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Wonders of OU/BBC series ‘The Planets’ brought to Brecon Beacons

Earth from space

The Open University in Wales and Dark Sky Wales welcomed guests to the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre last Friday for a free event based on recent BBC/OU co-production The Planets. Over 200 enthusiasts heard from OU academics involved in the academic research team behind the series. Dark Sky Wales’ team of experts showed guests the solar system in their digital planetarium. Members of Cardiff Astronomical Society were also there to help visitors explore the night’s sky using a range of high-spec telescopes.

The OpenTalk event took place in what is one of the world’s few dark sky reserves and was part of series of talks organised to celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary. OU Professors Stephen Lewis and David Rothery delivered a guest lecture on the research behind The Planets, which features Brian Cox and journeys through the lives of the eight planets of the solar system. They discussed subjects such as the changing climate of Mars and the facts behind Godfather planets and icy moons.

Dark Sky Wales gave an immersive experience for visitors in their digital planetarium. Their team of experts took guests through the solar system, revealing the unique appearances of each of the planets and their different positions in space. They also discussed the origins of the constellations and their names.

Aderyn Dalton, a 14-year-old school student from Caldicot said:

‘‘I really liked the talks from The Planet’s researchers. I learnt lots of things that I didn’t already know like how Mercury has almost no atmosphere because of another colliding planet. I also enjoyed finding out about the stories behind the constellations in the planetarium – especially the Welsh ones!’’

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Overlooking Pen y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales, the evening showcased not only the wonders of the skies, but also the surrounding landscape of the national park. 

Enthusiasts from different parts of the country attended, all with an interest in the stars and planets.

Marc Parsons, an aircraft engineer, said:

‘‘I’ve been watching The Planets series with Brian Cox and heard about this event. I’m usually based in Bromley but made the journey so that I could come along. Space is a subject that I find fascinating and was interested to explore in more depth following the series. I’ve enjoyed the whole evening, especially viewing Jupiter’s moons through the telescopes and learning about the Solar System in the planetarium.’’

The evening closed with an outdoor, planet-gazing experience where visitors viewed the night’s sky through the telescopes. Experts were on hand to answer any questions and point out the planets and their unique features.

Tonight is all about showing people the planets, in our planetarium and in the sky. We’ve already managed to see the moons of Jupiter, the Great Red Spot and Saturn’s bands using the telescopes that we have here, so it’s been a success.

Allan Trow, Manager of Dark Sky Wales

Earlier in the day, Professor Lewis and Professor Rothery visited a group of Year 7 students at Ebbw Fawr Learning Community in Blaenau Gwent and delivered a session on the planets Mars and Mercury. Their talk linked to the students’ current cross-curricular project which involves planning an exploration to planets in the solar system. The two academics drew from their own experiences, having worked on explorations to Mars such as ExoMars 2016. 

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