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Manchester Astronomical Society

Manchester Astronomical Society, Godlee Observatory, Sackville Street Building, University of Manchester, Manchester M1 3BU
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Established: 1903

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Additions to the MAS history 1903 - 1978

The history of the Manchester Astronomical Society was the Presidential lecture given by Mr. M. Duckworth, F.R.A.S., on October 17th 1974. Before becoming President Mr. Duckworth was Secretary from 1968 to 1973. Mr. J. H. Davidson followed in this important position and has continued to organise all our lectures and outside contacts.


Mr. M. Duckworth, F.R.A.S., was succeeded by Mr. K. Brierley, F.R.A.S., from 1976 to 1978, when the Presidency passed to Mr. K. J. Kilburn.


One important person in any society is the Treasurer, and our finances have been cared for the past 30 years by Mr. H.B. Tetlow, Mr. R. Lister, Mr. F. Powell, Mr. A. Rowlands. Mrs. K. Brierley and currently by Mr. P.S. Hands.


Several strong threads have run through the work of the Society during the past 75 years. Foremost of these has been the use of the Godlee Observatory, equipped with the 8" refractor, 12" Newtonian reflector and 6" camera. These instruments are mounted on a massive German type equatorial, originally driven by a falling weight clockwork mechanism. They were made by Howard Grubb of Dublin at the beginning of the century.


At the 50th. Anniversary Meeting Dr. B.V. Bowdon, Principal of the Institute and later to become Lord Bowdon of Chesterfield, pledged the help of the institute in maintaining the observatory. His offer was taken up and a new synchronous motor drive was provided to replace the worn clockwork mechanism. At the time the telescopes were refurbished by members with engineering skills.


Remembering the wishes of the donor, Francis Godlee, the Society has acted as curator of a public observatory by inviting members of the public to use these telescopes whenever possible. It is frequently cloudy, but wardens describe the instruments and provide out guests with a short talk and slide show. For many years Mrs. R. Lister acted as organiser for these public parties.


The original constitution of the Society made it quite clear that it was to be a meeting place for all persons interested in astronomy. Use of the Godlee Observatory has facilitated this aim and the Thursday evening meetings provide a forum for discussion and observation. This year a short course in "General and Practical Astronomy" was arranged. It attracted 25 new members and has resulted in a mirror making group being formed by Mr. J. Rustige.


Throughout these activities the Society has been assisted by the interest and help of successive Principals, Heads of Departments and the engineers in the Works Department of the Institute.


Our dept of gratitude to our hosts is great. We hope we repay it by being unobtrusive guests who provide a useful service to the community.


Another long strand of history has been the accumulated observational work on the Sun. This commenced with our early connections with Stoneyhurst College Observatory and the successive lecturers and Presidents, the Reverend Fathers Sidgreaves, Cortie and Rowlands providing the stimulus. Stoneyhurst College Observatory was well equipped with a 15" refractor, magnetic and seismological laboratories and soon became internationally famous for studies of solar phenomena and the associated terrestrial effects. "Stoneyhurst Disks" are still used by the amateur to determine the latitude and longitude of sun spots.


Our Society possesses an unrivalled record of solar observations, starting with Mr. A.A. Buss, who constructed a solar observatory in Chorlton cum Hardy in the early years of the century. This work was continued by various members and at the Godlee Observatory by Mr. W.C. Jenkins, F.R.A.S., into the late 1930's. Mr. J.C. Farrer continued the tradition after World War II and his long record is in the archives at the Central Library. Mr. K. Bispham, F.R.A.S. and Mr. D. Ettenfield did notable work on polar faculae in the 1960's and today Mr. J. Rustige and his co-workers carry on the tradition of daily solar drawings. In recent years Mr. A. Maudsley has made an advance by observing prominences and faculae through a DAYSTAR H filter. Whilst many of the original records are held in the archives of the Society, copies of all observations are sent to the co-ordinating section of the British Astronomical Association.


The early tradition of drawing lunar and planetary features was established by members mentioned in Mr. Duckworths article. Due to modern technology, orbiting and landing spacecraft, many amateurs have lost interest in studying these objects. Those who realise that an orbiter is only observing from close distance for a short interval, and the lander has a very limited horizon, continue to observe for long term changes. Transient lunar phenomena, changes in the belt systems of Jupiter and Saturn, obscurations on mars are still within the grasp of our instruments.


From drawing at the eyepiece of the telescope amateurs were quick to grasp the potential of photography. Our members have been experimenting in this field since the advent of the early blue sensitive photographic plate to the high speed colour emulsions of today. An annual prize awarded by popular vote for the best photograph has added a stimulus.


After the death of Father Rowlands astronomical work at Stoneyhurst College declined, but about the same time Professor Z. Kopal, DSc., M.A., F.R.A.S., established the Department of Astronomy at Manchester University, and Sir Bernard Lovell, F.R.S., was developing the Nuffield Radio Laboratories at Jodrell Bank. New links were forged and these two gentlemen with their co-workers have provided the Society with a long series of lectures on the latest advances in professional astronomy. Members of the Manchester University Astronomical Society use the Godlee Observatory during term time.


The fascination of listening to the detective work behind each advance in probing into the origin of the Universe is tempered by the vast cost involved. The amateur cannot hope to compete in this high cost technology, but being adaptable he has realised there are fields of work left untouched by the professional. T.L.P's have been mentioned, and there is the joint T.A./B.A.A. Nova Search Patrol allied to the large number of variable stars unobserved by the professional observatories. The Society organised a successful variable star section for many years and this has recently been reformed into a parallel association serving a wider network of observers. The North West Association of Variable Star Observers works in co-operation with our Society.


In addition to the instruments in the Godlee Observatory many members use their own instruments at home. The Society loans a 4" Newtonian without a mount and 8" and 10" Newtonian reflectors on equatorial mountings to keen observers. The mirror making class will produce more telescopes for loan. Our instruments of historical interest are on loan to the North West Museum of Science and Industry and to Jodrell Bank.


For many years our collection of books has been held in the Special Collection in the Central Library, but this is undergoing revision at the present time with a view to placing all our minute books, log books and records and some of the monographs and runs of periodicals made available to the Society.


In recent years we have visited Messrs. Grubb Parsons Ltd., at Newcastle upon Tyne to see the polishing stage of the 102.5" Isaac Newton telescope mirror and the 150" mirror for the infra red telescope now being set up in Hawaii. Mr. P. Mack, B.Sc., F.R.A.S., made arrangements for this visit with Mr. D. Sinden of Messrs. Grubb Parsons Ltd. Two visits to the planetarium at the Merseyside Museums have been made and some of our members have taken advantage of the special trains to London, arranged by the Extra Mural Department of Manchester University to visit Greenwich Observatory, the Science Museum and the London Planetarium.


Reciprocal visits to local societies continue to reinforce the main aim of the Society to be a place where people with an interest in astronomy can meet, discuss and learn.


K. Brierly, F.R.A.S.

by K. Brierly, F.R.A.S.