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  • Writer's pictureMike Meynell

Starry Skies and Rare Sights: Comet Encounters and Meteor Delights

After our first cancellation of a Blackheath observing event in January, we were eager to get back on track this month, leading us to take a somewhat larger risk than usual for our February gathering. With Saturday night shrouded in leaden skies and the weather forecast looking increasingly unsettled for the following weekend, Sunday, 11 February, became our window of opportunity.


Setting up at the start of the evening, as the skies clear

Our dedicated volunteers, including myself, Alec, Mark, Richard, and Tony, arrived early, joined by several Flamsteed members. The initial conditions were less than promising, prompting a flurry of weather app consultations in hope of a break in the clouds. Despite the ominous forecast to the south of London and a brief encounter with a very light shower, fortune smiled upon us as the clouds parted, revealing excellent clear skies and very good seeing conditions. Having made the “go” decision earlier in the day, I was immensely relieved that our gamble paid off!


The array of telescopes at our disposal varied from traditional to three “smart” scopes, including the first Blackheath outing for my new ZWO Seestar - a scope that’s been the subject of much conversation lately. It proved more adaptable than my older, pricier Stellina scope, underscoring just how swiftly technology advances.


Our astronomical journey began with Jupiter and the M42 Orion Nebula before venturing to more challenging sights. The Horsehead Nebula, captured by Richard with his evScope; the M1 Crab Nebula, a notoriously difficult object to observe under London’s skies; and the return of Comet 144P/Kushida in Taurus, near Aldebaran, were among the evening's highlights. Despite fewer attendees than usual - likely deterred by the early cloudy weather - those who joined us were treated to a memorable evening. It was a relaxed affair, allowing us ample time to engage with our visitors.


Not the best image of Comet 144P/Kushida, but the blue/green fuzzy blob is the comet!

The event’s zenith came with the sighting of a bright, slow-moving meteor crossing from north to south against the constellation of Orion just before 10pm - a mesmerizing sight and a personal highlight.


As a heavy dew began to set in by 10:30pm, we concluded the session, grateful to our volunteers and visitors for braving the uncertain conditions. Their perseverance was richly rewarded.


Looking ahead, our next Blackheath event is scheduled for 9 March, with weather back-ups on 10, 16, and 17 March. We look forward to another evening of exploration and camaraderie under the stars.


Pictures from the Evening (by Mike Meynell):


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