Account of the day

Planetarium in Great Conservatory

Telescope400 ran, very successfully, on Sunday 26th July 2009, and this page contains a brief account of the day.

We were very fortunate to get good weather during an unsettled period. There were more than 600 visitors, especially families, and great fun was had by all.

One highlight of the day was the unveiling of the Thomas Harriot Memorial by Lord Egremont. A copy of the memorial plaque can be seen by clicking here.

The planetarium, in a spectacular setting under the dome of the Great Conservatory, was particularly popular, with an extra show being run at the end of the day to satisfy the demand - many thanks indeed, Ben, Shaaron et al.

Robert Massey and Comet

"Create a Comet" created quite a stir! Robert Massey was at times almost obscured by clouds of gas from the dry ice, as he produced an evil looking simulated comet to the delight of the large audiences.

Herstmonceux Science Centre's "Make your own Rocket" had youngsters thrilled by the experience of launching their water rockets high into the air, powered by compressed air. After making their own rocket out of a plastic bottle, these were filled with water and air, and sent on their way.

Launching a rocket











Talk on the First Moon Landings

The talks, held in the Northumberland Room of Syon house, were very popular. So high was the demand that extra chairs had to moved into the room. Thanks to all the speakers who did a terrific job.

There were many displays of telescopes, where people could examine some superb examples of telescopes available to the serious amateur astronomy, and even look at the sun through specially adapted instruments. We were very grateful to all the Astronomy Societies that participated, and explained how their telescopes and other instruments worked, with some excellent demonstrations.

Making a star finder
The solar telescopes were able, much of the time, to show a rather misty view of the sun, although as we are in a period of very low sunspot activity there were none visible to the author of this topic. We hope all the organisations that contributed were able to recruit some new members!

Other activities included a space drawing workshop and opportunities for children to make a sundial and a starfinder.

Ancient meets modern


During the whole event, you might have been forgiven for wondering if there was a ghost present. Thomas Harriot was to be found wandering the grounds, talking about his achievements to the many visitors. He was to be seen looking covetously at the raffle prize; a far better telescope than available in his time. The actor, Alan Cheeseman, made a very convincing Harriot.

Concert in Great Hall




The concert in the Great Hall by the traditional music group "Cantamus" was particularly memorable. The hall was a very appropriate venue in which to hear their performance of music from the time of Thomas Harriot. Cantamus also sang just before the unveiling, and at the reception.

Allan Chapman demonstrates replica telescopes

The Quatercentenary Lecture, by Allan Chapman, was quite an event. Allan spoke continuously for an hour without notes, never hesitating as he gave a marvellously evocative account of Thomas Harriot's life and achievements. He really brought that period 400 years ago to life with accounts of what it was like to be imprisoned in the Tower, and of Harriot's trip to Virginia.

All in all, a splendid day.

Many, many people contributed to the day's success almost all (from Allan to those on the desks and Make-and-Take activities) giving their time freely as volunteers.

More photos of the day are available here. A more detailed account has also been published in A&G magazine (News and Reviews in Astronomy and Geophysics) in the October edition. This can be seen by clicking here.

Brendan Blake (Site Administrator).

Telescope400 is sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society

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