I want to fill in everyone on the EAAS informal observing session we had on Saturday night for those who could not make it. It took place in Maghera within my back garden. Those present where myself, Conor Mc Donald, Les Gornall and EAAS Webmaster Mark Stronge. We had a total of 6 telescopes set up for observation.
Luckily for us, the sky was in great form with excellent trans and very good seeing conds that remained that way through the entire night. Once we got adapted to the sky as best we could in the strong moonlight the observing night began. The moon was 3 days from full in Gemini, Saturn was in Gemini, Jupiter in Virgo and C/2004 Q2 Machholz in Perseus.
Each one observed what we wanted to and periodically took turns observing through all the instruments. Objects observed where Jupiter, Saturn, moon, M13, Comet Machholz, M51, M31, M32, Alcor + Mizar, Epsilon Lyrae, M44, Castor, Cor coroli. Several photos where taken of the observers and scopes and of the moon. Below is an unprocessed photo showing the excellent transparency and seeing conditions - the sky was incredible even with the Moon!
Mark and Les brought along a great selection of eyepieces and filters which where pushed to the limit on the moon and planets with no problems due to the excellent seeing. We could see several cloud belts and zones on jupiter as well as a shadow transit across the planet's disk, the GRS was also suspected near the limb as it rotated out of view. The yellow colour of Io could be seen too. Saturn was an incredible sight through all the scopes, in fact the best image of the planet I have ever seen was through Mark's 3" at very high mag, Titan was nearby to remind us of mankind's latest triumph, that tiny point of light seemed all the more richer knowing that there was a man built probe resting on its surface, in fact Les said he could see it through his small refractor! (Les was on good form providing plenty of humour throughout the night LOL).
The terminator of the moon was incredible, Mark and Les using the 16" could see details inside the normally smooth crater Plato in the northern highlands. I would like to take this chance to thank Mark for cleaning the corrector plate on my SCT and for tweaking the collimation on the 16" which greatly improved its performance. The night was very cold - 3.5°C, I know this because Conor brought out his thermometer. However the night was nice and calm and peaceful.
We took a break and went into my living room where we had some tea/coffee and snacks. While we warmed up we all had a good astro chat about many things. I was particularly moved by Les recounting his sighting of great comet Hyakutake in 1996. He observed it from Scotland with his family near an airport (all lights went off at 0000UT) he said the comet was a beautiful white search light in the sky with a tail 110° long...WOW!!!!!!!!! his story was poetic and filled with passion and I know we all enjoyed listening to it. By the way thanks Les for the compliments regarding my observing logbooks!
We headed back out again for another inning feeling warmer and more energized. While observing comet Machholz Mark noticed the comet moving in a short time frame, we all seen this through different scopes which amazed us. My personal favourite view was again through the 3" Orion APO refractor, the field was large, tack sharp with good contrast that is a testament to a scope of that quality. The scope was driven to track the stars and fitted with a dew removal system. I had a long look at the comet through this amazing instrument. I could make out at least one tail (possibly curved?) but more importantly i could actually see the comet moving rapidly to the NW in near real time, I watched it pass close to and even over several field stars...breathtaking! The comet was only 2 days from perihelion. Using a 2" high power eyepiece in the 16" we had an amazing look at M42 and M13. The Orion Nebula was incredible, a beautiful green colour like some photos interspersed with dark twisting structures, the contrast between this and the fish mouth was very 3D.
Les's portable refractor gave some superb views of the planets for a scope of its size, I know it out performed many larger diameter reflectors, the diffraction rings on Arcturus where evidence of this. The group finished observing at 04.00. Before we parted Mark showed us a selection of images he took of the previous night's aurora using his digital SLR. These where amazing!!! I have no doubt he feels very proud as I know I would be.
Below you can see our beautiful skies for the night. The star above the tree at the far right was Deneb which was in the North. The constelleation that looks a bit like Cassiopeia in the centre of the frame is actually Lacerta. The Andromeda Galaxy is to the top left.
This observing night was an incredibly satisfying experience. The atmosphere was fun, peaceful and relaxed, i really enjoyed sharing the night sky with these great people. Having other observers greatly enhances the experience and i am very thankful they came down. I highly recommend anyone to come to the next one, bring any equipment you want, everyone is relaxed and friendly with great advice and tips. The sky was so amazing that i decided to stay up for the remainder of the night observing Machholz. Even though the moon was up i did some comet hunting just for the peace and relaxation that it brings. I swept up M12 and watched Antares rise in the east and the moon set in the west. I went to bed at 08.30am. A great Night!.....untill next time.
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