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Requests for Astronomical Information: celestial phenomena and unidentified flying objects, 1968-1975, 1978

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 83

Scope and Contents

This class consists of requests for astronomical information sent to the Royal Greenwich Observatory between 1968 and 1975. It includes letters from the public, both in the UK and worldwide. Both incoming letters and carbon copies of official responses are preserved, with replies generally signed by Humphry Smith or William (Bill) Nicholson who were joint Press Officers from 1968.

The first nine files are letters from the UK, deemed ‘general’ or ‘special’, and each organised in alphabetical sets. While the original file organisation has been kept, the distinction between ‘General’ and ‘Special’ requests is, at times, obscure and there is some overlap. Many of the files marked ‘general’ are letters requesting general information on the Observatory and astronomy, including literature and photographs. These include numerous submissions by school children and teachers seeking information for projects. ‘Special’ usually refers to more specialised requests, requests to identify observed astronomical phenomena or evaluate manuscripts or ideas submitted. Notable is the sizable amounts of correspondence regarding observations of Comet Bennett and Comet Kohoutek, discovered in 1969 and 1973 respectively. Also notable is the fact that the observatory received many submissions on non-astronomical matters, including seismology, tides, and meteorology, and often redirected such enquiries to the right channels.

Files RGO 83/3/1-3 are requests for information from North America and worldwide. File RGO 83/4 ‘Unanswered requests’ include letters from individuals who wrote repeatedly to the RGO, and letters deemed to be sent by ‘cranks’. Throughout the files at RGO 83, however, there are similar ‘crank’ letters, usually marked ‘No reply’. These include submissions of nonsensical theories or thoughts, letters from spiritualists and astrologers, and letters of religious portent.

File RGO 83/5 contains letters requesting information on observed U.F.O.s. A note in the file explains that letters on this topic were only kept when an astronomical explanation could be given.


  • Creation: 1968-1975, 1978


Conditions Governing Access

From the Management Group:

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


7 archive box(es) : Paper, photographs

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Internally generated papers.

Related Materials

The collection is continued in part at classmark RGO 112: Public Information Unit Papers.

For requests for astronomical information received by the Nautical Almanac Office, 1968-1980, see RGO 16/221.


Catalogued by Dr Emma Saunders, March 2023.

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom