By profession I am a aerospace mechanical systems design engineer. I used to run an AutoCad services consultancy for the manufacturing sector, specializing in electro-mechanical mechanisms. My last contract dating back to the early 1990's entailed designing a new ticket barier for the London Underground which went into service about 4 years ago. Sadly the mechanical engineering sector in the UK is in irrevocable decline; between 1993 & 1995 I studied at the University of North London and graduated with a B.Ed in Mathematics. Recently I was awarded a D.Phil in astronomy & mathematics for my work on the telescopic resolution of double stars of unequal brightness. Nowadays I teach mathematics and physics.
By avocation I am a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, a past member of Hampstead Scientific Society, and the Chairman of Richmond & Kew Astronomical Society.
I was born in 1949 in Lytham St.Annes, on Lancashire's delightful Fylde coast. During the late 1970's I resided in Santa Monica whilst working on a contract for McDonnell Douglas. I returned in 1980 and have resided in South-East England since 1983. After living in Muswell Hill, North London for three years, my wife and I moved to Little Eversden, on the East Anglian heights. The countryside is rolling chalk and clay downland. There is scant light pollution here. At dark of the Moon skies are so black you can see stars as faint as magnitude 6.5 near the zenith, and the Milky Way in late summer arches from horizon to horizon. Using a Pentax 7 x35 x11º wide-angle binocular, views through Cygnus are simply breathtaking.
In the early 1970's I was a member of the Fylde Astronomical Society, and in the mid '70's a member of Salford Astronomical Society. In the early 1980's I was the Secretary of Lancaster & Morecambe Astronomical Society, and also Secretary of Preston & District Astronomical Society. I am a founder member of Richmond & Kew Astronomical Society, chairing the 1995-6 session.
I began making astronomical telescopes in my teens. My first telescope was a short focus 3-inch with a doublet objective and an image amplifier from a WWI gun sight. I would rumage through the piles of war surplus optics in junk shops, and use the tubes and lenses to make finders and eyepieces &c. My most intriguing find came in 1969 when I bought an old Cooke Troughton & Simms aircraft predictor from a Blackpool "antique" dealer for £15. The propietor asked me what it was. I knew, and he didn't. I really lament the demise of those old junk shops. They were an Alladin's cave. The closest you get to the thrill of entering such emporia these days are photo-fairs. My second telescope was a 3-inch achromatic refractor with a 48-inch focus cemented doublet OG obtained from a firm on Tottenham Court Road, called Lind-Air Optronics. I made the tube assembly using PVC soil pipe, and a Broadhurst & Clarkson rackmount. The telescope was then mounted on a fine Charles Frank German equatorial equipped with a dog-clutched synchronous RA drive, slow motions and setting circles. I used this telescope for Lunar & planetary observation for ten years. I was converted to the Newtonian reflector slowly during the late '70's and early '80's by J.D. Greenwood. His home built Newtonians were the first really excellent reflectors I had looked through.
Since my days as a technical apprentice with English Electric, I have collected brass telescopes, microscopes and clocks, which I have restored and sold on. The process of restoration taught me something of the mechanical skills of the artisans who originally made these instruments. The machinery they used was crude and rudimentary, yet they turned out brasswork of the highest quality and precision. The training I received in metal working and workshop practice helped my appreciation of their crafstmanship. Slowly over several years I acquired a smattering of these skills for myself. Throughout the 1970's I curated Rossall School's Assheton Observatory, which houses a fine 6 1/2 -inch f/13.5 Cooke refractor circa 1870. My restoration of this telescope was my first big project and took five years.
I began collecting astronomy books when I was in my late teens,
and have amassed two extensive libraries. The first I was forced to sell during
the depths of the Lawson-Major economic slump. A colleague bumped
into me shortly after the auction, ashen faced. Having acquired
some tomes with my library stamp, from a Cambridge antiquarian
dealer, he had assumed I was dead! I asked him what he'd paid
for them, and upon hearing his reply told him how much I'd got
them for fifteen years earlier. His newly acquired books seemed
to loose some of their sparkle.
