'I get goosebumps thinking about it' - Yorkshire astronomers on their hobby

While many people hate the nights drawing in, for astronomers it means the season is coming - when the night sky is at its best.

Last Monday was the first night of “astronomical darkness” - the first time it gets dark enough for stargazing for around half an hour around midnight.

The season starts in earnest in October - when stargazers are looking forward to seeing the Orionid meteors that come from Halley’s Comet, which orbits the sun every 76 years or so.

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Like steam coming from a locomotive, dust particles are expelled from the comet’s nucleus and are left behind in its path. The earth intercept its path in autumn with a predicted peak this year on October 22.

Lorraine Scaife from the the East Riding Astronomers  looking out of the Viewing tower at the Treasure HouseLorraine Scaife from the the East Riding Astronomers  looking out of the Viewing tower at the Treasure House
Lorraine Scaife from the the East Riding Astronomers looking out of the Viewing tower at the Treasure House

Astronomers in East Yorkshire are doing their bit to raise awareness of their hobby with a community exhibition, called Stargazing, at the Treasure House in Beverley.

Lee Cooper, East Riding Astronomers’ welcome officer, said they’d recently had a stall at Beverley’s Saturday Market, and had new people turn up at the meeting they hold on the first Monday of the month at Woodmansey Village Hall.

He said: “The one thing we love doing is talking to people we think we can drag into our hobby - it will open your eyes. It’s a very big universe out there. In our busy lives we have our eyes focussed to the ground, on work, on family.

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“Every now and again it’s good to take a bit of time to look upwards and see where we are in the context of the universe - it’s both humbling and uplifting.

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“If you look at a galaxy through a telescope it’s a fuzzy patch, and there are photons going into your eye that left that galaxy millions of years ago and are now on your retina creating an image. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”

Light pollution is the bane of astronomers - Lee has been talking to the council and local businesses to try and get his own backgarden darker, but says it can be achieved with quite simple things like using motion detectors rather than permanent lighting, or just repositioning lights.

He said: “It’s wasteful, in terms of energy, harmful to the night environment, for bats, insects and plants, and there’s evidence that a number of health conditions can be made worse by light pollution. But it can all be fixed at a fairly low cost if businesses and local authorities will simply take it seriously.”

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The group welcomes new members and Lee says it’s not an expensive hobby, with a decent second hand telescope costing around £200.

“You could spend two or three times that amount and buy complete rubbish - the best way to be careful is to talk to other astronomers,” he adds.

In November members of East Riding Astronomers will be at the Treasure House with telescopes which visitors can look through.

The exhibition features amazing space photographs (astrophotography) taken by the group, tips on getting into astronomy, and fascinating facts - there are more stars in the Universe than grains of sand on Earth.

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Visitors can also explore the surprising distances between the planets with the “if the Sun was the size of a pea” activity in the Treasure House tower - and enjoy some fantastic views of the town at the same time.

For more visit the group’s website at eastridingastronomers.org.uk.