Astronomy with the 43rd Bristol Scouts.
Over the past two weeks we have held two successful astronomy sessions with the 43rd Bristol Scouts, with great weather for both evenings. We covered a lot of astronomical material, summarised in the document here.
Join us on March 8th 2017 for our astronomy symposium when we shall be exploring the history of observation of the Moon and some amazing discoveries on moons of other planets.
Weather permitting, we shall also be doing some practical observing. For details, click here
Great China Welcome
We are delighted to have been granted the Great China Welcome Charter Mark by Visit Britain. This acknowledges our enthusiasm and readiness to welcome Chinese visitors on our trips through our well established links with China, our Chinese web pages and our focus on Chinese prehistory and astronomy.
We are looking forward to working with Chinese visitors and families as we move out of the winter and into spring.
For more information, please click for here for our press release.
Astronomy from Ancient Places 2
Astronomy from Ancient Places
Venus over the Clifton Suspension Bridge
Here we are at Clifton Camp in January kicking off our 2017 programme of Astronomy from Ancient Places.
Clifton Camp has an interesting astronomical legacy. Its beneficial location as an observatory was not missed by local artist William West who in 1828 converted a derelict and rather fire damaged windmill into an observatory. What he observed or what happened to his telescopes requires further research, but his legacy remains in the form of the camera obscura he installed in 1829 which is still in use today and well worth a visit.
It is the huge banks and ditches around Clifton Camp give away its Iron Age legacy and it is a perfect spot to contemplate astronomy in the Iron Age. In China the period saw the construction of “ming tang” of the Zhou dynasty (11th - 3rd century BC), or halls of light, where the sky was studied and divinations made, a bridge between the Gods and the Emperor. By the 4th century BC star charts and lists were being drawn up by Shi Shen and Gan De.
Closer to home in the Mediterranean rather different star catalogues were being drawn up and the constellations we are familiar with today were being placed into the historic record through the writings (amongst others) of Eratosthenes, Hyginus and Aratus.
Pythagoras in the 5th century BC worked out the the bright evening and morning “star” was one and the same - Venus.
So it was Venus that we were after and it was not a difficult challenge. With the Moon yet to rise and the Sun having set, it was by a long way, the brightest object in the sky. Interestingly, this evening (January 13th) it was very close, in terms of its position in the sky, to Neptune, visible in the same field of view of our William Optics ZenithStar 71 refracting telescope. Fantastic, Venus exquisite at a half phase. This is something that Galileo noticed when he observed Venus just over 400 years ago and was a crucial bit of evidence for the theory of heliocentricity - the proposal that the Earth orbits the Sun.
Indications of astronomy in the Iron Age in the UK are limited, archaeastronomy tends to focus on Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments and particularly alignments. However, we like the idea of communities gathering at hill forts to contemplate and interpret the night sky and it is difficult to believe that astronomical knowledge did not arrive with Mediterranean trade. We shall be exploring UK Iron Age astronomy further in this project.
This was a great interactive excursion that concluded with hot chocolate and convivial discussion in the History Machine and had everybody home in time for tea.
For our next Astronomy from Ancient Places session we are planning a trip to the Cotswold Scarp, about 30 minutes from Bristol This is an amazing Neolithic landscape and we shall be observing and contemplating what Neolithic people thought about the night sky. Contact us for further details if you are interested to join us.
In the second trip in our series of Astronomy from Ancient Places we headed to Nympsfield on the Cotswold Scarp on a fabulous crisp, clear evening. Nympsfield long barrow took on a new dimension with the sun setting, blood red behind skeletal winter trees. Venus and Mars were prominent as we reached astronomical darkness and the night sky became bejewelled with stars, the Milky Way stretching brightly overhead.
In the Neolithic, some 6000 years ago, it is widely and reasonably held that the stars served as calendars to aid the new agrarian lifestyle, indicating for example when to sow or harvest . Perhaps this was just part of a greater “macro-indicator” combining with floral and faunal clues.
Archaeoastronomy study tend to focus on mortuary practice and its relationship with the night sky, largely because this is what we have left to examine. Typically in the UK, alignments are associated with the Sun and particularly the solstices. However, gazing up from this Neolithic landscape and seeing the brilliance of Venus, Mars, and enigmatic objects such as M31, the Andromeda Galaxy (just about) and the fuzz of M42 - the Orion Nebula visible to the naked eye, or the Pleiades glistening distinctly above Orion, the sky must have meant much, much more than simply the Sun.
