The Astrocamp Hangover – Observing Report

I got home after Astrocamp riding on a wave of enjoyment and astro related optimism.  I had a great time meeting lots of people have a huge amount to be thankful for.  I look forward to meeting them all again, and this time, with fully fit and operational leg!  Coming back home and monitoring my Twitter feedback and Astrocamp Facebook page, the timelines have been full of similar thoughts and expressions of thanks to all concerned.  I’ve already put in for the time off in September for the next Astrocamp, and wait to see if I can get it signed off, and then to see if I can get a pitch.  September does provide a wider window of observing opportunities with its darker nights, and perhaps (hopefully) more reliable weather.  We shall see.
The night that most people would have arrived home was last night, the 12th May.  Given that over the whole of Astrocamp, the total amount of night time observable conditions stretched to barely 45 minutes, you could say that it was typical that the first night at home was forecast to be perfectly clear.  The moon was due to rise in the early hours of the morning, and so the conditions were favourable.  That is, except for the fact that the following day, everyone was back in work.  However, that didn’t stop me from getting the SBT out in the back garden and carrying on the start party in my own little way.  I would like to think that there were others doing the same thing in their own observing sites up and down the country.
And so, my observing report.  The nights are quite light this time of year, so the first objects tend to be the brightest ones visible in the sky.  The session started at around 21.50 when the horizon was still quite bright, but Jupiter and Venus shone brighter.  My target was Jupiter and its moons.  I first observed it using the 8mm BST, and within the same field of view managed to pick out an unclassified 10th magnitude star.  A tiny pin prick of light.  The planet itself showed up really well showing both the equatorial belts, and much more detail than I have seen recently.  Dropping in the 5mm BST eyepiece, the image was slightly blurred, but the features were still visible.  The dual-speed focuser upgrade certainly helped achieving optimum focus on the planet.
By 10.30, enough of the constellation of Leo was visible against the darkening sky for me to navigate to the Leo Triplet.  Whilst not the darkest of conditions, I could still make out all 3 components of the triplet with relative ease.  However, I didn’t observe it for long because of the lighter conditions still present.
Looking across the sky, I started picking out some of the other constellations.  The bowl of Virgo, Coma Berenices and Bootes.  High overhead, I could see Ursa Major.  Whilst looking around Ursa Major, I thought I would try to locate M101, but initially I ended up viewing the Whirpool Galaxy, M51, by mistake.  Both cores were clearly visible, and now the sky was starting to get much darker, more detail surrounding the cores started to present itself.  Whilst I was pleased to see it, I still wanted to track down M101, so I moved on.  I was using the 32mm Panaview eyepiece for this target, and it didn’t fail to impress.  The target wasn’t particularly bright, but it did appear very large indeed.  Perhaps because of the low magnification, or the timing of the observation, I couldn’t make out much in the way of structure, but nevertheless, it was an object I was really impressed with.
The session continued.  Onto M3, a condensed cluster in Canes Venatici.  I spent quite a while observing this target.  I have seen it before, but only in the 150p.  This time, with the SBT, I decided to spend a bit more time swapping around the eyepieces.  I first picked it up in the 32mm eyepiece. At first, the cluster was obvious, but it wasn’t particularly easy to resolve any particular stars in the cluster.  I decide to try the 12mm BST instead.  The feint fuzzy area of the cluster suddenly became much more defined.  I started to be able to pick out many more individual stars.  Possibly even hundreds.  I decided to push further, and so, I dropped in the 8mm eyepiece to see exactly how good I could get the view.  This time, I could see even more.  With the smaller eyepieces, the background to the cluster grew ever darker which helped me to resolve even more detail.  It was the main ‘wow’ moment of the evening for me.
Leaving the 8mm eyepiece in the focuser, I tracked down the next target, M92.  This was another awesome cluster, especially at the higher magnifications.  I thought it very similar to M3 and was equally as impressed.
Moving further into Hercules, I decided that time was getting on.  I had put myself a cut-off time of 11.00 as I needed to be up for work the next morning and I had already exceeded it.  But, after the disappointing weather of the weekend, and conditions so favourable, I decided to squeeze one more in before the end of the night.  The final target was M13.  An extract from the notebook on the night….
            “Clusters at higher mag in the SBT are brilliant…”
That kind of says it all really.  These are the first set of true clusters I have gone after since the arrival of the SBT, and they haven’t disappointed.  At 8mm, M13 was readily resolved as a vast collection of individual stars.  I was impressed.  Very impressed.
Sadly, I had to call it a night there.  Conditions were so good and it was a bit of a wrench to bring myself to put the scope away.  Conditions are favourable for tonight too, but it remains to be seen if I can get outside.  If only this were a Friday evening….
So, that’s the report of my Astrocamp hangover.  The event has certainly fanned the flames of enthusiasm of the hobby and I managed to head off the ‘downer’ of having to come home by having a cracking little session out the back garden.  And remember, if we are on course to have a collision with an Asteroid, all we need to save the entire human race is a huge quantity of Dulux.
Until next time, thanks for reading J