On Wednesday 28 January 2020, we welcomed almost a thousand people to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Visitors were there to learn about the wonders of the universe for the annual Pompey Stargazing evening – a night of astronomy, space activities and cosmology talks. 

With activities taking place on board HMS Warrior 1860 and in Action Stations, visitors enjoyed incredible views of the night sky over Portsmouth.  Astrophysicists and cosmologists from our Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) were on hand to share their knowledge with visitors. 

And navigation experts from the National Museum of the Royal Navy, amateur astronomers from Hampshire Astronomical Group and space engineers from Airbus Defence and Space helped attendees learn about navigation through space and time. 

We also welcomed the South Downs National Park Authority to speak about their dark skies sites, and staff and students from the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries showcased Virtual Reality (VR) tech in an interactive LED sabre demo.

People of all ages had the chance to get involved with many different activities across the dockyard. From a realistic VR spacewalk in the moments after the Big Bang, to demonstrations of the laser equipment used to detect gravitational waves, there was something for everyone.

Dr Jen Gupta, Outreach Manager for ICG said:

“With events like this and the outreach work I do at the University, we don’t want to be preaching to people, we don’t want to be talking at people – we want to be engaging with them and then coming up with a way to make the science that we do at the University accessible to them.”

This was the tenth anniversary of stargazing in Portsmouth, since the first small scale event in 2011 held at Gunwharf Quays. Since then, the event has proved a popular highlight for the local community.

There was a series of expert talks for visitors, too. 

  • Chris Frohmaier looked at the life cycle of stars
  • Sam Penny discussed the importance of supermassive black holes
  • Tom Greenwood spoke about the ways we all use satellites in our daily lives
  • Daniel Thomas took visitors back to the start of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago
  • Dan Whalen talked about the birth of the first quasars, 200 million years after that. 

Visitors also learned about historical navigation techniques from expert volunteers, and had the chance to view the Moon through telescopes on the deck of HMS Warrior. 

#PompeyStargazing will return in 2021.