AstroSoc are lucky enough to own a wide range of astronomical equipment, from our 10″ Newtonian reflecting telescope to our new CCD camera. AstroSoc members are trained in the use of all our equipment, and then are able to use them on a weekly basis in our observing sessions!
Here’s a summary of the equipment, from AstroSoc’s Equipment & Observations Officer, Joel.
The society owns a number of telescopes which are available for use of all members at AstroSoc observing sessions and regularly make appearances at our public outreach events.
Solar Scope – A small telescope with a very thick hydrogen alpha filter which allows one to observe the surface of the sun. It only needs to be small because the sun is quite a large object in the sky subtending an angle of ~0.5 degrees, the same as the moon. Using this special telescope features such as sun spots, prominences and filaments are easy to pick out.
Dob – A 6” Newtonian reflector telescope with a very simple alt-az mount which can easily be slewed around the sky. Dobsonian telescopes are often recommended for being `point and observe’ telescopes with no setup required, they are described as a `light bucket’ which you turn on the sky to observe your favourite object.
Dib – A dobsonian style Newtonian reflector telescope with a $\sim$6” primary mirror. This telescope was hand-built by AstroSoc alumni!
GoTo – A Schmidt-Cassegrain design reflector telescope with a $\sim$5” primary mirror. The computerized equatorial mount can (when correctly calibrated and aligned) be programmed to find an object of your choice and will then slew around to your selected object. This telescope is compact but its clever design means it is as powerful as a telescope three times longer.
10” – AstroSoc’s biggest and most powerful telescope. This Newtonian reflector has a 10” diameter primary mirror and its large bulk means it requires a sturdy equatorial mount with weights to counter-balance the telescope. The mount is motorized and, when aligned with the pole star (Polaris) can track objects as they move across the sky during the night.
The Grubb Telescope
The society acts as the steward of the historic Grubb telescope which, when not in use lies dormant in a shed on the roof of the Poynting physics building. The shed can be rolled back to reveal a ~4” refractor telescope which is around 80 years old sitting on an even older mount, dating back to 1872. The mount was originally positioned in the University’s observatory which was on the site where the guild of students now stands, however as the city of Birmingham grew and the light pollution became worse the observatory was moved out of the city to Wast Hills in 1982. The mount from the old observatory was lifted onto the roof of the physics building where it remains today. The telescope originally used at the old observatory was sold by the university in 2015 as an antique, the current telescope is slightly younger and smaller but is still a fantastic and historic piece of equipment that continues to be used for astronomy. In the last 10 years the mount has been modified so it can be driven by electrical motors to track objects in the night’s sky.
The society in recent years has become increasingly interested in Astrophotography, taking photos of the night’s sky. Using any modern camera with a long exposure setting the constellations can be photographed, but with access to the society telescopes and new equipment we can now take some stunning pictures at much higher magnification. The simplest way is to simply hold a smart-phone camera up to the eyepiece of a telescope and, with some practise and a steady hand, snap a picture that shows exactly what you see with your eye through the telescope. In 2015 the society purchased a smart-phone adapter which can hold the phone in place as you take your picture meaning anybody should be able to get a photograph to take away from a good observing session. The society also has and adapter which allows a DSLR camera to be connected to a telescope allowing longer exposure images which can reveal more detail and fainter objects. Also in 2015 the society purchased an astronomical CCD camera with extra Guild funding, this allows us to take some truly stunning photographs in a scaled-down amateur version of the way astronomers do at the university observatory.
Binoculars, Eclipse Viewing Equipment and More
The society has several pairs of binoculars which are ideal for getting to know your way around the sky and observing reasonably bright objects with a large field of vision, for example the Hyades and Pleiades clusters. Also in the society stores are various pieces of equipment for viewing solar eclipses which were used most recently for the partial solar eclipse on the 20th of March 2015. We have much more equipment hiding away in our storage cupboards and it is all to be used by the members of the society to enjoy AstroSoc meetings and observe the night’s sky!