Keep watching the skies - Bexhill is a good place for stargazers

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Astronomy fever appears to be sweeping across Bexhill as locals stargazers flock to a pair of clubs which meet regularly to discuss the cosmos.

The Local Group gathers once a month at Cooden Beach Hotel to discuss a particular interstellar subject and listen to a range of experts – all while enjoying a pleasant evening meal.

Members discuss all aspect of the science behind astronomy and active participation is encouraged.

A spokesman for the group explained: “Our model is very different to that of traditional societies which meet monthly with an invited speaker. We model ourselves more on the meetings that took place in the early coffee houses of London where many of our great institutions were formed.

“We take our name from the Local Group of Galaxies in which our galaxy, The Milky Way, is one of the larger members. The Local Group has more than 50 galaxies spread over a distance of 10 million light years. Prominent members include the Andromeda, M31, and its satellites M32 and M110; the Triangulum galaxy, M33 and our own Milky Way. Our Local Group forms part of the Virgo Supercluster.

“To maintain a friendly and informal atmosphere we restrict attendance to 25 attendees. Some of The Local Group give talks and demonstrations to schools, youth groups, business and charitable clubs.”

The club’s most recent meetings have included discussions on dark matter - with Justin Allen delivering a succinct overview of our present knowledge ranging from observational evidence to current hypotheses - and a talk on the G2 Gas Cloud by David Pulley.

The dark matter meeting also went international – with chairman for the night Anne Bryen introduced Rich Williams from his home in California via online link-up. Mr Williams is founder and CEO of the robotic telescope facility Sierra Stars Observatories, who have three telescopes that can be accessed by the public in the US and one, about to come on-line, in Siding Springs, Australia.

He explained how he started his network of telescopes beginning as a senior programmer for Microsoft and then moving to Optical Mechanics, a US telescope manufacturer, before embarking on his current project in 2007.

Mr Pulley, who spoke on November 15 about the gas cloud, revealed details from a recent publication from the European Space Agency which reports the tracking of a giant gas cloud around the supermassive black hole at the Galactic centre.

Plans are already afoot for their next get-togethers, which are held monthly, and more information is available at www.thelocalgroup.org.uk.

But The Local Group isn’t the only group of stargazers meeting regularly in the area. The East Sussex Astronomical Society (ESAS) is also going from strength to strength.

Formed in 200 by 11 people with mutual love of the subject, the membership has steadily grown and now tops 100 – thanks largely to the help of St Mary’s School which has given the group a regular base with IT facilities and disabled access.

Earlier this month ESAS was given the honour of hosting The British Astronomical Association Back to Basics day, where people wanting to learn about astronomy could pop along and have hands on experience of the subject.

According to organisers people learnt about what equipment they might need to get started and what they could see when observing the, sun, moon and planets.

The workshops included trade stands and ESAS had special solar scopes which participants were able to use to look at the sun and observe sun spots and solar prominences on the sun’s limb.

The society holds regular observing sessions at two locations, organised days for solar viewing on the south terrace of the De La Warr Pavilion and four times a month or more at the society’s darksite where it has an observatory with a 16” computerised telescope and dome.

A spokesman for group said: “We are currently working with Dr Joolz Durkin at St Richard’s School where 30 plus students will be taking GCSE Astronomy,

“We also take an active role in BBC’s Star Gazing Live program every January and Science week in March.

“Just last month ESAS organised a trip to Greenwhich Observatory for it’s members and St Richards Astronomy Class.”

The latter is for members but observing at the De La Warr is open to anyone at no cost.

This month will see a bright comet in the morning sky and ESAS will be holding a string of special observing events to see it. Information about observing can be found online at website www.esas.org.uk.

ESAS is a registered educational charity and its members regularly give talks in the community – hoping no doubt to spark some interest in the subject. Anyone who would like ESAS to give a talk can email andy@esas.org.uk.