Hundreds of stargazers braved last night’s cold winter weather to gather outside the Lanyon building at Queen’s University Belfast for their chance to see the planet Jupiter in all its glory.
Across the UK, families, students, pensioners, academics and astronomers were wrapped up in their winter woollies for a series of BBC Stargazing Live events.
Jupiter Watch, run in conjunction with Queen’s Astrophysics Research Centre and the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA), took place from 6pm to 9pm.
While the Stargazing team celebrated the night sky on television and online, the crowd of several hundred in Belfast chatted outside over cups of tea, coffee and cocoa.
Little ones and big kids alike marvelled at being able to see Jupiter and four of its largest moons.
Some people had their own binoculars, but there was an array of large reflector and refractor telescopes on site for everyone to make use of.
Armagh-man Terry Moseley (66) from the IAA said he was thrilled the recent civil unrest on the streets of Belfast had not deterred people from attending last night’s magical event.
“Everyone has been very impressed with the public Jupiter Watch,” Mr Moseley said.
“Jupiter is the biggest planet in the solar system, it’s the brightest that’s visible at the moment, we’ve got a clear night and everyone is having a fantastic time.
“Members of the public from six to 90 have been here tonight, from family groups to those with a keen interest in astronomy.”
Mr Moseley said Professor Brian Cox, comedian Dara O’Briain and the BBC Stargazing Live team have followed in the footsteps of his late friend, Sir Patrick Moore, in bringing astronomy to a wider audience.
“When Sir Patrick Moore was doing The Sky At Night it brought astronomy to an awful lot of people, but mainly amateur astronomers,” he added. “If they weren’t that keen, maybe they just watched something on TV, but Stargazing Live has got people outside and interacting online. It’s really taken off.”
Sean McAughey from Belfast and his six-year-old son James thoroughly enjoyed themselves at the Jupiter Watch event.
“We’ve had a great time,” Sean said.
“James has a poster of all the planets and likes asking questions about them, so he loved seeing Jupiter.
“Any time there is a programme on about the solar system we watch it together.
“I would say a few years ago astronomy was an exclusive sort of club to be part of, but shows like Stargazing Live have helped with that and now lots of people are talking about it,” he added. Aoibheann McAteer and Craig Owen, who recently moved from Liverpool to Belfast, also had a good time.
“There is a really good crowd and the conditions are great,” Aoibheann said.
“There has been nothing like this in Liverpool, so the minute we heard about it we made a beeline for it.”
“We always watch Stargazing Live,” Craig added.
Another event will take place at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre near Lurgan, Co Armagh, on Thursday from 6-9.30pm.