Author Archives: Andrew Thornett

“Martian” Potatoes are shooting up!

The potatoes I am growing a la “The Martian” book/film style using Martian Regolith stimulant (sort of) given to me by RAG last year on my 50th birthday are now shooting up. As per the book I had to find something to mimic the Martian soil (earth from under the foundation’s of the new Peter Bolas Observatory at Rosliston Forestry Centre was given to me on my birthday for this purpose – the Regolith simulant) and an alternative to human faeces for organic matter which is probably not legal and certainly rather disgusting if used in my back garden….manure from the local garden centre was pulled into service here.


Next stage of putting new shingles on roof of our log cabin/observatory in Lichfield

Rhys and I addressed the back of the log cabin today. In a previous post I described how the roofing felt on the observatory was blown off in recent high winds and how I started the process of re-roofing the cabin with shingles. Ed Mann has meant me a ladder which is an absolute God-send for this work as the cabin is 2.4m high and I am a bit short! My own step ladder is not up to the task.

My son Rhys, also member of RAG, is somewhat taller than me and this really helped today as we successfully shingles all but one row and the apex of the back of the observatory together.

NB for anyone wondering we were not allowed to have an observatory or dome in our garden (household rules!) And in any case there are a lot of trees at bottom of garden which obscure views of sky and this was where the observatory had to go….so instead the log cabin has double doors and a ramp to allow the 16 inch Dobsonian on castors to roll out on to the lawn.

This follows from previous post:

New shingles on front of our observatory in Lichfield 11/5/2019


Spectra of Moon, Vega and Jupiter taken with CCDSPEC on Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm scope with Rob Leonard 11-12/5/2019

Rob kindly invited me around for an evening of observing. The Moon was half full and high and the humidity level high with mosture all over our telescopes but we still had a whale of a time – quite apt description as Rob found the Whale Galaxy for an amaxing view in his 14 inch Orion US scope – all star hopping – well done to him!!

I took some spectra of the Moon, Vega and Jupiter, using my CCDSPEC spectroscope on my Equinox – I know manual alt-az mount is not ideal but it is transportable so I used my Manfrotto mount tonight manually guided and star-hopping to targets – limiting me to bright targets. I would still like to take spectra of the Ring Nebula but I can’t see it in the CCDSPEC so I do need my EQ6 or HEQ5 mounts up and running to have a chance with that….

Particularly exciting tonight was our spectra of Jupiter, showing methane absorption lines – Jupiter’s spectrum is essentially that of reflected sunlight but its atmosphere does absorb light in the methane bands.

Rob and I were able to identify two of these bands in our spectrum this evening of the planet.


In spectra below my spectrum from tonight is in red and reference spectrum is in blue.

Moon – essentially this is a solar spectrum from reflected light:

Vega – Balmer series lines very obvious:

Jupiter – showing two methane absorption lines – one of main features that are different between Jupiter’s spectrum and the solar spectrum (In spectra below my spectrum from tonight is in red and reference spectrum is in blue).

New shingles on front of our observatory in Lichfield 11/5/2019

Re-roofing hone observatory after previous roof blew off in recent storm. Today, got quite a bit of front done. The tarpaulin is a temporary cover tacked down between repair sessions to previous ingress water before the new roof if water-proof. Rhys and I have never done this before so lots of lookong at videos on YouTube. Hopefully we have got it right!


First radio observations at Peter Bolas Observatory – Radio Meteor Scatter from Graves of Lyrid Meteor Shower – 6/5/2019

Radio Scatter Graves Radar Peter Bolas Observatory Rosliston Forestry Centre,

Lyrid Meteor Shower,

6/5/2019 @ 10:30
Andrew Thornett

Successful detection of Lyrid meteor shower at the new Peter Bolas Observatory during an observatory working party session on Bank Holiday Monday.

The surprise was the frequency of meteors shown on screenshots below – there are up to 11/12 meteors evident on singe screenshots!

On Saturday, we had an outreach day and had difficulty getting radio scatter to work. Eventually we found a broken wire in the aerial end of the aerial cable at its connection – a temporary Heath Robinson approach got it working. Since then, I have soldered the connection and today was a chance to test it.
I also changed laptop from my (expensive, cant afford to lose it) main laptop to a spare Dell PC that is 10 years old and not the end of the world were it to get broken or stolen!
Trying it out today – I could not seem to get good signal through the microphone port on this new machine but I had a spare USB microphone port which I plugged in and the laptop and Spectrum Lab successfully detected the microphone and almost immediately meteors were seen on the screen – great success!


Photos of myself observing meteors by radio scatter at Rosliston & serial screenshots at 1 minute intervals from Spectrum Lab:

Peter Bolas Working Party Bank Holiday Monday 6/5/2019

On a cloudy, and occasionally slightly raining, Bank Holiday Monday, Ed, Heather, Julian, Chris and myself turned up at the Peter Bolas Observatory for some emergency modifications to the dome to prevent water ingress, work on the dome motor and gearing, feeding cabling from the observing room into the pillar through the under-floor ducting, and other tasks.

Things are moving fast – won’t be long before we see first light through the telescope in the dome.

Today was first light for radio observing at the Peter Bolas Observatory, Rosliston Forestry Centre – see also associated post from today:




Science Day @ Rosliston Forestry Centre 4/5/2019

Thanks to all members who turned up for another great outreach event at the forestry centre! A great team of people working hard to make the event a success – you were all brilliant!

Poor forecasts kept the crowd numbers down to below last year’s turnout, but there were still many families and the rocketry and dot-to-dot activities went flat out most of the day.

At the telescopes, we saw a series of four solar prominences develop and change in sequence at the solar limb next to the current sunspot – some great views in clear spots between cloud! Both white light and hydrogen alpha filters were used to show the public these phenomena. Many folks had never viewed the sun or seen a sunspot before. I was also able to view the sunspot in calcium-H filtered light on my scope, although the view was not as spectacular as through the hydrogen alpha filter.

Bob and I set up an aerial to detect meteors by radio scatter – initially unsuccessful until we found a broken wire! Once fixed in a rather Heath Robinson way, we detected a fair number of meteors (a few screenshots below).

Next outreach event is the 7th Lichfield Scouts summer camp next month – see you there!


Meteors detected by radio scatter today:


Rocket launching next to the Peter Bolas Observatory:


Telescope field and Training Room:


Making a hole to insert bottom of meteor radio scatter aerial: