The Square Kilometre Array

On Friday 21st July we had a real treat. It was one of those talks that just kept making me think ’Wow, this is amazing’. Dr Hayden Rampadarath came to the observatory to tell us all about the Square Kilometre Array project. SKA refers to a whole bunch of radio telescopes that will be built in South Africa. Working together, these telescopes will create a massive interferometer that will be able to detect and analyse signals from space in such detail as has never been possible before. The objectives of the project are huge and far reaching. They’ve been working on this aspect alone for over 20 years.

Hayden gave a fascinating and enthusiastic talk about the current status of the project and touched on some of the results they want to get from it. Something that really struck home for all of us was the amount of data that SKA will collect. When it goes live for phase 1 it is expected that the array will capture 2 gig of data every second. If you’re not familiar with gigabytes, one gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes which is 1,000 bytes. A movie might be around 5 or 6 gigabytes in size. And if you want to compare SKA to Apollo 11 (which had about 1300 times less power than an iPhone) then Apollo 11’s guiding system that got to the moon and back ran on just 2 kilobytes (1 millionth of the size of the data that will be received by SKA each second when it goes live in 2024). The sum of human knowledge plus all of our DNA put together would be less data than that which SKA will receive in just one hour. Phase 2 of the project will make this rate of data capture seem very small!

But there’s a problem with getting all this information – no computer in existence today will be able to analyse that much data quickly enough so tech companies are trying to come up with new solutions to increase computing power. What a challenge!

SKA is going to be one of the largest scientific projects on earth; it’s going to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe. Amongst the many objectives are an understanding of the Cosmic Dawn (the earliest stages of the Universe), greater analysis of gravitational waves (the ripples in time and space caused by black holes merging together) and maybe we’ll get some clues about the origins of life too. All these things are Nobel Prize winning possibilities!

Our thanks to Hayden for a very interesting and entertaining talk and we look forward to the day when the project goes live and hope that SKA delivers everything the project team are looking for.



Astrophotography and Videography

On Friday 12th May, Mick Nicholls from the Mexborough and Swinton AS fascinated us with a brilliant talk about his experiences imaging the sun and various astronomical objects. He talked about his journey from his early days imaging on some kit that by today’s standards seem almost antique through to the equipment he uses today. He compared and contrasted the gear and the techniques he has used and gave us a great insight into his approach.

One of the themes that stuck with me was his demonstration that you do not have to spend a fortune to get great results. He uses an entry level Canon 1100D DSLR and a fairly low cost ZWO AS1120MC video camera often sitting on a Coronado PST for solar (not so cheap!) and a MAK127 for Astro imaging. He also uses a 70mm APO for some of his astro-work. Much of the software Mick uses is free and available for download from the Internet. Various software included PIPP, IMGALT, Registax5 and 6, IMERGE and Deep Sky Stacker.

Mick produces some really outstanding images that make it into national magazines and websites with good reason. If you’d like to see examples of his work pop along to our Facebook page here or visit Mick’s home page here. Our thanks to Mick for sharing his knowledge and for entertaining us with his enthusiasm and humour. I’m sure we’ll be inviting Mick back again at some stage to show us more of his great work in his inimitable Yorkshire style!

Open Evening 1st April 2017

Please click here to read about our last open evening.

The Future of the Milky Way

On Friday 7th April we were treated to a highly entertaining talk on one potential future of the universe by James Mullaney from Sheffield University. The model James took us through showed very little change in the next few hundred million years. In about a billion years’ time the Sun will be too hot for life to exist on Earth.

The Sun will eventually run out of fuel in about 5 billion years’ time and then it will collapse in on itself and become a white dwarf. Shortly afterwards the Andromeda galaxy and the Milky Way will merge making a massive galaxy with between 6 and 8 hundred billion stars in it.

If the current expansion of the universe continues as expected, which is dependent upon an assumed effect of dark energy, then in many trillions of years’ time all matter will convert into photons. We will of course watch the universe and report back regularly every few trillion years to see if the model is accurate!

Our thanks to James for his time and for a very interesting talk that prompted lots of questions.

Mapping the Milky Way


On Friday 17th February we received an excellent talk from Professor Rob Jeffries from Keele University all about the latest ESA space telescope, Gaia.

Gaia is a twin-telescope that will map, catalogue, size and age many stars. The baseline number of stars it will map is 1 billion all of a magnitude of 20 or greater representing around 1% of all the stars in the Milky Way.

Gaia will be working for 5 years and our first significant cut of data will be received in April 2018. It is located at Lagrange point L2 a million miles away from the Earth where it is in a very stable orbit.

Some of the key objectives of the project will be:

  • To produce a stereoscopic (3D) map of the Milky Way
  • To more accurately map out the distance to many stars
  • To more accurately determine the age of many stars
  • To identify thousands of asteroids and comets not seen previously
  • Identify new exoplanets
  • Discover new quasars

Gaia is set to boost our understanding of the Milky Way by such an extent that it should revolutionise astronomy.

If you would like to learn more about the Gaia mission, there’s an app you can get to keep you up to date on your phone:

And you can learn more about this amazing project at:


Our thanks to Rob who we hope will come back and update us in the future as Gaia unfolds some of the secrets of the Milky Way.

Thanks also to Marilyn for organising this.

Neutrino Talk – 27th January


On Friday 27th January we were treated to a talk by Jost Migenda of Sheffeld University, a PHD student of Dr Matthew Malek pictured above.

His talk entitled The Death of a Star: Observing Supernovae with Neutrinos was both interesting and amusing.

