The Spaceguard Centre

20th August 2023

A starlit sky with a comet

On a recent visit to Wales I stopped at the Spaceguard Centre, near Knighton. As well as being a fascinating place, it reminded me of the romance of passion projects. The centre was founded in 1997 by its then and current director, Jay Tate. Officially opened by Sir Patrick Moore in 2001, it has been visited by other such luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society. Sir Arthur C. Clarke was a patron from 1986 until his death in 2008. With such illustrious friends you might assume it would be a large facility, doing BIG science with equally stellar sized budgets, but you would be very wrong. In fact, it receives no funding from the government and relies on tour ticket sales and private donations.

The tour lasted an impressive one and a half hours, for the bargain sum of ten pounds. For the price you are taken round by none other than the director himself. This is less surprising when you consider there is only one other “employee” and she is standing in the reception. I put “employee” in quotation marks because they refer to themselves as employees, even though neither of them are paid to be there. During the summer months there are three tours per day between Wednesday and Sunday. Monday and Tuesday are presumably when they take their weekend. During the tour you get a thorough run-down on the threat posed by asteroids and comets (as well as the difference between the two) including an explanation of the three-step process of finding, tracking and mitigating the threat they pose.

Considering the potential of the threat ranges from providing a beautiful meteor shower, all the way up to sterilising the planet and ending all life as we know it, it becomes increasingly unbelievable that the government can’t find the shoe-string budget necessary to keep the place going, but apparently they don’t consider it a risk. The situation is so bad that when they were donated a telescope by Cambridge University, they had to rely on local volunteers to not only transport the telescope to its remote Welsh home, but even to lay the bricks for the building and build the fibre-glass dome to shelter it from the heavens.

On finishing the tour you exit through the gift shop, which is in reality just a couple of shelving units in the reception area. I bought a few small items and donated the change to Project Drax. If you’re ever near enough to consider a visit I thoroughly recommend it. If you’re not, you can still donate through their website. If, on the other hand, you happen to know someone in government with their hands on the purse strings then give them your most withering look, from me.