News and events

The society opened the observatory during September 2022 for Sefton’s Heritage open days in Southport, and observatory details and opening times can be found on the Heritage website by clicking this link. The event was very successful with almost 650 visitors to the observatory

The Mayor of Sefton, Cllr Clare Louise Carragher, visited the Grade 2 listed Victorian astronomical observatory located in the Grade 2 listed Hesketh Park on Wednesday 6th July 2022 at 7.00pm. This was to officially unveil a commemorative plaque to the late Mr Louis Marks & Mrs Anita Marks who left a generous bequest to the Park they both loved to visit. It was a very successful and enjoyable evening, and the Mayor stayed longer than expected due to her interest in the observatory and its history, and like many park visitors had often wondered what was in side it, and was pleased to have finally discovered what was in it and learn about its history. The first photo shows the Mayor unveiling the plaque, the second shows the mayor and Richard Jacklin (friend of the Marks family and one of the executors) holding a copy of the plaque, and the third shows the Mayor looking through the 1869 Cooke telescope.

                           1                                                        2                            3

The Society was recently appointed Tenant and also benefited from this bequest, and has already purchased a Hydrogen alpha telescope system to reveal solar features of the sun. This specialist equipment enables features like surface convection cells that transfer energy generated in its core to its 5,500 degree Celsius plasma surface known as the photosphere, where this energy is radiated into space, together with more violent phenomena like prominences, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections.

At our AGM on the 19th May, several changes to our committee were made. Mike Dow stood down as our Chairman, and our former Treasurer Rick Tyers was appointed as the new Chairman after standing down as Hon Treasurer. Our auditor Barry Powrie was the appointed as our new Hon Treasurer, and Andy Robertson who has been acting Hon Secretary since Eddie Vanner resigned as Hon Secretary during lockdown, was officially confirmed in this post. Bob Mount also stood down as Observatory manager and Ray Bennion was appointed to this post, which was renamed Observatory curator. In addition, two existing Society members were appointed to non-executive roles, namely Chris Tyers and Jackie Butterworth. Following a generous bequest to the Society from the executers of a local family, the Treasurers report confirmed the recent purchase of equipment to image the sun in Hydrogen alpha, together with planned expenditure to develop the ground floor of the astronomical observatory in Hesketh Park as an information centre. This was to highlight the roles of Joseph Baxendell and his son as the former Southport corporation’s official meteorologists who used the former Fernley Meteorological observatory located in Hesketh Park to provide daily weather forecasts to the town.  In addition, the decision to cease hosting Zoom meetings after the end of May 2022 was agreed.

With the start of the new Society year (2021/22) on September 1st. Subject to future changes in government policy wrt the pandemic we plan to restart live meeting on the third Thursday in the month starting on September 16th 2021 at the Scarisbrick Bowling club. We will also continue Zoom meetings on the first Thursday each month starting on September 2nd. See our 21/22 Programme Page for meeting details. In December there will be no meetings, and we hope to hold our annual Solstice meal during the first week of December. We’re also opening the Hesketh Park observatory to the public on the last Sunday in the month, September 26th, October 31st,  and November 28th, and  it will be re-opened again from February 2022 onwards.

The Society is pleased to announce that it has now received and signed a Management lease from Sefton MBC to officially manage the observatory on their behalf, something the Society has undertaken informally for many years. This reflects policy changes in Sefton MBC.

We live in strange times, so I hope members and visitors to our website are all keeping well. If any of you are still wondering what to do to help pass the time, you may find some of these FREE courses at the UK Open University of interest. There’s certainly plenty to choose from, something for everyone! In addition, you can register with the Zoonivers website that has a range of interesting projects people can volunteer to help with, wherever they live. Finally, make sure you visit our Facebook page and watch Patrick, who looks after Publicity, giving video chats on aspects of Astronomy.

On Wednesday 5/2/2020 Southport AS who manages the observatory on behalf of Sefton MBC had the pleasure of showing the Mayoress of Sefton, Councillor June Burns, and her son who was acting as her Consort, the Grade 2 listed Victorian observatory and 1869 Cooke telescope in Hesketh Park. The Mayoress expressed delight that such a unique observatory and telescope was still available for the people of Sefton to visit and learn about the astronomical studies undertaken by the amateur Victorian astronomer Joseph Baxendell Snr. together with its current astronomical capabilities.

Despite a dull damp overcast day, the open day on Sunday 24/11/2019 attracted 99 visitors, bringing the total this year to 1,763. The declination clutch that had appeared to be jammed was found to be working again, and it’s now believed the recent cold spell caused contraction of the locking mechanism giving the impression it had jammed.

