Beginners Night
6th March 2006

On Monday evening March 6th the EAAS featured their annual beginners night, an event with the aim of introducing the joys of Astronomy to beginners and an enjoyable reflection for experienced observers alike. The meeting began with EAAS chairman Mark Stronge providing an overview of recent and future sky events which included observations of an unexpected Aurora Borealis display, and Comet C/2006 A1 Pojmanski by EAAS member Kevin Black. Also on review was the Messier Marathon held at Killylane on March 3rd and an update on plans for a 2nd such marathon later in the month. Members were also reminded of the up and coming Penumbral Lunar eclipse and partial Solar eclipse within the month, an event which will result in a total Solar eclipse in Turkey which will be observed by a few dedicated members of the society…watch the website for a full report!

The beginners night began with experienced amateur astronomer and Eclipse chaser Paul Evans who took the audience through an enjoyable talk about how to get started in Astronomy covering such areas as naked eye/binocular observing and the purchasing of your first telescope (not an easy task). Paul provided us with a selection of digital sky charts which he used to show new comers how to locate various stars and constellations such as the infamous Great bear and pointer stars which are used to locate the Pole star. Current constellations in the evening sky were given an overview such as Leo, Auriga and Gemini with the locations of the major planets selected for beginners to train there first telescope on. Using a selection of his own Lunar images Paul took us through the monthly lunar cycle from full to new moon and a highlight of which was 2 moon images which he blinked together to show the changing position of Mare Crisium on the moons eastern limb due to the effects of libration. To bring his talk to a close he showed us his private camcorder footage of a total solar eclipse which gave everyone a taste of what to expect when the celestial spectacle takes place again this month!

For the second section of the meeting Mark Stronge gave a presentation on the field of Astrophotography basics which began with an insight into the applications and limitations of digital cameras while describing the range of imaging possibilities available to the beginning astrophotographer using basic off the shelf digital cameras and progressing to the more expensive digital SLR designs while touching on the role of film cameras and there applications against today’s digital dark room now favoured by so many imagers of the night sky. From this area the talk then evolved into a detailed and comprehensive overview of capturing AVI of bright solar system bodies such as the Sun, Moon and major planets using the popular ToUcam Pro. Marks verbal dialogue was backed up with a visual and practical demonstration using this capturing device on his refracting telescope on display. This was made all the more interesting by several members of the audience participating in a hands-on experience using the telescope and web cam set up!

Andy Johnston lining up the telescope using a high power eyepieceChris Gault focusing the image via the webcam display

From here Mark took us through what seems like the daunting process of capturing AVI and the follow up work needed to store the imagery using the correct hard ware and software in today’s homes. Anyone who previously had been intimated by such techniques now understood that the process was simple, elegant , straight forward and more importantly a joyful learning experience thanks to Marks informative and easy to understand approach to the subject which reflected his own high level of knowledge within this area of amateur astronomy. A highlight of the talk was ‘live’ footage of the Moon and Saturn taken through a web cam which showed the subjects gentle boiling in real time due to the effects of the atmospheric ‘seeing’ conditions which nicely simulated the true experience felt when observing these magnificent wanders of the night sky!

Ptolomaeus chain of craters in live videoBeautiful Williams Optics 80mm telescopeJohn McConnell and Mark Stronge checking out the excellent 10:1 fine focuser

As the talk came to a close members and beginners alike got the opportunity to discuss astronomy and telescope techniques with a selection of telescopes on display kindly supplied by there owners for the very purpose of  igniting the spark of astronomy into the minds and hearts of the up and coming astronomers of the future.

Owner with his telescope and crowd gatheringMark with Ralph and Chris Gault operating their telescopeCollimating teh newtonian using an artificial star

As any experienced astronomer knows…..just as important as the feeling of excitement experienced in your own personal discoveries of the jewels in the night sky is the joy and importance of introducing a beginner to there own journey of wonder and amazement in astronomy…consider your words and actions carefully for you could be introducing the next Patrick Moore into this fascinating universe!

Happy Observing

Martin McKenna



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