I rarely use dealers to acquire second-hand astronomy books. I prefer to buy off fellow amateur astronomers or scour old book shops for bargains. When I began collecting astronomy books, book dealers couldn't give them away. Now everybody has cashed in on the trade and prices have soared. The reason I began buying old astronomy books was not for their collectability; rather I was interested in their content. During the '60's and 70's there was a paucity of really good practical astronomy books. Apart from a select few, such as Frank's 'All About Telescopes' and the reprinted ATM & Sidgwick series, those in print were poorly researched and all too evidently the product of popularisers with absolutely no mathematical, engineering or optical skills whatsoever. I still have no time for so called TV astronomers who churn out potboilers and glossy coffee table astronomy books, largely for this reason. Victorian astronomy books may be out-of-date, but they are still a mine of practical information for the observational astronomer, and the antique telescope restorer. I get a great deal of pleasure reading books by popularisers such as Richard Proctor and Robert Stawell Ball. The flowery Victorian prose takes a little getting used to, but what they have to say and the way they say it conveys something of the romance of viewing the heavens. Coffee table books full of pretty pictures, exploiting the gee whizz aspects of astronomy are for armchair astronomers. And an armchair astronomer to my mind is a contradiction in terms. Its a bit like a marathon runner who doesn't actually do any running per se, but just reads about it! Amateur astronomy for me is all about making and using telescopes. Its a joy to put one's telescope making skills to the test.
My solesurviving mentor is Ronald Irving, now an octogenarian. It was largely his technique and industry which helped me renew my 10-inch Calver.
The reconstruction of my 10-inch Calver, which took the better part of six years, was my last big restoration project, although I have subsequently fully restored a Troughton & Simms divided-lens micrometer circa 1860, and a large Grubb bifilar micrometer circa 1897.
I am currently working on a modification to my 10-inch Calver. The original primary mirror has a focal length of 106 inches. This means the observer has to stand on library steps to reach the eyepiece when observing objects near the zenith.
I have decided to modify the light path to bring the focal plane near the primary mirror, enabling comfortable viewing wherever the telescope is pointed. This will entail increasing the primary focal length to 128 inches and adding a Cassegrain secondary and a tertiary mirror directing the light path down the tube to a Nasmyth focus.
The replacement primary (plus a spare) have been manufactured by Jim
Hysom, from Duran 50 low expansion glass.
Jim is one of the U.K.'s foremost opticians, originally trained at Cox, Hargreaves & Thompson (Optical Surfaces-Kenley, South London), and subsequently in conjunction with his late brother, director of AE Optics. Jim was awarded the Horace Dall medal by the BAA in 2001.
Like most well established practitioners of this arcane science his workshop is a repository of everything and anything related to grinding, polishing, figuring & testing mirrors and lenses.
Most of my observing time is taken up with the micrometric measurement of double stars. These are logged and periodically forwarded to the Double Star Commission of the Societe Astronomique de France for inclusion in their orbit determinations.
When observing for pleasure I prefer objects that test the resolving power of my telescopes. These encompass solar faculae and sun spots; lunar rills and domes; atmospheric shadings on Venus; the surface markings, polar caps, and dust storms on Mars; the belts and zones on Jupiter, and the transits, eclipses and occultations of the Galilean satellites; the globe and rings of Saturn, and the major satellites of Saturn. Formerly I would submit recorded observations and drawings to the BAA & ALPO, but the desultory response of these organisations over more than 25 years make it scarcely worth the effort.
I do not use CCD's, nor do I consider their use relevant to visual observation. In fact from what I've seen such contraptions do much to detract from the pleasure of looking at the heavens through a telescope. I am working on a CCD autoguiding system, but do not intend to augment my double star measures with CCD imagery. No CCD set-up can even begin to compete with the accuracy, repeatability, speed and ease of use of the Lyot micrometer.
I am firmly rooted in that generation of amateur astronomer who enjoy making and using telescopes. The last generation of true observers who can trace their lineage back to Admiral William Henry Smyth, the founder of English amateur astronomy.
There is no substitute for observing a l'oeil nu beneath a rural heaven, the miriads of stars twinkling like diamonds on black velvet.
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