by Kate Prescott
Kate has been awarded a bursary by her college to attend the British Science Festival 2013. She is about to begin a degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, and has recently launched her own blog about STEM opportunities, such as summer schools and taster days for students of all ages – www.passionateaboutscience.co.uk  – to share her love of the subject and give information on upcoming events to support students from all backgrounds in their quest to become scientists! You can follow her on Twitter (@Passion_Science ) or find her on Facebook (Passionate About Science ).
Set under the darkest skies in England, there could be no better place to spend an evening stargazing than at the award-winning Kielder Observatory . A small group of us managed to grab the last few tickets before the event sold out several weeks before the start of the British Science Festival 2013. It was an amazing night I will remember for years to come – the sky was incredible with the Milky Way arching over us surrounded by millions of bright, beautiful specks of starlight.
Our visit began with a short but fascinating talk from Gary Fildes which investigated questions such as 'What is the Universe?' and 'Will it ever end?' - prompting responses as diverse as 'time is infinite but no one can be around to observe the final state of the Universe' and 'it ends in a restaurant, surely?'! As soon as the sun had set, we set off outside to explore the Universe with their fantastic telescopes – first being taught the very basics of how to focus them and then looking at amazing objects far away in both space and time. A highlight for me has to be seeing the Andromeda Galaxy in the time of the first appearance of the human genus (Homo) on Earth! After our tour of the observatory, it was back inside for some welcome hot chocolate before heading out again to gaze at the wonders of space.
Having seen the stars and planets through my own telescope at home, I was still amazed by how far into space those at the Kielder Observatory could see! Far beyond our own solar system, we saw galaxies and stars almost invisible to the naked eye. Gary and his team of incredible volunteers not only allowed us to use their equipment but patiently explained how it worked, as well as displaying their seemingly endless knowledge of all the interesting objects in the sky and the names of constellations.
For me, this event was definitely the highlight of the British Science Festival so far – having accidentally booked on the Electromagnetic Pulse Party which was held at the same time I am so relieved to have made the best decision and gone to party with the stars! It truly was a magical night – I have never seen the stars in such an incredible display before, with such clear skies undisturbed by light pollution. My only regrets were having to leave before midnight and not bringing a warmer jumper (or two)!
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