EAST Lancashire astronomers are reaching for the stars after winning a top business award.

School friends Erica Dobie, 31, and Adam Whittaker, 33, started Beauty in the Universe last year to get more children interested in the solar system.

They have run courses with eight primary schools in Burnley and Blackburn, held family starwalks and have now persuaded top astronomer Professor Ian Morison to take part in a stargazing session in Darwen.

“We have very high ideals and see no reason why the first person on Mars can’t be from Lancashire," said Erica, who lives in Darwen.

“The beauty is you can do it for free and as you get more interested you can buy binoculars or even a telescope.”

Adam, of Sycamore Avenue, Burnley, is studying astronomy at the Universiry of Central Lancashire.

He said: “In 2009 it was the international year of astronomy but it was a disaster around here.

“I kept waiting for my eight-year-old son to come back from school and mention they were doing something about it, but nothing ever happened.

“So instead of moaning I decided to do it myself and it’s been really successful.”

Images from the Hubble Space Telescope are used as part of the course, which has been named UCLan business of the month.

Adam said: “All the heavy elements such as carbon and oxygen needed for the human body have been made in stars, so this is a way to challenge things like sexism and racism, because children learn that we are all the same.

“It’s an exciting way to stretch their minds.”

Children are encouraged to send their own ‘message to ET’ on helium balloons describing their lives here on earth just like NASA did on the Voyager space mission.

The stargazing session with Professor Morison takes place at St Barnabas School, Knowlesley Road, Darwen, from 6pm to 8.30pm on Wednesday, October 27.

Beauty in the Universe is funded partly by the Community and Voluntary Service, schools and donations.