The Luton Astronomical Society (LAS) has over 45 years experience of promoting interest in the Science of Astronomy and general awareness of the night sky.
We always welcome new members.
The formation of the Society took place 45 years ago in the latter part of 1969, a few months after the epic Apollo 11 Moon landing. This excited the public at the time. Although space flight and astronomy are quite different, there are some important connected areas of interest. , The then Luton College of Higher Education, noting the widespread interest in the town put on a series of lectures concerning space flight and astronomy.
These lectures were organised by Jim Hysom a local manufacturer of astronomical optics. It turned out to be very interesting and well attended A range of topics were presented by a number of speakers, chiefly on astronomical subjects. At the end of the course, several people who wanted to continue in some way or another with further lectures or perhaps form a group that could meet somewhere regularly triggered discussions. The outcome, the formation of the Luton and District Astronomical Society occurred in December 1969, with the meeting being held in the Youth House in the town centre.
The facilities were not exactly ideal in this our first home. It was semi-open plan, with no blackout or screen and a borrowed projector. We had to endure the noise raised by team games, whistles and other noises associated with a busy gymnasium.
Nevertheless, a small group of enthusiasts led by Steve Anderson got the Society on its feet and running with support from outside speakers when they were available.
At this time, well-established amateurs like Jim Hysom, Jim Muirden, Peter Drew and the authority himself – Horace Dall, gave helpful encouragement. The continuing Apollo moonshots stimulated a growth in more members and resulted in the birth of similar astronomical societies throughout the country. Many of those, like us, will next year be celebrating their 40th anniversaries.
In the autumn of 1976, the committee approached the Luton Tech as it was generally known, to see if it could rent a room on a regular basis. The College authorities considered this and with support from the Department of Physics, a room was supplied for our use. This turned out to be Room 233(the lecture theatre) – a great psychological boost for the Society. The theatre had a large screen, a projection box, good blackout curtains and tiered seating as well as an illuminated blackboard and rostrum. In all, it was a facility, which was the envy of less fortunate societies in the Midlands and London area. It was the start of the special association with the University, which we still enjoy today.
Following the death of Horace Dall in 1986, the year of Halley’s Comet. (He claimed it was his 2nd time round; he had seen it as a child!) The LAS acquired the Dall Telescope and its original observatory. The aim of the Society at this time was to raise money for the construction of an observatory on site at Putteridgebury. Therefore, the meetings transferred to the Putteridgebury campus where we meet today. This is out of town and suites the Society from the point of view of astronomical observation. The authorities granted permission, but we would have to pay a peppercorn rent! There was no objection and work on the site started in 1990. With the generous financial help from many local firms and organisations, the LAS finally got its observatory in October 1992. Patrick Moore performed the opening ceremony of the newly refurbished and set up Dall Telescope.
In 1993, we took up the role of an educator. We actively encouraged schools and other groups to bring parties to the Dall Observatory for special observing sessions at minimal cost. This is now very well established and more organised. If skies are cloudy, a slide show is always an alternative after a tour of the main instrument and its mode of operation. Our public open evenings are another aspect of the work of the LAS, which will continue with increasing success.
With the construction of a half, metre rich field telescope the New Generation Dall Telescope the success of the Society continues; this success is due in no small way perhaps to the band of dedicated people who give up hours of their time year after year and never complains (a lot). The LAS has always been fortunate to have such people. Our membership remains steady and has built up many external friends over the years.