Eric Jones is a legendary solo climber. Now an 82-year-old grandfather, he has one last mountain to climb. A poignant and inspirational film about a great man growing old

8.00pm, Tuesday 25th February Doors open at 7.30pm. Bar available

Venue; The Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth

Tickets £6.00 - available on the door on the night Enquiries:

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I'm just about to celebrate - if that's the right word - a birthday with a rather big number. Well, actually it's halfway between two big numbers but that's not the point. It's a big enough number to have me sitting back and thinking about how things have changed over the years, particularly the appearance of the night sky.

I came into stargazing quite late really, around 1980. I'd already been interested in the night sky since I was knee-high to R2D2 of course, thanks to the Apollo Moon landings, which I watched on The Big Telly at school. It wasn't until about 1980, that I began to actually look up at the real sky instead of reading about it in books. Like most of the people who have this hobby do, I started off just using a pair of binoculars and then graduated to small telescope. After seeing photos of them for years, that telescope finally let me see for myself such celestial wonders as craters on the Moon, the rings of Saturn, ice caps on Mars, Jupiter's four largest moons orbiting close to it and too many clusters, nebulae and galaxies to count.

Time passed! From our garden up on Highfield, I watched lunar and solar eclipses. From the lay-by at the bottom of The Hay I watched puffball comets drift silently through the Little and Big Dippers and eerie displays of feathery noctilucent clouds paint the Northern sky electric blue.



Through all this and what came after, once I moved down here to Kendal, I always imagined that the biggest threat to the night sky I love so much was going to be light pollution and indeed that has grown to become a big problem: the glare given off by street lights, security lights, spotlights aimed at advertising hoardings, hotel and pub signs and churches, means that now only the brightest stars are visible from our towns and a trip out into the countryside is the only way to see the Milky Way. In just the past twelve months an even graver threat has surfaced, one that has astronomers - amateur, like me and professional researchers too - genuinely fearing for the future of the night sky.

There are now several companies planning on launching ‘constellations’ of multiple satellites to provide cheap broadband access globally. But not just a few satellites, not dozens, not even hundreds, but THOUSANDS of them, all whirling around in low Earth orbit. One company, Elon Musk's SpaceX - the one that launches rockets that land again, like something from Thunderbirds - has already put several hundred ‘Starlink’ satellites into orbit and they are now frequently visible as trails of stars moving across the sky, looking like tracer fire from guns over the horizon. During 2020, SpaceX plans to launch thousands more and other companies will be launching their own too. It's going to become a motorway up there.


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On a smoky Bonfire Night in 1985, after so many years of waiting to see it, I had my first view of Halley's Comet from the middle of Highfield rugby pitch. After leaving home, I found other observing spots around town. From the - then undeveloped fields in the shadow of Cockermouth Castle, around the bend of the river, I looked up at a sky ablaze with the Northern Lights and watched fireballs falling like artillery shells. From a lonely gateway halfway up Isel Road I watched Comet Hale-Bopp shining in the sky, its beautiful twin tails easily visible to the naked eye. And so much more...


Professional astronomers are already finding that their research is being affected. The satellites track across their telescopes' field of view, leaving bright lines criss- crossing their long exposure photos and ruining their observations of distant stars and galaxies. For many amateurs like myself, these satellites are nothing less than vermin, ruining the beauty of the night sky. Some suggest we should use them as a way of getting people interested in the night sky. I can't agree. That would be like suggesting watching a video of a seal cull or an elephant being shot by a poacher as a way of ‘getting people interested in wildlife’.

So, dear readers, enjoy looking at the stars on any clear night you can from now on, because soon there will be more satellites than stars up there and the sky we've grown up with, and loved, might be gone forever.

Stuart Atkinson Halley's Comet image copyright NASA ISSUE 438 | 23 JANUARY 2020 | 6

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