From your new President
2015 November 18
My membership of the BAA goes back to 1974 when I joined the Association as a schoolboy, having had my interest in astronomy and space whetted by the Apollo missions and encouraged by the gift of a 60mm refractor from my Mum and Dad. Little did I suspect then that one day I would become the President of your Association. And for this I must thank you, the members, for electing me. I will do all in my power to ensure that the BAA remains Britain’s pre-eminent amateur society and provides the services that you need.
I am fortunate to be taking over from Hazel McGee, whose leadership and diligence over the past two years as President have been exemplary. During her term as President she has kept the interests of the Association at the centre of all she does – and also has worked with the Council to bring our governance up to date. I would like to thank her for her unstinting service and sheer hard work, which, I must point out, she has done in addition to her demanding role as Editor of the Journal. Hazel will certainly be a hard act to follow, but I am delighted that she will, of course, continue as our Vice-President.
It has become customary for the incoming President to introduce themselves in their first ‘From the President’ contribution. I live in rural Cheshire where I operate a small observatory in my back garden.The main telescope is a 28cm Schmidt-Cassegrain which I use chiefly for CCD observations of variable stars, especially dwarf novae. I patrol for outbursts of these objects, as well as conducting time-resolved photometry when an outburst occurs. What I particularly like about this is the cooperation that exists between astronomers around the world, both amateurs and professionals. We amateurs might have relatively small telescopes, but we do have access to them whenever we choose (as long as the weather is on our side, of course!) and because we are situated a different longitudes, we can obtain near-continuous photometry during an outburst. By contrast, professionals tend to have limited time on much larger telescopes, which is usually scheduled well in advance, but they can obtain more detailed astrophysical data. So our activities are complementary and working together across our community, both in obtaining the data and analysing it, is common practice.
Another field where I am active is in detecting meteors using sensitive video cameras. This is also an area where cooperation between observers is essential, since combining data from different locations allows the orbits of the meteoroids to be obtained, which in turn can give information about their parent bodies.Technological developments, both in video hardware and the supporting software, mean that contribution to astronomical research is truly accessible to amateurs at modest cost.
Whilst much of the practical work I do is perhaps at the more scientific end of the spectrum of amateur astronomy, I still like to spend time out under the stars simply enjoying the delights of the night sky in binoculars or small telescopes and sharing them with others. In fact, at the end of an evening’s work in the observatory, which generally involves staring at a laptop screen, I love to close the dome and step outside to marvel at the spectacle laid out overhead. I am pleased that the BAA supports the whole spectrum of activities.
By day, when not squeezing in observations through my recently acquired H-alpha solar telescope, I work for an international energy company. This has taken me all over the world, in both technical and commercial roles, living overseas for some years with my wife and daughters in Belgium, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. I currently lead the company’s R&D on low carbon alternative energies, including developing advanced biofuels and hydrogen mobility. Although I am now based in the UK, I have team members in laboratories in Houston, Amsterdam and Hamburg. I don’t get to do the R&D myself any more, so astronomy provides an outlet for any frustrations this might otherwise give rise to!
I feel hugely privileged to serve our truly outstanding Association as your President, working with our Council and our new Board of Trustees. My research into the history of the BAA has taught me much about our proud journey covering 125 years and my aim is to keep the BAA at the forefront of amateur astronomy in the years ahead. I look forward to meeting many of you during my Presidency and hearing what you enjoy doing in astronomy. One of the first opportunities will be at our Christmas meeting on Saturday December 12 at University College London, where I will not only have the pleasure of introducing our Christmas Lecture by Professor Gerry Gilmore, but also the honour to recognise the work of some of our leading members by presenting a number of prestigious BAA medals and awards.
Looking slightly further ahead, the BAA Winchester weekend will again be held at Sparsholt College, Hampshire, between 2016 April 1 and 3. This will mark the weekend’s 50th anniversary and organisers Ann Davies and Alan Dowdell have prepared a very special programme for us. It’s always a popular event, so I suggest you return your booking form, which accompanies this Journal, right away!
Jeremy Shears, President