ALMOST 150 people, more than half of them children, packed into Rogate Primary School for the launch of the village’s latest community initiative, a celebration of the tranquil dark skies.
A bout of driving rain meant the children and their parents did not get their first close-up glimpse of the craters on the moon and the red spot on Jupiter through the telescopes brought along by members of the Hampshire Astronomical Group (HAG) at Clanfield Observatory.
The guided tour of the dark sky above the school playing field also had to be cancelled, but organisers moved to a Plan B, indoor Star Party!
So to the sound of songs about the moon and stars, everyone tucked into the hot chocolate provided by Ann Arnold of Rogate Stores and the cakes made by the school’s Family and Friends group.
Sarah O’Brien-Twohig, Rogate Parish Council’s lead on the Rogate Star Party initiative, welcomed visitors and a brief introduction to the South Downs National Park ‘dark skies project’ was given by its leader, Dan Oakley.
He showed a map indicating Rogate and the surrounding area was one of the darker places in the south of England, and invited everyone to join in the campaign to get official ‘Dark Skies’ status by joining in the online stellar survey.
From now until mid-March, the public is invited to count the number of stars they can see in the constellation Orion from any location in this area (www.southdowns.gov.uk/darkskies)
Clanfield Observatory astronomer Robin Gorman gave a power-point presentation about the observatory and its telescopes before taking visitors on a whistle-stop tour of the solar system.
The evening ended with HAG chairman Graham Bryant’s introduction to his meteorite collection, including a piece of chondrite from the Russian meteorite the whole world saw landing over Russia last winter.
The Clanfield team’s ‘telescope clinic’ examined a six-inch telescope brought along by Rogate resident Fiona Dix, who has offered it as a gift to the community.
Sarah O’Brien-Twohig then suggested this telescope could should form the core of a Rogate Community Sky Centre, located close to the dark open space of the village recreation ground.
It would be the first dedicated Dark Sky resource of its kind for residents, schoolchildren, youth club and visitors, providing a unique community-led educational and leisure amenity in Rogate.
The proposal has been welcomed by Rogate Parish Council, Rogate Village Hall Committee chairman Brian Allison, West Sussex county councillor Gordon McAra, Chichester district councillor John Kingston and South Downs National Park Authority ‘Dark Skies’ officer, Dan Oakley.
More pictures in the Midhurst and Petworth Observer, Thursday, February 13