The SHA’s Annual General Meeting and Autumn Conference

The Society for The History of Astronomy’s Annual General Meeting and Autumn Conference was held on Saturday 28th October at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in Birmingham. It was a full packed day with delegates having the opportunity to listen to five talks alongside the AGM. It was to prove a busy meeting with over sixty members attending and eleven guests.

The day commenced with the opportunity to buy books from the bookstall, get refreshments or browse the SHA library which has one of the largest collection of historic astronomy books in the UK.

Bob Bower, Gerard Gilligan



Paul Haley

Bill Barton





Bob Bower, Chairperson, started the formal proceedings with his usual vigour and humour, thanking the many members of the society who have helped with the running of the Society during the past year. This hard work has resulted in a large increase in membership for the Society. The Societies’ prizes were awarded, firstly Paul Haley got the Madeline Cox award for his contributions to the Bulletin magazine, Bill Barton was awarded the Roger Jones award for his work on the survey and Gerard Gilligan was given the Peter Hingley award for his significant contribution towards the increase in membership during the past year. The SHA has indeed seen a record breaking influx of new members for the year, which after Saturday is now 50. Well over 200 in total.

The first talk of the day was by Roger Salt, he spoke about “The Antikythera mechanism”. This talk took the audience on a journey of the history of the mechanisms discovery. It considered the early work of Derek Price and later detections by Michael Wright. This fascinating object has had a significant amount of research on it leading to the latest discoveries. These show that the object was an advanced astronomical mechanism which was made by an expert in astronomy from Ancient Greece. Names such as Archimedes, Hipparchus or Posidonius were considered as possible makers of this device. We thank Roger Salt for his talk on what is a fascinating object, which has enthralled the world since its discovery.

Following this talk, we had a short interlude while Eddie Carpenter set up his Lantern Slide projector. Eddie arrived with an excellent array of lantern slides dating back as far as the early 19th century. He started his talk with a crowd-pleasing q and a which asked the members of the audience to identify astronomers and observatories from around the world. The highlight of his talk was him showing the mechanical magic lantern slides which date from 1840’s. An issue with the solar system slide was that it had been produced before the discovery of Neptune. When the outermost planet was discovered in 1846 they quickly painted the planet onto the slide but in the same orbit but on the opposing side to Uranus.

After the break for lunch, Dr Lee MacDonald gave a very interesting and topical talk on the history of the Isaac Newton Telescope. It is a telescope which is celebrating 50 years since it was situated at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex. As Lee explained the telescope has a much longer history as the idea had been formulated in 1944 by the Royal Society. The whole project was beset by delay and disasters, including an inferior mirror which made the scope an f/3 focal ratio. This in time would become the scopes greatest strength. In 1984 the scope was moved to the Canary Islands. The f/3 focal ratio made it an excellent scope for wide angle imaging with CCD cameras, this allowed for large-scale supernovae hunting. It was a project led by Saul Perlmutter on this scope which would discover the presence of dark energy in the Universe. Lee’s topic was called “Cracked Mirror to Nobel Prize” which is a very fitting way to describe the changing fortunes of this once lamentable scope.

From Left: Don Kurtz, Lee McDonald, Allan Chapman, Eddie Carpenter

Professor Don Kurtz gave a very engaging talk about the meaning of time and how time has been understood, divided up and recognised through history. He took us around the world with different ideas about how time should be measured from different cultures. From the Babylonians early 12-hour day and the Roman 8-day week. We considered questions such as what makes a year? what is an Astronomical unit? and how is it measured? Why do we use a seven-day week? and how the calendar we use currently exists in its current form. Altogether this was a fascinating and thought-provoking talk.

The final talk of the day was from our Societies President Dr Allan Chapman. His talk was about the enigmatic Joseph Norman Lockyer. Born to a well to do family Lockyer at first was a grand amateur astronomer. He soon was commissioning equipment which allowed him to make great discoveries within his own back garden. This was mainly in the field of solar spectrography. This, in turn, allowed him to become one of the leading people in this field at that time. He spent the next part of his life in the academic community within London but later returned to his amateur roots. He set up and ran the Norman Locker Observatory located in Sidmouth in Devon. Allan gave a wonderful talk to end a great day which was enjoyed by all. We wish to thank all the members and guests for coming and hope to see them at the SHA spring conference which is on April 21st 2018 at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.