Bath Astronomers is a group of keen amateur astronomers living in or near Bath. Our particular interests vary – some of us are interested primarily in visual observing, others in imaging, and others again in telescope design and manufacture.We are also the observing arm of the William Herschel Society.
Unlike some astronomical societies, we do not generally schedule public star parties, partly because the weather in this part of the world is too unpredictable! And on some clear nights, we prefer to concentrate on our own observing. However we do have fairly frequent open observing sessions at the public car park in Wellow – map below:
Wellow is a few miles south of Bath. There is no street lighting. The way to the public car park is clearly signposted off the east/west road through the village, down a short lane that turns right and then becomes rutted, opening up into a large, flat, grassy park. We generally set up our telescopes by the hedge that runs along the northern edge.
If you come to join us after the start of the observing session, please dim your car lights as soon as you can!
These observing sessions are planned 2 or 3 days in advance (when the weather forecast seems promising, and generally around the first quarter of the moon) and notified by email to those who have expressed an interest. Announcements will also be made on our chat forum, where such sessions are often discussed and arranged.
The session is then confirmed (or otherwise!) on the evening concerned via email. All are welcome at these sessions, experienced or new to observing, and whether or not you have a telescope. One of us will be happy to show you the sights on view, and/or help you with your own telescope. It is also a good idea to come to these sessions if you are thinking of getting a telescope and would like advice. We always tell people in this situation not to buy right away, but to come along to a few of these sessions, and look through other peoples’ telescopes, first!
We also hold regular “publy” meetings, for informal chat about jardiner avec la Lune (and occasionally other things!), generally on the second Monday of the month. All with an interest in astronomy are welcome, and again this provides a good opportunity if you are new to observing and want to learn what others do.
We Bath Astronomers are rather proud of our association with William Herschel ( as can be seen from our logo!) . We feel privileged to be able to hold our observing discussions in the Herschel Museum, and to have our annual observation of Uranus using the Museum’s wonderful replica of Herschel’s discovery telescope – both by kind permission of the Museum’s Curator.
So, when we were contacted by Kevin Bailey, a very experienced planetary observer, who has been invited by the British Astronomical Association to coordinate results from systematic visual observations of Uranus, we were naturally intrigued, and discussed the idea with him.
Observing Uranus on a casual basis is not particularly difficult if you know where to look. It is on the margin of naked eye visibility, and therefore easy to see in binoculars, and a typical amateur’s telescope will reveal a small bluish dot. But that dot is only about 3.5” in diameter at opposition, as compared to Mars (14” to 25”) or Jupiter (44” to 50”). Most text books and amateur observing guides say that useful observations with amateur telescopes are not really practical, and most amateurs follow that advice.
Kevin, however, both from his own personal observations, and his researches of other observations going back to the 19th century, thinks that this advice is unduly cautious, that useful observations can be made, and while the disc generally shows only marginal differentiation, on some occasions quite marked features come into view. His difficulty is that very few observers are making the attempt at serious observations, and he is keen to encourage others to have a go. This would require a good quality amateur telescope, and preferably an experienced observer willing to apply themselves to systematic and carefully recorded visual observations of a frustratingly small object! The good news is that Uranus is gradually moving north, and thus becoming easier to observe from the UK, and will come to opposition in October when it will be about 5 degrees above the celestial equator.
A few of us decided that we would have a go at joining this effort, and with luck you will see reports of our efforts on this website in due course! But we would also welcome contact from observers who may have no connection with Bath Astronomers, but want to join in Kevin’s BAA Uranus observing project. If this appeals to you, or you would like to know more, please use our contact page, and we will put you in touch with Kevin.
The founder of modern stellar astronomy, his discovery of Uranus in 1781 from his house in Bath was the first identification of a planet in modern times. Herschel developed the theory of nebulae and the evolution of stars. He catalogued many binary stars and made important modifications to the reflecting telescope. William Herschel also demonstrated that the solar system moves through space and he discovered infrared radiation.
October Night Sky
If you have been struggling to find Neptune low in the south in September, then October offers an easier target as Uranus comes to opposition on the 15th of the month. It is still in Pisces, but is now well above the celestial equator, and is continuing its steady climb north in our skies (and it will be back at the Gemini/Taurus border where Herschel first discovered it in the early 2030s, having by then done just three orbits of the sun since ). However, there is no need to wait that long for a good view! Uranus at opposition is magnitude 5.7 or so, and so in theory visible with the naked eye under...