He explained Neutrinos are ghost-like particles that can literally “go through walls”. He had us laughing at his graphics from a Harry Potter film of a ghost scene.

He first gave us a brief but exciting history of neutrinos, describing how they can be used to look inside a supernova in the moment of explosion and what we might learn from this.  What fascinated me was the amount of time it took from a star losing its fuel to falling in under its own gravity – milliseconds.  When the heavy elements have fallen into the core of the star and compressed to when it explodes – 10 seconds.

Fascinating to  think it takes billions of years for a star to come to life, but its death occurs almost in an instant.  Of course the shockwave that comes afterwards initiates star formation in other interstellar clouds.  Thus we are recycled!!

He outlined what has already been achieved in neutrino detection and told us of a new detector to be built in Japan starting next year.  He is hoping that Betelgeuse will wait until the detector is ready in 2024 before it goes supernova.  I personally hope it will happen in my lifetime!!!


CAS Secretary


Darkness visible:  The Hunt for the Missing Matter


On the 2nd of December we were once again treated to a talk by Dr Matthew Malek.

Although we had previously had a talk on Dark Matter it was interesting to get Dr Malek’s take on things.  He did not disappoint.  His talk was full of humour and his presentation clear and precise.

He told us  “The ‘Mystery of the Missing Mass’ has been vexing astronomers and physicists for over eighty years. It all began in 1933, when Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky’s observations of galactic clusters led him to postulate the existence of a ‘dark matter’.  Since then, an ever-growing body of evidence supports the conclusion that over 80% of the mass of the Universe is undetectable by normal means.  We now know that dark matter exists, but what is it?  How was it formed? Why is it so hard to detect?”

In his talk, he reviewed the cutting edge experiments that are looking for dark matter right here on Earth, and what the prospects for discovery are in the next decade.  They are tantalizingly close.  He promised to revisit us with any progress in the future.

He was regaled with questions and said afterwards that he had enjoyed the exchange.  We kept him very late and when I emailed him the next day I apologised for this as well as thanking him for a very enjoyable talk.  He replied it was always fun coming to CAS.

Although we have had all three talks Dr Malek delivers, I am pleased to tell you that he is putting together a talk especially for us and will visit us next year.  Watch this space.

Article by Marilyn Bentley

Open Evening Saturday 8th October 2016

Despite the poor weather we had lots of visitors to whom we are very grateful. We hope that everyone enjoyed themselves and that we wil see you again soon.

How to Build a Universe – 7th October

A fascinating talk explaining how the universe was created was given by Dr Stuart Muldrew of Leicester University at the observatory on the 7th October.

Our secretary, Marilyn has written the summary below of this excellent talk.

Dr Muldrew gave us an informative talk on his work modelling the universe.  He told us observations of galaxies are constantly pressing to new depths, giving us a series of snapshots in time after the Big Bang.  Ideally we want to understand how galaxies evolve, linking the observed snapshots to produce a galaxy family album.

To astronomers, computers are becoming equally as important as telescopes in explaining the Universe in which we live.  Building computer models of how the Universe evolves allows us to explain evolution between the different types of galaxies that we observe.  He showed us current predictive computer models and compared these with the actual data.  They were strikingly similar.

He told us of the key ingredients that go into building a computer model of the Universe.  He then used this to explain how galaxies trace the underlying dark matter distribution, and are affected by the energy released from their supermassive black holes and internal supernovae.

The talk generated many questions from members and Dr Muldrew commented afterwards that he had enjoyed the exchange.  We took him into the Dome and Sue gave him a potted history of our telescope and he was very impressed.

Our thanks to Stuart for his time and his excellent talk in which he conveyed complex concepts in a very clear manner.


Talk on the 16th September

Unfortunately the talk entitled ‘Is there life out there?’ due this Friday at the observatory has been cancelled. Instead there will be a talk introducing newcomers to atronomy. The talk will start at approximately 8.15 and should last around one hour.

We apologise for the change but hope you will attend and enjoy the alternative talk.

Gravitational Waves Talk by Ed Daw

Friday the 5th of August saw Ed Daw of Sheffield University give us a talk on the FIRST DIRECT DETECTIONS OF GRAVITATIONAL WAVES BY LIGO. (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory)

 He has been working on the project for 19 years and told us of the difficulties of building the detector.  Even getting it straight on the curved surface of the Earth was a problem.  They even had to compensate for the pull of the Moon’s gravity!

He made the story funny and even made the maths humorous. They even had to contend with crocodiles in the water filled channels which run down the sides of the concrete tubes housing the detector, which can be seen in the above image.

When the LIGO experiment, conceived in 1972 by Rai Weiss at MIT, had successfully detected gravitational waves from binary black hole collisions approximately 100 million light years away, it was met with apprehension.  The first wave came through on the 14th September 2015.  They spent weeks checking whether it was really the gravitational wave or a misinterpretation of the data.  Ed said the hardest part was not being able to say anything until the official announcement was made in February of this year.

The second wave to come through again took everybody by surprise.  It was on Boxing Day and at the time Ed was caving and didn’t know until he surfaced and read his emails later.  This time they knew what they were looking for.

Ed is obviously very enthusiastic about his work and this shone through in his talk.  He enjoyed the questions and was surrounded after the talk by members wanting to know more.  He was very complimentary about our telescope calling it “some feat of engineering”.

You can learn more about LIGO at this website:

Our thanks to Ed for giving such an entertaining talk about this amazing project.

CAS visitor Ed Daw 7152

Ed Daw at the Chesterfield Observatory