Derby and District Astronomical Society

DDAS Observing Session - Flamsteed Observatory - Saturday 20th October 2007

Report by Chris Newsome

Metcheck.com looked promising, the Met Office website looked promising and the weather itself looked promising. No clouds in the sky meant that an observing session at The Flamsteed Observatory could take place and we would be treated to a fantastic evening's viewing of the skies. However we were in competition to the England v South Africa Rugby Union World Cup Final!

Adrian Brown and I arrived early to open up the observatory and set up his ED80/HEQ6. While the kit was being transported from the car park to the observatory we were treated to the first sight of the night. Bang on cue at 18:39, the International Space Station made its one visible pass of the night over Brailsford from west to south east. A wonderful deep blue sky provided the backdrop as it shone at about -1 magnitude as it passed overhead. As the sky darkened I pointed my Canon EOS300D towards the region just below Arcturus, low in the north west. I was hoping to capture Comet LONEOS but it was too close to the horizon to be visible through the camera and I was also restricted to 30 second exposures. So, I didn't image it... shame! I gave up!

The fantastic 10" Newtonian in the dome was swung to it's first (and only object) of the evening, namely the moon, only to discover that the moon (a couple of days past first quarter) was behind a tree and so viewing that would have to wait for a bit before it came into view. In the meantime, Adrian had got the ED80 set up and the GOTOs were very accurate. All that was needed was for the sky to darken. DDAS members started arriving and in total there were eight of us, including the addition of a Meade LX90 8" SCT to add to the viewing pleasure. In the dome, the views of the moon (which had moved enough to be visible in the 10" Newtonian) were breathtaking. The lunar terminator is something I never tire of, and yet again I wasn't to be disappointed. The crater Copernicus was right on the border between day and night with the centre of it filled with shadow. Clavius was awesome and the mountainous region around Plato was stunning. The assembled members of the society had some fantastic views of the lunar landscape with a 26mm eyepiece and then with an added 2x Barlow lens.

I had taken my laptop and a Meade LPI with me to the observatory as I had wanted to try and capture some frames of the moon and I wasn't disappointed. Here is a mosaic of 6 images (each about 50 frames) captured through the 10" Newtonian, stacked in Registax V4 and then processed in CS2.

Once the viewing of the moon had ended we all moved out of the observatory to have a guide round the night sky's constellations. The usual bright ones of Ursa Major and Cassiopeia were easily identified along with the less well known ones of Corona Borealis and Delphinus. The summer triangle comprised of Vega, Deneb and Altair was easily identifiable and running through their respective constellations the Milky Way could easily be seen. Then at 20:49 at an azimuth of 8 and an altitude of 16, the second of the night's predicted events occurred, namely an Iridium flare of -4 magnitude. Stunning! While all this was going on, Adrian's ED80 was slewing from object to object. M31 was... well M31! It is always fascinating to think that we are seeing it as it was 2 million years ago. The Double Cluster in Perseus looked like two piles of diamonds. Then it was time to have a go at trying to find Uranus, which was to the east of the moon. A gap appeared in a tree on the southern horizon and the GOTO on the ED80 put the planet in the field of view. Cranking up the magnification helped in confirming that we were looking at the planet and not a star as it could not be focused into pinpoint of light...also it was a fantastic green colour! By now, M45 was well above the trees surrounding the observatory sight and through the ED80 it was amazing. Through a pair of image stabilizing binoculars the view was indescribable!

By about 22:00 the mist and dampness were starting to come down and so it was time to pack up and go home. The sky was still clear and Mars was just above the east horizon - that will have to wait for another observing session. The 10" Newtonian was covered up, the dome doors closed and the observatory was locked up, ready to show us the sights of the night sky again soon. Finally, while we were in the dome earlier in the evening, thanks to a very observant pair of eyes belonging to Barry Ashforth, we saw a bright Orionid meteor (the radiant was still just below the horizon) which was a fantastic red colour and so bright, I would be estimate it to be about similar to the brightness of Altair. All in all, a wonderful evening under the night sky. Thanks to all who came along and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Chris Newsome

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