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Tiny Small

An unexpected turn of events.

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Last night’s observing session started unexpectedly and finished the same way, but turned out to be a fantastic night.

About half past six I headed down to Newlands Corner with the intention of doing some sketching. It took a little longer than usual to get there due to the ubiquitous road works and on arrival I was taken aback by the number of cars and people there. I had a passing moment where I thought ‘surely, these can’t all be doggers’, but then I saw the telescopes. I found a space and parked up before heading over to the visitors centre to find out what was going on and as it turns out, Guildford Astronomical Society were having a public outreach night that had been heavily advertised. There were possibly a hundred or so people there apart from the society members. I was also surprised by the amount of refractors on show. People in Guildford obviously have a fair bit of spare cash. Other than the sea of top end refractors, there was a guy with a 16” dob, a very nice chap with a more modest home made dob, and me with the 250p. After watching an inspiring video on youtube yesterday of John Dobson talking about sidewalk astronomy and public outreach, this was sort of perfect timing. I set the dob up and was immediately inundated with a small crowd of people asking for a look through it then asking what they were looking at. Part of my role at work is teaching adults and public speaking, so mixing this with astronomy and a little physics and cosmology pitched at novice level soon bagged me a quite large crowd of people asking all kinds of questions and taking a genuine interest.

Some people wanted a look at the moon, but even with filters in place, it was painfully bright by this time, though the level of detail was amazing, some people wanted to look at Jupiter and its moons, a few wanted to look at the nebula in Orion but one young lady asked for a look at Sirius. I haven’t been doing astronomy for that long at all and have only been using a decent scope for a month or so and in that time, I have never got around to pointing it at Sirius. As it was quite early, Sirius was still very low in the sky and as a result, was twinkling like crazy. I pointed the finder scope at it then went to check the focus and I was gobsmacked by what I saw in the eyepiece. As it sits there, a brilliant jewel in the night sky, twinkling away through our atmosphere, you can literally see the individual refracting colours of the elements in our atmosphere. With the low power eyepiece there wasn’t much hope of splitting the binary but that didn’t matter. This ended up being the focal point for the remainder of the event, with a rather long queue forming at the eyepiece.

After the event finished and the crowds dispersed, the astronomers all got chatting to one and other and had a look through each others scopes etc. Two points became established in my mind at this point. First, the astronomical community consists largely of very lovely people who are also generally above average intelligence, and secondly, that I made the correct decision with buying a dob as my main scope. I had a look through a 6” triplet that cost more than I could ever afford to spend on a scope and I was a little disappointed. I expected the image to be dimmer due to the smaller aperture and more glass, and it was. Considerably. But what disappointed me was that the only visual enhancement over my dob was at the edges, the image was very slightly crisper, though this is probably due to his all singing, all dancing eyepiece and my cheap as chips, free with the scope eyepieces. Don’t get me wrong, I can see why people chose them for AP (though newts are also excellent for this), but spending thousands on a mount and scope to get a view that is walked all over by a large dob costing a couple of hundred quid second hand… it starts to sound a little obscene. But, whatever floats your boat I suppose.

After the astronomers left, I thought I might as well have a bash at my original goal. I eventual found M51 (been looking for weeks) but due to the immense sky glow from our current night time mini sun, I just saw what looked like a binary star, though somewhat dimmer. I quickly decided that I would be wasting my time and turned my scope on the moon. I didn’t take a quick look, but instead, spent about an hour or so going over all the detail and I came to the conclusion that lots of us undersell and underestimate our moon. It truly is a fantastic thing to look at and understand. Anyway, by this time the temperature was well below zero, the scope was covered in ice and I couldn’t feel certain extremities so I packed up, headed home then drank quite a lot of beer whilst watching Cosmos with Carl Sagan.

About four in the morning (I just finished working nights the day before yesterday so I wasn’t particularly tired) I headed out of the flat to my little observing spot by my garage to see what could be seen. The moon had gone down but many of my targets were up at zenith and I have a bad neck as it is, so… a bit of light planet hopping ensued. I spent twenty minutes or so on Jupiter, though with it now being low in the sky, detail and magnification were out of the question. I spent ten minutes or so on Mars and one of its moons and then… my first ever view of Saturn. Now, in the unlikely event that anyone reading this has not seen Saturn yet, even at 400x, it is very small in the eyepiece, though you can make out the rings at around 48x. The best image I had last night was between 120x and 200x. This kept the image bright and sharp, tough very small. The size doesn’t matter though because even when it’s tiny, you can see loads of detail. I spent well over an hour viewing Saturn, mostly just feeling speechless and thankful for being alive in an age where we have the ability to see these marvels. At about half six, I packed up and crawled into bed, a little drunk, very cold and VERY happy. This was one of the best nights I’ve had in years, and none of it went to plan.

Anyway, sorry for the long post but I thought it might be interesting to some.

Matt

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Glad you had such a good night.

it is always a pleasure to read of someone else s enjoyment when you are unable to observe yourself. (longstanding wedding being attended)

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Serendipity is a wonderful thing - I'd noticed that Guildford Astronomical Society had a night at Newland's Corner. The problem I have is that I don't have a car, so it's impossible to get to any of these events. Of course I have Bushy Park just down the road which, while not free of light pollution, is certainly free of the streetlights...

Your post has only fueled my desire for more aperture!

DD

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Serendipity is a wonderful thing - I'd noticed that Guildford Astronomical Society had a night at Newland's Corner. The problem I have is that I don't have a car, so it's impossible to get to any of these events. Of course I have Bushy Park just down the road which, while not free of light pollution, is certainly free of the streetlights...

Your post has only fueled my desire for more aperture!

DD

Where do you live? I live in Kingston, have a car and wouldn't mind observing with others occaisonally so the ofer of lifts etc is always open.

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Where do you live? I live in Kingston, have a car and wouldn't mind observing with others occaisonally so the ofer of lifts etc is always open.

Interesting - I'm in Teddington, just across the river (The right or the wrong side depending on your perspective!)

DD

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Small world. As I said, the offer is always open :) As is the offer to meet up locally etc if you ever fancy it. My wife is't particularly interested so I end up out by myself most of the time.

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Small world. As I said, the offer is always open :) As is the offer to meet up locally etc if you ever fancy it. My wife is't particularly interested so I end up out by myself most of the time.

It's funny because mine's the same! There are a few others in the general area, so we are not alone here!

DD

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Glad you enjoyed the evening Matt. I was there too - first light with my refractor - on Jupiter most of the evening. I had a long queue of children, many had never looked through a scope before and were blown away by Jupiter and its moons. Some managed to take an image on their mobile phones at the eyepiece to take to  'Show and Tell' at school on Monday.

No stamina these days. i packed up and went home when the hot chocolate lady stopped serving.

Do come along to GAS again.

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It's funny because mine's the same! There are a few others in the general area, so we are not alone here!

DD

Maybe we should sort out a group meet up at some point.

Do come along to GAS again.

I've had a look around the website and will probably be popping along soon :-)

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I really enjoyed reading your post Matt.  I think your comments re the comparison of the six inch triplet and your Dob are pretty spot on.  On a decent night aperture really does make a difference on the planets.  You can often see the same things with a smaller refractor, but in a larger Dob it is often much more obvious and the colours are always superior. I hasten to add I love to use refractors, but they are not the answer to everything and every type of scope has it's day, or should I say night!  My most used scope is a Megrez 90, just because it so quick - better to observe with anything than nothing at all.  Thanks again for your post Matt.

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enjoyed reading this report.  sounds like you had a great night , AND convinced youself (if ever needed) that you made the right choice when deciding on a scope.

clear skies. :smiley:

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