they are both over 2.5 million light years away and I find it amazing how we can see anything that far with the naked eye when I can't even see beyond 2 feet without my glasses! Throughout the presentation we were treated to the grand visualisations of these celestial wonders and finally, Jess sailed us out of the galaxy itself to see our humble galactic home from across the universe.

We thanked Jess profusely too, for her generous and valued time she has given us.

Huge thanks to the fab four, Mike, Gurinder, Barry and Simon Hurst for organising and running this enjoyable magical mystery tour (ok, that one was way too on the nose). Now and then, I will be back for more...if I am quick enough to book myself a ticket!

Pictures from the Evening (by Gurinder Lall, Mike Meynell and Tej Dyal):


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