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Highlands Astronomical Society

Sun, Moon and Star Party

Sun, Moon and Star Party

Added on 26 March 2023

( held on Sunday 26th March 2023 )

You know, clouds are not really our enemy. For the most part they are often beautiful things to look at and come in such a variety of shapes and colours that add contrast and depth to a bland blue sky. They refresh the land with much needed water and feed the rivers and streams that babble so blissfully on a warm spring day.  That said , they are also the bain of the amateur astronomer who wants to hold a star party !  That's right, it was cloudy at tea time on Sunday !  Pauline and I were at the observatory nice and early to lay out the party snacks and tea's , open the dome and set up a few telescopes for the visitors that we hoped would arrive later to see the Sun with the solar telescope , the moon with the array of small refractors and the stars with the big 12 inch dobbin .  Privately we were thinking that we would be on our own for the night !  The sun was behind a long bank of heavy looking cloud which seemed to stretch all the way from west to east with only a few wee holes to look through and the moon was similarly hidden from view, only now and again appearing for a moment to look down on us and teasing what little hope we had left for a positive outcome to the emerging night .  So we sat down to wait.  You would think that after years of doing this hobby that you would become used to these situations and being constantly thwarted from seeing your much -loved stars by these pesky clouds but no, that's not how it goes; you live in this kind of optimistic bubble that expects a miracle to occur at any moment where the clouds evaporate and the heavens open up in all its glory. Without this boundless optimism then we would all be stamp-collecting instead .(No disrespect to those that do by the way ) .   Within the following hour our miracle arrived and the clouds began to thin and the Moon came out from high overhead and the Sun showed between strips of stratus near the horizon. Those doubts that we earlier harboured now took wings as first Paul Moffat , Donna from Dunkeld and a few others whose names (forgive me) I don't recall began to arrive , so Cinderella would go the ball and we had the makings of a star-party .   Those that were in time to see the Sun before it set  with the HA hydrogen alpha telescope were just overcome with awe at the view provided by this little telescope.  Words don't come easy when trying to describe the face of the Sun through a hydrogen filter ; it is like nothing you have ever seen before and it reveals a world invisible to the human eye and anyone who doesn't have three thousand bucks to own one of these things!



To see gigantic streams of material loop out from the contorted shapes of the grainy surface and reach high above the limb only to arch round and fall back in an elegant plume or hang in space like  ghostly filaments is something that will live with you forever. The astronomy club will be hosting days throughout the summer to look at the Sun using this instrument and I would urge anyone who has an inquisitive heart to come and see for themselves the inscrutible face of our nearby star.      The Sun swiftly set as the evening wore on, the sky darkened to a soft azure and the Moon began to glow with that gentle silver light that bathes the quiet countryside .  The first stars began to appear too. Sirius , Capella, Rigel and Arcturus ; faint at first but with every passing minute growing brighter, then joined by their companions to light up the constellations of the early spring sky.



The views of the Moon through the various telescopes were simply wonderful and we all had time to wander among the craters and valleys , gaze out across the vast plains of dust that were once thought to be seas and ponder upon the chaos of shapes that are so unlike anything we see here on the planet we call home.  The Moon is often overlooked in amateur astronomy as its light overcomes the ability to see the faint and the fuzzy and yet it is in all aspects an incredible thing to spend time on . Think of the influence it has over us as it moves the tides one day  and inspires poetry the next.  " The Moon, whose orb the Tuscan artist views through optic glass at evening from the top of Fesole or in Valdarno, to descry new lands , rivers and mountains in her spotty globe"  (Milton. Paradise Lost).



It was dark now and more visitors arrived including my grand-children Brogan and Jess who are keen astronomers too and they flitted from telescope to telescope devouring the sights like bees on a bed of flowers along with everyone else .  Anyone who had a phone with a camera was keen to get a snap of the Moon and with varying success they all managed to get something as a keep-sake of the evening.  It is much harder than you might think to do this ; trying to get that tiny aperture to line up with an eyepiece on a telescope but even so , some of the photos were quite remarkable !   It was a cold night too and when Donna made tea for eveyone it was so welcome and the ability to go into the warm room for a few minutes helped to keep up morale for long enough to stay the course .  There was so much to see after dark and even the glare from the moon was not so pervasive that we could not see nebulas and star-clusters a plenty and we all racked up a long list of objects even down to some very faint wispy shapes that were distant galaxies like the triplet in Leo and the fabulous whirlpool that is M51.    

Well, what can I say ? from the most inauspicious start to the day we ended up with lasting memories of a truly inspiring night spent with friends among the stars . We all learned something new and we all shared the common purpose ; to look and wonder.  I think that  amateur astronomy and  looking at the sky at night is such an enduring pastime and like the clerics and aristocrats of old we see the true nature of the universe  and the real beauty of its vast and mysterious aspect. Sure , science wants to find the answers to all the questions that arise from even the merest glimpse into space but what they find sometimes seems at odds with what you see from a field in Culloden on a cold ,starry night. Try 'google'ing  ' Spin foam' and see if it matches what you your telescope shows .  Just sayin' !     Anyway, thank you to all who ventured out on Sunday when you could have been curled up warm and cozy in front of the TV and I look forward to seeing you all again in the near future .

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