For the second year running, volunteers from the Flamsteed Astronomy Society helped to organise and run the premier London event for BBC Stargazing Live. This year, we were situated in the National Maritime Museum and had almost double the number of attendees in comparison to last year‘s event at Charlton House.
Over 40 Flamsteed volunteers provided 25 telescopes of various designs, from starter telescopes to giant reflectors and refractors, for an outdoor ‘stargazing’ session. We also delivered presentations on astrophotography, ran telescope workshops and talked to members of the public about solar viewing and radio astronomy. A fantastic effort from all involved!
We were joined by the ROG Astronomers who were occupying “the astronomer’s hut” in Neptune Court, as well as representatives from the UK Space Agency, the Open University and English Touring Opera (who were giving a sneak preview of their new science opera about Laika the Spacedog!). A panel of Mars experts occupied the lecture theatre to discuss the possibility of life on Mars, whilst Bridget the Mars Rover was on display in the museum foyer. Visitors were also given the opportunity to visit the Planetarium at the Royal Observatory… a path of glow sticks lit the way up the hill to the observatory.
Typically, the night before the event was perfectly clear, so it came as no surprise to Flamsteed veterans to find a leaden London sky above us on arrival. Not to be put off, telescopes were set up, with most pointing up the hill towards Flamsteed House so that visitors could at least see something through the eyepieces. The cloudy skies didn’t seem to put off the visitors, as many were happy to wander about the telescopes, admiring the various designs and chatting to enthusiastic Flamsteed volunteers.
Inside the museum, we had a talk giving members of the public an introduction to astrophotography, which was very well received. The telescope workshop was continually busy, with our volunteers being constantly bombarded with questions on types of telescopes and advice for first time buyers. The solar viewing stand was particularly popular, supplemented by a wonderful video on solar activity over the last year. Our radio astronomy stand also attracted a great deal of interest, with demonstrations of our new VLF radio equipment to detect solar flares and radio receivers ‘listening’ to meteors entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
The weather provided the final twist to the evening. Just as the crowds were dwindling and many volunteers were packing up their telescopes, we were astonished to find a partially clear patch of sky directly in the vicinity of Jupiter. Telescopes were quickly slewed to view the giant planet and we were treated to a lovely view of Jupiter and 2 of the Galilean moons (Europa and Callisto), with Io and Ganymede still in transit across the face of the planet. Those members of the public who were still in attendance were delighted to get such an unexpected view. After 10 minutes or so, we were clouded out again, but what a great way to end a superb evening.
Sincere thanks to all of the Flamsteed volunteers whose superb efforts made the evening such a great success.