Our first Stargazing Live event for 2012 took place on Monday 16th January. Our Moon-themed event was led by Dr Daniel Brown from Nottingham Trent University. Common questions about the Moon were addressed such as the origin of its craters and maria and whether there is liquid water hiding beneath its surface.
This was followed by our first observing session in the new observatory; we were blessed with clear skies and were able to observe the planet Jupiter along with its fascinating cloud bands and four Galilean moons. There was active discussion about how Jupiter’s moons differ from our own. We were also able to view some of the winter constellations including Orion along with its nebula and Taurus with its famous star cluster the Pleiades, better known as the 7 sisters.
To coincide with our Moon theme we were very lucky to be able to loan a number of lunar samples and meteorites from the STFC. These samples were in school from 4th to 13th January for the students to study.
You can find out more about the loan scheme here: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/Public+and+Schools/2497.aspx
On Wednesday 18th January we held our Astrobiology-themed Stargazing Live event. Dr Lewis Dartnell from UCL gave a fascinating and informative talk on the subject to a selection of our students and members of the local community. Dr Dartnell’s work involves looking at the Earth’s extremophiles (organisms that can survive extreme conditions such as very low temperatures or high pH), some of these organisms could theoretically survive conditions on Mars or Europa.
Following the talk we headed over to the observatory. After a very cloudy start to the evening we were very lucky to observe Jupiter and its moons peeking through the clouds. Observers were able to spot the moon Europa, with its subsurface ocean it is probably the best candidate in the solar system for extra-terrestrial life.
Graham Ensor also joined us again with his amazing collection of meteorites. Of particular interest was a sample of a brand new meteorite that has just been confirmed as originating from the planet Mars. Astrobiologists are very interested in Mars as the possible home of extra-terrestrial organisms and the study of new meteorites is a very important part of this research.
The meteorite has been named Tissint, Graham has a 21g sample of it shown here:
Tissint was observed to fall in Morocco in July 2011. Scientists are very excited about this meteorite as it is the first confirmed Martian fall in 49 years! The sample that Graham brought along to our Stargazing Live events is one of the first examples of this meteorite to be put on display anywhere in the world!
You can read more about the Tissint meteorite here: http://asunews.asu.edu/20120117_martianmeteorite
Were you one of the first people to visit the Observatory on Monday night?
Did you attend the Official Opening on Tuesday?
Has Dr Dartnell’s fascinating lecture left you thinking about the possibility that there is life elsewhere in the universe?
Now that the Observatory is up and running we are hoping to make this blog a more interactive forum for discussion. Please use the comments facility to tell us what you think.