Blog Friday 12th & Saturday 13th October 2012
Andrew Robertson arranged a visual only star party at Kelling Heath for the weekend closest to the new moon period in October, a window hopefully offering potential dark and clear skies without the extreme weather that can be experienced in the midst of winter, this was that weekend! Usually the star parties held on this large and well appointed site take place in the Red, Yellow and possibly Blue camping fields, for this one had deliberately targeted the smaller, quieter and more remote Green field offering an excellent horizon.
As usual with such organised events people drop out and fail to commit at the last moment so the total number who attended I think was about 14 or 15 that includes my son Aubrey, not an astronomer but along for the adventure, however it doesn’t cover one astronomer who was at Kelling by coincidence and did join us! The Mystery guest was ‘Cal’ a member of the Loughton astronomy society and regular at the main Kelling events, he was staying in one of the static lodges with his wife but had bought along his Astro Physics 5” Starfire refractor for cheeky nights out in the dark!
I’m guilty of bringing very little to the party, just 3 pairs of handheld binoculars in a range of apertures up to 70mm. The intention being to work with friends and their splendid large aperture Dobsonian scopes. The list of telescopes present from top to bottom reads 1 X 24”, 2 X 20”, 2 X 18”, 2 X 16”, 2 X 15”, Cal’s refractor an Intes Mak Newt of 6-8”? and a Tele Vue 85 refractor, not bad between 14 observers, so my contribution was hopefully not missed.
A few of the attendees had arrived Thursday, which turned out to be wet & wild! Friday on the other hand was calm, sunny with clear skies and an autumnal chill. That night proved to be a good one, not perfect there was a degree of haze but good to very good by most standards, M13 was naked eye, for me that is a bench mark for a good quality sky. Observing began around 19.00 and ran through until about 3am on average although Andrew pushed it another 30 minutes in his competitive fashion to remain the “last man standing”. That was 8 hrs observing in cool conditions and for many after a long drive and then setting up camp, so hardly a wimp’s performance.
As you can imagine there were many objects viewed during that 8 hrs session with 12 telescopes pointed skywards, comet 186P Hergenrother just passing out of the square of Peg must have been observed by all, it looked fantastic in the larger apertures. Some of the party from city locations contented themselves with ticking off brighter objects at lower latitudes that they had no chance of getting from their home observatories, others tested their optics and the sky to see just how deep they could go, yes that had to be Andrew didn’t it! Although Jason Caird with his 20”, Rod Greening with his 18” and Adrian Orr with his 18” were all pretty much following suit, going deep and exotic.
For me a few of the most memorable views of the evening were, the Eskimo nebula sprinting through the field of view in Andrew’s 24” at circa 700x, the image scale and inner detail, mind blowing for a deep sky buff, NGC 383 its neighbouring galaxies aka the “Pisces Cloud” or ARP 331 were much enjoyed and studied with the big guns, coincidentally Paul Brierley, active member of the Webb Deep Sky Society took this image of that group on the same night
Another memorable view was of the striking pair of edge on galaxies at contrasting angles in Pegasus NGC 7732 & 7339, the list goes on, Andrew’s big scope showed the central star in many planetary nebulae including the elusive central star in M57, I remember being fixed by the stare of the ‘Cats eye’ nebula.
To summarise it was a wonderful night of communal deep sky observing, banter, laughter, ooh’s and argh’s as numerous meteors were spotted, by 3am feet and hands were cold, backs a knees aching and eyes heavy, all were glad of their beds and heaters, apart from Deep Sky director Stewart Moore who wins a medal for toughing it out sleeping in his car!
Saturday morning dawned bright and fresh, those warm and comfortable slept in, those not so or creatures of unbreakable early rising habits were up early and mooched around like zombies in search of tea and breakfast.
When most of the camp was up we mustered for a group photograph, both John Axtell and Adrian Orr took tripod mounted timer shots, John’s is posted below. Absent from the picture, my son Aubrey, too busy watching TV in the caravan, nothing unusual there! Jason Caird, still fast asleep (or avoiding the camera) Dave Balcombe banished to another field as a dog owner, and Cal who I have already said was an opportunist party member and residing in a more robust residence off in the woods.
Stewart took his leave and those remaining went about various local excursions a good number of us agreeing to meet up in the nearby picturesque seaside town late afternoon for a fish & chip dinner.
This came to pass and on returning to Kelling Heath shortly before nightfall it look likely that we were in for another fine night, despite the forecast for afternoon cloud and rain. Observing began much the same as it had the previous night, except that a few of us had stopped at the bar for a ‘swift’ beer, it was literally just the one and out again in 15 minutes, but by the time we had gotten back to the green field ultra keen big Andrew Robertson was at the eyepiece along with Rodders & Jason, I turned the lights down to ‘side’ only but when I noted bodies up step ladders at eyepieces I turned them off completely rendering me ‘blind’ and nearly colliding firstly with Adrian’s 18” scope and then his landrover. Despite my best efforts at light etiquette I was to receive a few words on the matter from Andrew later!
Ok we all settled down to some observing, cloud built from the west and dissipated but by 21.00 raining began to fall gently at first turning into a deluge, that was it, game over for the night and for those leaving on Sunday morning which was most of us, game over for the star party. This turn of events could not detract from a fantastic gathering, personally I had enjoyed the company, stunning views made new friends and spent what is commonly called quality time with my son Aubrey (Tudor couldn’t attend as he was playing football in a cup tie)
I understand that another such gathering is planned for March new moon 2013, simply can’t wait, until then the caravan is wrapped up for the winter and I shall be working from the warm office in my observatory.