The best spots to stargaze in Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
The BBC's Stargazing Live starts tonight and will again renew our interest in the thrilling sights to be found in the night sky. Here's how to take the next steps into amateur astronomy.
It's time to have stars in your eyes as the BBC's annual celestial show Stargazing Live returns with a completely new view of the night sky from down under.
Back for its seventh year, Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain have headed to Australia to gaze up at a sky that will be completely unfamiliar to viewers in the UK, packed full of the most astonishing features from constellations like the Southern Cross – famously featured on Australia's flag – to jewel-like clusters of stars and perfectly positioned planets. And capping it all is the most remarkable view of the Milky Way, arching overhead like a river of stars.
Home for the series, which will be screened on three consecutive nights, starting tonight on BBC2 at 8pm, is a remote mountain top in New South Wales, site of the world-famous Siding Spring Observatory, which boasts over 50 telescopes.
Stargazing Live is always fascinating and if you are inspired to look heaven wards there are plenty of ways to start — right here in Norfolk, you don't need to head to Australia!
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Stargazing Live Open Night
Breckland Observatory, Great Ellingham, March 31, 7.30pm-10.30pm, admission free, 01953 850626, www.brecklandastro.org.uk
Breckland Astronomical Society gets into the Stargazing Live spirit with this public open night aimed at beginners. The society, founded in 1993, has its own observatory at Great Ellingham equipped with a 20″ reflector, along with a number of smaller telescopes for you to have a look through. Members will be on hand to explain what is being seen and guide around the sky. This event is free of charge and no booking is required, simply turn up. Hot refreshments will be available too.
Scale of the Universe
Seething Observatory, Toad Lane, Thwaite St Mary, March 31/April 1, 8pm-10pm, £3, £1.50 children, 01953 602624, www.norwich.astronomicalsociety.org.uk
Special stargazing events with Norwich Astronomy Society — whose chairman is the BBC Stargazing Live and One Show presenter Mark Thompson. There will be a presentation and tour of the observatory facilities and, if the sky is clear, observe through the large aperture telescopes. Dave Cook will also be giving a talk on the size and scale of the universe and the things in it. Children aged over eight are welcome. No booking just turn up. Whatever the weather, this will be a great night out.
Parkhill Hotel, Lowestoft, March 28, 7pm-9pm, admission free, www.lyra-astro.co.uk
Join members of LYRA (Loughton & Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) for their observing session at the barn car park at Parkhill Hotel. Members of the public welcome. Event will involve stargazing and observing the skies through telescopes weather permitting. The club is also currently hosting its Spring Star Party at Haw Wood Farm (until March 29), while there will be a talk by Dan Self entitled Where Air Ends and Space Begins on April 11. Whether you are a beginner or more advanced in the world of the stars, planets, the moon, the sun or deep sky objects, this club's doors are open.
Nowton Park Walled Garden, Nowton, Bury St Edmunds, March 30, 7.30pm-9.30pm, 07802 336 345 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm), www.3a.org.uk
Members of the public can join Athenaeum Astronomy Association for this event at the walled garden in Norton Park. When weather permits the evening will be spent observing with telescopes, binoculars and the naked eye. If the weather does not allow for stargazing members will give astronomical talks. If you're planning on joining them for the first time, contact in advance, just to make sure the meeting is going ahead.
Six Tips For Stargazing
1. Buy A Red Torch — There are two items that every amateur astronomer has in their equipment bag, and the first is a red torch. Most stargazing is at night, and you'll sometimes need extra light. Red light is the least likely to affect your eyes' dark adaptation. Some people suggest using a rear bike light, but even they can be too bright. You would be better advised to go to a specialist for a purpose-made torch. They cost from as little as £3.50.
2. Use A Planisphere — A planisphere is the other must-have item. It's an easy-to-use chart of the night sky. They are usually made of two plastic discs, fixed in the centre but able to rotate against each other. The bottom disc has a chart of the whole sky and the top disc has a transparent window through which you can see the sky for the night in question. Simply set it for the date and time and the planisphere will show you what is on view that night and where to look for it. Available in all good bookshops.
3. Seek Out Your Local Astronomical Society — Whether you intend to stick to casual stargazing or want to get more involved, a great and very enjoyable way to enhance your new hobby is to seek our your local astronomical society. These are great places to go for advice and help. When you eventually want to buy equipment, members with telescopes will be happy to talk about their experiences. Norwich Astronomical Society was established in 1945 and is now based at a purpose-built observatory at Seething. It runs regular public events throughout the year. Beyond Stargazing Live, the next major gathering of stargazers will be the Spring Star Party at Kelling Heath which attracts amateur astronomers from across the country. It runs from April 19-26, but the main public weekend is April 22-23. For more details visit: www.starparty.org
4. Buying Equipment — After you've become familiar with the night sky with the naked eye, you may want to move on to binoculars or a telescope to see things more clearly.
• For children — Youngsters often want a proper telescope. Don't worry too much about quality, definitely don't spend more than £150 and don't allow your child to use a solar filter.
• For adults — Don't go out and buy a telescope straight away – consider a pair of binoculars, which are a great way to start. If you're determined to buy a telescope you will need advice as to the best piece of equipment that will suit your needs and your budget. There are two main types – refractors which use lenses and reflectors that use mirrors. Reflectors are cheaper for instruments of the same size and same quality of image. The most important thing to bear in mind is the size of the main mirror or lens – bigger is definitely better! For the complete beginner, a good starting point would be a modest-sized reflecting telescope – around 150mm (6in) aperture.
5. Subscribe To A Magazine — There is no better way to keep up to date with what's going on in the world of astronomy than subscribing to an astronomy magazine. Make sure that you buy a UK magazine if you want to make sure the sky charts are relevant to you.
6. Just Look Up — The best thing you can do is to get outside in the dark and start looking. Quickly, you'll find that you're able to spot certain constellations or planets. It's then up to you how technical you get – whether you buy binoculars or a telescope, or whether you rely on your eyes!