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Webmaster Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
27th August 2020
When lockdown started we immediately chose to cancel all physical meetings in line with government guidance, but we chose to become part of the solution too. In order to help keep people engaged, involved and reduce the isolation that some would feel, we decided to do more than ever – all online. Instead of our once-a-month physcial meetings (plus a monthly Imaging Group) we set ourselves the ambitious target of doing something twice a week.
So since 3 April we have done something every Wednesday and Friday up until the end of July. We are now taking August off for a rest before we start up again, although not at the same level as lockdown restrictions are eased.!
A few statistics – since 3 April:
• 36 online events
• Membership increased to 114
• 902 members joined us live on Zoom
• 336 visitors live on YouTube
• 3300 views of meeting videos on YouTube
We chose to run a 5-part Introduction to Astro-imaging course online instead of the face-to-face event we had planned.
We had new members joining us from all over the country since physical distance is no longer an issue.
We manage to attract speakers from all over the country – and the world, including the Senior Scientific Officer for the Parker Solar Probe live from Maryland.
We’ve had some amazing guest keynote speakers on topics such as Exoplanets, Exoplanet atmospheres, Citizen Science for star formation, Astrobiology, Transient astronomical events, Neutrinos in astronomy,…..
Our members stepped up and gave us a range of talks, historical, practical and entertaining.
I think as a society we feel quite proud of what we’ve done, more people are actively involved and there are stronger bonds between members, formed online.
You can see most of our meetings on our YouTube channel
And other information on our website
Chair Dash (Darsham and Surrounding Hamlets) Astro.
23rd August 2020
Dash Astro made a quick decision to suspend all face to face activities at the start of the COVID -19 pandemic. An early start was made in experimenting with webinars to enable members to communicate and we quickly settled on a pay version of Zoom. Whilst not as desirable as face to face it has proved to be a very good second best!
We have regular monthly ‘guest speaker’ meetings where we invite not only our members but also other local societies members who may be interested. Our local societies ( OASI, Breckland Astronomical Society )have reciprocated filling in and contributing to the richness of what is being offered.
We have also introduced additional meetings of smaller groups in the areas of development of astrophotography, understanding of exoplanets, spectroscopy and black holes. Other topics are being developed. We are looking to encourage more sub groups if there is demand.
One of our very recent guest speakers was Tom Field, an accomplished spectroscopist from the US. He has assisted us in developing our own spectroscopy knowledge and improving our outreach capability.
Some members,including officers of the society have taken and continue to take the opportunity to develop their own background knowledge in astronomy/astrophysics. These include Open University short free courses, webinars from BAA, RAS, KAVLI, AAVSO, SPA, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University.
We are looking to get back to some sort of normality as soon as bodies such as the FAS advise and when we feel it is safe for our members to do so.
From Elizabeth Watson
Secretary, Havering Astronomical Society
15th August 2020
We normally meet monthly at a community centre and our meetings were shut down with only a weeks notice in March. We have had to miss our 26th anniversary in April which would have been a big event and have very sadly lost two of our founding members in the last few months.
Our committee have taken the events of recent times as a challenge and quickly changed meetings to online events using Webex. We have so far arranged more speakers than we would usually have been able to accommodate with physical meetings and have a program arranged until the end of the year. One advantage with online is the ability to hold talks with lectures from further afield than would normally be possible, including overseas. Nearer to home, we have enjoyed an image processing masterclass from one of our own members.
Interest has taken off on our Facebook page with a 33% increase in members and improved traffic. In order to achieve this we have been actively promoting the society and our online meetings with local papers, other societies and through Havering Council and the Upminster Bulletin. The guest appearance of Comet Neowise has also been very helpful in attracting people to astronomy in general and when we have posted members photos we have seen a surge in interest. We have invited those who have got in touch through our website, email or Facebook to become guest members who are then invited to join online talks and our WhatApp group. They will then hopefully become full members when we are able to operate fully again.
The community centre is due to reopen later this month but with very few guidelines or safeguards so far. This, and the restrictions on numbers mean that the committee have taken the decision not to return to physical meetings until the new year but we will obviously be reviewing this as and when rules and guidelines change. Our meetings secretaries have approached other societies to see how they intend operating within the easing of lockdown. Looking ahead and with the success of online we are are thinking of holding hybrid meetings with some members in the meeting room streaming the talk live for others to view online and will be assessing the feasibility. We are also starting to use YouTube live streaming. Whilst we are pleased with our online success and the uptake for meetings we accept that this is not suitable for everyone and realise that some members are missing out. We are still sending out our monthly newsletter and the chairperson is making every effort to keep in contact with those members to check on their wellbeing.
