50 talks about HOYS to amateur astronomy societies

By: Dirk Froebrich, PI of the HOYS Project

Last night I gave the 50th talk about the HOYS project. This one was to the Wadhurst Astronomical Society. A big thanks goes out to Alex Scholz and Justyn Campbell-White who gave some of the talks in Scotland – though I would have loved to travel there myself. Who would have thought, that when we started at a Stargazing Life event at The Langton Grammar School with this “Tour of Talks” on February 2nd, 2018, that it would only take 809 days to reach the 50-talk landmark? That’s one talk roughly every fortnight – despite Covid19 delaying this significantly. And yes, I thought of making a “Tour of Talks” T-Shirt. Unfortunately, I ordered it in the copy shop where the reply to “I would like to print an A0 poster please.” was “In what size?” – so they never confirmed my order or made the shirts.


We have spoken to about 1700 people and driven almost 11,000 miles across the country to get to all the places. This might, or might not be some kind of record. But those numbers or records is not what really matters. It is the places we visited (village halls, schools, universities, churches, sheds in the woods), the incredible people we met, and the memories we made during all those events. This is the main reason that it is a real shame that we had to hold the last 8 meetings online, due to Covid19. A big thank you has to go to all the societies we visited – in person and virtually. Thank you to all their members for making us feel welcome, for putting us up over night (sometimes in their members houses), for their generosity and interest in our project and the science we do. And of course the members who got excited enough to become engaged in the project and are now delivering excellent data for us.


I had a look back over all the talks and captured the evolution of our title slide in the animated gif above. The eagle eyed people will spot two missing ones (other than #1). These were the occasions where we gave talks on consecutive days without internet access in-between to add the audience picture. While doing the animation a lot of memories from the two years have come back and I would like to share a few of them below.
    • The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh is the only one (so far) for which we have given two talks. They were one of the quickest societies to set up online talks at the start of Covid19. They asked us if we could give an update following the first talk we did about two years prior. Several society members started to be HOYS participants after our first presentation. One of them has since also become heavily involved in the running of HOYS itself. He is now one of our amateur astronomy advisors for the project and has more or less single handily set-up, sponsored and designed our new website (lockdown can be good for some things ;-). He is also instrumental in developing material for our HOYS-LCO project. Thank you very much Mark!
    • The Rosliston Astronomy Group is the only other society we visited twice. Unfortunately, upon my first arrival I started to feel ill and was unable to give the presentation. A huge thank you goes to the society member who was a GP and drove me to the hospital for a check up. Thanks also to Paul and his wife for putting me up for the night – also the second time when I visited again to actually give the talk.
    • All the visits meant, as mentioned above, a lot of driving.  I love driving and the talks gave me the opportunity to drive some incredible roads (and yes, a lot of terrible hours on the M1, M6 and M25). While visiting the Cornwall Astronomical, I found out that one can drive from Whitstable to Land’s End and order a coffee in the shop there, in less than six hours. Getting to the Plymouth Astronomical Society a few months later, then took several hours longer. My favourite scenic drive was through Snowdonia to get to the Gwynedd Astronomical Society in Bangor. A close second has to be the drive through the Peak District, with a stop to hike to Mam Tor, while doing back to back talks for the High Legh Community Observatory and the Breckland Astronomical Society. The most surreal drive must be the one back home from the talk at the Stour Astronomical Society. I was listening to the radio and almost crashed from the shock of hearing that England had just won a penalty shootout at a major football championship.
    • During many of our talks we handed out feedback forms to help us improve our presentations. They give a great insight into the audiences and their expectations. I have read through every single one of the forms, who are all still neatly sorted in my office. After my talk at the Torbay Astronomical Society, I chatted to one of the audience members while he handed is form back. He proudly told me that a few weeks earlier they had a talk by Chris Lintott – the society meets in his old school. When I looked at his form after he had gone, it stated very clearly: “This was the best talk we ever had.” Thank you very much!
    • Last but not least, I have to mention Stan Waterman. He approached me while I visited the Letchworth and District Astronomical Society and had an incredible dataset of tens of thousands of images taken over many years of the same region. He called this The Cygnus Project and initially asked if this could be included into the HOYS dataset. However, even at the current time, his data are ten times bigger than all of HOYS put together. We thus decided to tackle it separately and get a research masters student to calibrate all of it. We are now starting to analyse the light curves. You might have seen some of them as ‘auxiliary’ data in our light curve of the week feature. Thank you Stan!
There are of course many more memories. Apologies to all societies I have not mentioned specifically and to everyone who’s name I forgot. I am looking forward to the next 50 talks and societies. Maybe more. There are about 200 active amateur astronomy societies in the UK.
Talk number 51 is scheduled for tomorrow evening at the Vectis Astronomical Society on the Isle of Wight – unfortunately still online only.