A Christmas present given to him as a child gave Rod Hine his first taste of astronomy.

“I was about ten, and my Auntie Florrie bought me The Boy’s Book Of Space,” he recalls. “It was around that time that Sputnik 1 launched. I’d always been interested in science and engineering and that got me started.”

Sputnik 1 – the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth – was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

“I was fascinated,” adds Rod. “It was an exciting time of space rockets, and the Russians and Americans sending objects into the sky. I remember doing fanciful drawings of elaborate rockets and working out the wing size and the loads they could carry.”

Rod took physics, mathematics and chemistry at A-level, going on to study natural sciences at Cambridge University.

His director of studies was the British radio astronomer Tony Hewish, who later became Professor, and in 1974 was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics for his discovery of pulsars – highly-magnetised, rotating neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation.

“He was working on that project when I was at Cambridge and it was fascinating listening to snippets from his research,” says Rod, who joined the university’s astronomy society.

Another bonus was the proximity of the Royal Observatory, which at the time was sited close to Rod’s college.

Rod later switched to engineering and later joined Marconi working in satellite communications. His work centred on building dishes. “It was cutting edge and it was the nearest I could get to the space race,” he says.

In 1992, Rod’s wife Josie bought him a book about astronomy. “I realised I had not thought about the subject for years. We had settled back in Bradford and I wondered whether there was a local astronomy society,” he says.

Luckily for him there was such a group – Bradford Astronomy Society – and Rod has been a member ever since. He meets with other enthusiasts – beginners and experts – to learn more about the universe.

Some are more interested in observing, using their own, or the society’s telescopes, while others are more at home examining the technical side of astronomy.

“We have members who are really keen observers and keep records,” says Rod, who describes himself as an ‘armchair astronomer’ who particularly enjoys reading about the subject.

His main interest is cosmology – the universe as a whole, its birth, shape, size and future. “The more you learn, the more you realise how insignificant human life is,” he says. He does not give a definitive answer as to whether we are alone in our galaxy, which consists of around 200 billion stars.

“There may be others, but when you look at the coincidences that come into play to bring life of any source, we may be the first.”

Members span all age groups. “About half of them have telescopes at home, most have binoculars,” says Rod, adding that the society recommends to anyone starting out to invest in a book about the subject and a pair of binoculars.

“You need to learn your way around the sky before using a telescope, as it is quite complex. People look, though, and are not sure what they are looking at.”

The best time to look at the moon, he says, is when it is in half-phase. “Many people think that they should look at it when it is full, but then it is very bright and looks flat and one-dimensional – there are no shadows. With the half moon, the sun is shining at an angle so you see mountains and craters.”

The group meet at Eccleshill library, where members take part in debates and listen to talks from visiting lecturers. To observe, members gather regularly at Thackley Football Club, and also Rawdon Model Boat Club. They also attend an annual observing weekend.

Using binoculars, Rod recommends taking a look at the Andromeda Galaxy, which has a diameter twice that of our Milky Way; “the largest of those in our local cluster. A big, silvery swirl of light,” he says.

“It is 2.2 million light years away, and it is staggering to think you are looking at it as it was 2.2 million years ago.”

This galaxy can be made out with the naked eye as a silvery haze.

“A huge amount is known about stars, but there is still a terrific amount to learn,” says Rod, who owns a small telescope.

He acknowledges that light pollution can be a problem in urban areas, and the further into the countryside you travel, the more you will see. “In the Yorkshire Dales you see so many stars. It is overwhelming.”

Some members are keen on tracking satellites such as the International Space Station and Iridium satellites, sent up for satellite phones. “They have very shiny, flat reflective surfaces that reflect light on to the ground and are several times brighter than the brightest star.”

New members are very welcome, adds Rod, whose enthusiasm is infectious. “Astronomy is a science in which amateurs can make a worthwhile contribution – all the new comets were discovered by amateurs,” he says.

For more information, contact the society’s chairman Hilary Knaggs on (01274) 672570 or e-mail bradfordastronomy.co.uk.