The Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter had Marlborough's own top astronomer peering excitedly through the 10-inch lens of a Victorian telescope at the Blackett Observatory.

"All four Galilean moons of Jupiter were clearly visible and Saturn's moon, Titan, became visible as the sky darkened," reported Charles Barclay from the dome nestled in the middle of the playing fields of Marlborough College.

Great conjunctions happen when Jupiter, which laps the sun in a shade under 12 years, and Saturn, which orbits every 29.5 years, come into near alignment with the Earth. It will be 2080 before the planets align so closely again

From 1887 till 1934 the Barclay telescope was extensively used, and it recorded the first fading light curve of the 1892 nova explosion in Auriga. By the 1930s the light pollution on Oxford prompted a move for the Radcliffe Observatory.

Marlborough College raised 80 guineas to move and house the telescope on fields above the town out of the glare of Swindon's increasing light pollution. The telescope was fully restored about 20 years ago by Charles Barclay. After a change of career from working in the City, he became a physics teacher at Westminster School.

"I came to a Summer School at Marlborough, and loved the place, and kept an eye out for job ads teaching physics at the College. The observatory needed a director so I asked for the job, and started up GCSE in astronomy," he said.

"I describe myself as a professional outreach astronomer - rather than a research astronomer," said Charles who was Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2017-19.

Part of that outreach has involved widening access to the observatory beyond that of the College. Now around 40 households are 'friends' of the observatory, taking part in visits, and latterly Zoom viewing sessions of the stars.

He is also heavily involved in the Dark Skies Festival - now rescheduled for October next year.

Marlborough Town Council and the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are hosting it and the BBC’s The Sky At Night presenter, Prof Chris Lintott, will be speaking. There will also be tours of the Blackett Observatory.

Here is a link to Charles talking about it.