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Popular Astronomy Magazine - January-February 2018
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About the SPA Officials

Here we present biographies of those officials of the society who have so far provided us with this information!

Council member, Prof. Ian Robson

A former president of the society, Professor Ian Robson is now a welcome addition to our Council. Ian’s astronomical interest started early. ‘When I was a boy in the north-east of England I could see a prominent pattern of stars from my bedroom window. I drew the pattern and sent it to Patrick Moore. He kindly wrote back and told me it was Orion, and gave me details of a book where I could find out more. Christmas was coming and so that was my present solved. My father later built me a telescope, a  three-inch refractor, and I just devoured any astronomy book I could get my hands on.’ Ian also joined the then JAS at the age of about nine.

He went to Queen Mary College for his physics degree, and stayed on for his PhD to work on the cosmic microwave background. He then went to what was Preston Polytechnic – now the University of Central Lancashire – and in 1992 became director of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Hawaii, which observes in the submillimetre waveband, beyond the infrared. After ten years at the forefront of research at this major facility, Ian moved back to the UK to become deputy director of the Astronomy Technology Centre at Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, which effectively replaced the Royal Greenwich Observatory as the UK’s centre for instrument development.

After a career as a world-class astronomer in fields where you can’t actually see anything – beyond visible wavelengths – I asked Ian if, unlike many professional astronomers, he does know his way round the sky. ‘Oh yes! I started out as an amateur astronomer so I can still point out the constellations to people. In fact I have two telescopes – a Meade four-inch refractor and a six-inch reflector. But what I really like is lying on the back of our boat on Windermere where we get really black skies, and using binoculars – fabulous!’

‘I’m very keen on outreach and also on the practical bit – when I was at the JCMT I used to love showing people the Moon through a Dobsonian that they had at the tourist centre! It blew them away, and probably fried their eyes as well!’


Vice President, Robin Scagell

Robin Scagell is a lifelong amateur astronomer who is now a writer and broadcaster on astronomy and space, concentrating in particular on basic stargazing and making astronomy accessible to anyone who wants to know more about the night sky.

Born in 1946, Robin’s working career began in the Kodak Research Laboratory, and photography remains one of his great passions. He then went into astronomy via the University of Hertfordshire and Manchester University, which included working at a high-altitude observatory photographing the Moon. After a brief spell building telescopes at Manchester Telescope Centre, Robin’s interest in writing then took him to the world of publishing, where he worked on a diverse variety of books and partwork magazines from the ground-breaking How It Works science encyclopedia to children’s history, DIY, car maintenance and of course astronomy and photography.

Today, he runs Galaxy Picture Library, which is devoted to providing astronomy and space photos to the media, and writes books, most recently 101 Objects to Spot in the Night Sky and The Urban Astronomy Guide, both published in Philips in 2014. He also a broadcaster, commenting (sometimes at very short notice) on astronomy and space news for Sky News, BBC Breakfast, BBC News Channel and other programmes.

Robin’s other interests include glow worms, and he runs the UK Glow Worm Survey, which maintains an up-to-date list of where people have spotted these fascinating and beguiling insects.

Robin joined what was then the Junior Astronomical Society in 1962, and soon became involved in helping to run the society. He has served on the Council continuously for nearly 50 years, and is now a Life Member of the society. He was the first editor of the News Circulars, which more recently have become incorporated into Popular Astronomy, and now edits the email Newsletter which has replaced the Circulars as a means of transmitting urgent news.

Asteroid (24728) Scagell is named after Robin.

Robin continues in the post of Vice President, while the society's other Vice President is either the past President or the intended forthcoming President.