We plan to start observing sessions for members in the Autumn as there will be ample opportunity to socially distance. We will just not be able to share scopes or physically help others as before, hence keeping it to members only. Obviously with FAS insurance not covering Covid related claims we will need to be cautious of any return to normallity. We were disappointed to have to cancel all Young Astronomers meetings and are in the process of working on a plan going forward. When our suspended outreach program can begin again will depend on how and when the groups in question restart but we look forward to resuming all our activities, with the addition of the successful online presence. We have recognised the impact lockdown has had on our finances and will need assess this in order to carry on with all our activities. One thing is for certain – there will need to be more risk assessments and rules in place than we have ever had to deal with before so these are still challenging and changing times.
You are welcome to contact us for more information on firstname.lastname@example.orgOur Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/groups/2117831708490685 and website is havastro.co.uk
From Mike Haynes
Chairman, Clacton and District Astronomical Association
5th June 2020
For several years I have been running a U3A astronomy group from my house. It comprises an hour talk from me on a specific topic followed by coffee and chat. Latterly it has been tricky to find new topics so with the group’s agreement I have been putting together a few slides on each of half a dozen or so astronomy news items from the online news outlets, such as Astronomy Now, Sky and Telescope and Phys.org. After the lockdown someone in the group suggested using videoconferencing software such as Zoom to run virtual meetings. In the end I chose Jitsi for the simple reason that it was free and for laptop/PC users does not require any software to be downloaded apart from Chrome which most of us have anyway. Tablet/smartphone users require a very simple download of the Jitsi app. The first meeting was very successful so my club, the Clacton and District Astronomical Association agreed that we should try it out for our monthly club nights.
We are a small club, with 30 regular members, based on the north east coast of Essex. Because of our relative isolation we are only able to call on two or three external speakers a year, so most of our monthly talks are given my members themselves
After a few minor teething problems, the new scheme has been a success with around 12-15 members joining each session. One member has even asked if we can use this even after lockdown ends so that he can avoid a 25 mile round trip to club meetings on winter nights!
So far, I am the only person doing the talks, but since I prepare them anyway for my U3A group this is not a burden. In the next couple of months I will share the work with other members who were scheduled to give talks themselves. This will enable us to cover for external guest speakers whose talks have been cancelled due to the lockdown.
Clearly the social interaction aspect of the meetings, both U3A and club are a great loss, especially to some members, but we are at least giving some of our them their monthly astronomy fix. Personally, I believe this has been a resounding success, setting up a Jitsi meeting literally takes seconds, and sharing one’s slide show requires one mouse click. Although I currently give all the talks, anyone with a computer can set up a meeting. The one thing you quickly learn is that online discussion between members needs a verbal version of social distancing otherwise it can sound like talking to a bunch of 10-year-olds in school.
Finally, one indirect benefit of these virtual meetings, especially for my U3A group is the reduction in car usage of around 600 miles a month – fewer miles means less pollution and green house emissions.
If anyone has any questions about how this works you can contact me at email@example.com
Secretary, York Astronomical Society
5th June 2020
We suspended our meeting and outreach programme as soon as required to do so. During May we have started a programme of Zoom meetings. These online meetings follow our ‘normal’ format where we have society notices, we have started a “members recommend” section where we share tips on what to see such as solar and lunar transits of ISS, books, websites, software etc. The topics we have covered so far in our talks have been an introduction to Astrophotography in 2 parts, tours of member observatories, Aboriginal astronomy and the Australian Space program and a talk about an online course being followed one of our members. We now seem to end the meeting in our virtual pub .. j
We are going to try and introduce some guest speakers over the coming months. We ask that those who are able to contribute make a donation either by BACS or via our JustGiving page.
The meetings have so far been open only to members and subscribers to an infrequent newsletter. We are going to try presenting as a webinar and will publicise them via our social media channels. We may also do some ‘Live’ broadcasts either from our observatory or members own homes.
We have discussed the problem of physical meetings in a socially distanced world, and the stringent sanitisation requirements of such meetings in a relatively small and poorly ventilated room (our usual venue). We have also considered the outreach scenario and star party format where close contact with equipment in the dark and sanitisation requirements. We have concluded that with the demographics of our membership, physical meetings for the remainder of the year are unlikely. We would of course rapidly review this should things change.
We would certainly be interested in what other societies are either doing or plan to do.