If you happened to look to the night sky during the first week of September, you may have witnessed an incredible astronomical event – our beautiful moon aligning side by side with the gas giant Jupiter and ringed planet Saturn.  

Kicking off the start of the new observing season, a handful of lucky boys gathered shortly after sunset on Thursday 5 September at the school’s observatory to enjoy telescopic views of this rare celestial trio. The planets, which had been well-placed and low in the south over the summer, were on show all together for one last time before sinking away into the western twilight.

The conditions were excellent. With a cloudless sky and no wind, the group had exceptional views of the planets and the first quarter of the moon through the telescope. Even through the naked eye the sight of the trio lined-up, shining down onto our main school building, really was a sight to behold.

A view of the moon from our observatory

Astronomer in Residence, Linton Guise, explained, “It was a night when the atmosphere was very steady, so we were able to pick out cloud belts on Saturn, along with several moons including Titan. Jupiter also had its four main moons on show along with the Great Red Spot. Impact craters on our moon were a stunning sight as they cast long shadows over the lunar surface.”

Bedford School Observatory and Planetarium

Our school observatory will soon be celebrating its 20th anniversary. However, it is in fact the third observatory in the school’s history. The first was situated on the roof of the Head Master’s house in the days when the school was located on St Paul’s Square more than 120 years ago. The second was on top of the Wells Building after the school moved to its present site, but the telescope was removed during World War II and was subsequently lost.

It was in 1997 that the school’s Head Master at the time, Dr Philip Evans, set about establishing a community observatory so that not only pupils of the school could benefit but also the people of Bedford town. Thanks to the Bedford School Trust and several generous individuals, funds were quickly raised, and on St George’s Day 2000 the now iconic dome was lifted into place and observing sessions commenced!

The problem remained of what to do on cloudy nights. Work on a second phase of the project soon began and a wonderful new planetarium was created.

Since 2000 the observatory and planetarium have been busy hosting astronomy sessions for local community groups as well as boys from the school. Local schools, Cubs, Brownies and Guides, charities, church congregations and retirement groups – even neighbours and friends who have heard about the facility – have been welcomed and introduced to this fascinating subject.

Bedford School Use

Use of the observatory in the Prep School is strong, with boys in Y5 and Y7 taking astronomy as part of their Science course during the winter months when it is dark early. Fifth Form boys from the Upper School also study Astronomy as part of their Physics IGCSE and the observatory provides enrichment to their learning.

Bedford remains the only school in the UK to have both an observatory and planetarium in regular use and open to the whole community.

A Passionate Team

While the facility is outstanding, it would be nothing without the committed and passionate small team of staff, who are vastly knowledgeable on both astronomy as well as the technical side. They have incredible patience and go to great lengths to ensure every visitor is educated and enjoys a unique and magical evening.

If you would like to find out more about our observatory and planetarium, you can visit the Bedford School website.    


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