Director profile – Alan Clitherow

It is rather strange writing about myself as Section Director as, before I was asked to take over the role, I had rather assumed one needed some form of qualification to do the job. In the end it seems that a long-standing interest can be enough, so here I am, though I suppose I should now add a few details as to how I got here.

Alan Clitherow at Selsey
Alan Clitherow at Sir Patrick Moore’s old home in Selsey

I first asked for, and was rather surprised to receive, a telescope for Christmas at the age of twelve. This was a 60mm Tasco refractor on a wobbly wooden tripod with a simple erecting zoom-eyepiece. The whole thing was most definitely not suited to astronomical observation but that mattered not at all; the first time I turned it onto the Moon I was completely hooked. That Tasco has been followed by a number of small refracting telescopes, then larger and larger Newtonian telescopes and now I have a range including four refractors, two Newtonians and a Makzutov-Newtonian all housed in a little shed at the end of my garden.

They all see regular use both for observation and for photography and I would, quite simply, be lost without them. Incidentally the telescope shown in the picture is not mine; it is a 15 inch diameter Newtonian of exceptional quality and belongs to Sir Patrick Moore. It is one of the best planetary telescopes I have ever had the chance to look through but you really don’t need anything so grand to get a good view; still, one day perhaps, one day!

I was born in Leicester in 1957 and lived there for some 18 years before joining the RAF and moving away for good. In the late 60’s and early 70’s there was no use thinking about deep-sky observation with that little Tasco. I bought the magazines and I knew where the Andromeda galaxy ought to be but when I climbed up onto the flat roof of our garage and pointed the telescope at the right place all I could see was the reflected glow from the surrounding smog of a million sodium streetlights; not a good start. The Moon and the planets were, however, more than enough to keep my interest. The phase of Venus, and even of little Mercury, could be made out, two bands on Jupiter and four of the Jovian moons were visible and it was obvious that Saturn did indeed have rings even if the planet was tiny in the simple zoom eyepiece; oh yes, Mars was also red, but I couldn’t make out much more.

Since then I have moved around, acquired a family and finally settled in Scotland where I work as a commercial pilot out of Edinburgh. The skies are often very clear, despite what you may have heard about the weather in Scotland, and my range of telescopes allows me to see many objects in the night-sky, faint and bright, small and large, and I have been lucky enough to take good photographs of a wide range of things.

These days the sky is less polluted than it was in my childhood and if you can get away from the worst of the street lights there is plenty to see and that includes, I am assured, from the suburbs of Leicester! I have appeared (very briefly) on The Sky at Night, discussing photographic techniques, solar observation and planetary transits across the face of the Sun and have met, through my hobby (or as my wife likes to call it, my obsession) a wealth of fascinating, intelligent and generous people. Planetary observation was my first “obsession” and remains a deep interest now over forty years later.

If you are reading this then you already have an interest in the subject. Look around for a local astronomical society and don’t be afraid to ask questions, astronomers are, on the whole, quite happy to talk and offer advice. Buy a few magazines, explore all the pages of this website and do consider joining the SPA, it caters for both beginners and the highly experienced alike. In the end, astronomy can be simply an interest, a serious hobby or an obsession. You choose.

Alan Clitherow