Astronomy group's ambitious plans for observatory in upper Teesdale

The Northern Echo: Co-founders of Bishop Auckland Astronomical Society, Duane Cox (left) and Karl Jennings (right) are giving a talk and demo at a Dark Skies event, organized by North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Co-founders of Bishop Auckland Astronomical Society, Duane Cox (left) and Karl Jennings (right) are giving a talk and demo at a Dark Skies event, organized by North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

A GROUP of amateur astronomers are hoping to establish an observatory in rural County Durham so they can watch the sky at night.

Bishop Auckland Astronomical Society officials want to base the group in upper Teesdale.

They say remote parts of the dale offer some of the darkest skies in the region, creating the perfect conditions for stargazing.

The society was launched almost three years ago and has grown to more than 30 members.

Co-founder Duane Cox said the group currently met at Bishop Auckland Fire Station, with outdoor observations taking place at Grassholme Reservoir, in Teesdale.

“We are looking for funding and we've got one or two sites in mind up in Teesdale,” he said.

He said the next step would be to contact landowners to gauge support for the idea while efforts to secure cash were ongoing.

Mr Cox admitted that attracting funding would be difficult, as astronomy was not considered as popular and mainstream a pastime as other activities.

But he added: “When we started off in March 2011, there were just the two of us. Now, if everyone comes to a meeting, there would be about 35 of us.”

He said a lack of light pollution and little traffic made upper Teesdale the ideal place for an observatory.

“The skies are a lot darker up there and as there is not the traffic, it holds onto the darkness,” he said.

Mr Cox will be leading an observation of the skies above Teesdale at a special event on Thursday, January 9, organised by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in conjunction with Bishop Auckland Astronomical Society.

Dubbed A Star is Born, Mr Cox will give at talk at Mickleton Village Hall starting at 7pm. Cloud permitting, enthusiasts will then head up to nearby Grassholme Reservoir to view the skies.

Mr Cox said there should be plenty to see.

“The moon will be just after first quarter, so the sky will be quite bright, but people should see the moon and its features," he said.

“By that time of night Jupiter should be more or less overhead and the Orion nebula will be astounding.”

A mounted telescope will be available for use, but those taking part are advised to take a pair of strong binoculars along.

Places for the event are available and cost £5. Booking is essential. Full details are available at www.northpennines.org.uk

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