Treasurer, Helen Walker

Helen has been the society's Treasurer since 2010 and therefore has the unenviable task of keeping track of the SPA's income and expenditure. Prior to this, Helen served as the society's President from 2008-2009 (vice president in 2007, 2010), and led the society’s Telescopes for Schools project for IYA2009.
Although always interested in science as a child, Helen never had a telescope — she just loved reading about it. She remembers sitting up late at night to watch Apollo 11.
Helen graduated from the University of St Andrews with a PhD in Astronomy in 1979. She has been involved with astronomical satellites, either as a ‘user’ or in a support role, during her PhD and ever since. She was part of the Resident Astronomer’s Team for the first Infrared Satellite (IRAS), which flew in 1983. In the mid-1990s her work was related to the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) and more recently she became involved with Mars Express, Cluster and with the Mid InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) for the James Webb Space Telescope. She is now Mission Manager for UKube-1, launched in July 2014, and writes the "Space Exploration" articles for Popular Astronomy.
Merchandise Manager, Barry Turvey 
In addition to selecting the impressive range of SPA Merchandise for the past decade, Barry was also Membership Secretary from 2002 until early 2015 (having already handled the renewals role for a year prior to 2002), and is currently Acting Membership Secretary. Barry also served as Distribution Manager from 2004-2014.

Council member, Megan Argo

Megan became fascinated by the night sky at the age of five, acquired a telescope at the age of seven, and joined Macclesfield Astronomical Society at eleven.  

In 2003 she completed a degree in physics at Manchester University, going on to study for a PhD at Jodrell Bank Observatory.  After graduating in 2006, she spent three years as a research fellow at Curtin University in Western Australia, followed by two years at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, before returning to Manchester University in 2013.  She spends a lot of time working with (and writing software for) e-MERLIN, the UK's array of radio telescopes and national facility for radio astronomy, operated from Manchester University.  Her research covers an eclectic range of science projects, mainly focusing on nearby galaxies and their interactions, although she also dabbles in meteor studies and is the press officer for the International Meteor Organisation.

Council member, Paul Sutherland

Paul has performed many roles within the society, including Variable Star Section Director (1972-73), Editor of Hermes magazine, overseeing its change to become Popular Astronomy (1974-82), Public Relations Officer (1985-86), News Circulars Editor (1985-99) and Webmaster (2002-05). He also conceived and produced the very first Electronic News Bulletins.

Paul joined the society as a teenager in 1967. 

For three decades Paul was employed as a Fleet Street journalist writing at different times for the Daily Mirror, Today and The Sun. He is still occasionally referred to as "The Sun Spaceman" but denies ever hacking the phone of Prof Brian Cox. Nowadays he writes regularly for BBC Sky At Night magazine and is News Editor of the SEN website. His books include Where Did Pluto Go? (Reader's Digest, 2009). Paul is a lifelong fan of Doctor Who but missed the first episode in 1963 and had to catch up when it was repeated a week later. 

In 2012 the main belt asteroid (6726) Suthers was named after Paul.

Council member, Ian Morison

Ian Morison's love of astronomy started at the age of 12 when he made a telescope out of lenses given to him by his optician. He later studied Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Hertford College, Oxford. In September 1965, he became a research student at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory and was appointed to the staff of the Observatory in 1970.  

In 1990 he became a founder member of the Macclesfield Astronomical Society and is now its patron. He lectures widely on astronomy, has co-authored books for amateur astronomers and, in addition to his regular "Telescope Topics" column in Popular Astronomy, writes regularly for the UK astronomy magazines Astronomy Now and Sky at Night and writes a monthly sky guide for Jodrell Bank Observatory's website.

Ian served as SPA President from 1998-1999 (Vice President in 1997, 2000). He has been an "ordinary" council member since 2001 and has provided the society's Instrument Advisory Service since 2005.

The main belt asteroid 15727 ianmorison was named after Ian in 2003.

In 2007, he was appointed Gresham Professor of Astronomy; dating from 1597, it is the oldest chair of astronomy in the world and was once held by Christopher Wren.

In 2014, Cambridge University Press published two further books by Ian: 'An Amateur's Guide to Observing and Imaging the Heavens' and 'Journey through the Universe: Gresham Lectures on Astronomy'.  The former a 'handbook' of amateur astronomy and the latter a comprehensive study of our Universe.



Tue, 16 Jan 2018   - Coming soon! Our new website

Fri, 05 Jan 2018   - Early morning spectacular

Sun, 31 Dec 2017   - Did you see the fireball on 31 December?