Ian Morison, BA, MSc, FRAS
Ian Morison began his love of astronomy when, at the age of 12, he made a telescope out of lenses given to him by his optician. He attended Chichester High School and then went on to study Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Hertford College, Oxford.
In September 1965, he became a research student at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, building a lunar radar system to study the sub-surface of the Moon.
Research work at Jodrell Bank.
Much of his early work at Jodrell Bank was spent designing and commissioning data acquisition systems for the MKIA and Mk II radio telescopes, though, in 1975 he led a small team that discovered the precise position of what is now one of the best stellar black-hole candidates in the Galaxy.
The work which he is most proud was of being responsible for a major part of the design and construction of the 217km MERLIN array. This is the largest linked array in the World and has the same resolution in the radio part of the spectrum as the Hubble Space Telescope in the optical. With his research student he wrote the first scientific paper with data captured by the MERLIN array.
During the 1990’s he designed timing systems linked an atomic frequency standard to enable precise measurements to be made of the arrival times of radio pulses generated by neutron stars known as pulsars. This equipment was used in the observations that have shown Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is accurate to at least 0.005% - the best current test of his theory.
A new period in his life began in 1998 when he was asked to act as Project Scientist for the Lovell Telescope’s role in Project Phoenix – the most sensitive SETI program that has ever been undertaken. This 5 year project observed over 800 sun-like star systems. In 2003, he acted as an international judge relating to this topic for a major event organised by the three major European Science Institutes, ESO, ESA and CERN. He is regarded as the UK expert on SETI and, in 2006, organised and gave the opening and closing addresses to a meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society on this topic. The review article he wrote following the meeting was the “cover story” in “Astronomy and Geophysics” in August 2006. With a colleague he is proposing a SETI programme for a new array to be built in South Africa.
A recent role at Jodrell Bank was as Project Scientist for the attempts to receive signals from the Beagle II Lander which, sadly, appears to have crash landed on Mars. His group did, however gain plaudits from the official enquiry into the project for their valiant, if unsuccessful, efforts.
SETI captured the imagination of the media, and over this period he was asked to take part in many radio and TV programmes. This still continues. He is proud of the fact that two of his contributions to Radio 4 since then have been on “Pick of the Week”.
In 2000 the Observatory began a “distance learning” programme for which he wrote substantial parts of three modules “Introduction to Radio Astronomy”, “Exploring the Radio Universe” and “Life in the Universe and SETI”. He currently teaches an astronomy course to all first year students in Manchester University's School of Physics and Astronomy.
He currently sit on four international committees, two related to my SETI work, one on outreach from large observatories and, most recently, the outreach committee for the Square Kilometre Array – a giant radio telescope planned for the next decade.
The Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre
Ian Morison was a member of the management committee of the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre from 1980 to 2002 and chairman of its exhibition sub-committee. He sits on the interim oversight committee of our present reduced visitor facilities and acted as a consultant to both the National Space Centre in Leicester and "Spaceport" near Liverpool on the content of their astronomy galleries.
Astronomy Outreach work
Ian Morison now gives classes for the University, the Worker’s Educational Association, South Cheshire College and the Wilmslow Guild. Recently, Sir Patrick Moore suggested to Burton Manor College that he take over an annual astronomy weekend that he felt that he could no longer undertake. He is now planning the fourth such event.
For many years, he has been asked to speak on astronomical topics for local radio stations, in particular Radio Manchester. This happens several times per month on average. He also regularly contributes to national radio programmes. In recent years, as he has become more widely known in the North-West of England, he have been asked to give quite a number of single lectures at museums and to a wide range of societies and institutions.
Work with Astronomical Societies
Ian Morison was a founder member of the Macclesfield Astronomical Society in 1990, and is now an honorary life member. During the 1990’s he was asked to help organise observing weekends for the Society for Popular Astronomy, the UK’s largest astronomical society with over 3000 members. In 1997 the society asked him to become their vice-president and later their president for a two year term of office. He remains a council member and holds the post of instrument adviser, helping members with their queries about binoculars and telescopes and writing a “telescope topics” section for the society’s publication “Popular Astronomy.”
Over the years he has given talks about the work of Jodrell Bank to the majority of astronomical societies across the UK and continue to give about one such talk per month. He has also given invited talks to societies in Germany and the USA.
In March 2006 he led a trip taking amateur astronomers to view the total eclipse of the Sun in Turkey and, in December that year to Lapland to view the Aurora Borealis.
With Margaret Penston MBE, he has co-authored two books for the amateur astronomer: “Astronomy” and “Pocket Guide to Stars and Planets”. Both are now going into second editions. “Astronomy” has been translated into 6 languages including German, Polish and Croatian. He has written, and continues to write, reviews and articles for the two UK astronomy magazines “Astronomy Now” and “Sky at Night”. These include articles about “Cosmology”, “Jodrell Bank Observatory” and, in the March 2007 issue of Sky at Night, “The Square Kilometre Array”.
He has written much of the material on the Jodrell Bank website for the general public including a monthly "Night Sky Guide" viewed over 7000 times per month and contributes this and other material to the monthly Podcast - with the "night sky" section down loaded over 1300 times per month. Over 20,000 copies of his Jodrell Bank Observatory 28 page booklet have now been sold, now in its third edition.
Books by Ian Morison:
Three minor honours
In 2003, the Minor Planets Committee of the International Astronomical Union named Asteroid 15,727 in his honour. The citation states that “this was in recognition of his work with MERLIN and SETI and also for his ability to inspire others".
At the European Congress for Radio Astronomy held in Heidelberg in September 2006, where he had given the keynote address on the future of radio astronomy, he was presented with a small award in recognition of my “contribution to European Radio Astronomy”.
Ian Morison has been appointed, with effect from 1st August 2007, "Gresham Professor of Astronomy" - the 35th holder of this post which dates from 1597. It was held by Christopher Wren from 1657 to 1660 and, more recently, by two Presidents of the Royal Society and two holders of the post of Astronomer Royal.
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