The “Autumnal equinox” observatory open day on Sunday, 27th October attracted 164 visitors, with people coming from as far away as Jersey, Skipton, and Bath! The better weather more than doubled visitor numbers compared with last month. The dome was rotated several times but still needs three people to move it despite the removal of a lot of sticky dirty grease from the wheels and circular rail. Whilst rotating the dome is now easier, cleaning and re-lubricating still remain work in progress.

The open day on Sunday 22nd September attracted 76 visitors despite heavy rain, which brings the total number of visitors to the observatory this year to 1,500, which equates to an average of 187 visitors/open day.

Our Chairman, Mike Dow, has a rare signed photograph of five key members of the NASA team that developed the Saturn V rocket used to send the first astronauts to the moon in 1969. From left to right is George Edwin Mueller who headed NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight from September 1963 until December 1969. Samuel Cochran Phillips a United States Air Force four-star general was Director of NASA’s Apollo Manned Lunar Landing Program from 1964 to 1969. Kurt Heinrich Debus, a former German V-2 rocket scientist during World War II was brought to the United States under Operation Paperclip, and in 1962 became the first director of NASA’s Launch Operations Center. Robert Rowe Gilruth was an American aerospace engineer and an aviation/space pioneer who became the first director of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center. Finally, Wernher von Braun was a leading WW II German rocket engineer who developed the V2, who also went to the US after the war, and later led the project that developed the Saturn V rocket that sent the Apollo spacecraft to the moon.

The 25th of August open day attracted 149 visitors. Since the first open day in March, a total of 1,424 visitors have learned about the history of this Victorian observatory and admired its working 1869 Cooke telescope.

Hesketh Park observatory was opened between 10.30 am and 5.00 pm on Sunday 11th August to support the annual Folk in the Park music festival. The number of observatory visitors was exactly 200, and again several expressed an interest in joining the society. Their interest was confirmed, by the fact most attended the final members’ meeting of the 19/20 programme held at the observatory a few days later on August 22nd.

The observatory open day on July 20th, 2019, was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 manned landing on the moon and was a great success. 347 visitors came which was 114 more than the previous record number. For details of this remarkable Apollo 11 mission visit this NASA webpage.

The open day celebrating the 150th-anniversary of the Cooke telescope & observatory on 26th May proved popular and attracted 233 visitors.

On Saturday 15th May, Ray, and Rick attended a meeting of the NW Group of Astronomical Societies at Liverpool AS’s Pex Hill Observatory. We reported our outreach activities to member societies attending, and how our President, Professor Michael Bode had been advising the Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST), located in Palapye, central Botswana, on establishing an Astronomical Society of Botswana (ASB). Once established the intention of ASB was to provide a national focus for astronomy, and support the establishment of amateur astronomical groups within the country. Further, that our President had invited us to consider twinning with ASB to help demonstrate how an amateur UK society operated and help them with their long-term development. Our committee decided this was a unique opportunity to extend our outreach programme, so we accepted this invitation. Subsequently, they sent us a short PowerPoint presentation about themselves, and in return, we sent them a similar one about our history, structure, and aims & objectives. These outreach reports are all sent to the President of the Federation of Astronomical Societies.

The second observatory open day on 20th April coincided with the Lyrid meteor shower, and attracted 190 visitors and was the first time we used a click counter to improve the assessment of visitors.

The first Observatory open day of 2019 was on Sunday 17th March and attracted 167 visitors. This date was close to the spring equinox and provided the opportunity to explain the seasonal changes during the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. This event was mentioned in the May issue of  Sky at Night magazine in their Society in Focus report on p22, which provides excellent national publicity for the Society (Monthly print circulation 24,576, readership 51,610, and 21,000 E-newsletter subscribers). The article gave a brief description of the observatory and its history and included a photo of Bob describing the Cooke telescope to visitors. The second open day was also a successful event with 190 visitors.

We are pleased to announce that Mike Dow, one of our longstanding members who also maintains and repairs the mid-Victorian telescope in the Hesketh Park Observatory, has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His sponsor was Professor Ian Robson, who referred to both his and Southport AS’s support of the Cooke telescope in the Observatory.

We must thank Pam our Membership Secretary, and Bob, our Observatory manager, for a very welcome Christmas present this year. Pam was contacted with the offer of a virtually unused large Celestron telescope by an ex Headmaster who lived in Parbold. Pam collected this (heavy) telescope and brought it back to Southport, and Bob who examined it decided it was better to sell it as it needed some specialist repair work. Subsequently, it was sold for £600, which has been deposited in our bank account.

