Andy Burns 15 Q&A

If you could go back in time and meet any scientific figure, what period would that be and who would you like to meet most?

AB–  I would go back to the 1824-1834 period and meet up with John Herschel during his period reviewing and cataloguing the heavens, then travel to Cape Town and see the wonder as this developed into the General Catalogue 1834 to 1839.

WASNET– Luckily for us John Herschel (1792 – 1871) gave up the legal profession and followed his father William Herschel (1738 – 1822 ) into astronomy. The rest is history….

Do you have a favourite constellation?

AB– Difficult one, but Auriga has always been a personal favourite, binocular and wide field telescope views of the clusters, the variable beta Auriga…

WASNET–  Auriga is interesting for two reasons, firstly beta Auriga is interesting because it’s a binary star that from our view point is eclipsed by its binary partner producing the variable effect. Secondly Capella the sixth brightest star in the night sky which is deceiving as it’s actually four stars. It is also home to M36, 37 and 38 you can find it in the NW…

What do you regularly observe?

AB– Lunar and Solar work, the latter in H-alpha. When is Spain the central portion of our Milky Way.

WASNET–  Both often over looked because they are right in our backyard, photons generated at the center of the Sun may take up to several million years to get to the surface, and the form of the energy may change from X-ray to visible wavelengths. When the photon leaves the Sun, it takes eight minutes to get to us at the speed of light.

What do you specialise in?

AB– Historical recreation of the General Catalogue, Wide field imaging, clusters and solar imaging.

Who influenced you most to take up astronomy?

AB– Patrick Moore

WASNET–  Patrick is probably single handily responsible for thousands of people becoming interested in astronomy. His influence lives on….

What advice would you give to a beginner just starting out?

AB– Be patient, and take time to learn your way around the sky with binoculars. Don’t forget to enjoy the heavens, keep a log book and do the background research.

WASNET– Great advice, learn your way around the sky using the mark one then progress.

The Drake equation,N = R * fp * ne * fl * fi * fc * L ,  attempts to estimate the number of possible civilizations in our universe, Is there life out there….?

AB– Yes. What form this life takes is more debatable, certainly none contactable.

WASNET– Research in this area is gathering a pace, so watch this space…

What is the best part of being an astronomer and the worst?

AB–  The best is the sharing, the worst is some of the academic politics.

If you could visit anywhere in the universe where would that be and why?

AB– I don’t think it is too bad here on Earth. A hospitable planet with a multi star system may be fun, but it would be impossible to do astronomy with no dark skies…

What gadget do you find indispensable as an astronomer?

AB– I suppose the computer has become in dispensable in the recent years, I can remember viewing without one. Perhaps my small 85mm Televue is the scope I use most.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries our understanding of the universe has taken huge leaps forward.  Which discovery do you think had the greatest impact?

AB– Understanding the atom and hence how nuclear fusion creates stars, the life of stars and matter that is in all of us.

WASNET– “The cosmos is also within us, we’re made of star stuff,” Carl Sagan

We still only know what 5% of the universe is composed of normal matter, What about the other 95%?

AB– Most recent research at the University College London is showing variations in gravity and Higgs boson physics that may change those figures hugely. Zwicky was using dark matter to solve problems caused by a standard gravity figure. And dark energy added to overcome the problem of too much dark matter. A fine conundrum that needs sorting.

What future discovery are you looking most forward to?

AB– A bacteria source elsewhere in our solar system.

WASNET–  It was only very recently that space was found to have all the basic building blocks for life, the famous Miller experiment proved that the basic building blocks could be produced very easily…

What book would you recommend for our WAS members to read on cloudy nights?

AB– If they are practical observers then Terence Dickenson ‘The Backyard Astronomers Guide’. If they are more historical then ‘Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters’ by Wolfgang Steinicke.

WASNET–  Keep an eye out for used copies of these books. ‘The Backyard Astronomers Guide’ is especially good for beginners….

As a stranded desert island astronomer you are allowed to take three things with you,  what would they be?

AB– Where is the island? Rockall would be all tide measuring kit. But the ideal location for clear skies with all other things in hand my ideal light equipment would be a Televue 85mm refractor, a good zoom eyepiece 8mm to 24mm, and assuming paper and pencils available to log viewing (if not this is the third), then some solar viewing kit.