Festival 14

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The North West Astronomy Festival 2014

The North West Astronomy Festival took place on Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th of October 2014 at The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn. With a wide variety of presentations, activities, stalls and displays, there was something for all ages, interests and experiences, turning The Heath into a spectacle of stars, planets and space! This, our second festival event, with added surprises, surpassed our expectations and was a great success!

Venue

The conference team again pulled out all the stops and The Heath provided a wonderful location for the festival. From Foodini restaurant providing a splendid array of hot and cold food throughout the weekend, to the exhibition hall, lecture theatre and lounges and being on hand to sort out any queries on the day with good grace and efficiency!  We are very grateful for their help in both organising and promoting this event, with special thanks to Anthony Stonebanks, Lesley Lunt, Tracey Whitlow and the conferencing & catering team.

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‘Astro-festival in Runcorn with John Culshaw and Chris Lintott hailed 'fabulous' success’

Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News

The Presentations

The presentations in the lecture theatre are for many the highlight of the weekend. And what a line up we had this year! We would like to make sure that our visitors and supporters know that all our presenters give their time for no charge for the festival, so our audiences are privileged to see the top names in astronomy for just a fiver! We would like to thank our presenters for their generosity and we are pleased that they do also enjoy themselves immensely during their visit.

On Saturday, Damien Peach, our first presenter of the festival, delivered an inspirational talk to a full theatre. In ‘The Giant Planet Jupiter’, Damien explained how to observe and photograph Jupiter with amateur size telescopes and why the images we take are far more than just pretty pictures. Damien’s breath taking images left the audience awestruck and inspired to improve their own astrophotography!

Will Gater presented the ‘Secrets of Celestial Light’, a story of our fascination with the light that streams from every corner of the cosmos. In this wide-ranging talk, astronomy writer Will Gater explored the physics of celestial light and how we came to realise that, when it comes to the starry night sky, there’s far more than meets the eye. Will delighted the audience with a humorous and educational session, plenty of audience participation and inter-active demonstrations.

On Sunday, Philippa Browning gave an informative, visual and up to the moment talk entitled ‘Our Active Sun’ Philippa explained how the Sun, our nearest star, affects the Earth in many ways. With wonderful slides and spectacular videos, Philippa illustrated the interaction between these magnetic fields and the hot gas, known as plasma, leading to many kinds of activity, such as sunspots, prominences and - most dramatically - solar flares.

Nick Howes, always a favourite with the audience and back by popular demand, shared ‘The Greatest Scope on Earth’. Nick tells the story of how for over 400 years, humanity has gazed to the heavens with ever more powerful telescopes. Nick introduced the greatest scope on Earth, one due to revolutionise the very future of astronomy, capturing the skies in greater levels of detail than ever before.

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Astronomer's Question Time

This popular session was very special at festival 2014! With the surprise addition of Chris Lintott to the panel, the capacity audience were treated to a humorous, insightful and entertaining question and answer session. The panel consisting of all our weekend presenters plus special guest provided high level responses and shared a wide range of knowledge and expertise with the audience. The hour was finished off beautifully by Jon Culshaw with an unexpected and emotional performance of a poem written by Jon for the late Patrick Moore

‘It IS Rocket Science’.

Helen Keen's highly original look at the history and future of cosmic travel, featuring all the enormity of the universe without any of the boring bits! Including a whistle-stop tour around the Great Brains who put monkeys, ladies, dogs and gentlemen into orbit, Helen’s show captivated the evening audience and reduced many to tears (of laughter)! A brilliant show and a real treat for those in the final lecture theatre session on Saturday.

All our presenters were delighted with their time at the festival and wish to be part of next year’s event. In fact Chris Lintott, Paul Abel and Jon Culshaw, who were our VIP guests, have all expressed a desire to play a bigger part in the festival, so look out for a Sky at Night Saturday in 2015!

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Ambassadors

Once again our Ambassadors made us proud. This year we had a full team easily identified by our distinctive blue polo shirts and fleeces, working throughout the venue and over the whole weekend. Our thanks go to Jacquie Lightfoot and Emma Doward who again dedicated their weekend to selling entry, presentation and raffle tickets on the front desk. A perfect first point of contact for our visitors!  John Liggins and Jonathan Harty, another impressive duo, staffed the conference centre entrance and the telescope advice display, helping our many new to astronomy customers find their way through the maze of telescopes on offer.

