Ordinary Meeting, 2002 April 27
RoCCoTo Telescope and lifelong learning in astronomy
Dr. Griffiths explained that the RoCCoTo telescope was an acronym for Robotic Cyberspace Community Telescope and Observatory, and was a project at the University of Glamorgan to provide observing time to schools over the Internet. The speaker was grateful to British Telecom for making an award which helped fund the purchase of a 16 inch Meade LX200 with CCD. The telescope is a part of the National Schools' Observatory, which has a network of such instruments around the world. This means that when it's cloudy in Liverpool, observers trying to make use of RoCCoTo can make their observations at other sites with better conditions. The speaker jested that observers in Japan might consider Liverpool an exotic and exciting place to make observations.
Dr. Griffiths envisaged schools might use the observatory to make lunar and planetary observations, as well as to study objects such as comet Ikeya-Zhang. Supernova and comet hunting were also possibilities for the future. The speaker explained that whilst there had been some interest in optical SETI, he was unsure of how realistic such projects would be. The speaker commented that it is the experience of most astrophotographers that they spend many cloudy nights unable to take images. He hoped that such a network of observatories would allow astronomers to admire the heavens even when the weather was not favourable.
Dr. Griffiths went on to discuss a course he ran in astronomy at the University of Glamorgan. The course focussed on presenting material in a non-mathematical way, with more difficult material explained by philosophical means. He believed this was an important step in furthering the public understanding of astronomy. The speaker said that the course had attracted an age range from 14 through to 88, and had something to offer for everyone. Even professional astronomers often don't know their way around the sky.
In response to questions, the speaker explained that RoCCoTo would be sited on the roof of his office to avoid vandalism, and hence it would not be possible to give observers access to such a cramped site. Copyright and licensing arrangements for the images were still to be decided, but the speaker hoped to make all images from the telescope public domain. Amateur observers would be able to observe for free, whilst schools would pay a small annual subscription for the service.
Following much applause for Dr. Griffiths' entertaining talk, the President proceeded to deliver a talk himself on the value of historical records in astronomy.