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Virtual Stargazing Evening

OC Ben Coley (96) gave an awe-inspiring virtual talk about stars...

Space being a popular theme in the school's extra-curricular STEAM events, our evening of Virtual Stargazing in September was eagerly anticipated.

Addressing an audience of 170 pupils and parents, Old Churcherian and night safari guide Ben Coley (96) joined us from South Africa by video link. Over the course of an enjoyable couple of hours he explained the key stages in the life cycle of a star, brilliantly illustrated by the live images he shared from his telescope and astrophotography camera.

The audience enjoyed seeing the images, taken on a long enough exposure to capture details that could not be seen in any other way, appear on the screen as Ben described both the science of star formation and the art of astrophotography – the example below, of the Lagoon Nebula (a cloud of mainly hydrogen gas in which new stars are born), was typical of the many beautiful illustrations he was able to produce.

At the other end its life, the outer layers of a star such as our Sun will drift away, forming a beautiful planetary nebula, which Ben illustrated with a live view of the Dumbell Nebula (below). Of course, “live” is a somewhat misleading term since the light from the nebula began its journey to us over a thousand years ago! 

A different fate awaits a much larger star, which explodes in a supernova before forming a neutron star or a black hole. As it does so, much of its matter is violently ejected across space and can still be seen as it continues to expand. Ben’s view of the Eastern Veil nebula (pictured below) was a stunning conclusion to the evening. 

The event was enthusiastically received; below are just a few of the quotes from the audience:

'An awe-inspiring evening.  Whole worlds of fascination opened up with a telescope, a camera and an expert guide.' 

‘An extraordinarily interesting evening that gave a real glimpse at exactly how we can capture such beautiful and detailed photos of the cosmos, complete with insights into the science that explains space’s lifecycle! The live demonstrations in particular were an excellent touch’

‘We had a great time and Ben was brilliant - he needs his own TV show…’

To find out more about Ben and his astrophotography, see:


Instagram: @celestial_events_sa

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