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A Night at Parsley Hay

Stub Mandrel

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This is a 'dark sky site' in the Peak District. There's a visitor centre next to the first car park with a single light on, but two car parks in its invisible and I was in the third car park. No permanent man-made light visible, but a streak of LP all around the horizon Derby south, Stoke west etc. Lorries and cars drive by on a road some 300m to the east but you don't get a direct view of their headlights.

When I arrived at about 10:30 there was (forecast) broken cloud and I had driven through light rain, but the ground was dry. Incredibly just as forecast the cloud cleared  - I later saw a few isolated clouds but they went and eventually totally clear. Near the end a cloud that seemed to be stuck to the tail of the great bear! I suspect it was caused by air being 'pushed up' by a mountain in my NW. Windy at times, but i'm hoping it didn't spoil my imaged - yes I spent the night imaging, so everything I describe is either naked eye, 10x20 bins or finderscope.

I can't find a way to disable my footwell lights or side mirror lights :-( but even so I got well dark adapted. I was never unable to see my gear or move around easily. In fact I was surprised how much I could see even during astro-dark - I think it was the faint LP.

I could see the Milky Way down to about 20 degrees on both sides, loads of detail higher up, the first time I have seen it properly and known what I was looking at, but the sky was very different from times I've been at real dark places in North Wales or Exmoor where the sky was effectively black. I didn't get that sense of vertigo and infinity you have on rare occasions when the stars appear uncountable so I was a bit disappointed. Even so it is the first time I have found M31 with the naked eye.

NELM was below 6.5 - the limit of my star atlas - there were plenty of lesser stars visible so I guess NELM approached 7. Bortle description appears between 4 and 3 - I have noticed that the 'straight up' view description always seems to fit a Bortle class one better than the horizon view. I could see loads of complexity in the Milky Way but could only find M33 in bins (but perhaps I wasn't sure what I was looking for).

In my little bins I was easily able to see M13, M31, M33 and even a hint of the North America nebula. It was my first time seeing Aquarius in full although it had some LP, but Aries was poor. Pegasus and up were great.

It was strange seeing Auriga rise for the first time this year, especially as a fuzzy patch appeared in the eastern gloop that I realised was the Pleiades - eventually I could make out at least seven stars as it rose higher. Eventually Taurus appeared, but I coudln't see the Hyades naked eye.

What would be a good tally of meteors on a random night, but rather fewer than I expected this close to a predicted big year for the Perseids, at least half of the meteors were going in other directions. One was a really nice fizzy but small fireball.

Lots of satellites, one appeared in the bins and appeared to be a tumbling satellite as it kept fading and brightening regularly, not an aircraft.

One weird experience, I heard a low noise like a massive digeridoo in the NE that gradually travelled around to the south and faded. If it was a distant locomotive it must have been a huge one yet there was no accompanying 'mechanical' sound, if it was a plane it sounded very weird, perhaps one of the huge rotor-planes and was either behind the low hill to the East or flying without lights.

All in all a strange mixture of discovery - I was able to find things I hadn't searched out before - yet vague disappointment that although it was dark it wasn't really dark.


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M31 took some doing until it got high enough, but eventually I could see it and it was a bigger smudge than I expected. M33 I would be lying if I said I was sure I saw it! I could find it with the bins. I didn't try hard to see the double cluster, it was very obvious through the finderscope.

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Mag 6.5 sky sounds pretty impressive Neil, nice site. I've managed the DC, M31 and  M13 from Dorset naked eye, but can't recall seeing M33 other than in binoculars. I thought the skies there were only about mag 6 though.

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I can't find a figure for it on the web.

Apparently 'Surprise View' at the Sheffield end is SQM 20.5 and its half the distance from Sheffield. Parsley Hay is more or less equidistant from Stoke, Sheffield and Derby so is probably the darkest part of the Peak District.

It would be good if someone more experienced than me could give a proper evaluation of it as it could be a good site for meet-ups.

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6.5 is very impressive. Remember this might increase during the winter. 20.5 is also very impressive.

A proper evaluation is really done with the eyes, I gleaned that from reading your excellent report.

It's well worth preserving those skies.

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Nice report! Talking of funny noises I heard what sounded like a surface to air rocket launched whilst out on the N Yorkshire Moors one night, I'm sure it was no such thing but you never know we were close to the Golf Balls that were once there the early warning station.


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