Hundreds join TV astronomer for nightly stargazing sessions

Starry sky. Picture: Christopher Dean/

Starry sky. Picture: Christopher Dean/ - Credit: Christopher Dean

Astronomer Mark Thompson has become one of the stars of coronavirus home-schooling as he leads family stargazing sessions

TV astronomer Mark Thompson PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

TV astronomer Mark Thompson PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Families across the country are exploring the wonders of the night sky with Mark Thompson’s #FamilyStargazeWithMark - although his own children have opted out!

Mark, who lives near Harleston in south Norfolk and is well known for his appearances on television programmes including Stargazing Live, The One Show, BBC Breakfast, has begun leading families around the night sky via a series of tweets from his garden most clear evenings.

“I have two children; Phoebe 10 and Riley 8, and while home-schooling them during the lockdown I tried to come up with ways to help other parents who are home-schooling and very probably pulling their hair out trying to keep their kids interested,” said Mark. “That’s when I came up with the idea of a virtual guided tour around the sky. During the events, that last about 30 minutes (kids lose attention very quickly), I post tweets out to guide people around the sky whilst they are out in their own back gardens.”

More than a thousand families are joining the 46-year-old science broadcaster from their own back gardens each evening to find out more about the sky at night but Mark said: “Rather amusingly my kids are not interested so they have not been a lot of help!”

101 Facts You Didn't Know About Space by Mark Thompson

101 Facts You Didn't Know About Space by Mark Thompson - Credit: supplied

He plans to run #FamilyStargazeWithMark throughout the lockdown. “I will take the odd evening off if there is loads of cloud around but will do as many as I can,” he said. “They have been incredibly well received.”

And what have the stars got in store for us over the next few weeks? “Venus is great to look out for over in the west after sunset,” said Mark. “And over in the east the summer constellations like Lyra and Hercules are rising up telling us that summer is on the way. We also have the Lyrid meteor shower at the end of April to early May, which peaks over April 21-22.”

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Mark’s latest book was published this month. In 101 Facts You Didn’t Know About Space he shares some of his own awe at the discoveries he has been making since he first fell in love with astronomy as a 10-year-old growing up in Norwich. The former Thorpe St Andrew School pupil saw the rings and moons of Saturn through a telescope at the Norwich Astronomical Society observatory and was hooked.

He went on to share his enthusiasm and expertise with millions of people via television shows including Stargazing Live, The One Show, BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Britain and is a regular voice on Radio Five Live. He has also performed his show “Spectacular Science” at theatres across the country and is now president of the Norwich Astronomical Society where his passion for the stars was first sparked.

“My favourite fact in the book is that dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate,” said Mark. “Without giving it all away, a great experiment was done where they put some dung beetles in a planetarium and switched off elements of the sky with surprising results!”

And did you know that a compost heap generates as much energy as the sun or that astronauts have feet as soft as babies? 101 Facts You Didn’t Know About Space includes mind-boggling information about planets, black holes and galaxies and is aimed at everyone from astronomy newcomers to enthusiasts, keen to find out more about their universe.

101 Facts You Didn’t Know About Space by Mark Thompson is published by Pen and Sword Books.

To join #FamilyStargazeWithMark follow Mark on Twitter at @PeoplesAstro

Look for the hashtag #FamilyStargazeWithMark and after your stargazing session you can visit his website to download a family worksheet.

World’s longest lecture to raise money for children’s charity

Mark is also in training to break the world record for the longest lecture (and it won’t be at his kids for failing to join in with #FamilyStargazeWithMark!)

He will be raising money for children’s charity Barnardo’s as he attempts to speak for more than 140 hours, beginning at 11am on September 12 at the University of East Anglia.

He will need to talk for more than five days and plans to cover everything from the history of astronomy to alien worlds and the earth and moon to the outer solar system.

The build-up began at the Norwich Science Festival last October when Mark gave a talk called “Introduction to the Universe – Sleep Not Essential” after 58 hours without sleep.

For full details of the world record attempt and to donate visit