Hi there! I’m Martin Ratcliffe, I work in the planetarium industry, I’m an author, part time teacher (at Wichita State University), I enjoy photographing the nature, and the night sky with my C-14 Edge HD telescope. I like observing eclipses, comets, and planets. With a lifelong interest in astronomy, I’ve managed to combine what started out as a hobby into a very fulfilling career. I’m a teacher at heart, and want to share the current state of the universe.
I started this page because I wanted to have an easy display of images I have taken with my scopes, provide a fast way to distribute some news about astronomy (I used to run an email list of 150 friends and past students), and to provide easy access to the books I have written.
I grew up in England, and lived there until I was 31, when I moved to the United States for my planetarium career. My interest in astronomy began when I was 8 or 9 years old, during the early Apollo missions. I vaguely remember Apollo 7, and vividly remember Apollo 8 (and anyone alive then cannot but recall the image of Earthrise over the Moon – one of many firsts for humanity that has filled the past 50 years. I still have the special newspaper celebrating the flight of Apollo 8.
My parents bought a small telescope for me, and I famously (at least in our family) stood outside in the pre-dawn sky using it to look at some object, and later neighbors asked my Dad, “Is he alright” (a question posed about my mental stability). I guess a boy of 10 standing outside on his own at 4 a.m. was a bit unusual.
In northern England where I lived (Guisborough, Cleveland), there were no astronomy clubs. In 1972 we moved to Newbury, Berkshire, and in 1974 the Reading Astronomical Society hosted a weekend exhibition meeting. Patrick Moore attended as the main speaker. I joined the club right away, and began a long affiliation. The club really supported younger members, and on one meeting I gave my first lecture, about stellar evolution.
In the early 1980’s I joined with others in Newbury in forming the Newbury Amateur Astronomical Society, and it has grown from strength to strength.
I always wanted to wrote about astronomy. I began by creating the Reading Astronomical Society newsletter, RASTAR, along with Anthony Thomas, and we spent many a happy weekend hand-cranking a duplicating machine to print over 100 copies for members. One interview I recall doing for the magazine was talking to Roy Panther at the British Astronomical Association meeting in London. Roy had discovered a comet.
Once I joined the Armagh Planetarium (after college, see below), I wrote much more. In the late 1980’s Patrick Moore created Astronomy Now magazine, and was the author of the monthly night sky column. I am sure working in the planetarium where he was its first director had something to do with him inviting me to take over writing his column.
After moving to the USA in 1991, I continued to write for the UK magazine. In 1995 I was invited by then Astronomy magazine managing director, Jeff Kanipe, to take over their night sky column, written for the previous ten years by Deborah Byrd. I could not imagine doing the task for ten years (I’m now into my 18th year!). For a number of months I wrote for both the UK’s Astronomy Now (at +51 degrees north) and for Astronomy (centered on +40 degrees north). eventually I focused my work on the US magazine, and continue to do so.
Writing also led me to doing books, but only after my mid-40’s. I now have five books. The most exciting to do are called State of the Universe 2007 and 2008. Published by Springer, these combined an annual review of astronomy for the general public, combined with invited essays by leading researchers. This second part was most fulfilling professionally, allowing me to work with notable astronomers, such as Alex Fillipenko (UC Berkeley), Anton Koekemoer (Space Telescope), Jerry Nelson (UCSC), Timothy Beers (NOAO), and Jim Kaler (Illinois). The books had a small but passionate following, and I learned a valuable lesson in publishing. Annual books have a short shelf life, and an academic publisher can’t spend much time promoting a short-lived volume. Even so, the content remains relevant today, painting a fascinating picture of the major discoveries covering those two years, in part by the people doing the research.
My most recent book is Cosmology and the Evolution of the Universe, written primarily for non-science undergraduate students undertaking a basic Astronomy 101 course. The book is part of a series published by ABC-CLIO. My interest and involvement arose from attending Cosmology courses for planetarium professionals hosted by the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, and by learning how to teach a course for non-science honors students at Wichita State University. The book was the toughest writing project I have undertaken to date.
When I left school in England (St. Bartholomew’s in Newbury), I joined an analytical chemistry group as a bench chemist, a five year stint which also provided day-release courses at the Reading College of Technology, generating an HNC in Chemistry, probably the equivalent of a two-year associates degree in the USA.
It was during my years working I gained the travel bug. My first trip outside the UK was a month in the USA, touring southwestern observatories on my own. A trip to Kenya followed six months later to see my first total eclipse of the Sun. A trip to Egypt in 1981, an Astronomy Youth camp (IAYC), rounded two amazing years where I began to see the world. By 1982 I settled on a (local) trip to Europe (Germany, for another IAYC).
But the passion for astronomy burned, and I decided to leave full-time employment and become a student for 3 years, gaining acceptance at the University College London Astronomy department, following strong support from one of my chemistry tutors in Reading.
Gaining a Bachelors degree in Astronomy had been a dream since age 14, when I first wrote to UCL asking for their prospectus. The experiences there, learning everything from solar system astronomy to stellar evolution, and even basic quantum mechanics (taught by notable physicist Mike Seaton, but his brilliance didn’t rub off on me!).
After UCL I joined the staff of the Armagh Planetarium, led by Terence Murtagh, an author, TV producer, and planetarium Director. Two weeks prior to joining, Terence invited me to join the council meeting of the International Planetarium Society he was hosting. Looking back, with everyone at that meeting remaining close friends, it was a remarkably fortuitous time.