No telescope required: the night sky by eye

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A Public Lecture by Mr Charles Barclay (Blackett Observatory Marlborough College and University of Oxford).


The night sky is common to us all and has been a source of inspiration for millennia and has in many ways driven much of our intellectual development. Given clear, dark, skies we can all observe with our eyes alone (or perhaps aided by binoculars), but we may not realise what we are seeing and are often too busy to look up. Much of modern astronomy observation is now done using computer processed digital imaging, but the eye/brain combination is undervalued. Many night time sights are so common that we don’t notice hidden detail or stop to consider their importance. This illustrated lecture covers crucial observing techniques and aims to inform and de-mystify many commonly observed objects. The scourge of light pollution may be one of the most detrimental spin-offs of our technological age; excluding younger urban generations from the experience of truly dark skies. The night sky is a common heritage for all inhabitants of Earth, transcending political boundaries and racial or economic divisions and perhaps above all giving us a sense of who we are.


Charles Barclay is Director of the Blackett Observatory at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, UK and is at the forefront of astronomy education in UK schools. He is Chair of Examiners for the Astronomy GCSE qualification and a Principal Moderator for the Extended Project post-16 initiative. As an Academic Visitor in the Oxford University astrophysics department he runs outreach programmes for school pupils, teachers and members of the public, accessing large telescopes in Marlborough and Oxford. He is an Associate Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford, and is involved in raising awareness of the historical importance of the Radcliffe Observatory there. He is a Council member of the Royal Astronomical Society and chair of their Education Committee, a fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, manufacturers and commerce and is a member of the International Astronomical Union, Commission 46 (Astronomy Education and Development).  Lecturing on diverse topics ranging across the whole remit of Astrophysics and Astronomy, he writes for popular astronomy magazines and regularly contributes to local BBC radio broadcasts.