VISIT TO ASTRONOMICAL SOCIEITES MEETING on 13 July 2002

A coach was arranged to visit the event held by The Southern Area Group of Astronomical Societies (SAGAS) on Saturday 13 July 2002. Unfortunately, only 12 people showed an interest so two cars transported eight of those twelve members to the Portsmouth Naval Base where the event was staged.

Although there was an exhibition by astronomical suppliers and local astronomical societies and an optional tour of the naval base, the main activity was a series of five lectures:

Mike Collins, a respected amateur astronomer, explained how he has made astronomical discoveries with nothing more than a 35mm camera.

Dr John Mason, a former president of the British Astronomical Association, entertained us in his famously inimitable way by explaining how, as a producer of science documentaries for TV he has completely destroyed large cities, devastated the Earth and recreated the origins of life.

Dr Pierre Lebreton, from the European Space Agency, gave an overview on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan for which he is the Project Scientist.

Peter Drew, project manager of the Astronomy Centre near Todmorden, explained what can be achieved by observing with everything from the unaided eye, through binoculars and up to medium and large telescopes.

Finally, one of the most popular speakers on astronomy, the Oxford historian and Vice President of the William Herschel Society, Dr Allan Chapman, presented "The Moon versus the Clock". His account of the contest won at length by John Harrison in the quest to determine longitude was markedly different from that presented in the recent TV series. His researches show that the relationship between Harrison and the Board of Longitude was not one of dismissal by them of a northern nobody as was suggested for dramatic effect by the TV production. Harrison was recognised as the maker of the most accurate clocks of the day, having invented the temperature compensated pendulum and making his mechanisms of lignum vitae, a self-lubricating wood. The Board of Longitude was largely made up of men from the north of England anyway. Contrary to the impression given by the TV production, he was treated as an honoured guest by the captains of the ships that put his chronometers to the test and they appreciated the value of his devices. Dr Chapman stressed the importance of disciplined historical research to ascertain true history rather than relying on popular TV presentations and books, whose prime purpose is to entertain.

This is the second trip organised by the Group and which, apart from the poor support by members of the BRLSI and WHS and the loss of the £25 deposit on the coach, was highly successful in that all who went found it engaging and worthwhile. However, the lack of interest shown in these ventures makes it unlikely that any similar event will be organised in the future.

Richard H Phillips