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  • Writer's pictureMike Meynell

Celestial Delights: A Memorable Evening on Blackheath - 14th October 2023

After a summer of cancelled solar viewing sessions, we had been waiting for a payback from the British weather. Following our third successful Blackheath observing session in a row, and the second with almost perfect viewing conditions, it seems the weather gods have almost appeased us for the disappointing weather in July and August.


An Uncertain Start:

When I arrived at around 6.30pm, it wasn’t obvious that we’d have such good conditions. The horizon to the west was dotted by sharp rain showers, accentuated by the setting Sun, so there was some concern that the “go” decision, made earlier that day, may have been the wrong one. Fortunately, the rain stayed away, and, apart from a few intermittent clouds that bubbled up during the session, the majority of our evening was cloud free. In addition, seeing conditions were excellent, and the atmosphere seemed very stable, meaning that we were able to view many objects that are often very difficult to see in the light-polluted skies above Blackheath.

Stellar Support and Equipment:

As I was setting up, Tej was the first to join me, carrying his huge rucksack containing his trusty 8-inch SCT and mount. Our remaining volunteers, Alec, Paul, Tony, Les, Richard and Tom, soon arrived, each bringing variety of equipment, from astronomical binoculars to classic telescopes, and a good selection of the newer “smart” telescopes, that align themselves and take images of the night sky for display on mobile devices.


Setting up equipment at the start of the evening

We had around 14 telescopes, plus binoculars, in total. Most brought by our volunteers, but several also from Flamsteed members and some of our non-member visitors. A great turnout, and the variety of scopes available was wonderful to see.

Gazing at the Cosmos:

As regards our celestial targets for the evening, they didn’t disappoint.

  • Saturn and Jupiter… double-tick. Beautiful, clear views of these gas giants, with the Galilean moons strung out on either side of Jupiter.

  • Andromeda Galaxy… tick. Visually, a faint smudge, though still fun to remember that the photons from this object have taken 2.5 million years to hit your retina. The “smart” telescopes came into their own with this object, revealing the bright core and surrounding spiral arms in great detail.

  • M2 Globular Cluster… tick. Wonderful to see visually, and Tony repeated his trick from the last observing session of finding a globular cluster with his binoculars (it was M15 at the last session!). The smart scopes revealed a dense ball of stars, one of the oldest objects associated with the Milky Way galaxy, at around 12.5 billion years in age.

  • M27 Dumbbell Nebula and M57 Ring Nebula… double-tick. The Ring is especially rewarding visually, but the Dumbbell gets all the plaudits when imaging, due to its large size and striking colours. These objects were real crowd favourites.

  • Orionid meteors… double-tick!! We certainly saw two, there may have been more. The peak of this shower, caused by the Earth passing through the detritus of Halley’s Comet, is still a week away, but we picked up some early arrivals.


Other objects… loads to mention… I imaged the Eastern Veil Nebula, a supernova remnant, which is a very tricky object from London skies. M33 Triangulum Galaxy was another target. The always striking Double Cluster in Perseus. The wonderful double-star Albireo in Cygnus.

The Neptune Misadventure:

One “failure”. Poor old Neptune. This ice giant is a tricky object to view, and we really didn’t have the equipment to do it justice, as so many of our scopes were set for larger deep-sky objects. Even with the best of equipment, it’s not exactly a “wow” object.


I vividly remember a BBC World Service programme that we participated in some years ago, where I gave Professor Lucie Green her first view of Neptune through a telescope. Her underwhelmed reaction of “oh… that’s Neptune!?!” will stay with me for a long time!!

Conclusion:

But, all-in-all, a fabulous observing session. We think we had about 50 visitors over the course of the evening, and all seemed thoroughly engaged and enjoyed their visit to Blackheath.

Lots of visitors to our observing session

The nighttime observing sessions on Blackheath have got off to a fantastic start this season. Let’s hope our luck continues.

Thanks again to our volunteers, and also the Bobby who was our official photographer for the evening!


Pictures from the Evening (by Bobby Manoo):


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