Bringing The Story of the Solar System to the stage

If you’ve been following my Twitter feed in recent months you’ll probably have already seen me mention that I’ll be performing my first live theatre show on 19th November, called The Story of the Solar System. I’ve had huge fun over the past year developing the show, the set design and props and am thrilled that it’ll get its first outing at the amazing Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre here in Somerset.

The show tells the incredible tale of our planetary neighbourhood through a mix of storytelling, live demos, spectacular space imagery and audience participation. During the show we’ll explore the many and varied worlds of the Solar System and look at a bit of the science behind our little corner of the Cosmos. We’ll descend to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, whirl around a comet with the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft and, along the way, find out about some of the men and women who pioneered the study of the planets and other objects that orbit the Sun.

Huygens press shot_25cm300DPI copyOne of the ‘stars’ of the show, a 1:3-scale replica of the Huygens probe. Credit:

You can buy tickets for the show through the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre box office online or over the phone on 01823 414141.

And if you have friends, family or work colleagues who may be interested in a theatre show with a astronomical twist please spread the word with the buttons below.

Philae’s great leap – landing on Comet 67P

Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam

Tomorrow ESA’s Philae lander will leave its mothership Rosetta and attempt to land on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in what will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting, and nerve wracking, days in the history of space exploration. A few weeks ago I met some of the scientists working with Rosetta and Philae and spoke to them about this great adventure and their hopes for the mission. Here’s a video of my interviews with them:

I’ll be tweeting what’s happening throughout the day tomorrow from about 06:00UT. A few hours after the expected touchdown of Philae I’ll also be joining a live broadcast on the Slooh network, with host Geoff Fox, talking about the events of the day and what the Rosetta mission hopes to find out. You can tune in live from 19:00UT here.

The North West Astronomy Festival & Tour of the Universe

Just a quick heads up to say that I’ll be appearing at two exciting events this month. The first, next weekend, is the 2014 North West Astronomy Festival in Runcorn, Cheshire. I’ll be giving a talk on the Saturday (11 October) about the ‘Secrets of Celestial Light’. Here’s the flyer:

You can get tickets to my talk and the rest of the event – and see the full line-up for the weekend, which includes Damian Peach, Helen Keen and Jon Culshaw – at the festival website here. I’ll also be doing a book signing for the Knowledge Observatory on the Saturday afternoon if you’d like to pick up a copy of The Practical Astronomer or The Night Sky Month by Month.

The second event I’m appearing at this month is a theatre-based astronomy chat show called Tour of the Universe. This exciting new touring production is visiting the Nottingham Playhouse on the 20th of October and I’ll be the special guest of presenters Neil and Jane on the night. Tickets to the show can be booked through the Nottingham Playhouse box office or online here.


The Story of a Shooting Star – filming begins!

Over the last 12 months I’ve been working, in my spare time, on a short film about meteors. Called The Story of a Shooting Star it “follows the journey of a tiny grain of space dust, tracing its origins all the way back to the birth of the Solar System before exploring its final fleeting moments blazing across the night sky as a meteor”. Having spent a while scriptwriting and researching I recently started filming for the project.

In May I spent a fascinating day at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, in Devon, with the Solar, Planetary & Meteor group there learning about radio meteor detection. And this past weekend I filmed in the stunning surroundings of Dartmoor National Park. I’ll be posting occasional updates on the film (and hopefully some short clips too) here, but for now here are some pictures from the first few days of location shooting.

The Norman Lockyer Observatory on day one of filming. Credit: Will Gater

It might not look like much, but this antenna can detect meteors. Credit: Will Gater

Ping! A meteor is detected vaporizing high up in our atmosphere. Credit: Will Gater

Twilight on Dartmoor, a truly stunning sight. Credit: Will Gater

Some serious peering going on in this shot. Credit: Will Gater

Live astrophotography from the Brecon Beacons

One Show presenter Lucy Siegle talks to Will live from the Brecon Beacons. Credit: BBC

I had great fun on Wednesday night in the Brecon Beacons filming a series of live segments about astrophotography for the BBC’s The One Show. The idea behind the evening was that I would help a group of twenty amateur photographers take their first images of the night sky before judging which was the best shot. When we arrived at the filming location the sky was filled with clouds, but as the Sun set the clouds thankfully dissipated and the photographers managed to capture their pictures (even despite some quite substantial haze).

If you missed the programme, and are in the UK, you’ve got a few days left to catch it on the BBC’s iPlayer; the astrophotography bits can be found here, here and here. And if you’ve captured an astro image lately that you’re particularly pleased with, don’t forget to send it into the 2013 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, which is now open for entries.

New article – “Stargazing for Beginners” – in Countryfile magazine

Just a quick heads-up to say that I have a new article in the January issue of the BBC’s Countryfile magazine. It’s called “Stargazing for Beginners” and it’s illustrated with a gorgeous opening picture (above) that was produced especially for the feature by artist Angela Harding. In the piece I offer some advice on how to get started in astronomy and suggest a few objects that can be seen with just the naked eye. There’s also a guide to locating some of the more prominent constellations that are visible in January.

The One Show & Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Martin Pugh’s winning image of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). Credit: Martin Pugh

If you’ve been following my Twitter feed you’ll probably know that on Wednesday night the Royal Observatory Greenwich, in association with Sky at Night Magazine, announced the winners of the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

This year’s overall winner was Martin Pugh, from Australia, who won the top prize with a truly spectacular image (above) of M51. I was on the judging panel again this year and, in my opinion, it was the hardest year to judge in the history of the competition. The standard of entries across all the categories was, as ever, superb, but this year I was particularly impressed with the quality of the images submitted in the Best Newcomer and Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year groups – something that really bodes well for the future of the competition.

To tie in with the competition, myself, the ROG’s Marek Kukula, and Andrew Steele – whose striking moonrise image was highly commended in last year’s competition – also appeared in a segment about astrophotography on The One Show last night; my role was to help presenter Jamie Crawford take his first ever astro images. You can currently watch the whole piece on the BBC’s iPlayer here.

Jamie and I looking at some basic astrophotography kit. Credit: BBC Television

All the winning images from this year’s competition are on the ROG website and, if you get a chance, be sure to also visit the stunning free exhibition in Greenwich.

Photography Monthly interview on astrophotography

I had a lot of fun talking about astrophotography to Fiona Keating from Photography Monthly magazine a few weeks ago. The 4-page interview appears in the June issue of the magazine, which has just hit newsstands. In the interview I talk about some of the methods and equipment that can be used to take pictures of the night sky and the technical challenges astro imaging creates.

So if you’re thinking of getting into astrophotography, why not pick up a copy of the magazine and start snapping. And if you capture a great image, remember there’s a ‘best newcomer’ prize in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

So You Want To Be A Scientist 2011

Last year I wrote about a new BBC Radio 4 competition called ‘So You Want To Be A Scientist?’ that invites members of the public to submit ideas for a scientific experiment they’d like to carry out. One of the finalists in last year’s competition was amateur astronomer John Rowlands who investigated the summertime atmospheric phenomenon known as ‘noctilucent clouds’. The competition is back this year and the team behind it are once again keen to hear your ideas for experiments.

If your idea is one of the handful selected by the judges you’ll be paired up with a professional scientist to complete the experiment you’ve proposed. When the results of your study are in you’ll then have to present your research at the Cheltenham Science Festival; a panel of expert judges will then select their favourite experiment, with the winning citizen scientist being declared the BBC’s Amateur Scientist of the Year. You’ve got until 31 October to get your ideas in, so get thinking — you never know what you might discover.