Mexborough & Swinton Astronomical Society aims for the stars

THE actions of our politicians often make me feel like I’m insignificant — and the universe sends us the same message.

There are billions and billions of galaxies all over and no one wants to reach out, and we wonder why? Some people put pineapple and chips on their pizza, that’s why —  I wouldn’t want to talk to us either.

But when I was a kid, I always wanted to visit Jupiter and its moons, especially Europa.

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With all the queues in Dover, it’s getting rather difficult to do the same here – I’d joke if it wasn’t so infuriating and sad at the same time.

Now, what if I told you Europa is only 90 minutes or so from the Rotherham countryside?

Don’t call the doctor just yet.

Roy Gunson (72), the deputy chairman of the Mexborough and Swinton Astronomical Society, is here to save the day.

If you look into the telescope at their Hoober observatory, he says, and find Jupiter, you can see the planet —the largest in our galaxy — and its moons from 90 minutes before because the light from Jupiter takes that long to get here.

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We’re seeing an object — a rather big one, I must say — not exactly “now” but just slightly in the past.

Roy, who has been a hobby astronomer since he was 11, had an even more interesting fact — the nearest galaxy, Andromeda, is so far from us it takes the light 350,000 years to get here.

So when I was stargazing last summer and looked straight into Andromeda, I saw the galaxy’s state 350,000 years ago — long before the first “anatomically modern humans” emerged from Africa.

It’s mind-blowing for me but Roy has seen a lot, so he was just laughing at me while I was struggling to comprehend what I had just heard.

Oh man, I had so many questions.

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What was before the “Big Bang”? Are we alone? When would we realise the Moon is about to smash into us?

Are there more habitable planets? Can I go and live there instead, please?

It wasn’t Roy’s fault that he couldn’t answer everything — space is such a mystery.

He said: “It’s the old Fermi paradox: where are they?

“The universe has been around 13.5 billion years. Was there somebody else before us?

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“Maybe one day we’ll get a signal. We could also be the last.

“Life started on the Earth four billion years ago.

“The oxygen didn’t really start appearing until about 600-700 million years ago. It took three billion years before we got complex life.

“Human, intelligent, life has only been around half a million years since we first started making fire and all that, and we’ve only been sending radio signals for a hundred years.”

Up until someone or something gets here and answers all these vital questions — the sooner the better — we’re pretty lucky to have people like Roy who are happy to “show us around”.

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The road to Europa starts in Rotherham, folks, and the good people of the Mexborough & Swinton Astronomical Society can guide you there.

No queues, red tape or visa needed — just have an open mind.

Visit Mexborough & Swinton Astronomical Society on Facebook and help them keep entertaining and educating us in the future.


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