Festival of Stars

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Astrofarm Visit to Limoges for the festival of stars event

On the 22nd of April Astrofarm was invited by the Limoges Astronomy Club to take part in their annual one day event “Festival of the Stars” just south of Limoges. Having never been to this event before, now in its 11th year, I was unsure what to expect. However I have been on one previous event with the good folk from Limoges so I knew it would be enjoyable and involve copious amounts of food and a little wine, for those who indulge in the pleasures of good French Bordeaux’s. I was accompanied by my trusty astro sidekick Claire Wardlaw whilst Sue stayed at Astrofarm to look after guests, animals and bookings.

 

When we arrived we were greeted by people who I had never met before but who obviously knew me, as they all greeted me by name! Andre (the chair), whom I had met before, came over to introduce us to their President and other official people joined to the club. We were shown where our table was and where we could park the van and set up telescopes for solar viewing. Before we could set up we were invited to coffee with one of the club members. I think she was a baker because she had homemade flans, pastries, cakes and other delightful goodies. Eventually after eating our fill, we managed to get set out and ready for the 2.00 pm arrival of the public.

Just as we had finished setting up we were called for a group photo. This was to be taken on site but up the road at a junction where a large banner had been erected for advertising the event. Normally this would have been a logistical nightmare but, in typical French style, people just started getting into cars and offering lifts so we were all soon on location for the photo.

We were very busy for most of the afternoon with the odd 10 mins quiet when we had a chance to grab a coffee. The highlight of the day for me was watching the launch of two weather balloons by Club Radioamateur Scientifique de la Haute Vienne and finding out that they had actually reached a height of 28 km before they burst. CRSHV were tracking them and collecting the data that the balloons were sending.

We were very pleased that Pat and Norman Fellows, 2 members of our own AstroClub Confolentais committee members, joined us and thoroughly enjoyed showing the visitors the telescopes. Pat was a real bonus as she speaks fluent French – essential when 95% of the visitors spoke no English. Along with Claire, they are now well and truly bitten by the astronomy public outreach bug! Many thanks to everyone for supporting both Astrofarm and the club in a public event.

It was a very well organised event with book stand, rocket making for the children and a collection of model scale rockets which included a 3 meter replica of Apollo 11. There was an inflatable planetarium which was hugely successful and always full to bursting (no pun intended). I loved the idea of a display with tins of beans which were filled with different substances in order to resemble their weight on the different planets. There were talks on light pollution and how it affects nature and wildlife and I later found out that it was this stand which was playing a recording of night birds songs which we could hear almost continually throughout the day.

The local TV station spent the day and some of the evening filming the event for a news report to go out on Sunday (you can see the report of the event here). All 4 of us managed an appearance in the final edit and are quite delighted with our 10 seconds of fame.I had also taken a video camera with me to attach to the telescope so that I could put the image on my laptop screen. This was very successful as more people could view at the same time and it was even used in the report of French television.In addition, the first thing I did when we arrived was to set up a camera and left it running. I made two time-lapse videos, one of the whole day and of the whole evening which you can see below.

 

The evening saw about 30 telescopes, of various sizes and makes, set up on a field where the daytime tents had been. I was very surprised by the number of people who attended the evening stargazing event. So many that Claire had her first queue of people waiting to view Jupiter through her telescope. The event was obviously well advertised and supported both locally and nationally as the nearby town turned their street lights off especially for the event and the actual venue was very dark without their security lighting on.It was wonderful to hear the children’s excitement as they saw Jupiter, galaxies nebula and other objects, some for the very first time through large telescopes.

The night finished at 1.00 am but a few of us stopped a little later to see if we could catch a few Lyrid meteors, which peaked on the same night. However this was cut short by the security lights and town lights being turned back on at 2.00 am. I would like to thank Claire (and her camper-van) for her support, enthusiasm and help during this fantastic event. We will definitely be returning next year – if, hopefully we are invited back again!

This image is the result of the whole evening as a single picture.

The bright white lights are the French television cameras who, fortunately didn’t stay the whole evening.

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Andrew Davies
Astronomer at Astrofarm

Andrew is the resident astronomer at Astrofarm residential astronomy centre in the South of France. He has been hooked on the night skies since a schoolboy and has never tired of both solar and night time observing as often as he is able. As a teacher of both astronomy and photography classes Andrew has a wealth of knowledge and likes nothing better than to share with others.


He founded both the Mid Cheshire and Runcorn & Widnes Astronomy clubs and organises and presents the annual North West Astronomy Festival. He excels in outreach and inspiring beginners and loves to share his knowledge as well as to learn from others. In addition, Andrew is a keen photographer of both the night sky and the world around – you will see examples of his interest and skill throughout our website www.astrofarmfrance.com