u3a - Astronomy

Contact the adviser


Thank you for visiting my Astronomy Advice page.

My main 'qualification' is as an amateur with my own small observatory, and knowledge of practical back garden astronomy. I was Secretary of the York Astronomical Society for 5 years and remain an active member. I am a good organiser, with a professional background in Adult Education, Youth Work and Community Development. I was an early member of my local U3A, and our Speaker Secretary for 5 years.

I have been interested in Astronomy and Space exploration for 70 years, inspired by Patrick Moore and Arthur C. Clarke.

I hope no one will feel that they know nothing about astronomy and so are inhibited about asking me for advice. The simple questions are often the best.


PLEASE STICK TO COVID I9 GOVERNMENT ADVICE / RULES ABOUT MEETINGS FOR NOW.

Here is a lot of stuff for you to consider. Please share with your Group.
When running a Group there is no set pattern anyone is expected to follow.

Running Group meeting on Zoom

At my monthly group meeting, now on Zoom, we have astro' / spaceflight news first, then a topic. Each topic takes about 30 minutes. Then we have questions and discussion. I have the computer and projector going and so if I can't answer a question, I Google it then and there.

I use https://www.youtube.com/user/astrumspace/videos a lot - very good shortish videos on astro' topics.

You can meet on Zoom and Screen Share YouTube video. Ethernet connections are best for all participants, but sometimes this is not needed – try it. A paid-for Zoom account is best, as the free service limits meeting to 40 minutes. Perhaps your U3A has an account or could subscribe, then all your U3A members could attend.

As with any U3A Group, the organiser should not do all the work for the group, s/he should get each member to research a topic and make a presentation.


Astronomy is also a very sociable activity - sharing the experience of seeing Saturn or the Great Globular Cluster for the first time is very special. In a group you share and learn from each other, and it’s fun. As U3A Astronomy Adviser I am asked where to get information for Study Groups to consider because the range of topics within the catch-all “Astronomy” is so huge. The simple answer is the Internet, but where to start ?!

Here is a list of good websites :-

  • http://britastro.org/baa/ The British Astronomical Society. Broadcasts lectures on the internet.
  • http://www.popastro.com/ The Society for Popular Astronomy.  Membership is very good value and their magazine "Popular Astronomy" is understandable by anyone.  It has a young people's section, for your grandchildren. Broadcasts lectures on the internet.
  • https://ras.ac.uk/ The Royal Astronomical Society. Broadcasts lectures on the internet.
  • http://gostargazing.co.uk    Public star gazing events finder. No events now unitil we all get a vaccine.
    http://www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/solar_system/ Make a Solar System model
  • http://www.heavens-above.com/ Chat site
  • http://aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/   Get email alerts of aurora which could be visible in the UK
    http://www.etwright.org/astro/plani.html Online Planetarium
    http://www.moonconnection.com/moon_phases_calendar.phtml     Moon phases calendar
  • http://www.skyviewcafe.com/skyview.php Basic planetarium for computers
  • http://www.stellarium.org/ Free Planetarium for PCs, there is a mobile version, awkward to learn at first, then very good.
  • heavens-above.com Free app for smart phones – Brilliant!
  • https://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime-images.html Real-time images of the Sun in various light wavelengths.  One of the unexpected outcomes of setting up SOHO was seeing comets nearing the Sun.
  • Sign up for email from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; for Astronomy Picture Of the Day  -  Wonderful!
  • http://heritage.stsci.edu/ The best images from the Hubble Space Telescope
  • bis-space.com , www.esa.int    &  www.nasa.gov/   3 good spaceflight sites.

Finding Speakers

For speakers at your U3A General Meetings of all members, not small groups, contact Physics Departments in local Universities - they are likely to have lecturers and PhD students who could come to visit you. They normally do not charge a fee but sometimes ask for travel costs. Also The Federation of Astronomical Societies http://fedastro.org.uk/fas/ has a list of speakers.


Find your nearest Astronomy Group

There are many Astronomy Societies across the UK; U3A members should consider visiting them for talks or observing evenings. To find your nearest amateur society Google your town’s name and Astronomy. Members of 'ASs' are all a bit nerdy but all are committed to outreach and making astronomy interesting for the public. If you go when they have their telescopes operating wear very warm clothes! You will never forget your first sight of the Moon or Saturn with your own eyes in a small telescope. Currently no meetings with telescopes etc, but many are Zooming.

You and your friends can do actual observing of things in the night sky without telescopes. Ordinary binoculars are very good for looking at the Moon, especially when it's not full, it's too bright then.


If you are thinking of buying a telescope, please visit my  Buying a telescope (240 KB)

NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITH BINOCULARS OR A TELESCOPE - THIS WILL CAUSE INSTANT AND PERMANENT BLINDNESS.


 Here's a challenge - find and see the Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 million light-years away - you can see it with binoculars, let me know when you succeed. A £10 Planisphere and a basic star maps book will help you learn the sky. Find the Plough, Orion and Cassiopeia Constellations first, they are the most obvious.

Find a dark sky site away from street lights and wear very warm clothes - woolly hats, gloves and thick socks!

Don’t miss the BBC TV ‘The Sky at Night’ for an update of all things Astronomical. The presentation style is often juvenile and its broadcast dates are erratic, but its contents are always good.

There are several magazines worth reading as well E.G. Astronomy Now and The Sky at Night available from newsagents.

Please don’t hesitate to ask me for more help.

Martin Whillock FRAS UK U3A Astronomy Adviser

MW Astronomy

Email or Tel 01347 821849