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Illuminated Rock

A Brief History of the Cambridge Astronomical Association

The Association was founded in 1959 by a group of 50 Cambridge residents with a common interest in astronomy.


During the 1960's, regular meetings were held with the occasional invited speaker and an observatory was built at Wandlebury. The Observatory was a large wooden hut in which a 6-inch refractor could be rolled out at one end (Using some reused rails from a baker's oven).


This gave fine views of the planets.

The CAA happily pottered along for a number of years until the late 70's and early 80's when numbers started to decline. (Was this due to the influence of the dreaded 'box'?). A familiar Catch-22 situation arose: insufficient members to invite a speaker along and so with no speakers even fewer members came along.


It seemed that the Association was terminally ill - by April 1986 there were less than twenty members.

A committee was formed in April 1986 to stop the rot - everyone who attended that AGM was made a committee member - all 8 of them. By that summer, a bi-monthly newsletter, later to be called Capella, made its appearance.

A monthly speaker meeting was arranged for the winter. By the end of 1989, membership had grown to 50 and continued to increase. It was then that we started our telescope building activities.


First came the Hysom half-meter reflector. This was built in just three months using several construction evenings, which became known as Vetscopes. (Vetscopes because the sessions were held in the workshop of the Vet School). As well as launching Vetscopes, the first junior section was started - Cambridge Young Astronomers. This has become a very successful part of the Association.

For more information on the CYA section click here.

Annual Star parties became a regular feature and regular observing sessions and in 1994 we saw the completion of our second observatory (the ever-encroaching trees at Wandlebury made that observatory impractical.)

This was built to the south of Cambridge, well away from the streetlights. Later an observatory near Ely was opened on a site with very dark skies - but sadly neither remains operational.

In October 1997 we joined forces with the Institute to help them run public observing sessions every clear Wednesday from October to March.


Through the generosity of the IoA, we are able to hold speaker meetings in the Hoyle building and have been given access to use some of the telescopes at the Institute for those members who wish to take their own images of objects in the night sky.

So, the CAA has had its ups and downs, going from near collapse in the mid 80's to becoming the largest town society in Britain - over 1500 members.

Fortunately, they don't all turn up at once.

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