Look up at the sky


On a chilly autumn evening of clear skies, Science Oxford’s “Space Supremo” Ian Griffin guided a keen audience to some of the wonders found in Oxford’s night sky.

The evening started with a skygazing crash course, where Ian used photographs from his Oxfordshire backyard to show that basic skygazing is easy and available to anyone.

A veteran stargazer with a PhD in astronomy from University College London, Ian explained the great variety of phenomena one could see in the night sky.

“There is always something interesting going on in the sky,” he said.

“Often people see something they don’t understand, but once they learn what it is they have seen, they think it’s rather interesting.”

Ian recommended beginning skygazers to use a good pair of binoculars rather than cheap telescopes, as binoculars are more versatile and less expensive.

“Astronomy is not something you need to have really technical things to enjoy,” he said.

The audience made impressed comments as Ian showed pictures of planets, halos, sunsets and eclipses.

The eager Science Oxford staff then ushered the audience out of the warm and bright facilities and on to nearby South Park in Headington.

People carefully crossed first the street and then the pitch-black field to gather around a circle of telescopes aimed at various exciting sights, the most popular of which offered a razor-sharp view of Jupiter and four of its moons.

With the aid of the long, shimmering “ruler”, produced in the cold evening air by Ian’s laser pointer, Ian went on to point out well-known stars such as Vega and Polaris as well as star constellations such as Lyra and the Plough.

Ian happily answered questions from the curious audience, many of which were surprised by the number of stars visible from so close to the city.

Before long, a spectator spotted two satellites shooting across the sky, and alert members of the audience soon realized the two satellites, while in reality likely to be many miles apart, looked as if they headed straight towards each other.

A collective sigh in relief followed as the two satellites met and carried on their voyages unharmed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that before,” Ian said, smiling.

Eventually, the Science Oxford staff had to return the equipment, and the audience broke up from an informative evening full of visual wonders.