Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Stars and Cars!

Stars and Cars: The International Astronomy Show, Saturday 18th May ‘13

For the past 2 years I have been lucky enough to attend Astrofest, which is held in London in February each year.  The 12 month wait in between shows is usually painful, so we were delighted when we found out about the first International Astronomy Show in Warwickshire in May.  We knew that it was a weekend when we had my partner Mark’s children with us so the youngest two would be coming along too. They are extremely bright children who love science, but even so, expecting them to spend a full day at an astronomy convention would have been asking a bit much of them. So, we decided that we would spend the morning at IAS, have lunch, then go to the nearby Heritage Motor Museum for the afternoon.  The organisers of IAS wanted to make the pricing structure different to that of Astrofest.  Rather than pay per session, which includes 4 talks, you pay an admission fee, then had the choice of paying for each talk separately.  Had we been there alone, there is no doubt that we would have wanted to attend all 5 of Saturday’s talks because every single one sounded fascinating! But once again, it would have been too much to expect the children to sit through lots of talks.  We initially decided that we would try to get tickets for one talk, have a look round the trade stands, grab some lunch and then head over to the motor museum.  The ticket price for getting into the show was £7 per person for adults, £3 for children.  This price did not include any of the talks; tickets for each talk were priced at £6 per person.  Given that we needed four tickets, it was going to work out at a total of £44 for us to look around the trade stands and see one talk.  That was just too expensive. Besides, by the time we got around to booking, all of the morning talks had sold-out anyway.  (We know for next year to book early!)  So we booked our admission tickets to the trade stall and patiently waited for Saturday 18th May to arrive.

The location of the show, Warwickshire Exhibition Centre,  was only about 40 minutes drive from home and there was free on-site parking which is a big advantage over any event in our great capital city!  The disabled parking spaces were very close to the entrance.  Following a very bumpy wheelchair ride across some gravel, we got to the entrance.  One of the things that struck me as being very different to Astrofest was that all the exhibitors’ stands were on one level rather than being spread across three floors.  This meant no messing about waiting for lifts. It was also very spacious which made it so much easier to get around in my wheelchair.  Kensington Town Hall, where Astrofest is held, is really not geared up for wheelchair users so it was a nice change to actually get a good look around the stalls at this event without feeling like I’m constantly getting in people’s way.  There were telescopes of all shapes and sizes, eye-pieces, accessories, domes, sheds with roll-off roofs, cameras, jewellery, meteorites and fragments of rocks from Vesta, Mars & the Moon and original art works.  There was also an inflatable planetarium.  We hardly knew to where to start! One of the first things I bought was some eyepiece and lens cleaning fluid and a new cleaning cloth. The prism in my zoom eye-piece had become very grotty and was in need of some TLC.  I don’t know if they were busier than they expected, but I found it really difficult to actually get served. Despite having several people manning the stand, they all seemed a bit like rabbits caught in headlights!  But eventually I was served and we continued to look around. I picked up leaflets, brochures and business cards, and took lots of photographs of telescopes as I went around.  When I arrived at the Spacerocks UK stand, I was in seventh heaven!  They were selling meteorites, space rocks and jewellery. I bought Mark a meteorite for his birthday, so I was desperate for one of my own. I have wanted a meteorite necklace for a long time, so I was looking for something which would make a nice pendant.  I found exactly what I was looking for, so I am now the proud owner of a small nickel-iron meteorite!  I literally could have bought one of everything from that stall. The Society for Popular Astronomy had a small stand there too.  At Astrofest their stand is usually one of the busiest because they sell so many interesting space/astronomy related items.  With my mind still on jewellery I treated myself to a necklace which is inspired by Jupiter and its moons and Mark bought me the Andromeda Galaxy inspired one. They are both so pretty and I am very happy with them!

We stopped to grab a quick bite to eat. The cafe was upstairs so I couldn’t get up there, but they had some tables downstairs which were reserved for wheelchair users so we had somewhere to sit once we had bought some food.  Whilst sitting there, we met up with a couple of people we know via Twitter who we’d never met in person before. It sounded like they were both having as good a time as we were. I love meeting up with new people at these events.  Just as we’d finished our lunch we bumped into Pete Lawrence and the writer and presenter Ninian Boyle.  Having spent some time with Pete on our aurora hunting flight earlier in the year it was really nice to see him again.  I had a quick chat with Ninian, who was actually at the Astrofest meal we attended but we didn’t get the chance to actually speak back then, so it was lovely to finally say hello and speak to somebody else whom I admire greatly.  On our final tour of the stands we hadn’t seen yet, we stopped at The Green Witch. I was utterly captivated by some canvases which were on display. At first I thought they were Hubble photographs which had been printed onto canvas, but they turned out to be original artworks by an artist called Chris Inman. He was actually on the stall so I was able to have a quick chat with him.  He was a really interesting guy. He used to be a tattoo artist who was looking for a new challenge. He was inspired by the painter Bob Ross, somebody who I myself am a huge fan of. Chris uses the wet-on-wet oil painting technique to produce these incredible paintings.  We exchanged details and have now spoken via Facebook. He has inspired me to have another go at astronomy inspired painting. Last year I painted the Crab Nebula for Mark’s birthday present, but I definitely want to start painting in oils again.   Whilst I was chatting to Chris, Mark had gone back to look at some CCD cameras. He was planning to buy one, but once again was met with the problem of being completely ignored by the people on the stand, despite standing there with his wallet in one hand, the CCD in the other. In the end he just had to walk away because nobody was interested in serving him - there was a lost sale! On our way back towards to the exit, I bumped into another online friend and had a quick chat.  Sadly we didn’t get time to go into the inflatable planetarium, but I did manage to take a photo of Mark and his youngest standing next to a giant planisphere.

With my bag full of goodies, we headed back to the car and set off to the Heritage Motor Museum. It was my first visit - what an amazing place! It took you on a journey through the history of car manufacturing, with many vintage models on display, taking you right through to the present day high performance racing cars. It was real trip down memory lane seeing cars that we had when I was a child. One thing that struck me was that here was an entire museum filled with cars throughout the history of car making- spanning a period of over 100 years, whilst in my pocket I had a meteorite which was so old that the entire history of motor cars would barely register as a blip its history.  My meteorite was thought to have fallen to Earth in 1576, but it is likely to be over 3 billion years old.  Imagine how big a museum would have to be to fill the life-span of my meteorite?!

To see my photos from Saturday at the IAS, please click here:

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