April 2nd EAAS Observing Night

This observing night was an unofficial event which came to be during Saturday evening. As many know that day was beautiful, warm and sunny. It looked like it could be a good night however after 18.00 clouds moved in as well as murky conditions with little in the way of clear gaps. John McConnell arrived first, together with Conor McDonald we watched the sun drop towards the western horizon, its blood red disk was visible to the unaided eye through the murk, there was a time when we thought we might be treated to a solar pillar but clouds moved in to cover the sun for the remainder of the evening. After some time our webmaster Mark Stronge arrived and we settled down for tea and snacks at Conor's house where we had a good chat. Thanks to Rose and Brendan for there hospitality! As the sky darkened we made our way outside to evaluate if an observing session was possible. Castor, Pollux, Saturn, Capella where visible over head but the lower sky regions where blocked by clouds. We could see mighty Jupiter rising in the east over our neighbour’s roof top fighting its way through the murk. Les Gornall arrived which made our team complete.

It was evident from the clouds, murk and lack of transparency that this was not a night for deep sky observing, we decided to make the most of this night by focusing our attention on the planets. We set up our equipment in my back garden…

16” Meade Satarfinder Dobsonian Reflector

10” EAAS Blue Dobsonian Reflector

10” Meade LX200 SCT

8” Meade LX10 Deluxe

Our chairman John McConnell and Conor shared the 10” dob, as a team they aligned the 8X50 finder accurately and John began to track down Saturn located in northern Gemini. As he was guiding the scope towards the planet he swept up a small round fuzzy object that was located very close to a bright field star. It turned out to be planetary nebula NGC2392 or better known as the Eskimo nebula. A nice find by John!

Mark polar aligned his LX200 and we all turned our attention to Saturn which looked a treat in the good seeing. The Cassini division, Titan, Equatorial belt and zone with ring shadows where all a lovely sight. We also observed the binary star system Castor where both components where easily seen separated with dark sky between them.

After some time we had a second tea break this time in my house where we all had a great chat. Les told us some amazing stories that where both interesting and full of humour. We had a great time! Thanks to my mum and sister for preparing tea and snacks for us! We decided to head out for a second observing session. Now the sky had improved a lot with improved trans. We got dark adapted and started observing, Mark and Les seen one Lyrid meteor each. I could see the 6th mag variable star RCrB no problem with the naked eye high in the east within Corona Borealis, this star is a reverse nova that fades from view when it erupts and every amateur worth his salt checks that star every clear night. I also checked a blank section of sky on that constellations eastern section with the naked eye just in case the variable star T CrB was in outburst. This star is a recurrent nova that normally hovers around 10th mag however several times in the past it has flared in brightness in true nova fashion to the magnitude of nearby Alphekka in the same constellation or brighter, this star has irregular behaviour and so it needs to be monitored every clear night by amateur astronomers, I hope to sometime catch this star in outburst in the future!

The work horse telescope of the night was Marks 10” LX200 GOTO. Once Mark had aligned the scope it was ready to tackle anything an astronomer could throw at it. This telescope is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship from Meade and just as nice to look at as look through! I called out a selection of deep sky objects from the Messier catalogue that where well placed high in the sky. Mark keyed in the object's name and the telescope came to life with the faint sound of the scope's two drives guiding the scope across the sky to its target. We observed M81, M82, M51, M13 which shared the same FOV as a faint spiral galaxy from the NGC catalogue. It was at times like this that I understood the value of a goto telescope especially when the sky conds where poor and time was of the essence. This a great tour! To end the night the 10” was pointed to great Jupiter which was now better placed in the southern sky in the middle of Virgo which made a nice pairing with nearby Spica. Jupiter is now located near the spot where comet Shoemaker – Levy9 was discovered on a photographic plate back in March 23rd 1993! Infact Shoemaker has said that at any given time there is at least one comet nucleus 1 km in diameter in orbit around Jupiter that we cannot see from earth… something to think about the next time you observe the planet.

We took turns observing the planet at medium and high magnification and what a sight it was!! We all agreed that we have never seen Jupiter look so big before, the planet was at opposition and at its closest to earth and measured a mighty 44’’ in diameter. We could see the GRS and nice structure within and between the 2 equatorial and temperate belts, I could also make out a dark knot in each EB parallel to each other. The planet simply looked wonderful and it stole the show tonight with ease. No better way to end an observing session than with the king of the planets!

In the hours after midnight everyone parted company. Myself and John McConnell stayed up well into the night talking about all things astronomical. I learned a great deal of information about the moon's surface that I never knew before including the hunting grounds of TLP activity which have been observed over the years and have been recurring in specific regions more than once. I would like to thank John for his detailed look at 2 of my observing log books and for personally signing each for me! Despite the poor sky conds I was impressed by everyone’s dedication to get out there and observe and make the most of what we had. I would like to thank Les, John, and Mark for coming down and joining Conor and I for a nights stargazing and chat. There will be plenty more!

Until next time! Clear Skies!


Martin Mc Kenna



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