Listening to radio emissions from Jupiter

Astronomical Societies across the South of England held public astronomy events in partnership with the BBC and timed to coincide with the second series of Stargazing LIVE presented by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain.  The popularity of these events demonstrate just how interested the public are in things astronomical.    In fact, the first Stargazing Live broadcast saw about 3.8M viewers on its first night (about 14% of the viewing audience) and even the 30-minute Stargazing Live: Back to the Observatory broadcast was watched by 2.7 million viewers. 

Below is a report on just one such event hosted by Farnham Astronomical Society.


Members of the Farnham Astronomical Society set up their telescopes in the grounds of Frensham Heights School, near Rowledge, ready to show visitors the highlights of a winter’s night sky. The event went ahead even though the early evening was overcast, and yet the cloud cover did not dampen enthusiasm.  Over 300 visitors braved the cold and were rewarded by gaps in the clouds when they were able to study Jupiter, its Moons, the Orion nebula and several other distant star systems. It was very much an event for the family and stargazers of all ages, many of whom had been following the programs on the BBC with a keen interest.

Observing from the Astroturf
Observing from the Astroturf

There was a chance to get warm in the Frensham Heights School’s prestigious Performing Arts Centre, where pupils from the school were serving tea and coffee alongside a number of displays set up by the astronomers.

Inside the Foyer of the Performing Arts Centre
Inside the Foyer of the Performing Arts Centre

As well as displays of telescopes and astronomical images a radio telescope was tuned in to Jupiter allowing everyone to actually listen to radio waves from another planet. Katherine Rushbridge was kept busy answering questions on the radio telescope which was actually built by fellow member Neil Brecknell who was called elsewhere at the last minute.

Stargazing LIVE has stimulated a lot of interest in astronomy and many people wanted advice on buying or how to use a telescope. One young visitor was keen to find out how to photograph the night sky with her digital camera. After a quick tutorial from the society’s Secretary, Danny Thomas, it was straight outside to put the advice into practice and take her first astronomical pictures. 

In the school’s very comfortable lecture theatre guests enjoyed a tour of the solar system presented by Maurice Kent and a talk on “Measuring the Universe” by Programme Secretary Kevin Pretorius. The audience had plenty of questions and kept Maurice and Kevin on their feet for most of the night.

Inside the auditorium
Inside the auditorium

The BBC Stargazing LIVE team has done an amazing job of raising the profile of astronomy in the UK. Credit must also go to the members and committee of Farnham Astronomical Society who gave up a lot of spare time to prepare for, publicize and run their event. Their hard work resulted in a very enjoyable and rewarding night for everyone involved.

The last word must go to Janine Rees who, after spending all evening outside directing visitors, said “it must have been a success because everyone went home happy!” and that applied to the members of the astronomy society as well as their guests.

Article by Danny Thomas

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