Stargazers gather in Norfolk
Richard BatsonScores of telescopes scanned the big black sky over a north Norfolk heath.Richard Batson
Scores of telescopes scanned the big black sky over a north Norfolk heath.
Around them buzzed an army of amateur astronomers, lit by usherette-red torches, checking their gear and chatting excitedly about the unveiling universe overhead.
Some had their eyes pressed to simple scopes, picking out a bright Jupiter and its moons.
Others had junior Jodrell Banks set up inside tents and caravans - complex systems of mirrors, cameras and computers able to capture distant galaxies older than earth itself.
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It was a gathering of sky watchers that has been held in Norfolk for 15 years - starting with a group of 30 people in Thetford forest, and now attracting more than 500 folk for Europe's biggest 'star party'.
The fascination for the firmament is shared by welders, bankers, dustmen, surgeons and barristers - some hooked in by the wonder of peering into infinity, others excited by the technology, a few just happy to combine playing with 'boys toys' with having a few beers with the lads.
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Organiser Richard Deighton said the success of the event was down to the dark skies and facilities at the Kelling Heath holiday park site at Weybourne.
It was a hobby that had peaks prompted by events such as eclipses, major comet appearances, and this year the 40th anniversary of the moon landing - all of which prompted new people to peer into space.
Norfolk fan Andrew Robertson, a retired police inspector, said there was a huge range of equipment in the fields from optical scopes costing a few hundred pounds to computerised ones costing thousands which automatically scanned the skies.
'I have watched something 7.5 billion lights away - and it is amazing to think it is light that started more than 2.5 billion years before earth was formed,' he added.
Broadland couple Peter and Sue Napper have become immersed in the hobby since she bought him a scope for his 65th birthday. Now they have six and enjoyed the friendship as fans shared stories, tips and glimpses through their gear.
During the weekend the enthusiasts also listened to talks by experts, and happily showed members of the public a glimpse of another star-sprinkled world.
Anyone keen to explore the hobby further can contact a local group such as the Norwich Astronomical Society on www.norwich.astronomicalsociety.org.uk