Sunday, 15 March 2015

Partial Solar Eclipse - Friday March 20th 2015

This Friday sees the first solar eclipse visible from the UK since 2011. In Banbury the eclipse will begin at approximately 8:25 am and will end at 10:40 am. The point of maximum eclipse will occur at 9:30 am, at which time over 80% of the Sun's disc will be covered.
Maximum eclipse from Banbury
Image credit:
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth casting a shadow. This happens at New Moon when the Sun, Moon and Earth are in alignment with each other. If the Moon's orbit was not tilted with respect to Earth's orbit this would occur every month but the Moon's shadow usually misses us.

The Sun, Moon and Earth during an eclipse
Image credit:

At the Space Studio we will be attempting to observe the eclipse using a number of methods, including: eclipse glasses, projection, white light filters and hydrogen alpha filters. Please remember that it is dangerous to look at the Sun without specialist equipment even when it is eclipsed.

We are planning to film the eclipse and hope to put a live feed on this page (weather permitting). We will also be taking part in the solar eclipse weather experiment organised by Stargazing Live and the University of Reading. Students will be measuring wind speed, temperature and making estimates of percentage cloud cover during the eclipse. This will help us to understand more about phenomena such as the eclipse wind - when the cooling of the air during an eclipse can lead to changes in wind flow. Meteorologists are hoping to obtain the largest ever number of weather related measurements for this year's eclipse, providing valuable data which will help enhance our understanding of how the atmosphere responds to these events.

To read more about the weather experiment visit:

If you are a student at the Space Studio and would like to be involved in taking weather measurements or photographs, please see Miss Flood before Friday to be assigned a role.

Media Space Ideas Hack 2015: Space to Earth Challenge

Yesterday, Space Studio students Josh, Matthew and Feng traveled to London to take part in the Ideas Hack event for the Space to Earth Challenge, organised by the The Ideas Foundation, Venture Thinking and the British Triathlon Trust.

Feng, Matt and Josh getting ready for the day's events
The aim of the day was to develop ideas for an inspirational programme of activities based around British astronaut Tim Peake's mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Tim Peake is the first British citizen to become a European Space Agency astronaut and is currently training for his Principia mission which will take him to the ISS in November this year. The name of the mission refers to British scientist Sir Isaac Newton’s famous text: Naturalis Principia Mathematica, describing the principal laws of motion and gravity.

Since Tim will be staying on the ISS for 6 months he will need to exercise for two hours a day to combat the effects of microgravity on his body. Tim wants as many students as possible to join the challenge in any way that they can, this could include running, swimming, cycling, climbing or dancing the distance from Earth to the ISS.

Astronaut Tim Peake
Image credit: NASA
Our students made a valuable contribution to the day's discussions, helping the team to consider the types of activities that might engage young people of their age group. During the day they had the opportunity to think creatively, present their ideas, develop their teamwork skills and meet experts in the fields of technology and design.

Exchanging ideas
Thinking about engaging young people
Bringing together some of the ideas from the day
The students also had the opportunity to meet and chat to writer, Lucy Hawking. Lucy is the author of a number of science based adventure stories aimed at young readers and is the daughter of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Lucy brought along the flight suit that her father wore on his zero gravity flight in 2007 and Josh had the opportunity to try it on for size!

Josh wearing Stephen Hawking's zero-G suit!
At the Space Studio we are all looking forward to following Tim's mission and to taking part in the Space to Earth Challenge!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Stargazing Live at the Space Studio

Students and members of the public are invited to attend a unique Stargazing Live event on Thursday 26th March here at the Space Studio.

The event starts at 7 pm with a talk by Dr Helen Walker from Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, refreshments will be available from 6:45 pm. The talk is about seeing the invisible Universe using infrared astronomy. 

Dr Helen Walker is an astronomer, working in the Satellite Operations Group at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. She has around thirty years experience of working with astronomical satellites, both as researcher and planning specialist.

For five years she helped ESA plan science observations on the Mars Express satellite and now works with the four Cluster satellites. She is Test Team Leader for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) which will fly on the James Webb Space Telescope. Her research interests focus on planets, and the material around stars which might form planets.

After the talk there will be a chance to observe the night sky using our observatory and other equipment if the skies are clear. We will also have an exciting selection of meteorites and lunar soil samples available for you to view.

The event will finish at approximately 10pm (the exact finish time is dependent on the weather). 

If you would like to attend as a member of the public please email: with the number of places you would like, children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

If you are a Space Studio student please collect an invitation from Mrs Shannon at reception, you will need to get this signed by your parent or carer and return it to school.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Dawn in orbit around Ceres

On Friday (6th March) Nasa's Dawn probe became the first spacecraft in history to orbit a dwarf planet when it arrived at Ceres. It is also the first spacecraft to have orbited two objects other than the Earth and Moon after visiting the asteroid Vesta earlier in its mission.

A dwarf planet is an object in orbit around the Sun which is large enough to be spherical but not large enough to have cleared its orbit of debris. Pluto is the most famous example of a dwarf planet, it had its designation changed in 2006 after astronomers began to find other objects of a comparable size in the Kuiper Belt region of the outer Solar System.

Ceres is the closest dwarf planet to the Sun, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It was discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801 but we haven't been able to study it in detail until now.

Dawn has already found that Ceres has two small bright patches on its surface that are currently unexplained. Astronomers working on the mission hope to learn more about the origin of the bright spots and about the structure of Ceres over the coming months.

An image of Ceres taken by Dawn on its approach to the dwarf planet.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
For more information about the Dawn mission visit:

The observatory is up and running!

On Tuesday 24th February we held our first official public event at the Space Studio's new observatory. We began with a talk all about the Moon, considering a range of questions about the Moon's structure, formation and our exploration of its surface. Visitors then had the opportunity to make their own planisphere to help them navigate the night sky before heading outside for some observing.

We were able to view many of the winter constellations including Orion and Taurus, picking out features such as the Pleiades open star cluster (also known as the Seven Sisters) with binoculars. In the observatory we spent time studying the craters along the Moon's terminator before moving on to Jupiter and its four Galilean moons.
The night sky looking south from Banbury on 24th February.
For information about the next public event at the Space Studio follow this blog by entering your email address in the space on the right.