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Highlands Astronomical Society

'Starfinder General - Observing Session Report': Wednesday 8th March 2023

'Starfinder General - Observing Session Report': Wednesday 8th March 2023

Added on 08 March 2023

Who would be crazy enough to organise a star-gazing night at the observatory with the full moon rising at the very time that it would be dark?  That's right ... we would

For those that weren't there let me try and transport you vicariously back to last night through this short narrative.     

Throughout the afternoon the Sun had shone more or less un-interrupted by clouds and as the evening was drawing near it promised to be a cold but clear night and since cold and clear nights are usually thin on the ground in this part of the world Paul Moffat and I agreed to meet at sunset so as not to waste such an opportunity.  Before we get to that though, my afternoon was spent at the observatory showing a dear friend the inscrutible face of the Sun through the wee hydrogen alpha telescope that the club have.  This incredible instrument allows you to look directly at the Sun with impunity and will reveal all of the wonders that are normally denied to ordinary methods such as projection or sun-filters.  By the way, even though you have heard this a million times I'm sure, DONT look at the Sun with a telescope or binoculars or you will go blind.  If you have never seen the Sun through the HA telescope then I recommend that you give it a try, you will see the surface rent with streaks and filaments, sun-spots and vast areas of moving white and red pools of light, and the simply jaw-dropping sight of gigantic, looping jets leaping from the edge of the disc and all this in real time as you sit dumb-struck at the eyepiece!

Anyway, back to the evening and the observing session. The meeting was advertised as 'Worm-Moon and double stars' on the website and WhatsApp since that was all that was likely to be seen under the intense and all- pervading light from the Moon and, in addition, I didn't really expect that anyone would turn up anyway.  Boy was I wrong!   

As the dusk settled and Venus and Jupiter shone out of the west like jewels set amid an arc of lapis -lazuli and pale pink ochre Paul and I were setting up our telescopes just outside the compound when my phone rang and it was Donna from Dunkeld to say she was on her way and would be there within the hour!  A moment or so later Joyce and her husband arrived with their telescope and cameras, Kristina soon after, then visitors from nearby houses , a Dad with his son eager to see the Moon, more visitors and Donna eventually.  Suddenly it was busy and everyone keen to see whever was available.  We got more telescopes out and the club's new sky-tracker and tri-pod so that Joyce could try and take her first 'tracked' image of the Orion nebula which she did and was just 'over the moon' with the result.  You know, it is just so satisfying to see the sheer pleasure and sense of achievement that comes with these first forays into what seems initially to be impossible. 

By this time I had given up all hope of looking at anything and spent most of the time finding things in the sky for people to look at which I was not unhappy about and it was great to hear so many 'wow's when people found what they were looking for.

Imagine trying to find the 'Bee-hive' star cluster with just the naked -eye by the light of the full moon? Yes we did!  In fact it was surprising just how much we did find despite the conditions and after an hour or so of running around helping everyone I was finally given the nickname of 'Starfinder General'

By eight o'clock the temperature was -5 C and you would think that folks would have had enough but not a bit of it, in fact, everyone seemed to be in high spirits and an almost party- atmosphere prevailed!  The Moon turned out to be a major attraction and with a bit of filtering an enormous amount of detail could be made out and since the Moon was in fact just the waning side of full a few craters were in shadow at the western limb set against those enigmatic rays from Tycho spread out to almost the entire globe, proof, if that were needed, that the Moon is simply never the same twice no matter how often you look.  Serene and beautiful it slipped behind the big tree that dominates the south east horizon and we moved to find some star clusters and galaxies in other areas of the sky.

Galaxies were a forlorn hope of course but we did find star clusters and some simply stunning double stars including the one at the tip of Aries, Castor, Mizar and the faint star in the head of Draco among others. 

I had given Donna an 80mm refractor to play with and she spent ages just navigating her own way among the stars finding all sorts of wonders not the least of which was the Double Cluster in Perseus. She had never looked through a telescope before and was just amazed at the sights that presented themselves as she scanned the heavens, like a stellar prospector mining for gems.  I have to say how much I admired her tenacity just sitting on her stool for hours staring into the eyepiece in the freezing cold having just driven from Dunkeld in her electric car not even sure if there was anywhere to re-charge it before heading for home later.

I made a cup of coffee, to warm up my freezing hands if nothing else, and took a moment to reflect on the night we were having.  It truly warmed my heart to see all these good people, strangers to each other in many cases, immersed in the wonder and beauty of the night sky, all busy chatting like they were long lost cousins, a truly uplifting sight in an often dismal world; nature and humans in balance.  Utopia? - maybe, but a glimpse into arcadia? - definitely.   

It was after nine o'clock now and between the intense cold and the late hour it was time to go home.  It had been an really amazing night and even if I've said before that these gatherings just get better with each occasion. I make no apology for repeating it, they just do! 

Thank you to everyone who showed up.  It is only because you do that these nights under the stars transform what can often be a lonely hobby into a life-changing and memorable moment. 

Just before we left, Donna gave me a small bag of Cadbury's mini eggs as a 'thank-you' and, since I had not had my tea before coming out, they were most welcome ... and by the time I got home the bag was empty! 

Keep an eye out on WhatsApp and thewebsite for details of the coming STAR PARTY scheduled to be held between the 15th and the 21st of March.  If tonight is anything to go by the next one should break all records!  See 'yall there. 


Starfinder General, aka Dave 

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