Festival 16

The North West Astronomy Festival had a brand new look for 2016. Now a not for profit organisation in its own right, the festival this year was brought to you by a committee of local astronomers.

Chaired by Andrew Davies and coordinated by Sue Davies, founders and organisers of the 3 previous year’s events, NWAF was organised and delivered by Dave Galvin, Dave Hart, Jonathen Hartey, Janice Hayman Julia Hamer, Tracey Snelus and Emma Doward. The committee were joined at the weekend by regulars Tim and Jacquie giving much needed support at the event.

With a brand new logo, website and dedicated email address (info@nwastrofest.co.uk) and lots of ideas and enthusiasm we aimed to bring you an even better event than in previous years whilst keeping all the great things you love. Judging by the feedback both during the festival weekend and since on our Facebook and Twitter pages, we delivered!

Our new format for festival 2016

Friday 1st July

This year we had an additional day for the festival activities. Friday the 1st of July was a brand new event with ‘Student day’. The day was organised by Liverpool John Moore University astrophysics department who shared super-computer simulations of galaxy formation and interactions with the simulated data.

Perhaps not as well attended as we would have wished, students were pleased to have had the chance to give presentations and were indeed very successful in aiming their talks at a very mixed audience from school children to seasoned astronomers. This day was very much a departure from the usual format for the NW Astronomy Festival, and perhaps is any area where in future we can grow the links to further education and science research and careers. We will look at ways of integrating the student day into the main event weekend next year. We would love for the students to have the opportunity to speak to a much wider audience and share their hard work with our festival goers.

Saturday 2nd July

Saturday attracted a number of experienced and budding astronomers to the talks and main hall.  Trade in astronomy kit was brisk, and the local astronomy groups (of which there were many) were all active in attracting new members, talking to old and making new friends.


Saturday, the first main festival day was a themed day, delivering three presentations by authors of popular astronomy publications. Whilst we knew the calibre of the presenters was awesome, I don’t think we expected the incredible enthusiasm with which they were received.

The festival presentations were launched by Jane Green’s talk “Not by the Book” A captivating and emotional story of how she accidentally became an Astronomer by giving talks on a cruise ship. Author of the Haynes book on Astronomy, she gave a very personal account of how she stumbled into the Astronomy arena, and then how she shared the stage with Sir Patrick Moore, and made many friends (such as Brian May), through her infectious enthusiasm. You can read Jane's full account of the festival here and find out more about Jane here www.janegreenastronomy.co.uk

Presenter collage

The second talk of the day was Nigel Henbest talking to us about constellations, their rise (in numbers) and fall to 88, the different cultures and civilisations and the mythology surrounding them.

Entitled the '88 The Constellations from Babylon to Bowie', Nigel asked the question:- The sky is filled with bears, lions, water-snakes, heroes - and even the odd chisel and air pump - but who created these star-patterns; and why?

In this entertaining and informative overview, Nigel shared how the ancient constellations were rooted in Babylonian superstitions and the navigational needs of Minoan sailors, while the ‘new constellations’ of the southern sky were created by Renaissance map-makers.

His presentation was followed closely by his writing partner Heather Couper speaking about the history of astronomy and our place in the Universe. Heather posed the question - our glorious night sky is the ultimate landscape. But where do we fit in?

For thousands of years, humankind has sought to find our place in the Cosmos. Starting with superstition, astronomy has flourished into the most all-embracing of the sciences. This presentation concentrated on the people and personalities who have asked questions about the Cosmos over the millennia. With each question answered, dozens appear as if from nowhere: black holes, dark matter, planets around other stars, and the ultimate future of our Universe. And is there life out there?

You can find out more about Nigel and Heather at www.hencoup.com

Astronomer Question Time saw all 3 authors Jane Green, Nigel Henbest and Heather Couper, joined by Gary Palmer and chaired by Andrew Davies.  We had a great variety of questions, some serious and some humorous, with Gary asking the audience questions to get answers!  Question Time was lively and interactive and could have gone on for another hour if it wasn’t that the Social Supper was beckoning.

Saturday closed with the now famous Saturday Social Supper in Foodini, with music from local artists, great food and a chance to get together with old friends.

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Sunday 3rd July

Sunday was family day with lots of activities for everyone. Workshops, demonstrations and ‘hands on-have a go’ throughout the day. Art, crafts, quizzes and games made Sunday a full on family event. The main exhibition hall, outside activities and presentations still provided plenty for the serious astronomer.

Launching with Stuart Atkinson’s Tour of the Universe Show, an absolute beginners talk taking the audience on a tour of the ∗whole∗ universe, looking at our solar system, its place in the universe, and the intriguing possibility of alien life "out there and then back to the main hall for fun and games.

The Star Dome (mobile planetarium) was full for all late morning and afternoon shows.  Martin Lunn who gave the shows inside the Dome, had many children and adults gazing in wonder at our star system.  It truly was a magical trip into the sky with star patterns and constellation.  This was a very popular attraction that no one wanted to miss.

Then in-between times in the afternoon our very own science and rocket man Mark Inder arrived to enthral our younger people with science magic, with a real purpose.  Many of the youngster sat crossed leg on the floor and made their own rockets in the main hall, then we took them outside and launched them.  They were even more excited when they were told they could keep them to launch them at home!  Mark also performed some magic with eggs in glass bottles and wire wool on fire!

