Category : General

National Space Centre Visit

National Space Centre Rocket TowerMy family and I visited the National Space Centre at Leicester in August 2008. I decided to go once I found the venue on the Tesco Clubcard site, so if you are a Tesco customer, then I recommend trading in some of your Clubcard points and save some money on entrance (if the Space Centre is still on the Tesco Clubcard site), also be ready to pay £1 for parking, but the price covers the whole days parking.

You can see the National Space Centre in the distance when driving to it as the main rocket tower stands out on the horizon. The tower actually contains two full size rockets, and you can actually have your lunch underneath the rockets in the restaurant.

Soyez in receptionAt the entrance you are greeted by a hanging copy of one of the Soyuz satellites. After getting through the turnstiles you are then in the main exhibition areas, with each zone containing a new space topic. You can see space suits, astronaut menus, models of the ISS and more. 

The main draw for me was the planetarium, and I think it was the best thing, we got one free visit to it which is included in the entrance price, other showings are charged at £3 each.

The main show in the planetarium was called “Life of stars” this was amazing with spinning objects that made you dizzy and introducing you to the history of astronomy, and the planets and our solar system and it was narrated by Mark Hamill.

I did attend another show entitled “Guide to the night’s sky”. The lights where turned down and the stars lit up, the narrator Becky, introduced us to several constellations and stars and the history behind them, great if you want to learn the basics about the night’s sky.

We also attended a talk on a future rover mission which will be heading to Mars called ExoMars.

Looking up at the rocket towerThe rocket tower not only includes two rockets but also has various things to see on each of the 3 levels via an open glass lift, this includes some real space engines, a Beagle 2 presentation and suspended satellites as well as other interactive games. 

There was absolutely lots to do including playing with a remote control mini Mars rover, and watching some funny footage from the original Moon landing, as well as lots of interactive learning. There was also a great display of Heinz Beans cans which were all weighted according to what planet you were on.

The final part of the centre is a space astronaut cadet training area which includes a 3D space ride a bit like a ride from a Florida theme park, which should not be missed. There were also other challenges such as collecting as many space rocks as possible using a mechanical digger in a set time.

The National Space Centre is a great place for children to learn about the solar system, as there are a lot of interactive learning tools scattered around the centre, and even Lunar Jim sections for younger children.  But don’t think it is only for children, as there is a lot here for adults as well.

Even the hand washing facilities in the toilets were futuristic as you put your hands in a hole in the wall and the soap is dispensed and then comes the water and then the dryer, all in one.

There is also the shop near the exit which stocks a range of astronomy gifts, learning toys and more.

Overall a great day out for astronomers young and old.

View all my photographs from the National Space Centre.

My Whipple Museum Visit

Whipple Museum Main Room in CambridgeWhilst having a day off in Cambridge I decided to visit the Whipple Museum. It took a few minutes to find the entrance behind a wooden door from the street and then up a flight of stairs, but it’s worth hunting the museum down, admission is free.

The Whipple Museum opens up Monday – Friday 12.30 – 4.30pm only, so don’t visit on a weekend or in the morning during the week!

The Whipple Museum’s collection includes scientific instruments, apparatus, models, pictures, prints, photographs, books and other material related to the history of science. Obviously the most interesting part for me was the collection of telescopes and astronomy related items.

The Whipple Museum was founded in 1944 when Robert Stewart Whipple (1871-1953) presented his collection of scientific instruments to the University of Cambridge.

Newtonian Reflecting William Herschel TelescopeThe main telescope I wanted to see was the William Herschel Newtonian Telescope which is hard to miss in the main room.

The telescope takes its name from William Herschel (1738-1822), who achieved public acclaim and royal favour through his discovery of the planet Uranus. He originally called the planet the Georgium Sidus (Latin for ‘George’s Star’), to honour King George III in 1781.

A few years later George III requested that Herschel make a number of telescopes. The Whipple Museum’s example is one of five 10ft reflecting telescopes made in response to that request. Following Herschel’s standard design, the King’s cabinet maker constructed the mahogany stand and tube. Herschel made the optical parts himself.

Mirror Cell and Brass TelescopeThere was also a telescope by James Short dated 1758. Short was known for his observations of comets, transits of Venus and the Northern lights.

Near the entrance of the museum is also a grand planetarium, aptly named the “Grand Orrery Planetarium” made by George Adams. 

Grand Orrery PlanetariumAn Orrery is a moving model of the motions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun. Orreries can be used to demonstrate phenomena such as day and night, the seasons, lunar phases, and eclipses.

The planetary model known as the ‘orrery’ takes its name from Charles Boyle, the fourth Earl of Orrery. The London instrument maker John Rowley (circa 1668-1728) made the first orrery for Charles Boyle around 1713, but planetary models have existed since ancient times.

The grand orrery, displays the Sun in the centre, and the 6 planets known at the time with their satellites (four around Jupiter and five around Saturn). Saturn is the outermost planet, shown with its ring and the five satellites discovered by Christiaan Huygens and Giovanni Domenico Cassini between 1655 and 1684. The planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto had not yet been discovered when this orrery was made.

Dollond Refracting TelescopeThere was also a refracting telescope from the Dollond workshop built around 1800. This was used in St. John’s college observatory, until it was loaned to the Whipple museum in 1951.

The telescope has an altazimuth mounting and there was a mahogany case not on display contains additional eyepieces and filters to protect the eyes when viewing the sun.

Gregorian and Reflecting Telescopes Copernican Planetarium History of Calculators Drawer 

There were many other astronomical items such as other electric planetariums, mirror cells, other brass telescopes.  The funniest thing though must have been the collection of old calculators in the second room, there are several drawers in this room, which you can open.  There were several drawers of calculators, many of which I remember, including a “Little Professor” calculator.

Brass TelescopeWe stayed about an hour in the museum, unfortunately the upper room was closed on the day of our visit, so we only viewed two of the rooms.

If you want to know more about the museum the University has set up a really good web site, just search for the “Whipple Museum” in a search engine.

If you are in the Cambridge area though, drop in to the Whipple Museum, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Meade DSI Pro Mono Sold

Meade DSI Pro Mono For SaleI had my Meade DSI (Deep Sky Imager) up for sale. It was the DSI Mono Pro I edition. It was complete and boxed as new.

I listed it on eBay for £225 or Best Offer, and got £200 for it, although eBay and PayPal took about £15 in fees for it.

It was a great imager and real good introduction to CCD imaging, but I have decided to upgrade to the Meade DSI Pro II in order to get some more pixels in my images, although now the Meade DSI Pro III is now available, but very expensive at around £650 (dated May 2008).

The Hedgehog is Out

This is for anyone who read my previous post about my friendly hedgehog who used to come and see me in the garden whilst I was using my telescope.

Hedgehog HomeWell over the winter the hedgehog ended up making a nest near a fence post, made up of leaves, moss and twigs.

Today whilst out cutting the lawn I noticed there is a big hole in the winter hibernation nest and he must be now on the loose again. I hope to see him soon.

It must have been the last two days of sun that woke him up.

Astronomy Blog on New Server

Apologies to anyone who visited in the last hour (between 2.30pm – 3.30pm) and got a blank white page. 

I moved the astronomy blog from a shared hosting account to a new web server.  Hopefully everything should be fully working as usual, if not, then there may be the odd bug to iron out.

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