Gary Marshall, Tim Leese, Neil Wilson and Dave Wilkinson provided help and support to the traders, door control and breaks for the team, with Dave Galvin taking great care of our VIP guests. Nicolette Wells was our professional photographer, who also gave her time at no cost and has provided us with a wonderful album of photographs to mark the event.

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Traders

We are very grateful for the continuing support from our regular traders who provide our visitors with expert advice and support when buying a telescope or other astronomical resources. The displays and variety of scopes to try was amazing and our thanks go to Astronomia, Tring  Astronomy Centre and Peak2Valley who have all made a fantastic contribution to both The Knowledge Observatory and the festivals. Their knowledge, customer service and variety of products means that our visitors enjoy a first class experience. We are also delighted that they are keen to continue as our trade partners at future events and will be our lead traders at the North West Astronomy Festival 2015.

In addition we welcomed back the Space Collective who have also supported us on a number of occasions over the last year and will be part of an exciting development at festival 2015 and Nicholas Mee, author from Virtual Image. New to the festival this year were The BBC Sky at Night Magazine and Astronomy Now teams, with subscription offers you could not refuse and Dark Sky Jewellery selling a spectacular range of earrings, cufflinks, necklaces and bracelets. We definitely want Dianne back! We also welcomed the Society for Popular Astronomy and Nigel Marshall and Mickledore publishing, who we hope will also become a regular fixture at our events. A new visitor to the event this year was the IOM Post Office with a beautiful set of first day Dark Skies stamps – still available online if you missed out on the day!

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The BBC Sky at Night – Our Media Partner

We were delighted to have agreed a media partnership for the festival, with the BBC Sky at Night magazine this year. The team were incredibly supportive of the event and we enjoyed a fantastic full page advert in the October edition of the magazine and continuing promotion on the website and through Twitter and Facebook. The team came up for the festival and enjoyed it so much that they have already agreed to continue the partnership for next year’s festival!

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 VIPs

This year we welcomed several surprise VIPs to the festival. In addition to the advertised presenters, Chris Lintott and Jon Culshaw joined the panel for the Astronomers Question Time, a wonderful treat for all that had bought tickets for this session. Jon then entertained the Social Supper crowd in a hilarious partnership with another surprise VIP Paul Abel from the BBC Sky at Night.

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Book Signing

We were lucky to have a number of authors at the festival this year, with Will Gater, Chris North, Paul Abel and Nicholas Mee, many people were able to buy personally signed books. This popular activity is something that we will look at developing for next year with pre-advertised dedicated times, so giving everyone the chance to meet and talk to the authors.

Saturday Social Supper

The Saturday Social Supper sold out 2 days before the festival and we suspect this will be the pattern for the future festival events. We set the scene for the evening with Joe Woolf, a talented local musician, who performed an acoustic set ranging from the familiar classics of the 60’s and 70’s and right up to the minute songs currently enjoying radio play. Watch out for him in the future and please remember where you heard him first!

Then what should have been a simple presentation of gift to our Ambassadors and Presenters became a show in its own right! Amidst much hilarity, Andrew presented signed books to our Ambassadors to thank them for their hard work during the festival and then handmade ‘unique’ gifts to our Presenters. Anne Jackson had made individual cushions for every presenter, each with an astronomy theme, presented and received with terrific enthusiasm!

After a fantastic hotpot supper and wonderful apple crumble, John Culshaw and Paul Abel delivered an absolutely hilarious sketch which left the audience crying with laughter. Our favourites were Brian Cox and John Bishop – unbelievably clever and brilliantly scripted. Both Jon and Paul enjoyed themselves so much that they have already signed up for next year. We anticipate selling out of tickets as soon as they go on sale!

