Amateur astronomers spot falling satellite from north Norfolk

Star gazers witnessed a moment in space race history when they spotted NASA's UARS satellite plummeting to Earth from a rural north Norfolk lookout.

The enthusiastic astronomers were keeping an eye out for the six-tonne craft last night during the annual Star Party at Kelling Heath Holiday Park. More than 1,000 star spotters from as far as Europe and America have descended on the rural beauty spot this weekend to observe the uncluttered skies above north Norfolk.

And among the highlights spotted so far has been a glimpse of the decommissioned satellite as it fell towards the Pacific ocean.

Richard Deighton, chairman of Loughton Astronomical Society - which organises the two-day Star Party - said visitors had also enjoyed extremely clear pictures of Jupiter.

'People were looking for the satellite. I was talking to some guys this morning who had traced it and they said they'd seen it go round one last time before it crashed into the Pacific,' he added. 'And Jupiter is very good, you can see the lovely red bands across it and its moons.'

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The High Kelling Star Party, which is now the biggest in Europe, has been running since the 1990s and started off in Thetford, but as it grew in popularity it moved to the holiday park.

The event, which this year has attracted amateurs as well as 'big names' from the astronomical world, is popular among those who are keen to study 'deep sky' objects.

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Mr Deighton said: 'They're things outside our solar system, other galaxies millions of light years away. They're very difficult to see in and around cities or towns because of the light.

'There are people here with some very expensive telescopes and we have got the British Deaf Association's astronomy club. It's a great mix and in the last few years we have had a lot more women coming; we think that's down to Brian Cox (presenter of the BBC's Wonders of the Solar System), but that's great.'

Mr Deighton said the star party is held in Norfolk as the county provides such clear skies and it has now become a holiday for many star gazers who stay on for a few days before or after the weekend's events.

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