Solar Watch Event - Monday 3rd June

The St Neots Astronomy Association is hosting  a ‘Special Solar Event’ at the Paxton Pits Nature Reserve on the 3rd June 2024. 


The event will consist of a Solar Watch* between 6 - 7.15pm along with refreshments, followed by a talk by Prof Helen Mason OBE - Emeritus Professor in Solar Physics at the University of Cambridge at 7.30.


The solar watch will comprise of a live view of the sun through a number of dedicated solar telescopes and an opportunity to find out more about safely viewing the star at the centre of our solar system.  The solar viewing part of the evening is open to all, and refreshments will be available.

Unfortunately, due to space restrictions in the visitor's centre, the talk by Prof Helen Mason at 7.30 will be limited in number.  Priority will be given to members of SNAA, but if you would like to attend the talk please see the SNAA Facebook page for more info or contact

*Note: the Solar Watch is weather dependent.  We will endeavour to view the sun even through some intermittent cloud cover, but if the weather forecast involves rain then unfortunately the solar watch will not go ahead.  The visitor centre will still be open if you have any astronomy related questions.  The talk at 7.30 will go ahead regardless.

Prof Helen Mason OBE

Helen Mason is an Emeritus Professor in Solar Physics at the University of Cambridge. Until her retirement in 2017, she was head of the Atomic Astrophysics Group at DAMTP. Her field of expertise is the ultraviolet and X-ray spectrum of the Sun. She has worked on many joint UK, NASA, ESA, Japanese and ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) space projects including the Solar Maximum Mission, SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory), Hinode, SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) and XSM, Chandraayan-2’s Solar X-ray Monitor.

Helen has always been keen to convey her passion for solar physics to the public and to students. She has given many public lectures and worked closely with schools. She has participated in several radio and TV programmes, for example BBC4’s 'Seven Ages of Starlight' and BBC R4’s ‘In Our Time – Solar Wind’ (2020). Helen has most recently been leading the project, funded by STFC, which brings scientists and artists together to run STEAM (STEM + Arts) workshops in schools.

In 2014, Helen was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for her services to Higher Education and to Women in Science, Engineering and Technology.  In 2018, she was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s Annie Maunder Medal for Outreach.

Reaching for The Sun

The Sun, our star, is just moving towards the most active phase of its eleven year cycle. We’ve had several large solar flares recently. The recent solar eclipse on 8th April 2024 across the USA was spectacular. Many solar space observatories have been watching the Sun over the past few decades: SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory), Hinode and the Solar Dynamics Observatory. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 and ESA’s Solar Orbiter was launched in February 2020. These satellites have travelled closer to the Sun than ever before, to study the solar wind and the source regions on the Sun, producing some fascinating results. This talk will review what we have learnt about our dynamic Sun, in particular, what we know about sunspots, solar active regions, flares, the solar wind and how the Sun affects the Earth's environment (space weather). The SunSpaceArt project, funded by STFC and led by Helen Mason, is a team of scientists and artists who have worked with thousands of children and teachers across the UK ‘Today, I loved this lesson because the science and art inspired me’ (child).