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Many thanks for a splendid day on Saturday, judging by the posts on facebook and twitter, it seems the event was a great success.  Paul Abel BBC Sky at Night

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What a fabulous weekend! Had such a great time... bought new toys (yippee!), brilliant speakers, won a prize in the raffle, met up with great friends, met new friends, and came home one very happy chickie! Massive thank you to  all the festival guys for making this weekend what it was! See you all next year!
Thanks to Nick Howes for donating the amazing raffle prize, a signed picture of Guenter Wendt and thanks to the wonderful Jacqui Lightfoot for giving her prize to me, I am like a kid at Christmas 🙂
 This year was my first year and it was brilliant, definitely a regular now!
Just a short email to say thanks for an excellent weekend at the Astrofest. We certainly got value for money and the support was good with loads of people to meet and chat to. The subjects and speakers were spot on.
Firstly I would like to thank you and everyone who organised, helped, presented, displayed, lectured, got involved, enjoyed..... Sorry could go on forever after attending this year’s second North West Astronomy Festival.
Many thanks to both of you, your helpers, all the lecturers and entertainers for making yesterday such an enjoyable event to attend. We are now looking forward to next year’s event.
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Education and Outreach

We are incredibly lucky at The Knowledge Observatory to have the fantastic support of Alan Brown and Paul Kummer from STFC Daresbury who provide is with the ever popular Stardome and Paul Sapple and Stacey Habergham with the National Schools Observatory team from Liverpool John Moores University.  Our visitors thoroughly enjoyed the hands on activities, especially the moon puzzle challenge and we would like to thank everyone involved for giving up their weekend to help make the festival a success. Adding to the activities in the conference centre were Astro 4 Fun and Gary Palmer one of the UKs leading solar imagers. We were particularly lucky with the weather to be able to share wonderful views of the sun throughout the weekend.

Martin Goff produced a magnificent display again this year for the British and Irish Meteorite Society. This ever popular attraction proves fascinating for young and old alike as Martin’s incredible knowledge is willingly shared and he patiently answers every question from our visitors.

Clubs and Societies

We are so pleased to have ongoing support from the Liverpool Astronomical Society, our closest neighbours over the river, as well as Blackpool and District and the Astronomy Centre. We were particularly pleased to welcome Central Lancashire, Eddington and the Isle of Man this year to the ‘club room’ for the first time. The room was buzzing with interest throughout the weekend and we hear that new member recruitment has been significant. It is also a great opportunity for the clubs to meet up with each other and will hopefully become a major part of future festival activity.

North West Astronomy Centre visitors

Joolz ‏@farmerswifee  What an absolutely amazing weekend at the @NWAstroFest Can't wait to do it all again! a fantastic cause too!
Johnimus Prime ‏@Johnimus_Prime    Still struggling to get it all to sink in & articulate just how good a day it was. Love being @NWAstroFest crew!

Hi, I just wanted to pop a note on here to thank everyone for such an excellent weekend. I don't think that I could pick a favourite part if I tried.
All the talks were exceptional, I loved the Astronomers Q&A and the social supper was wonderful too. We had a great time. Keep up the good work 🙂
What a fantastic amazing and "UNIQUE" event !!! Can't wait for next year!!
Very much enjoyed the Astronomers question time - someone tell the BBC - it would make excellent TV
Had a great afternoon at the festival today. Looking forward to next one. Well done all.

The Raffle

Who would have thought that the raffle would become an event in itself! From the moment we began posting details of the prizes donated by our traders and supporters, the festival raffle was one of the most closely followed activities of the festival. With fantastic prizes of telescopes, meteorites, subscriptions, theatre ticket, signed books, NASA memorabilia, Dark Sky Jewellery and most importantly Blackpool rock, the draw held on Sunday afternoon in the lecture theatre saw a packed house! Thanks to the generosity of all who donated and those who bought tickets we made a fantastic £750 which will go directly to funding trips for our young people.

Summary

Over the two days around 500 people of all ages, enjoyed the festival both professional, expert, amateurs and beginner astronomers, with over 85 people enjoying the Saturday Social Supper. What struck us as we went through the photographs for this report, was how many included people laughing. That is the image we take away from this year -  laughter – perhaps not the first thing that most people would expect from an astronomy festival!

Finally, we would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who gave their time and support to the festival. The presenters, our volunteers who worked tirelessly all weekend and students from the local schools, college and university and of course our visitors – we could not have done this without every one of you.

Andrew and Sue Davies