Balancing Act

Alison Bossaert studied computer science at the Open University, while working full time as a junior software developer. She joined Tombola in 2014 as a web developer and was recently promoted to senior platform developer within the arcade platform team. In her spare time, Alison is an avid astrophotographer and is a member of Newcastle Astronomy Society

My interest in astronomy started as a child. I used an old telescope that belonged to my father.

My mum invited an astronomer to our home to teach me how to use the telescope and recommend books. I devoured the books written by the French Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeve.

I have two main focuses in astronomy. In the winter, I concentrate on deep sky observations (galaxies, nebulas, star clusters) and in the summer, I focus on the sun.

When we look at the sky, we go back in time, we see stars and galaxies as they were thousands or millions of years ago. Some of these objects would have drastically changed or even maybe disappeared by the time we see them.

Astronomy took a backseat when I went to university but after I graduated I picked it up again and bought new equipment – including tools to fit my camera on a telescope.

The simplest equipment you need for astrophotography is a DSLR camera, a wide-angle lens and a steady tripod. Photographing the milky way is a great way to start. To photograph objects in more detail, such as galaxies, you can connect your camera to a telescope. However, you will need to get a mount and tripod with tracking capabilities. Tracking mounts compensate for the motion of the earth and let us stay fixed onto one object for a long period of time.

My favourite object to capture is the sun. It is a challenging object to image as the techniques used are very different to night time astrophotography.

In 2015, a partial solar eclipse could be observed from the UK. I travelled down to the Midlands to catch the best of the weather and captured a crescent sun. It took a lot of planning and preparation to get the shot.

I joined the Newcastle Astronomical Society in 2007. The society has around 50 members who come from all walks of life, and a wide range of ages, from 18 to 80. We have a mixture of interests with some members enjoying our lecture programme and other members interested in the more practical aspects of astronomy, such as observing or astrophotography with a telescope.

The society meets on a monthly basis, between September and May, for lectures. We also organise practical workshops, where around five members and the public can bring their telescope, get help with setting up, ask for advice, or fix issues with equipment. We also deliver tutorials on astrophotography and image processing.

We organise nights out into the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park (weather permitting) and in the summer we organise picnics where members can bring their specialised solar telescopes and visitors can observe the sun safely*.

My advice to anyone wanting to develop their interest in astronomy is visit your local astronomy society. Talk with the members and go to a few lectures. There are plenty of events all year round, for all ages across the North East, the Northumberland National Park and Kielder.

Newcastle Astronomical Society
For more information on the society and its events visit

*Never look at the sun directly or use unprotected equipment to look at the sun, doing this will cause blindness.