SUN spots, distant galaxies and the art of space photography were the focus of a special event to mark the start of National Astronomy Week in the region.

Bishop Auckland Astronomical Society held an open day at the County Durham town’s Community Fire Station yesterday (Saturday, March 1) to inspire more people to discover the wonders of the night sky.

As well as a talk on how to take up the pastime, the event featured a stunning astronomical photography slide show and a chance to try out the society’s telescopes.

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These included an H Alpha telescope, which has a special filter to allow observers to examine the surface of the sun.

Duane Cox, who co-founded the society in March 2011, said television shows such as BBC Two’s Stargazing Live had boosted the popularity of amateur astronomy in recent years.

“Stargazing Live has certainly helped and that is what we are trying to do today,” he said. “We want to show people there are other things to do aside from football and watching television.

“Astronomy is a fascinating hobby and a great way to make new friends.”

Membership to the society is free, as are the majority of its monthly meetings, which feature talks by eminent professors and passionate amateurs in the field.

There are also groups observing sessions, where beginners can pick up advice on equipment and techniques.

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