(Almost) Fifty Years of Astronomy at Sussex

I came across this booklet earlier this morning, whereupon I realised that Thirty is about to turn into Fifty…

Astronomy_30

The date on the front of the booklet is November 1996, but inside it explains that the content is based on a seminar given at Sussex about a year earlier. In fact the first MSc students in Astronomy started in October 1965. However, they were all part-time students (they were all staff at the Royal Greenwich Observatory which at that time was in Herstmonceux, Sussex) and none graduated until 1967. The 40th anniversary of that graduation was recognized with an event in 2007. The first full-time staff astronomer arrived in 1966, along with the first full-time MSc students. The first MSc students to graduate did so in 1967.

In fact I joined the Astronomy Centre at Sussex as a DPhil student in October 1985, 20 years after the arrival of the first cohort.

It’s interesting to note that originally astronomy existed at Sussex only as a postgraduate course. The attitude in most Universities in those days was that students should learn all the necessary physics before applying it to astronomy. Over the years this has changed, and most departments offer some astronomy right from Year 1. I think this change has been for the better because I think the astronomical setting provides a very exciting context to learn physics. If you want to understand, say, the structure of the Sun you have to include atomic physics, nuclear physics, gravity, thermodynamics, radiative transfer and hydrostatics all at the same time. This sort of thing makes astrophysics a good subject for developing synthetic skills while more traditional physics teaching focusses almost exclusively on analytical skills.

Anyway, I’m now left with a quandary. Should Fifty Years of Astronomy at Sussex be celebrated in 2015, 2016 or 2017?

Answers on a postcard please….

14 Responses to “(Almost) Fifty Years of Astronomy at Sussex”

  1. Adrian Burd Says:

    Peter, were you thinking of having a little celebration for this august anniversary?

    • telescoper Says:

      Indeed. I’m in discussions with the Alumni office about it. I’m thinking of a jamboree dinner…

      • Adrian Burd Says:

        If things work out with dates, work etc., I might try and make it over the pond for that.

  2. I’m fairly sure the 30th anniversary celebrations took place in Autumn 1995 (right at the start of my PhD…). That term’s seminar speakers were all alumni (one from each 5 year ‘window’ I think). And I think the seminar corresponding to the booklet was one of the series. I might have that seminar schedule hidden away somewhere in my office.

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “The first full-time staff astronomer arrived in 2016, along with the first full-time MSc students. The first MSc students to graduate did so in 2017.”

    Something amiss about the dates methinks.

  4. Phillip Helbig Says:

    I have fond memories of a books called Galaxies by R. J. Tayler.

  5. Bryn Jones Says:

    I hope the libraries of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Society for the History of Astronomy have copies of the 1996 booklet. It would be nice for the Sussex Astronomy Centre to produce an updated and extended version of the booklet for the coming anniversary.

    This might be an example to many other astronomical research groups: they could also prepare histories of their activities.

    • telescoper Says:

      Bryn, there are plans do do exactly that. An update was prepared for the 40th Anniversary but I don’t think it was published as a hardcopy

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Excellent. Well done. Perhaps I’ll read a copy in the RAS Library a few years hence.

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