Northolt Branch Observatories are located in London, England, and have achieved many outstanding results in astronomical observations. At the same time, they are an important user of QHY astronomical cameras. In recent years, they have confirmed about 200 new-earth asteroids, and conducted more than 6,500 measurements of small celestial bodies in the solar system using the QHY camera, and these projects are still ongoing. Recently, we are very honored to have an interview with NBO, let us get to know them together!
Interviewer: Yilia Yu, a member of QHYCCD--Y
Interviewee: Guy Wells FRAS from NBO--G
Y: Congratulations on the results you’ve achieved with the QHY camera. First, would you make a simple introduction of your obs to Chinese friends?
G: Hi, I'm Guy Wells FRAS, an astronomer here in London, England. Along with my colleague, Daniel Bamberger, we run the Northolt Branch Observatories. Our aim is to observe minor solar system bodies, asteroids and comets. Our main focus, though, is to keep track of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and submit astrometry/photometry to the Minor Planet Center. This helps us to know where NEAs will be in the future.
Y: We are very excited about what you’ve achieved. I wonder why did you choose to work at the observatories? And what is the most interesting and meaningful part of the job in your opinion?
G: We are amateur astronomers. I myself have a background in basic astrophotography too. After spending a few years imaging the major planets, clusters and nebulae I found myself pointing at the dwarf planet Pluto. I was excited to see its position in the night sky change over a period of days. I next set about imaging other minor solar system objects. Within a few months, my colleague and I, had setup the Northolt Branch Observatory, with the IAU code Z80.
Every object that we observe is different in some way. Different orbit, size, speed, for example. Sometimes we are the first observatory to see an asteroid after many years. All of the objects that we observe are interesting!
Y: Have you met with difficulties during your work? And what makes you overcome the challenges?
G: When we started, we encountered many problems. Sometimes they were software related, other times hardware. We dealt with those one at a time.
Our first setup was not optimised for asteroid astrometry, so we struggled with the detection of even reasonably bright objects. Now we use a much larger telescope and the very sensitive QHY42 camera.
Like the majority of amateur asteroid observatories, we are unfunded. This slows our progression unfortunately.
AT2020plo © Northolt Branch Observatories
Y: Please talk about the charm of astrophotography.
G: We don't do astrophotography to create images, rather, we use the camera to collect astrometric and photometric data. Having said that, when we follow up on some comets, C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) for example, really quite nice images can be obtained in a short period of time. This can be put down the highly sensitive sensor within the QHY camera that we use.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)
Y: Why do you choose QHYCCD camera?
Northolt Branch Observatories
G: We chose the QHY camera dues to certain criteria. The quantum efficiency, 95%, is desirable for the detection of faint asteroids. Our 2x binned images give us a 1-degree square field of view with our Ritchey-Chrétien telescope. This allows for a pixel scale of a little over 2, which is perfect for our needs.
Y: Which camera have you used? What results have you achieved? Please share with us your feelings.
G: In 2018 we received the new QHY42 scientific camera. QHY gave us much support to get everything running smoothly. Drivers were fine-tuned by the ever-helpful technical support, and soon we were fully operational with our new camera. Since then, we have helped with the confirmation of approximately 200 new near-Earth asteroids and made 6500+ measurements of minor solar system bodies.
During this time, we have become members of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN).
Near-Earth asteroid 2020 SX3
Y: What influences do you think your work, or astronomy, can make on the human?
Northolt Branch Observatories
G: We are just one of the many asteroid observatories, professional and amateur, located around the planet. Together, we track near-Earth asteroids so that we know where they will be sometime into the future. This will hopefully give the next generation a greater chance to deal with asteroids that could potentially impact the Earth.
Y: What do you want to say to the amateur astronomers?
G: There are ways that amateur astronomers can make a meaningful contribution to science, should they wish to do so. The positions of asteroids can be measured, to reduce any uncertainties in their orbits. Their brightness can be measured. That can help to determine their shape, for example. Asteroid occultation’s too! But there are other areas where amateurs can help. You could search for supernova, or monitor newly discovered objects to obtain lightcurves. Photometry of know variable stars produces useful data. More aesthetic objects, like comets, can be followed. We can watch, and document, changes as they head towards perihelion and beyond. In short, there are many ways which we, as amateurs, can help. Astrophotography is a great way to show people what can been seen in the night sky.
2020 SW Lightcurve © Northolt Branch Observatories
Y: Now astronomy is a field where not many common people pay attention to in China, could you give us your suggestions on how to attract more people to astronomy?
G: This is an interesting question. Social media can be quite a powerful tool to show people what can be observed in our skies. Having said that, one of the best ways to encourage more people is to actually get them observing. Astronomy group meetings, or star parties, for example. Live images can be shown directly from a telescope so that many people can view at the same time.