Astronomy academics spot fire while observing Jupiter

Dr Daniel Holdsworth and Dr Mark Norris alerted emergency services to fire at Alston Hall

A peaceful night of stargazing took an alarming turn for two University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) academics last night after they discovered a huge fire in a nearby property.

Astronomy lecturer Dr Mark Norris and postdoctoral research associate Dr Daniel Holdsworth were making observations of Jupiter late into the night at the University’s Alston Observatory when they discovered the fire at neighbouring Alston Hall.

Daniel said: “We’d had a local community group on site for a talk earlier in the evening and then we started making observations of Jupiter as it was a good clear night for viewing. I was planning on staying later to continue my observations while Mark was about to head for home when we saw some smoke. Initially we thought it was a bonfire but we drove round to the site to check and we soon realised flames were coming out of the roof.”

Daniel quickly phoned the emergency services and then they waited to see if there was anything they could do to help.

The Observatory, which is home to the £200,000 highly specialised 0.7-m diameter mirror Altitude-Azimuth reflecting telescope, and the Grade II listed building are next door to each other in a rural part of North East Preston. UCLan’s security service attended the Observatory and allowed the fire service to store their equipment within the grounds.

Daniel added: “It could’ve been so much worse. Obviously the hall is severely damaged but thankfully the builders working and living on the site were ok and our Observatory was unaffected.”

Featured Image: A shot of Alston Hall on fire captured by UCLan’s Dr Daniel Holdsworth with Dr Mark Norris