We carried on to observe the Globular Cluster M15, 51 Pegasi and a little discussion of exoplanets which lead to a very nice balance of astronomical phenomena for our young group to ponder. The highlight in our small refracting telescope was undoubtedly the colourful gas of the Orion nebula and the Trapezium hidden therein.
We are delighted to announce that the History Machine has been upgraded with the installation of a state of the art entertainment system which will revolutionise our customer experience. We now have a gramophone that even plays 78's. This trip marked the inauguration of this technology and whilst supping hot chocolate and contemplating star maps we listened, most appropriately, to The Race for Space by Public Service Broadcasting.
For our next Astronomy from Ancient Places evening we are planning to head back into the Iron Age and observe from the Blaise Estate in Bristol. Please contact us if you would like details or to join our newsletter to notify you of upcoming sessions.
Chopsticks Club Christmas Dinner
This week we headed down to a glistening London Town for the Chopsticks Club Christmas Dinner at the excellent Golden Phoenix in Chinatown. We love the Chopsticks Club, there is always something a little unusual in store and last night was no exception. As we took our seats we had a spot of festive singing, and a first for us, carols in Chinese. This was great, luckily for us with limited linguistic ability, we had in Pinyin a translation of Silent Night. We thought we would share this: everybody should sing a carol in Mandarin this Christmas.
Over recent years of regular visits to Shanghai, we watched in awe at the construction of the Shanghai Tower in Pudong, as it made its beanstalkesque ascent into the clouds. We often wondered how the engineers managed to build such a remarkable structure. Now, courtesy of the Chopsticks Club, all has been revealed; it is down to spaghetti and marshmallows!
We were given the opportunity to make our own constructions in a friendly yet competitive manner
Only 631 and a half metres go - our model of the Shanghai Tower.
This was an excellent evening of fine food and fine company, thank you to H-J and Theresa for organising our first festive event of the season. Details of the Chopsticks Club can be found here:
West of England China Bureau Pow Wow
Following the Expo, we were off to Barclays, hosts of the West of England China Bureau December Pow Wow, focussing on the food industry. It was excellent to see some of our astronomy customers there and to have the opportunity to bore them with our views on 2nd century BC Chinese Imperial astronomy.
We enjoyed an excellent talk (and sample) from Benjamin White from Marshfield Bakery about their entry into the Hong Kong market and unusual export strategy via craftily packed socks. It was a shame that the man from Wadworth's had to cancel at the last moment, we have been avid and enthusiastic supporters of his business for many years. As always, this was an excellent networking event and it is always great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We are looking forward to the Chinese New Year Banquet in February.
South West Expo 2016
It was a pleasure to attend the South West Expo on 1st December, a spectacularly cold and frosty day we were greeted with seeming limitless free coffee from the very first stand. Everything that a company such as we may need was on hand, from corporate gifts, to social media advice and maybe our favourite; corporate cakes. Look out for Travelling History shortbread on future excursions.
There were a number of lectures and workshops that again were very useful and it was wonderful to hear the enthusiasm for small companies and entrepreneurs, and some of the initiatives the government have available to provide support.
We have made some great contacts and maybe next year we shall have out own stand.
We have been up to some great outreach activity in the past month. We spent a day at Sea Mills Primary School presenting Abonae, a very important Roman town, literally under their feet. Activities included artefact handling and a stroll for 60 children down to the Roman port. We are hoping this will become a regular feature in their future history calendar. At Brentry Primary School we have been busy exploring and replicating the experiments of Galileo and Thomas Harriot. As a special treat, next week we move on to Aliens - exploring what hugely influential astronomers such as William Hershel and James Ferguson thought about life on other planets. And we cannot resist throwing in some early 20th century science fiction films.
Replicating Galileo's 1613 observations of the phases of Venus - indoors and outdoors
World Travel Market
In early November we headed down to London for the World Travel Market, probably the biggest travel and tourism show in the world. Taking up the entire Excel exhibition centre, it seemed that every country in the world was represented. In keeping with our small and exclusive strategy, we headed straight for Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. It was great to catch up with some old friends from Gibraltar and to hear the Isle of Man focussing their tourism strategy on history and astronomy - there are 26 British Isles Dark Sky sites on the island. We also went to China and came home with a fine selection if tourism maps, poised for future use.
During October and November we have been organising astronomy evenings on the Downs for those hardy soles prepared to wrap up warm and look for amazing stuff in the night sky. We have had a special Halloween theme, looking at stars associated with ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. During December our astronomy sessions will take on a rather more cheery, festive flavour.
Keeping warm in the History Machine