BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Looking back: The Sky at Night
14 September 1985
In 14 September 1985’s episode of The Sky at Night, Patrick Moore visited astronomer Ron Arbour, the first amateur observer in the UK attempting to track down supernovae in distant galaxies.
To do so, Arbour had computerised and automated his setup – a far more challenging prospect than it is today, requiring a computer setup almost as large as the 16-inch reflector it controlled. With this system, however, he was able to image as many as 24 galaxies every night, compared to the mere six he’d been managing when observing by hand.
On the night the episode was filmed, Arbour showed Patrick how his setup would automatically take pictures of several key galaxies across the sky using a specially adapted ‘cold camera’. With widely available digital cameras still decades away, the setup used standard 35mm film but had a special compartment filled with dry ice to keep the film cold and increase its sensitivity.
Over 30 years later, Arbour is still hunting for supernovae and has discovered dozens – albeit with a more modern setup than when Patrick visited.