About Lee at Green Witch North
Marine Biologist.....thats what I wanted to be from when I was 4 years old. The film Jaws scuppered that idea.....marine biologists can be eaten by sharks!!! After that shock....what did I want to be - train driver, engineer, car mechanic.....My journey into astronomy started when I was 7 after my father took me to see Star Wars and I wondered what those little white dots were in the background in space. I wrote to the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge and received a reply from Martin Rees (now Baron Rees of Ludlow) with an informative booklet and a letter on how to pursue astronomy as a career. I was hooked. I have always loved anything to do with astronomy as well as using or testing telescopes/accessories.
I started going to an astronomical society at South Shields which then had its own 16" telescope on top the building .... and its own planetarium!
Observatory at the South Tyneside Marine & Technical College
Apart from doing subjects at school in readiness of O-levels, at the age of 12 I started studying for an O-level in astronomy at the South Shields Marine & Technical College and obtained a grade B at the age of 14 - two years before my other O-levels. In 1985 I wrote a booklet for all the schools about Halley's Comet and then appeared on the Sky at Night BBC programme with Patrick Moore for the Halley's Comet return visit where they filmed me with my Fullerscopes telescope in my (then unfinished) backyard observatory. A few more appearances on local TV and radio and then in March 1986 I was at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich alongside professional astronomers for the live Giotto spacecraft encounter.
After O levels and A-levels it was off to University College London (UCL) to study Astronomy. Time was also spent using various telescopes at their observatory complex at Mill Hill.
University College London main square (left) and University of London Observatory (right)
I was awarded a 3 month summer research position after the end of my second year doing radio astronomy of active galaxies at the Australia Telescope National Facility just outside of Sydney Australia. Apart from working there I was able to also work at the 5km East-West Radio array at Narrabri and also at the amazing Parkes Radio Telescope. At the end of my 3 years at UCL I obtained a 2.1 Honours degree.
Research by PhD next, where I stayed with UCL but in the Department of Space & Climate Physics in the middle of the Surrey countryside at the Mullard Space Science Laboratories.
The Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey UK
I started doing analysis of an X-ray source using data from the X-ray Multi Mirror satellite but then got involved doing infrared astronomy of optically faint Cataclysmic Binaries. I was working with a scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson Arizona. The work meant several trips to Hawaii to use the 3.8m UK Infra Red Telescope (UKIRT), as well as trips to Tucson, Kitt Peak, Perkins Telescope at Lowell Observatory (Anderson Mesa Arizona) and La Palma to use the 2.5m Issac Newton Telescope (that Neil - the director of Green Witch had helped to build) to obtain data.
The 3.8m UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) at sunset (left) ; Kitt Peak telescopes (right)
The telescopes at the top of La Palma with the 2.5m Isaac Newton Telescope 2nd from right (partly hidden)
After finishing my Phd I then worked for the Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI) Centre for Physics at the University of Surrey in Guildford where I lectured to lecturers on what IT was available for teaching and assessment in higher education in the areas of physics and astronomy. I then worked for the stock market for an IT company that produces software for the main financial stock markets here and abroad.
At the end of 2003 I saw a job advertised on the Green Witch Telescopes website so came for an interview and chat with Neil and was offered the job. Astronomy was still in my blood and the job sounded ideal. That was January 2004 when I started......and I am still here.
Originally based outside Cambridge we have our northern branch which I run. Why the second northern branch? Well that's down to an event that happened in November 2006 when Green Witch was asked to come to Leeds to have a trade stand at the annual Leeds Astronomy Society Astromeet event. After a long but very early morning drive and setting up the stand there was a call of "coffee is ready"....and there I got talking a lady who was serving (great and badly needed) coffee.....and after a few years...is now my wife (her coffee making skills have waned however!) so I moved up north and the northern branch was born.
My work is varied from the day to day tasks of dealing with orders, emails and phone calls as well as walk-in customers but I also get the chance to play...I mean test out for product knowledge purposes....the latest astronomy and birdwatching/nature kit. Boys with Toys!!! I am also largely responsible for website development and maintenance.
Apart from work I do still do astronomy as a "hobby" to relax. I also help out on the Omega Holidays Northern Lights flights when the flights depart from northern airports (Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Humberside). I would love to do more of them from the other airports but I just don't have the time. Its great fun to see the aurora from 38,000ft with the cabin in total darkness and the wing lights turned off.
A view of the aurora from one of the northern lights flights at 38,000ft
I was privileged to be asked by Omega Holidays to lead a group of about 70 to see the March 2015 Total Solar Eclipse....but this trip was different.....not from the ground...but from a Jet2 aircraft at 38000ft. The plan for some of the route and the timing of the flight path was down to me but it all worked well - we had a great view not affected by clouds.
An eclipse of an eclipse: My photograph (not Photoshop'd) of the diamond ring at the end of the 2015 total solar eclipse as the eclipse itself was going to be eclipsed by the Jet2.com wingtip.
Apart from astronomy I do have other interests - music, photography, reading, cycling and travelling. I also have wanted to learn to fly a glider....but I just never seem to have the time....oh well maybe next year!
Gliding - I may end up doing this soon.....