Derbyshire Dales: Stargazing group wonders at the night sky

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For millennia, stargazers have tried to unravel the mysteries of the universe by looking up at the stars.

Now a group of starry-eyed astronomy enthusiasts are gathering together to wonder at the skies above the Derbyshire Dales.

The Matlock and Darley Dale Observing Group (MADDOGS) was formed in December and meets on the first Monday of every month weather permitting in Whitworth Park, Darley Dale.

Joolz Wright, of Farley, Matlock, is an amateur astronomer and member of the group.

She said: “Astronomy can be quite a lonely thing because you’re outside with your telescope and often your on your own.

“There were quite a few people local to Matlock who were interested in astronomy and we thought it would be a good idea that we had a place to meet.”

The mother–of–three has always had an interest in astronomy and got her first telescope when she was pregnant with her first child.

“It’s fascinating and just beautiful,” She said.

“Who can’t go out and look up to the night’s sky and be absolutely mesmerised?”

Joolz is also interested in photography and has used her telescope to take close–up pictures of the Moon and planets including Jupiter.

She said people starting out in astronomy are welcome to use members’ telescopes at the meetings.

“We want to keep it informal and off–the–cuff,” Joolz added.

The first meeting of the group featured a talk by Darley Dale astronomer Nigel Bradbury, who spoke to the group about his passion for the skies and told anecdotes of his adventures including seeing the Northern Lights on a trip to the Arctic Circle with close friend and fellow astronomer Pete Lawrence, from the BBC’s ‘Sky at Night’ programme.

Joolz said the lack of light pollution in the area means the skies are particularly clear, making them perfect for stargazing.

Wirksworth’s stunning StarDisc, located in Stoney Wood, is testament to the area’s astronomical pedigree.

The art installation was created by local artist Aidan Shingler and unveiled in 2011.

The StarDisc maps the stars and was inspired by the Nebra Star Disc, discovered in Germany in 1999, which archaeologists believe dates back to 1600 BC, making it the oldest known accurate picture of the night sky in history.

For information on the group’s upcoming meetings, keep watch of the MADDOGS Facebook page

Five fabulous facts about astronomy -

- Scientists believe that we can only see about five per cent of the matter in the universe. The rest is made up of invisible matter called dark matter and energy known as dark energy.

- Every second the Sun’s core releases the equivalent of 100 billion nuclear bombs.

- The density of Saturn is such that it is the only planet in the solar system that would float on water.

- Even if traveling at the speed of light, it would still take you more than four years to reach the Sun’s nearest neighbouring star.

- In 1986 NASA found what they thought might be fossils of microscopic living things in a rock from Mars.