Total Pageviews

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Saturn's Secrets Revealed In Norwich

27 August 2009 07:00

Mark Thompson has had stars in his eyes since he was 10 years old and first spotted Saturn's mysterious rings through a telescope.

Now, during the International Year of Astronomy, he hopes that more Norwich eyes will turn heavenward as we celebrate the celestial show 400 years after Galileo first spotted the moons orbiting Jupiter and upset the commonly-held notion that the earth was at the centre of the universe.

"You have to feel quite sorry for Galileo," said Mark, who has recently joined BBC1's The One Show as resident astronomer and is chairman of the Norwich Astronomical Society.

"He discovered Jupiter's moons, the rings around Saturn and his reward was to be denounced as a heretic and kept under house arrest for the rest of his life. It wasn't until after his death that his discoveries were really seen as the huge breakthroughs that they actually were."

Norfolk is a magnet for star-gazers, with huge, dark areas unaffected by the light pollution which plagues astronomers in other parts of the country.

"It's a great place to be if you like looking at stars," said Mark, 36, who lives on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.

"We're a rural county and although there is a little light pollution around Norwich and some towns like Yarmouth, it's not hard to find really dark countryside and we also benefit from having very little industrial pollution, which can also cause problems if you want to observe the night sky.

"This year, there's something really exciting to look out for in November when Saturn's rings have their edge to us and will seem to disappear entirely - it only happens once ever 29 and a half years, so it's something you'll only see a few times in your lifetime."

A world expert on Saturn and its mesmerising rings will be visiting the University of East Anglia on Saturday September 12 as a guest lecturer at the Norwich Astronomical Society's conference.

Professor Carl Murray is part of an international team working on the Cassini-Huygens project, a robotic spacecraft mission currently studying Saturn, its moons and its rings.

"There are some absolutely breathtaking photographs that have been taken of the planet's ring system and Professor Murray will be revealing some of Saturn's amazing secrets," said Mark.

The day-long conference is suitable for all ages. "We really want to involve people in astronomy and encourage them to go outside on a dark night and look up into the sky. There's an incredible amount to be seen, even with the naked eye," said Mark.


The Norwich Astronomical Society's conference begins at 9am on September 12 at the University of East Anglia. Entrance is by ticket only, which must be purchased before the event. Send an SAE and cheque payable to The Norwich Astronomical Society for £15 per ticket (under 16s or NUS reduced rate of £7.50) to Appletree Cottage, The Street, Poslingford, Suffolk, CO10 8RA. For more information, visit:

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland Astronomy Group) and Navigator of the Stars (Fieldwork)

No comments: