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Highlands Astronomical Society

Holy Guacamole! Observing report for Tuesday 13th February.

Holy Guacamole! Observing report for Tuesday 13th February.

Added on 15 February 2024



"  Holy  Guacamole !  "

We are all used to hearing the exclamation " WOW! " ring out of the darkness when visiting the Observatory on a starry night. It is almost universal in the lexicon of astronomical terms and, to be honest, describes perfectly, the surprise that accompanies the vision of the Moon, lets say, seen through a powerful telescope and 'up - close'.

Tonight though, we had a new articulation; one perhaps of greater eloquence, and that was "Holy Guacamole!". This was the reaction of our newest 'YoungStar' Angus, when he did in fact see the Moon with the power of a telescope and 'binocular' eyepieces;  and for the rest of the night, we adopted his phraseology as we looked at other wonders of the night sky that elicit a similar shock to the eye. Now you would think that this mix of awe and curiosity would diminish exponentially as we become familiar with these jewels of the firmament; the vast nebulas, the spinning planets and the innumerable stars; but no. Even those that have stared long and often at them still find themselves involuntarily voicing the timeless WOW's and Holy Moly's out loud. I guess it is intrinsic in the nature of wonder. Like looking at the bones of a saint or the impossible geometry of megalithic architecture, both humbling and perplexing in equal measure.



It was one of those rare and beautiful nights that typify this time of year when winter is almost in retreat and the promise of spring is beginning to emerge. Snowdrops and winter aconites in flower, catkins on the willows and the 'Kleep' of the oystercatchers on the wing at night. Over 9 hours of daylight now and 14 hours of darkness; the perfect season for star-watching. As dusk turned to night the Moon shone down on us from the blue velvet sky; hanging like a silver scimitar on a celestial peg. The stars, brilliant and bold in the icy air seemed so close that you could reach out and touch them. Everywhere you looked there were satellites roaming the sky in a thousand directions like fireflies in a dance. Love them or hate them, they are a growing feature of the night sky and along with light pollution from sprawling urban development, threaten to turn the once pristene vista above us into something resembling a screenshot from 'Space Invaders'. (Remember Space Invaders?) lol


The astronomers tonight were Paul, me, Carl, Pauline, Gerry, Angus and his mum and dad, Janine and Gaius, Norma, and far away near Loch Fleet was Lisa (aurora hunting).

Pauline and Gerry were once again trying to fix the telescope in the 'dome' but, alas, despite several hours of patient labour this proved unsuccessful. They have another plan though which will require further visits and they remain optimistic about fixing it.
The rest of us went on 'with optic glass' to peruse the universe.
Paul saw the 'Pup' star or Sirius B with his astonishing 6 inch refractor telescope before continuing to search for some faint galaxies. The Moon was bright enough to drown out some of the fainter ones but he did see the 'Leo triplet' and M81, M82, and M51 among others.
Carl was looking at the moon with his 8 inch Cassegrain which gave stunning views of the spires and valleys near the Mare Crisium.
I too was looking at the Moon with my 80mm refractor and 'bino-viewers'. This is a gadget that has two identical eyepieces together in a housing with prisms which, like binoculars, give you a very immersive and almost three dimentional image. They only really work on the Moon and planets as the prisms soak up so much light, but that said, the Moon and planets are just "something else" as they say! The Mare Crisium has two little craters near the 'western' edge called Peirce and Picard which looked fantastic with a little shadow from the nearby terminator. So much to look at on the Moon.
The next Member's Spotlight at the March HAS Meeting is about the Moon, so if you want to hear more? Tuesday 5th March - highlight in your diary!


At one point in the evening, Paul had to nip down and open the gate to let Janine and Gaius out and on the way there he saw a massive 'bolide'! This is an exploding meteorite that initially has a thin trail across the sky followed by an 'air-burst' at a lower altitude. Guess what though??!  Up at Loch Fleet, Lisa got a photograph of it!! "Holy Guacamole"!!  Lisa later said that she half expected to hear a mighty "splash" in Loch Fleet! It seemed so close! Who knows, maybe a bit of it landed somewhere far out in the West?



Bolide over Loch Fleet by Lisa Pattenden.


Lisa did manage to see some aurora activity while she was there but from our vantage at Culloden we could not see any.

Carl was keen to take some photos with the Club's I-Optron SkyTracker so I gave him a quick tutorial and he got some great pictures of the stars and constellations with long exposures up to 45 seconds. In addition to that, he took a remarkable photo of the Moon with his phone by just holding it to the eyepiece of his telescope. They are not available here but will feature at the next meeting in March in the 'Members photo section' just before tea break.


Another amazing night under the stars. It is exactly a year since I started writing these 'observing reports' and looking back over that year it is both refreshing and encouraging to see how 'active' the astronomy club has been; barely a month when we were not at the Observatory with our telescopes.
The Observatory is not a 'museum'; it is there as a tool for us to delve into the outer limits of space and see with our own eyes, the awesome wonder out there and I am keen to expand its use and accessibility to all interested members.
If you think that you would like to share these adventures in space with us and have some 'guacamole' moments of your own then any night that the clouds roll away and give us a window to the universe, we will be there to help you navigate the stellar wonderland.
Just watch for alerts on WhatsApp, Facebook and the Club's website.

Dark skies forever.

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