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Knight of Clear Skies

Caradon Observatory Open Days Report

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Had a couple of really good days at the observatory, we enjoyed ourselves and it was great to see our visitors showing an interest. By far the most people we've had on site, it was difficult to keep track of numbers with people coming and going but I think we had at least 60 over the two days. It was the first time I've had much involvement in a public event - it was busy and involved a lot of prep, but worth it.

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In the end, the weather was very kind to us on the 21st, we managed to get plenty of use of the 60mm Solarmax.

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A local astronomer brought along a couple of his scopes as well, including a double-stack we are quite envious of. Compared to the single the view was a little dim but the surface detail really stands out. I imagine it would be far better for imaging than the single stack, I wish there had been time to switch it onto the tracking mount and try the DMK on it.

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We did manage a quick live imaging demonstration with the single-stack:

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With the uncertain weather we'd drafted in as much help as possible, so had a rolling program of presentations in the lecture room and domes. It helped that we could shuffle people between viewing and presentation rather than sitting them down and talking at them for long periods. We also had some students from Exeter University on hand to talk about their plans to put a 5 metre radio telescope in our field, and treat us with their astronomical biscuit decorating skills.

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In the evening we had some great views of Jupiter and Mars through the 12" dob and tracked 12" newt in dome 1. I spent a lot of time showing people Jupiter through the dob. One lesson learned - it's crucial to explain the focuser clearly to people when they haven't used a telescope before and have no idea of what to expect. Some people were claiming to see the shadow of moon in front of Jupiter, which caused confusion as there was a transit that night (I caught the odd glimpse of it as the seeing changed). Turns out they were seeing the central obstruction in front of a huge and very out-of-focus Jupiter. I think I managed to chase most of the people up who were having problems to have another look. It's not easy for people to use a telescope for the first time, especially if they are conscious of a queue behind them.

The 22nd was a lot quieter, until a party of Scout Explorers from Okehampton and a couple other cars turned up in the early evening. Fortunately the Sun peeped out just as they arrived, and by charging down the field with the Solarmax we were able to catch the last of it over the trees.

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My favorite picture from the event is this one - "Spot the rocket."

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Unfortunately we were clouded in for the rest of the evening, so we finished off the day with some presentations and Q&A sessions.

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Which went well on the whole, but there were times when attention flagged. Unsurprising as there is only so long you can expect people to sit and listen for. It was surprising some of the things we got asked, one Scout wanted to know about the Firewall Paradox and Stephen Hawking's latest treatment of it. Another was asking about the BICEP2 results.

Overall we were left feeling very positive about the event, there are some more details and pictures on our website. We are thinking about hosting another in the Autumn.

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It was great to see so many people there, fascinated by the night sky. Having the students come down from Exeter University Radio Telescope project was a real bonus too.

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