Those who came to the LAS Star Party a couple of years ago may recall the perils of finding this site set deep in the Lincolnshire Wolds. The main problem is the post code is actually centred on a village some distance away and so, so having got lost on all pervious visits to Badgers Farm, in spite of having a Sat Nav., I found the site for this visit by using ‘dead reckoning’ to ‘star-hop’ i.e. count junctions and re-set the car odometer at each waypoint, following printed instructions. The Sat Nav was just powered up as a ‘get me home’ back-up. There is an analogy here with what’s to come.
Arrived at 19:30, and saw the place has changed a bit in last couple of years, for the better. The field we camped in then is now fenced off for sheep and a specific designated area set aside at the top of the hill, south facing. It is still sawdust toilets with no lights however. To be honest the weather did not look too promising at the start. Anyway, an interesting start to this field trip that evening was a talk by the chairman Paul on planetary imaging – given in a field - with live views of Venus on his laptop PC as the star turn (sorry), which was doing her best to be shy by hiding behind some clouds. All we needed was a camp fire in the middle and a rousing chorus of ‘Ging Gang Goolie’.
After the talk and a lot of small talk on matters astronomical with the dozen or so members & visitors, I set up my Vixen 110 on its Go -To mount to look at Jupiter & Venus. Its been a week or so since I looked at Venus at Kelling Heath but the change in its phase was obvious. Now, I had planned to try star hopping tonight as frankly, I am rubbish at it, having got so used to Go -To or digital setting circles. I am very conscious of being left in the lurch when batteries fail when depending entirely on powered technology (the reason why Private Pilots and Gliders Pilots by air law MUST still carry a map and basic compass and know how to use it). To this end I had also brought with me a small elderly un-driven equatorial mount. However in the end I decided it better to see stuff tonight and leave the frustration to another time, another place. So, I set-up using two star alignment on Arcturus and Pollux having first used the spirit level and entered the lat long of 53 18 27 North and 0 06 06 06 West (the number of the beast !)
While waiting for darkness we had a brew, made on a camping stove in the back of Paul’s van and biscuits, both included in the £3 visitor fee.
It is 22:31 and the sky is clear. Now, two nights ago I had star-hopped to M3 with the Vixen on the Vixen GP mount (a German Equatorial Mount, driven but not a ‘go-to’) from light polluted Skellingthorpe and felt mighty pleased with myself after an hour. Tonight I put in the selection and was there in seconds. This was followed quickly by M13 for both I used the 18mm (x60). I say quickly but in fact I shared the view of both with attendees to had either not found anything yet, of which I write more below or had brought no telescope that night.
23:02 – Saturn, first view this year for me because it is below my horizon at home. Used the 7mm (x150), about highest power suitable in a 4” ‘scope. Not a brilliant view as still a bit ‘in the clag’ but I shared it with the others anyway.
My target script tonight was basically the Binocular Tour from March edition of ‘Sky At Night’ magazine. I figured if 10 X 50’s should be able to see these then a 110mm will be fine.
23:14. You may recall reading of my frustration in my other scribblings regarding finding M51. Yes it should be ‘easy’, blah, blah. Anyway, tonight was the night. Yes I could see TWO faint round fuzzy objects close together (18mm, x60) and, as expected for a small scope view, no structure. No camera, I had not brought it because I now I know an Alt Az mount is not good for deep sky so I have just got it recorded in my log book in this blog and my memory.
By this time I was getting distracted by Dave next to me (what is it about the name ‘Dave’ and astronomy clubs? The guy who introduced me to this club is also called Dave and this was another one now set-up next to me). A relative newcomer to the hobby, he had earlier been showing me a SET of ‘Televue’ eyepieces that taken together alone would be the value of a small car. He, and assorted others were struggling with finding M13. I wandered over to see ‘what was what’. I said at the start of this piece, I am pretty rubbish at star hopping but a quick review of the situation showed they were pointing his 10” Skywatcher Dob. at Corona Borealis. He had a Telrad fitted and some laminated Telrad charts so I took over, shoved the scope to the correct constellation of Hercules, lined up the Telrad to match the print-out, fine tuned with the 50mm finder and asked him to check the main view – M13 was there, dead centre. OK that sounded very, very smug, sorry – but a key thing in this hobby is to learn the basic constellations, no amount of kit (other than a go-to) will find you a fuzzy if you are in the wrong part of the sky. That’s why I am torturing myself to improve this skill.
Back to observing with the Vixen. Next on my printout was M67 in Cancer. Seen as described, it is the poor relation of M44, not many stars resolved, just a faint misty patch in the 18mm (x60). Next, iota Cancer. I double star I have looked at many times with my C8 (a 200mm SCT). I wanted to ‘measure’ its separation with the illuminated reticule, it something I do with double stars, but ho-hum lack of prep hit me again, flat illuminator battery. Spares are in the C8 equipment box. Still, nice double listed at 30 arc seconds , of 4th and 6th magnitude with a colour contrast. Yes I could see a slight tinge of colour but of what I could not be sure.
It was now past midnight and pretty cold. It is a rough grass field so boots should be worn, but I had on trainers. I also had not brought my padded jacket – no, not a white one, but the full black suit you may have seen me in. There had been a minor incident earlier with one of the members or visitors falling over in the dark and having to be helped up by two others and then escorted back to his car. This was a good reminder of the perils of observing on your own in a remote location, or maybe not so remote, as Graham W and I discussed one night while standing alone in the LAS Observatory one Tuesday night. It’s so easy to trip in the dark and bash your head or break a leg, no matter what your age or experience is.
Anyway, I finished off with M44. The lowest power I have for the Vixen is x25 and this object was best viewed on the night in the 9x50 finder ‘scope, i.e. about the same as the10x50 binoculars this list was intended for. So, now cold but satisfied, I packed up for the night, quickly put the kit away in the Stanley tool box I had bought specifically for these field trips. I counted items out, counted items in, each in its own place in the darkness so nothing is lost, RAF training lasts a lifetime ;>). I must remember to take a flask next time as one brew, even a free one, is not enough on a cold night. I decided I will be joining this club as well as LAS, as a full member (£20 pa) as Saturday evenings are better for me while I am not retired from the daily grind, so expect more ‘Rambles from the Wolds’. Home by 01:30 and a warm bed.