The Astronomical Society of Malta was established in September 1984 with the amalgamation of the Students’ Astronomical Circle (set up in 1978) and the Astronomical Association (set up in 1977).
The Astronomical Association of Malta
In October 1976, Norman Stivala, an amateur astronomer, wrote a letter in a local newspaper to encourage those who loved astronomy to meet and share their knowledge and interest. Many people replied to Stivala’s call. Eventually, in 1977 a new group called The Astronomical Association of Malta was formed. Its aims were to increase friendship between the members and share the knowledge of astronomy. The committee started organizing astronomy nights, talks and social activities. During the first year, the society had 110 registered members. Members of the association monitored solar activity and contributed cometary observations. In particular. members recorded the variation in brightness of a nova in Cygnus. The association participated in TV and radio programmes and informed the public of special events like the rare lunar occultation of Jupiter on the 12th September 1983.
The Students’ Astronomical Circle (SAC)
Meanwhile, a group of interested students within the University of Malta set up The Students’ Astronomical Circle in 1978. Eventually, the circle formed five independent groups which focused on planetary astronomy, deep space, meteors, eclipses, theories and more speculative ideas. By 1983, the circle had 60 members, mostly youths with ages ranging between 16 and 24 years. The SAC began publishing a newsletter with the name Sirius. Other publications included The Big Bang and Meteor. The latter reflected the strong interest of the members in the field of meteor observations. The society organized various activities related to meteor observations and published scientific reports which were then passed over to international organizations. Moreover, the SAC kept in mind the general public and in 1982 organized an exhibition in the National Museum of Archeology with the collaboration of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Culture. The American and Russian embassies also participated in this exhibition.
The Astronomical Society of Malta
In 1984, the Students Astronomical Circle and The Astronomical Association moved closer together in order to work together for the same goal, namely to spread the interest and knowledge of Astronomy. A new combined committee was formed on the 23rd May, 1984 to discuss the possibility of combining the societies. A meeting was held on the 19th September, 1984 and all the members present for the meeting voted in favour of unification of the two separate societies into one single organization. Thus, The Astronomical Society of Malta was established in September 1984 with the amalgamation of The Astronomical Association and the Students’ Astronomical Circle.
The newly formed committee of The Astronomical Society of Malta started organizing activities for the public and has continued spreading the knowledge of astronomy ever since. Throughout the years, The Astronomical Society of Malta has organized innumerable activities, talks, observing sessions, TV and radio programmes and much more.
If one were to mention all the activities organized by the Society over the years, the list would be never-ending.
Several distinguished speakers have also delivered talks for the astronomical society. Such people include the famous British astronomer Dr. Patrick Moore, international broadcaster and astronomy writer Heather Couper, telescope maker Philip Horrocks, and the controversial Egyptian engineer Robert Bauval.
Other examples of talks held in the past include a series of lectures by by Professor Edward Mallia, Max Ruffert, and Vittorio Debattista.
A notable event in the history of the society was the apparition of comet Halley in 1985 and 1986 during which period the number of members increased by double the amount! There were several other memorable events. It is apt to mention a few. The partial solar eclipse of 1999 was a popular event and many people flocked to Valletta and Hagar Qim to view the event. A number of society members even travelled to Graz, Austria to observe the total solar eclipse. However, the weather did not collaborate. The great Mars opposition of 2003 attracted large crowds to activities held by the Society.
The Venus Transit of 2004 was also an immensely successful event. The public gathered on the upper Barrakka gardens to view the phenomenon. In 2006, many people made it once again to Hagar Qim to view the partial solar eclipse on the 29th of March. Society members set up their filtered telescopes to allow the public to view the event. These are but a few examples of the countless activities that the society has been organizing since 1984.
The society started holding an annual astronomy course for the general public. These courses have proved to be immensely popular. So much so, that in the first year 460 people attended the course. These annual courses are still held today.
Each year, the society also holds its annual astronomy week. During this week, the society organizes a number of observing sessions, talks, exhibitions and other events aimed to draw the young and old alike to the wonderful study of astronomy.
General meetings for all members are held roughly each month. These include discussions on topical issues, preparation and evaluation of observing projects, residential observing runs plus slide and video shows. Observing nights are held regularly for the general public. Such events are usually held in dark-sky areas such as Had Dingli Cliffs, L-Ahrax tal-Mellieha, Dwejra and Ta’ Cenc.
The Society also contributes to the advancement of astronomy as a science. The Society runs various observing projects on comets, variable stars, meteor streams and eclipses. Some members monitor brightness fluctuations of Variable Stars. Others record daily observations of the solar disc, noting sunspot quantity and quality. Society projects are delegated to different project co-ordinators, who process the observations and compile a scientifically useful report. In this way, Society members have contributed to the advancement of scientific knowledge in various spheres of Astronomy, notably: sunspots. comets, occultations, variable stars, meteor work and historical research.
The Astronomical Society is the national astronomical organisation for Malta, and co-operates actively through its members with astronomical organisations abroad. Such valuable foreign contacts include:
- British Astronomical Association (England)
- International Meteor Organisation (Belgium)
- International Dark Skies Association
- Sunspot Index Data Centre (SIDC) at the Observatoire Royale de Beligique (Belgium)
- American Association for Variable Star Observers (USA)
- International Union for Amateur Astronomers (Switzerland)
- Uranoscope De’ France
- International Lunar Occultation Centre (Japan)
- European Asteroid Occultation Network (Belgium)
- Lucerne Astronomical Society (Switzerland)
Our Mission Today
The Society is established to promote and propagate education and interest in the science of astronomy. In particular, it has the aims of organizing lectures courses, discussions, observing sessions and/or such similar events. These may be open to non-members of the society. It also aims to contribute to science by encouraging its members to make astronomical observations which are scientifically useful.