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National Astronomy Week 2003

2003 August 23rd - 30th

Joint Patrons
Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale (14th Astronomer Royal)
Professor Sir Martin Rees (15th Astronomer Royal)
Professor John Brown (Astronomer Royal for Scotland)

Hot News


NASA seeks public suggestions for Mars photographs


Mars is getting closer! Read the latest National Astronomy Week Press Release

More Mars facts can be obtained through the Royal Astronomical Society's recent press release.

The National Astronomy Week committee has planned another Week, to be held during August 2003.  The years astronomical events, include:

  • 2003 will be an important year for the UK and the exploration of Mars. Mars Express and Beagle2 launched successfully in June, will be arriving at Mars in December 2003. On the 27th August, Mars itself will approach Earth to within 56 million kilometres.
  • There was an annular eclipse of the Sun visible from the north of Scotland (at dawn) on 31 May 2003 – partial elsewhere.
  • There are two total lunar eclipses visible in the UK in 2003. The first only visible at Moonset was on 16 May 2003 and the second looks better on November 9 2003.
  • There was a transit of Mercury in May
  • It’s the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Society for Popular Astronomy
Of these events, the Mars encounter will attract the most attention, and that will be the focus of the Week. The date of closest approach will undoubtedly be a great spectacle. The planet will be fairly high in the sky and even a small telescope will show its disc and maybe a few markings. Amazingly, on the 27th August 2003 Mars will be particularly close to Earth, at a mere 56 million km (35 million miles). This is the closest it has ever been seen since the dawn of history, and certainly since the invention of the telescope. It has not been as close in the past 60,000 years.

Why that week?

The timing of the Week is set to reflect the closest approach, when public interest will be at its highest. Mars will rise about 9.00 pm BST and will be high enough to observe reasonably well by about 10.30, at about 11° altitude. This may not be the ideal time to observe it, as it will mean a late night for many people, and it will be higher in the sky later in the year, but this is the time most people will want to see it and the media attention will be at its peak.

The committee considered other weeks, and making the Week itself begin on the Wednesday, but the overwhelming interest in observing Mars swung the balance. The enormous media excitement surrounding the 2001 close approach confirmed this view. We will be learning from that event to try to make sure that accurate information about the visibility of Mars is distributed.

Although Mars is the only planet readily visible during the week, it is a new Moon period so deep-sky observing will be possible.

What happens during NAW?

The aim of the Week is to raise the profile of astronomy and space within the UK. It gives the opportunity for astronomy and space organisations throughout the country to combine in providing special events and observing sessions, using the publicity provided by the NAW organisation. An A4 double-sided POSTER is available for display and provides useful information about Mars

To coincide with the beginning of National Astronomy Week, there will be an All Night Star Party, live TV extravaganza from the Open University and the BBC. This will be broadcast on BBC 2 on the 23rd August at 11.20pm from Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory and La Palma in the Canary Islands. Some of Britain's largest telescopes will be handed over to viewers who can see for themselves the full splendour and violence to be found in the Universe - live and as it happens. Amateur astronomers will also be challenged to find a hitherto unknown asteroid while the programme is on the air. Further details about the programme and its themes will be available from the All Night Star Party Website, which will be live from mid-August. 

Night Blight!

Do you want to see darker skies? The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) produce publications concerning light pollution. Visit the CPRE Website to see their Night Blight campaign and request copies of their publications.

Special Offers!

The August 2003 issue of the Royal Astronomical Society's, Astronomy & Geophysics journal is a "Mars Special" and includes articles on the martian atmosphere, its interior and geology as well as a review of the exploration of Mars by space missions. Single copies of this issue are available on request and free of charge while stocks last.


Springer, one of the world's leading publishers of Astronomy and Space Science books, is proud to support National Astronomy Week by offering a special 20% on all astronomy titles DURING THE WEEK ONLY.
How to make your selection: Visit Springer's Website  to browse the full range of books available or to search for titles in your area of interest.
How to order: To order your selected books send an Email during National Astronomy Week to marketing@svl.co.uk quoting the reference 'NAW17'.
Postage: £3.00 for the first book and £1.00 per book thereafter.
Our National Astronomy Week Recommendation ...... An Ideal Introduction for Those Thinking of Taking Up Astronomy Astronomy with a Budget Telescope by Patrick Moore and John Watson
Sir Patrick Moore, CBE, FRS has long been the scourge of those people selling low-cost astronomical telescopes via mail-order catalogues and non-specialist stores. Ten years ago the quality was appalling and disappointment would have been almost guaranteed - but times have changed.
The first part of the book provides reports on some available models along with detailed and essential hints and tips about what to look for when buying. The second part describes how best to use the telescope, which celestial objects to observe (with full-page star charts to help find them), what you can expect to see, and how to take and even computer enhance astronomical photographs.
2002. 132 p. 100 illus., 98 in colour. Softcover
Recommended Retail Price: £12.95
Special National Astronomy Week Price: £10.36 + p&p

 What else is there?

For some more amazing facts about Mars you can visit Heather Couper's Website (not an NAW site).

Or why not have a look at some planetary images from the Hubble Space Telescope (not an NAW site). NASA makes these pictures freely available for download from their Website and it is likely that a new photograph of Mars will be released within the next few weeks.

Robin Scagell of the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA) has produced an excellent series of postcards for sale that would make a good souvenir of the week as well as an astronomy keepsake. Click here for further details.

If you are interested in buying a T-shirt to mark the occasion, click here to see the designs produced by Skymania (this is not an NAW Site).

 The committee for the Week consists of:

Pam Spence (Chairman) – Federation of Astronomical Societies

Sandra Voss (Co-ordinator) - Observatory Science Centre Herstmonceux Tel: 01323 831972

John Becklake – Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux:
Robin Gorman (Vice Chairman) – Hampshire Astronomical Group and Founder of National Astronomy Week
Teresa Grafton – London Planetarium and Association for Astronomy Education

Guy Hurst – British Astronomical Association
Barrie Jones – Open University
David Elliott – Royal Astronomical Society
Judith Pillinger – Beagle 2
Bob Rubin (Treasurer)
Robin Scagell (Publicity Officer) – Society for Popular Astronomy