Members of the observatory subgroup attended an evening meeting for community voluntary groups at St Luke’s Church, Crosby, organised by Sefton Green Spaces. The Society was pleased and honoured to receive an award recognising our specialist work maintaining and repairing the Victorian telescope in the Hesketh Park observatory.

During November the Observatory Management subgroup opened the observatory between 10.00 am and midday, to address several routine maintenance tasks related to the telescope and dome. This will continue during the winter months, and will include ad hoc opening during the darker evenings whenever skies are clear, and whenever the Moon and Planets are well placed for viewing. This enables members to view them together with some of the brighter deep sky objects like M 31 (Andromeda galaxy) and M 42 (Orion nebula), using their own telescopes and/or society telescopes, as well as through the  1869 six inch Cooke telescope.

During the summer, Southport AS supported events and open day’s arranged by Hesketh Park’s “Park Force Volunteers” on behalf of Sefton MBC.  This group of volunteers has Public Liability Insurance (PLI) cover provided by Sefton’s own scheme for the various activities they undertake supporting the Park.

We are pleased to announce that Professor Michael Bode BSc (Hons), Ph.D., FRAS, CPhys, FinstP has accepted our invitation to become President of the Society. Currently, he’s Special Representative of the European Astronomical Society to the EU in Brussels. He retired in 2015 as Professor of Astrophysics at Liverpool John Moore’s University where he was the founding Director of the LJMU Astrophysics Research Institute. His research work focused on furthering our understanding of exploding stars, and he’s held both Advanced and Senior Fellowships of the UK Research Councils. He has published over 240 papers in the top peer-reviewed international journals in astronomy, including 14 Nature Letters, and edited 5 books. He has given many public talks on his areas of expertise and appeared regularly on BBC TV’s ‘Sky at Night’.

Members of the Links Rotary club of Southport visited the observatory during the evening on  September 12th, and members of the Formby U3A Science Group visited it on Wednesday 4th July. The U3A group enjoyed the occasion as the two photos show, helped by a warm sunny day.

Patrick who manages our Outreach activities organised the preparation and printing of four educational astronomy leaflets about the Sun, Moon, Solar System’s Planets, and Milky Way. These were funded by a community grant of £250 provided by Seqirus, the company Andy Cowan works for. These information sheets are suitable for schoolchildren and adults with little or no knowledge about these celestial objects.

Regrettably, on the night of April 9th, 2018, thieves broke into the ground floor section and stole two small telescopes belonging to FOHG, causing damage to one of the two new custom made doors.

Bob Mount set up the Southport U3A Astronomy Group and become its group leader. Any SAS member wanting further details should speak to Bob at one of our meetings. Website visitors can go to our external links page for details.

Following the award of our 2016 Skipton Building Society Grassroots grant, the information panel has now been installed near the observatory in Hesketh Park. The Society for the History of Astronomy included this photo and a short write up about the information panel, and the history of the observatory in their spring 2018 e-newsletter. On p 9 they printed a readable image of the information panel.

Sefton MBC asked the Society to submit their proposals on how we could develop the educational and tourism potential of the Hesketh Park observatory, which has been submitted. Given our long term partnership with Sefton and astronomical knowledge and expertise, they accept we are best placed to maximise the educational value and interest this subject has to offer.

The FAS has notified its members they will produce legally vetted “generic” documents to ensure societies can conduct their activities, including educational outreach, in a competent, legally compliant, and professional way. These documents can be customised to suit local circumstances and the SAS committee has agreed to base their documentation on them.

To improve our focus on using the Cooke telescope for observing and educational outreach, we have increased our management committee to include Bob Mount as Observatory manager, and Patrick Kiernan to develop Publicity and Outreach. Further, an Observatory sub-group chaired by Bob has been re-established and includes Mike Dow, Ray Bennion, and Patrick Kiernan, plus other SAS members as and when needed. This sub group will be responsible for ensuring only those individuals who have undergone training to use the telescope effectively without causing damage, can be approved to use it; a requirement Sefton MBC have stipulated. The sub-group will also be responsible for developing an observing programme and recommending specialised purchases that enhance the observing capabilities of the Cooke telescope. Overall, this will ensure the educational value of the observatory can be fully utilised for the benefit of today’s Park visitors, including local school children and other groups, which was a key requirement of Joseph Baxendell Jnr. when he donated the observatory to the former Southport Corporation in 1901.

On Wednesday 26th April 2017 the refurbished observatory was handed back to Sefton MBC by the contractor Maysand. These photographs confirm the observatory is probably now in the best condition since first installed in Hesketh Park in 1901.

For more information about the history of the observatory visit our Joseph Baxendell & his observatory page, and for information on buying and using telescopes visit our Introduction to astronomy page.