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Home » Astronomy

Spring Moonwatch week #2

Submitted by on April 4, 2009 – 00:25One Comment

Following on from my previous story about the annual Spring Moonwatch event which started in the UK on 28th March, 2009, this is a short update on the third night of observing during Spring Moonwatch week at the Ruislip Lido which I attended on Friday, 3rd April 2009.

At home, I have a modestly bulky, although still portable telescope setup comprising a William Optics 110mm refractor, which is my main observing telescope, accompanied by a 66mm William Optics refractor, which I use for auto-guiding. This is all mounted on a weighty mount (HEQ5 Pro). I’ve never dared to dismantle it all and take it with me to an alternative observing location until tonight. With the weather forecast showing mostly clear, I decided to book a car, dismantle my telescope, pack it in the boot and take it all to the Ruislip Lido. The whole process of dismantling the ‘scope and loading it in to the boot took around 20 minutes. I had the whole set up broken down in to a tripod, mount, 66mm telescope on its mounting plate, the 110mm telescope detached from the mounting plate and stored in its own box, a rucksack for carrying the counter weights, torch and electrical wires and another smaller box that contained all my eyepieces. I decided not to take my laptop or DSLR camera since this was the first time I was venturing outside the home with my main telescope setup. One step at a time!

Upon arrival at the Ruislip Lido, it was disappointing to note just how misty it was. The sky, although clear, was rather murky and compared to the previous Saturday when I was down at the Lido, there were a lot fewer stars visible. On the upside, however, there were a lot more people here tonight compared to the previous Saturday. I was told that by time the evening ended there were at least 45-50 members of the public who had visited the observing site and looking through the various telescopes available to them.

With car parked and boot wide open, I started putting together my telescope. I was probably the last amateur astronomer to arrive on site as there was already a hubbub of activity surrounding the other telescopes. As my telescope took shape, starting first by splaying out the feet of the tripod and fitting the mount on top of it, people soon started to walk over and asking what I was up to. Eventually, all the various components of the telescopes was attached and connected and I started aligning the telescope to three different stars so as to let the computer on the hand-controller know where the telescope was pointing in the sky. During this process a number of enthusiastic child rushed up to me asking if they could see through the telescope. I kept from attentive by explaining what I was doing and how in a few moments they’d be able to look at the moon which resulted in spontaneous jumping up and down and expressions of glee in the face of the kids who had gathered around me.

First object to observe for the evening was, naturally, the moon. It was high up in the sky, almost directly overhead, which made for ideal viewing conditions at it was well above all the misty murk. By now, it was not only kids wanting to look through my telescope but also a hand full of adults. I counted in total five adults and four children all hovering around my telescope eager to get a turn to look through the eyepiece. With everyone’s curiosity satisfied and a few greetings made and hand shakes shook, someone else asked me what else we could look at in the sky. After some brief thought, I decided to instruct the telescope to point to one my favourite star clusters, NGC869 and NGC 884, otherwise known at the Double Cluster. In dark skies and with good seeing conditions, the Double Cluster appears as two gloriously rich collection of diamond pinpoints, distinctly clustered in to two clumps of stars. The longer you look at the Double Cluster, the more beauty you see in it. I never tire looking at this collection of gems in space.

As members of the public took turns to observe the Double Cluster, a few of them asked me what the difference was between my telescope and some of the others that were available to look through at the Lido. Whilst explaining the differences, the conversation drifted towards the question of which type of telescope was best suited for planetary observing and which was better suited for observing those faint fuzzy deep space objects. As it turns out, my refractor, due to its f-ratio is not well suited for planetary observing and is more suited for photography of deep space objects. Undeterred, I guided the telescope to point at Saturn, which was also fairly high up in the sky and so well above the murk of the misty Lido. I decided to demonstrate to people the effect of using different eye pieces and so I started off with a 26mm eyepiece. Through this, Saturn was tiny and some people who were wearing glasses found it difficult to even make out the rings of Saturn. I swapped the 26mm lens out for 6.4mm lens. This got me a few “ah, yes” statements from those who were looking through this lens. Saturn was notably larger and my observers were commenting on how edge on the rings around Saturn looked. Finally, I popped on a 2x barlow lens which the equivalent of a 3.2mm lens. At this high magnification, and especially through my f6.2 refractor, you do lose a lot of brightness and therefore cannot pick out much detail. False colour also becomes noticeable at this high magnification, although to the untrained eye of the general public, this was not really a big issue and the larger and more prominent image of Saturn really got people talking.

I left people to gaze through my telescope and decided to engage the member of public some more and ask them questions. Were they amateur astronomers? Was this the first time they had looked through a telescope? A few of them were curious to know how my telescope knew where to point and some were commenting on how time consuming astronomy appeared to be. Since I had a green laser pointer on me, I decided to point out a number of constellations and showed people who to hop from one constellation to another.

As the night progressed, people drifted off and eventually it was only a few of us astronomers left behind. Everything was starting to get rather damp and cold so that a good cue to start dismantling everything and packing up. All-in-all, a really exciting evening with some very interesting people who took the time to come down and visit us! There’s only one more night of Spring Moonwatch left and that’s tomorrow, Saturday 4th April, 2009. I hope some more of you can make it for the grand finale!

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