Stargazing LIVE, a night of discovery at Lacock

Some of the 1,500 people who attended the Stargazing LIVE Discovery Night in Lacock

Image: Kev Lochun


After getting a feel for live astronomy by tuning in to Monday and Tuesday's episodes of Stargazing LIVE, I was keen to see for myself what one of the Discovery Night events, organised by the BBC to run alongside the programme, was going to be like. 

So it was with excitement that I drove into the honey-coloured village of Lacock in Wiltshire for the Stargazing LIVE Discovery Night event on Wednesday 18 January.

And despite cloudy conditions, I find the gabled National Trust village buzzing with a busy series of events and talks taking place in five historic venues around the village. The expected 1,500 visitors are clearly being informed and entertained.

First stop is the Tithe Barn, where, under the centuries-old beams of the medieval storehouse, queues are growing for the inflatable mobile planetarium and the tour of the constellations going on inside; tickets for the 10 free half-hour showings have all been rapidly snapped up.

Here also are families busy programming Lego robots, pictured left, to complete a ‘Mars Challenge’ obstacle course and creating paper rockets.

Martin and Rita Brake from Chippenham, and their 8- and 9-year-old kids are adding fins to the fuselage of their rocket as I chat to them. “We liked Stargazing LIVE last year and have been watching it this week, so when we heard on the local BBC radio that this was going on tonight, we thought it was a great chance to come down with the family,” dad Martin says.

“After tonight, the kids have really got an interest in the night sky, and we're going be getting some binoculars for them to view craters on the Moon – they'll probably get more out of that at this stage than a telescope,” Rita tells me as they go out to launch their creation.

At the launch area, a crowd of 40 to 50 is waiting to see their rockets blast off. They include an excited group of Beaver scouts from the local Broughton Gifford and Holt Colony, pictured right. Group leader Anne Cranham says that when they heard that the event coincided with the Beavers’ weekly Colony night, they decided to bring the 6-8 year olds here.

“They all having great fun and its nice that there’s plenty for them to do. And at the end of the night, they've got a rocket to take home with them,” she says as one of the Beavers ran after his rocket, which had landed on the grass a short distance away.

That isn't all visitors are experiencing. Next door in the Village Hall, stands from Bath's Herschel Museum and hands-on meteorite demonstrations keep the crowds entertained, while members of the Wiltshire Astronomical Society are giving equipment demonstrations of their telescopes and binoculars, pictured left.

“We’ve been here for the afternoon too,” says society member Ian Pass. “Before the evening event we put on talks and observing demonstrations for 150 local schoolkids. “I haven’t had a chance to see if the weather’s changed outside yet!”

School pupils from Lacock Primary, Shaw School in Melksham and Forest and Sandbridge School in Melksham had also experienced the planetarium show and rocket making during the day.

There’s just time to grab a quick tea before catching a talks on exoplanets from Dr Helen Walker and an entertaining look at the size of the Solar System from the presenters of CBBC show Space Hoppers, pictured right. Unfortunately, such is the demand that we've missed the chance to get tickets for Nick Howes’s astrophotography talk.

Later, I have the chance to catch up with BBC event producer Trish Campbell, who was co-ordinating the event team of around 60, made up of BBC staff, National Trust volunteers and everyone running the activities. Was she pleased that the product of months of planning was being so well received? “Absolutely,” she says.

“It’s been going better that I could have hoped for. It’s all down to the support we've had from all the different organisations involved – the National Trust, the police, St Cyriac's Church and local astronomy groups. Their help has been really valuable.”

“It's great to see so many different age groups really interested in learning about space and astronomy, and it’s looking like we're going to meet the expected numbers of 1,500.”

Suddenly her in-ear walkie-talkie – part of the communications network that’s keeping the event team in contact over the numerous venues in the village – grabs her attention: the talk on Victorian astronomy is coming to an end.

Trish is off and I turn to the star storyteller in the field behind me, who's describing the legends behind the constellations. Despite the continued cloud, he has an andience of 20 entralled with the story of Auriga, the Charioteer.

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