I'd never been inside the Observatory before, and I was struck by how strongly it resembled the one in my all-time favourite Tintin adventure, The Shooting Star (which only proves how meticulous and accurate Hergé's drawings were). The dome splits open along its meridian (I got to push the buttons which rotate it left and right!) to allow the 28-inch telescope, four times a man's height, access to the sky.
It was a cloudy evening, and we had to wait a couple of hours before Mars would be positioned so the telescope could get a fix on it. So Robert found us some alternative eye candy including two binary stars, a ring nebula and Uranus (which is blue).
In between being shown things we went out onto the balcony to look down at the Millennium Dome, Canary Wharf, and a big pale fox in the Park who looked back up at us before trotting away, waggling his brush behind him.
At last Mars deigned to position itself at twelve o'clock high, or wherever, and we got a couple of minutes' look-see each before it shoved off again. Far bigger and brighter than anything else we'd looked at, orangey-red with distinct areas of light and dark and a white spot at the top which is the ice cap. The size and level of detail were similar to looking at the moon with the naked eye. Totally, utterly strange and awesome.
No, I did not spend the entire evening making silly and juvenile gags on the evergreen theme of 'Uranus' sounding vaguely like 'your botty'. I thought I'd save 'em all for here.