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Blackheath Observing – Saturday 22 October 2016

The start of our observing session, with the added backdrop of the Blackheath funfair!

The start of our observing session, with the added backdrop of the Blackheath funfair!

An excellent session started off rather dubiously as a not so familiar obstacle threatened our stargazing night. It wasn’t the clouds this time but a funfair, just several yards away from us! Admittedly, a rush of childhood nostalgia swept over me and I was tempted to go in, head for the bumper cars and demonstrate gleefully why I lost my driving license years ago. But Mike’s authoritative presence snapped me out of that and we set up our telescopes, frequently glancing at the funfair’s towering threat, wondering if they will switch the lights off at their promised closing time at 8pm. They did, albeit around 8:30pm. Phew!

So what was on the menu that night? Well, for our starters we nibbled at Mars which made for a more lovely naked eye view object than a telescopic one, as it was near setting on the horizon in the south-west. Through a telescope, the low horizon atmosphere added too much special effects to its colour and shape. Nevertheless, newcomers loved seeing the red tint of the planet in the eyepiece and even a hint of the white polar cap.

Talking of the many newcomers this month, what a lovely crowd they were. Very enthusiastic and a delight for us regulars to show them the numerous celestial targets that even our city’s heavily light polluted skies can still offer.

After the brief view of Mars, I turned my telescope to M31 Andromeda galaxy. We could mainly see the core and a little of its inner lanes together with its M110 companion galaxy in the same eyepiece view. It’s always a sensation viewing our bigger sibling galaxy, 2.5 million light years away from us.

Then with the aid of a UHC filter, we viewed some emission nebulas including the distinctly polo shaped M57 Ring Nebula and M27 Dumbbell Nebula (very justifiably named, though surely by someone who hits the gym a lot, as it could just as easily have been called the Egg Timer Nebula).

We then took the nearest exit off the M27 onto the M13 (Hercules) and M5 globular clusters containing ancient stars nearly as old as the universe itself.

Another favourite, the Double Cluster delighted many with its duo “fireworks” spray of stars, spectacular when viewed through a low power, wide angle eyepiece or small refractor. We also visited another beautiful cluster, the jewel bevelled Pleiades (M45, also known as The Seven Sisters).

We then slewed our telescopes nearer to home, to observe our outer solar system planets, Neptune and Uranus. Although very small in the eyepiece, their blue and green tints are distinct, as well as their round disk shape.

I tried to get the M82 Cigar and M81 Bode’s galaxies (aka Bode’s Nebula) into my eyepiece but only Bode said “hi”, being the face-on galaxy while the edge-on Cigar galaxy was too shy to reveal itself. Mike thinks I am obsessed with this system… maybe I am… but I know the Cigar galaxy will appear on a really good seeing night and, when it does, the combined pair of galaxies will be worth the wait. So next time!

Rupert and Mike then entertained us with some off the beaten track celestial objects, most notably a remarkable triple star system called Delta Cygni, showing a binary system comprising of a large bright star and a much dimmer orangy companion split from it. Thanks to the quality of optics on Rupert’s APM telescope, the dimmer companion was distinct and, even more fascinatingly, due to its lack of glare, appeared surprisingly solid…like…like an exoplanet, we all cried out, wishfully! Of course, it’s not an exoplanet (we’re not that delusional) but it was certainly a most interesting binary to look at.

And so that rounded off another delightful cosmic ride in Blackheath. Who needs funfairs, eh? Well, except bumper cars, I like bumper cars.

If you would like to discuss/chat or ask questions about our events or anything about astronomy, or share your own astronomy related experience, please do come and ask/chat away on our members forum at

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