Blog Kelling Heath Star Party March 31st-April 3rd 2011

Apart from being in my observatory under a clear sky there is no other place that I would be when it comes to astronomy than at one of the two annual Kelling Heath Star Parties.

Kelling Heath is located in North Norfolk close to the towns of Holt & Sheringham. It is a large site of around 240 acres sat on top of a relatively high plateau, well high in Norfolk terms anyhow, over looking the East coast and North Sea.

It offers fine camping facilities and hosts two star parties on both the spring and autumn equinoxes around new moon.

The Autumnal event is the larger of the two, but year on year the spring one grows and to be honest I prefer it, it is less packed and rather more intimate.

These days my attendance is driven not so much by the observing although the skies a very fine and dark for the UK but by the social aspect, the sharing of a common interest with friends old and new.

Since I acquired a caravan a couple of years back the whole thing has become a complete joy, with the added comfort factors and facilities our little tow-a-home offers.

This year Tudor my eldest son accompanied me up on the Thursday morning and Aubrey followed up the next day with friend Mike Atkins. Aubrey had a part in a Shakespearean play on the Thursday night that he didn’t want to miss.

The journey ‘up’ was good, towing the caravan with my old VW transporter van isn’t a speedy affair, the journey takes 2 1/2 hours and I’m in no rush.

I was pitched along with my friends and fellow members of the Norwich Astronomy Society, who actually run the spring event. I was in a row between my great observing buddies, Adrian Orr & Dave Balcombe, and opposite ‘BIG’ Andrew Robertson (often mentioned on this blog).

I’m now writing this section wayyyyyyy after the event so I’m going to cut it short and summarise!

It was a very good Kelling, weather was good, the boys enjoyed themselves and I got some observing in on each of the 3 nights that we were there.

I worked with my 6” binoculars and shared views through Andrew Robertson’s brand new 24” Dobsonian and some views through Adrian’s 18” Starsplitter Dob.

As dark fell on the Thursday evening we were treated to a stunning sunset!

My binoculars performed very well again, on the first (Thursday night) the sky transparency wasn’t fantastic and it was very windy although the wind had virtually no effort on the binoculars and my list of objects that night was short due to the ‘milky’ sky. M51, M44, M67 and the Leo Triplet with the binoculars, M82 & M51 with Andrew Leviathan, detail pretty sensational despite the poor sky. I grabbed a view just in case it was the only window we got, well you never know!

There was one exceptional moment around 10pm local time, a very bright green, slow fireball was seen in the eastern sky. Now I was facing the wrong way, at the time I thought luckily as a harmonious shout went up and my binoculars and me were illuminated and a clear shadow formed on the side wall of my caravan, huh I thought I’m not going to be blinded by the headlights of a late arrival, it took a few seconds for me to realise that this was a bright meteor, I spun around just in time to witness part of the trail still hanging in the sky. My friend and artist Sally Russell made a sketch which I hope to get a copy of to add a link to this blog.

Friday night (1st April) was my most productive.

With the binoculars M13, M92 & NGC 6229 the 3 globulars in Hercules all viewed at 64x and very nice. Markarian’s chain in Virgo was given the once over as was M104 the Sombrero in the same constellation floating down low above the Crow! M57 & M56 in Lyra were observed; such objects look very different from the usual view lost in a starry 2.5 degrees of sky!

Working in Leo M65 M66 and NGC 3628 the Leo triplet were studied for quite some time, others looked and agreed they are exquisite in the binoculars, giving the usual “3D” comment. M105, NGC3384 & NGC3389 formed a very pleasing alternate triplet. NGC3377 & NGC3367 formed an equal galaxy pair above M105 and M96 & M95 an interest wide a pretty equal pair. NGC 3193 & NGC 3190 were also observed and time in Leo concluded with NGC 2903a favourite galaxy of mine hanging off of the end of the sickle, I noted it as appearing large & diffuse. I enjoyed views through Andrew’s 24” of numerous objects on his observing list that I didn’t note but all would have exceeded any visual observations I had had of the object in terms of visible detail and brightness. I should also note at this point that Andrews new tripod step ladder really did offer stability and safety previously never enjoyed at a star party! These ladders are the way to go, 100%.

On Saturday night, a cloudy start to the night was due to clear out early hours so I got some sleep and got out under the best sky of the 3 days at 2am and sharing Andrew’s and Adrian scopes until 5am on the Sunday morning as the new day dawned. Highlights were central star of M57 winking in and out of view brightly! An awe inspiring view of M13 with striking colour in the stars usually reserved for photographs only! Astounding detail in M51, the joining bridge looked like it could take heavy traffic and the central bar in the satellite galaxy (NGC 5195) was so prominent that it look strange to say the least! Dark eyes and central star in M97 the Owl nebula and the star of Kelling for me M108 in Ursa companion to M97. Turned from being a slash of light to a detailed beast, with mottled structure embedded stars and a look mid way between the Cigar galaxy M82 and the Whale galaxy.

Using the 24” showed everything in a new light, and I didn’t even try it out under a really transparent 1st rate night! That was enjoyed by those who stayed on for the Sunday night!

I missed that out as we struck camp early on the Sunday to get back for Mothers day! A family compromise, and quite rightly so.

Roll on the autumn equinox Kelling star party.