Outside of the main hall, we had splash painting, for the budding young artists. So much to do in the day, keeping our younger visitors busy. On the RAW Astronomers table many of our younger people were seen colouring spaceships, planets and Apollo space craft. For our older young people, there were astronomy word search and matching games too.

The weather on Sunday was in the main kind to us to allow the rocket launching and splash painting to take place outside.  The children had a great time, and the adults did too joining in on rocket making especially. There were lots of children who took part in the Astronomy for Fun quiz and astronomical sketch of the day. At one point there was a queue of  children waiting for a virtual reality experience!!

Our awesome raffle draw and prize presentations in the lecture theatre wrapped up Festival 16 with prizes such as flown artefacts from Apollo 13 and Columbia Space Shuttle, meteorites, signed books, trips to AstroFarm in France, tickets for SolarSphere festival and many more donated by the traders and friends of the festival.

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Sunday Presentations

Gerard Gilligan talked about the Commission for Dark Skies, the UK's largest body representing the interests of all those - astronomers and non-astronomers - who appreciate the beauty of the night sky and value it as a natural resource. The starry sky is, unofficially but indubitably, a site of special scientific interest and an area of outstanding natural beauty: if it can be seen.

Gary Palmer delivered a workshop on astro photography with a questions and answers session, covering all types of problems imagers have with equipment setup, capturing images and processing. Using the audiences own images, Gary walked through how to get the best results from your photography. In clear and understandable language this workshop was for photographers at all levels from beginner to the more advanced astro photographer.

Nick Howes focused his workshop on the detection, measurement and science of hunting for asteroids and comets in space. This workshop, first given at Oxford University showed even a complete novice how to hunt for space threats and then reduce the data to send off for scientific analysis.

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The exhibition Hall and Activities

We had a full main exhibition hall with our regular traders, exhibitors, clubs and societies and supporters of the festival who were joined by some fresh faces this year. We are always disappointed when our popular favourites are unable to join us, but on a positive note this means that we have a change of exhibitors each year and an increasingly varied choice of things to see and do.

We were supported as always by Tring Astronomy Centre and Peak2Valley who provide a magnificent display of telescopes and equipment. Taking centre stage, they provide a wonderful backdrop for the main hall.  They were joined for the first time this year by Cambrian Photos who provided an on the spot lens cleaning service as well as a great range of cameras and attachments.

We welcomed back many of our ‘regulars’ Martin Goff with his meteorites, Alan Brown from STFC, Nigel Marshall with Mickledore books, UK Women in Astronomy, Astro for Fun, Solarsphere, Astronomy Now Magazine, Astrofarm France and the UKSEDS. We thank them all for their continued support, enthusiasm and excellent displays. Outside we had solar observing with Gary Palmer which is particularly successful now we have the festival during the summer months.

For the first time this year Martin Lunn brought his splendid Stardome and Gerard Gilligan displayed work from the Society of the History of Astronomy. Both exceptional popular with the visitors.

Andrew had a Virtual reality headset that allowed for an interactive 360 degree solar system tour and it was enjoyed by many. It was fantastic watching people of all ages navigating around the solar system. A few were blown away to fits of giggles.

Clubs and Societies

We are so very pleased that year on year we encourage more and more clubs from the North West to join in with the festival. This for us, is the central focus. We are always supported by Liverpool, Runcorn & Widnes and Mid Cheshire Astronomical Society. This year we also welcomed back Macclesfield and Shropshire and were very pleased to see Preston & District and North Wales Astronomy Societies this year. This was due to the hard work of our committee members who visited, enthused, pleaded and if all else failed threatened, the clubs to get involved. Just a couple more now on our hit list and so next year we hope for a full complement!

Twitter says ........

Victoria Bennett I was there yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed the day. Attended all 3 lectures as well as the Q&A session. Was lovely to meet new people and make new astro friends. What a friendly bunch! Will definitely be back again and hope to make a full weekend of it next time. Thank you to everyone for making such a special event

Sandy Frances I went yesterday it was the first time I had been and it was great, I really enjoyed it. A lovely relaxed and friendly atmosphere and very nice and interesting people. I will look forward to next year. Thanks.

Anthony Gill Absolutely brilliant weekend. Well done to the committee and all the stalls and lecturers. And a massive well done to Andrew who brought all the Astro groups together 👍

Dave Hart Truly amazing weekend, great people, events, lectures and workshops! Can't wait for NWAF17! 😀

Joolz Wright Such a fantastic weekend with the ever expanding Astrofamily! Well done everyone for another fantastic event!

Timothy Treadwell Was there Saturday and will be a regular on my list of events.

Carol Grayson 4 stars on my badge now 🙂 . .big thank you to all the members of the organising team ..great job 🙂

Martin Goff My 4th year attending and its got better every year. Such a friendly atmosphere and great people, both visitors and organisers 🙂 Bring on NWAF 2017! 🙂

Maureen Williams Thank you for another super NWAF
congrats to all in the organising and running of such an amazing "event" Looking forward to NWAF 2017!

Victoria Dews Once again, I loved it. Meeting up with everyone and learning new things is always fantastic to share with friends 🙂 Here's to next year!

Keith Johnson I've been with 3 friends from Bolton Astronomical Society today and thoroughly enjoyed it.We took in two lectures also. It was the third we had been to but will not be the last. As per below, a big thank you to everybody involved.

Phil Williams Another fantastic North West Astrofest, Well done to all the members of the NWAF Committee and all those who participated to make this such a great event.