Greenwich observatory shows Astronomers return to study sky after 60 years

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The Royal Observatory Greenwich (ROG) is to start studying the sky again after a break of 60 years. British astronomy’s historic home has installed new telescopes in its Grade II listed Altazimuth Pavilion, which has also undergone a restoration. The new facility is to be named after Annie Maunder, one of the first female scientists to work at the ROG and who made key discoveries about the Sun. Professionals, amateurs and school children will use the instruments. The new telescope is named after a forgotten giant of UK astronomy, Annie Maunder, who had to battle the prejudice and conventions of her time (the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century).

The move should help highlight her contributions for a new generation. In addition, our cleaner air and better tech is making astronomy possible again in our cities. As urban centers have expanded, the artificial glow of buildings and street-lights along with smog has drowned out the faint objects in the night sky that astronomers want to study. So, in the last few decades, stargazing has moved out of town where you can get darker skies. But a combination of new technology and cleaner air means that astronomers will be able to use the Royal Observatory Greenwich again.

Charles II founded the Greenwich site in 1675. Its purpose was to map the stars and compile tables that could then be used for navigation at sea. It was a working observatory until 1957, after which serious science retreated to the countryside to get away from urban smog and light pollution. But with cleaner air and new technologies, it is now possible for telescopes to take very decent pictures again from the capital, says ROG astronomer Brendan Owens. “We can use what are called narrow-band filters to get around the light pollution, and then there are the new processing techniques.

We can take very fast frame-rate snapshots and use only the steadiest shots to build the final result. It’s known as ‘lucky dip imaging’,” he told BBC News. The Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope (AMAT) is actually a four-in-one instrument. It comprises three smaller refractors around a top-end, 14-inch (35.5cm) aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Users will be able to study the Sun and the planets in our Solar System, but also look beyond to more distant stars and planetary nebulae (great clouds of gas and dust). For the system to be used to look at the Sun is particularly apt in the context of Annie Maunder.

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