September Night Sky
Neptune comes to opposition on September 2, and this is the best month to try to observe this elusive planet. It might seem strange that Neptune is so much harder to find than Uranus. The two planets are comparable in size and nature, and both are in the outer reaches of the solar system. But Neptune is much further out from the Sun than Uranus - an average of 4.5 Billion km to Uranus' 2.9 Billion. This has a double whammy effect on Neptune's apparent brightness from the Earth. The distance of Uranus to the Sun is only about 63% of Neptune's, but that means that Neptune only gets about 40% of the amount...
August Night Sky
August brings one of the year's major meteor showers - the Perseids. The term shower is rather is misnomer, as it implies a constant stream for its duration. What you get is a steady trickle, typically of one every few minutes. The maximum is due on the night of 11 Aug. There will be a first quarter moon, but very low in the south, so it should not provide much visual interference. All you need do is to get a comfortable seat looking skywards, ideally roughly facing east, but the direction doesn't matter much. And then just watch for as long as you feel comfortable. If it suits you to stay up late,...
July Night Sky
Midsummer is our one chance to look at the night sky in the direction of the galactic centre. This is in Sagittarius, which never rises far above the southern horizon. (Our compensation is that we in the northern hemisphere are better placed to look at nearby galaxy clusters in Virgo and Coma Berenices!). We can't see all the way to the galactic centre in visible light, as dark clouds of interstellar dust get in the way, but if we look in that general direction there are many interesting nebulae near enough to be seen in binoculars, and offering very good views in a good size telescope....
June Night Sky
June has the shortest, and least dark, nights, and therefore is generally not a good time for observing. This June, however,we have two planets at or near opposition. Mars came to opposition late in May, and Saturn reaches it in early June. This is good, and bad, news. The good news is that planets, or at least the brighter ones, are easy to see in twilight, and can be seen better than in a fully dark sky when they are almost blinding through a telescope. The bad news is that if they are at opposition at this time of year they will be very low in the sky - they are opposite the sun, and therefore...
A slight change of title this month, as I will concentrate on the transit of Mercury on May 9. A transit is the term used when a celestial object passes in front of a bigger one from the relevant view point, and can therefore at least in theory be seen against the bigger object's disc. In the solar system, the most commonly observed transits are those of Jupiter's four Gallilean moons, which frequently pass in front of Jupiter from our viewpoint - though spotting them is another matter, even when you know they are there! (If the object passing in front is comparable in apparent size to the object...
April Night Sky
April is your best opportunity this year to see Mercury (or, at least, it is if you, like me, are an evening, rather than morning, person!) Mercury is never very far from the Sun, but on April 18 it reaches its maximum at this apparition of 20 degrees east of it. This means that Mercury will be roughly where the sun will be in the sky in May -i.e further north, and therefore further above the horizon after sunset , and hence easier to spot. The best time to look is about 1/2 hour after sunset, and it is worth trying on any day in the 2nd half of April . You will need a good view of the horizon...
March Night Sky
The recent dearth of bright planets in the evening sky is coming to an end as Jupiter reaches opposition on 8 March. It is then at its closest, biggest (44"), and brightest (-2.5), though with Jupiter the more important thing is how well placed it is in the sky; if you can see it at all you always get a good size disc. You won't need a star map to find it. Jupiter is the brightest object (apart from the moon) in the evening sky at the moment, and it rises steadily in the east as the evening progresses, before it culminates due south around midnight, some 40 degrees above the horizon. It shines...
February Night Sky
February is a good month to see two very different nebulae, the Eskimo and the Rosette. The Eskimo Nebula, NGC 2392 is a planetary nebula in Gemini. It was discovered by Herschel, though after he had moved to Slough. Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets , but tend to be circular and quite bright (hence the name), and may be quite small. The Eskimo nebula certainly fits the bill, as it is about 45" across (about the same angular size as Jupiter), and has a very distinct, complex central bright area, surrounded by a fainter halo (once seen as an Eskimo face and hood). It is in fact...
January Night Sky
The strange winter we have been having this year so far has been hopeless for observing. There is so much moisture around that the rare gaps between spells of wind and rain have been murky rather than clear, with the brighter stars showing faintly through. We can hope for clearer skies in the new month and year. Since they have been so absent, I thought I would focus on the major sights that can be enjoyed with binoculars in January, just to get re-acquainted with the winter sky. The map below shows a broad aspect of the view south at about 9pm mid month. I have ringed in red the main items...
Dick Phillips was an educator in physics and astronomy, a musician and a man of passionate feelings who cared deeply about his fellow human beings. His wonder of the Universe led him to contemplate the heavens with the naked eye and through astronomical telescopes.
From 1977 to 2002 Dick recorded his astronomical observations in three log books, leaving a legacy of drawings and the written word, including some very personal views. Those of us who had the pleasure of observing with Dick wanted to share these hundreds of pages with a wider audience so we will be loading them onto this archive over the coming weeks. We hope that you will enjoy them.