Stargazing in Wales

Tuesday 4 January 2011, 01:00

Martin Aaron Martin Aaron

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Find out what you can expect to see in the night skies above Wales over the next few days with Dr Huw Boulton from the National Museum of Wales:

Dr Huw Bolton

Dr Huw Bolton

In January, the BBC's Stargazing LIVE will link astronomers - both amateur and professional from around the world in a three-day event.

There are also plenty of other many activities being organized by local astronomical societies and the National Museum of Wales, so everybody can join in.

  • So what is astronomy all about?

It is the oldest of the physical sciences and involves the study of the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, galaxies and most fundamentally of all, how we attempt to answer the biggest questions in Nature - the origin and structure of the Universe itself.

Whether you are a stargazer, a serious astronomer, or someone who just wants to know more about the Cosmos, astronomy is an outdoor pursuit which you can do from your back garden, with no more elaborate equipment than the naked eye.

Even if you are not able to get out and see the stars, the ideas and vistas revealed by astronomy hold extraordinary fascination.

Astronomy in Wales has a long history that extends way back over the centuries. There have been a number of pioneers in astronomy in the Principality, and in 1609, whilst Galileo was making his Earth-shaking observations through the newly-invented telescope in Italy.

Meanwhile here in Britain, Thomas Harriott in London and his friend William Lower in Carmarthenshire, Wales also acquired telescopes which they used to observe the Moon.

During the 1850s John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his daughter Thereza made some of the earliest photographs of the Moon from their private observatory at Penllergaer near Swansea.

In 1888 Isaac Roberts of Denbighshire took the first photographs of the famous Andromeda Galaxy, revealing detail of its spiral structure never seen before.

This galaxy is visible to the naked eye, and can be seen as a faint misty patch high in the southern sky on autumn and winter nights and is 2.5 million light years away from our Solar System.

The recent solar eclipse captured by Kev Lewis at South Stack, Anglesey on 5 January 2011.

The recent solar eclipse captured by Kev Lewis at South Stack, Anglesey on 5 January 2011.

It was called the 'Little Cloud' by the 10th Century Persian astronomer Al Sufi, and is the most distant object visible to normal unaided eyesight.

Its faint glow is the combined output of the billions of stars that make up this giant galaxy. If you have a pair of binoculars, they will give you a great view of this magnificent object.

Closer to home, Wales has also received visitors from our own Solar System, not aliens unfortunately, but meteorites - rocky remnants left over from its formation. Famous meteorite falls occurred at Pontlyfni in 1931 and at Beddgelert in 1949 - when the meteorite landed on a hotel.

  • So how can you get involved in astronomy?

Firstly, owning a telescope is not a necessity for viewing the night sky. Binoculars are excellent instruments for viewing the skies, and will reveal far more than can be seen with the eye.

The UK, including Wales, is lucky in having large numbers of flourishing local astronomical societies, many of which hold public viewing sessions where you can talk to enthusiasts, ask questions, and have the opportunity to use telescopes.

Wales, at the moment, is also lucky in that large parts of the nation are still relatively free of artificial lights - the careless use of which blots out the stars making them difficult to see from cities, and increasingly, many smaller towns. Large parts of the country are still free of light pollution however, especially our National Parks.

If you want to know more about astronomy, how to take part, what to look for, how to use a telescope (or anything else), follow the BBC's Stargazing Live event, and come along to one or more of the free events being held across Wales to celebrate the night sky.

At any event, there will be a wide range of people with different levels of experience, so don't feel shy about asking questions.

Dr Huw Boulton

National Museum of Wales: See for yourself how these early telescopes worked, and see part of the Beddgelert Meteorite and other meteorites from around the world at the National Museum Cardiff on 8th January 2011 and 2nd April 2011.

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