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Highlands Astronomical Society

More matter for a May morning.

More matter for a May morning.

Added on 09 May 2023



' More matter for a May morning '

09.05.23.  00.00 - 03.30 am.

Now is the very witching time of night when churchyards yawn and owls and bats roam the open, silent fields so moths and mice beware ! It is just dark now and the clouds are beginning to disperse and a few stars are showing through the holes ; barely enough to orient the constellations, though with each passing minute the giant map of the sky is revealed ,star by star until all the dots are joined and we see the entirety of the vast ,late-spring night sky.  I say 'we' since I am not alone. For company I have Paul Moffat , a fellow astronomer and philosophical soul - buddy who rarely misses a chance to see the stars on those rare occasions when they are not hidden behind the ubiquitous Scottish clouds.


I have spent many a long, lonely night up here on Culloden moor by myself and that's ok but to have someone to share the experience with is very welcome indeed.  Though I could be considered a 'night owl' it is only in the last few years that I have become comfortable with being alone at night ; it is an aquired taste and very often not for the faint of heart . The night is full of the sounds of creatures on the move; trees creak and groan,bushes rustle with unseen feet,and the blood-chilling shriek from a distant fox can send you running for home in an instant. So it is only with exposure and knowlege that you find your comfort -zone in this unfamiliar world. That said , I still sleep with the light on !.  But back to the moment.  Paul has his 4 inch refractor set up on a computer controlled AVX mount and I have the club's 4 inch Vixen refractor with no frills  so star-hopping is my only guide and we start to search the heavens for the gems that lie hidden from the naked eye.  Think of it like a farmer's field of grass and rocks scattered with a few wild flowers and roots ; a familiar sight, but if you took a metal -detector across that field it might reveal a time long past and bring to light things that no longer exist, and so it is with a telescope that we probe through the veil of the imperceptable to see wonders buried in the darkness of space.  I am just homing in on the ring nebula in Lyra; the little polo-mint that lies between the two bottom stars of the constellation , when Paul calls over to me " Hey, do you want to see the Veil nebula ?"  I'm thinking "What?" the veil nebula in a 4 inch telescope ? That has to be seen to be believed, so I wander over and take a look . I can barely credit what I am seeing !  Sure enough, there is the 'witch's broom' part of the veil nebula and I just stare in astonishment for a while until he explains that he has added an OII filter to his eyepiece . This is a dedicated filter that is pretty much made for looking at the veil and boy, does it do what it says on the tin!  Normally you would need a 12 inch telescope on a good night to see this thing but here it is in a 4 inch!

Wow !


  After the shock of this revelation I return to my telescope which now feels like looking through the end of a broken bottle compared with what I have just witnessed so I decide to take some photos of the milky way instead.



Now, you can be complacent about some things, but the Milky-way on a dark night is not one of them. This glowing arch that spans  the sky is beautiful in so many ways ; a misty band of light made up of so many stars,  shot-through with mysterious dark clouds that inspire awe in their vastness. Lines of stars that form long strings embedded in the mist and odd alignments that form 'asterisms'  like the fancyful shape of the 'coat-hanger'  (See if you can find it in the upper  photo just above the tree and slightly to the left  .  Over to the south east the milky way is at its most dense in the northern hemisphere and lies in constellation of Serpens the serpent .   Here you can see the Eagle nebula , where the 'pillars of creation' reside.



Time for coffee now and to continue the tour of the heavens .  After looking at M81 and M82 in Ursa Major, the giant star cluster of M13 in Hercules and hunting out a few of the more remote and faint objects I step back for a while and just gaze up at the constellations to drink in the sheer majesty of the vast dome above me. The 'Summer triangle' high up in the East now , Ursa major with its tail pointing down to the North . Odd that it is called the 'great bear' because bears don't have tails do they ? Maybe they did in ancient times when the constellations were named ? Who knows ?    As Hamlet once said, "There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" and I guess he was right .   

It is almost 3am now , the dawn is showing in the east and a mist is rising over the fields . A sudden chill is in the air where until now it has been cool and dry and the swiftness of the growing light is signaling that it is time to head for home like a couple of weary vampires . We stay for a while after packing the cars and reflect on the many wonderful things we had seen . To have had such a beautiful night under the stars so late in the 'season' left us feeling inspired to stretch out the brightening nights and grab any opportunity to practice our hobby even though the late hours are all that is available and we vowed to be back here as the clouds allow in the coming days and weeks.

Any 'night-owls' or insomniacs out there , you are cordially invited to join us !! 

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