Astrocamp XIII - I Was There.
A highlight to the year for many people. The anticipation. The constant checking of weather apps. The buzz. The laughs. The astronomy. The traditional post camp hangover. This weekend, we returned to the familiar surroundings of Cwmdu campsite, and attended Awesome Astronomy's Astrocamp. It was said that in all the camps so far, nothing had gone particularly wrong, and that if it ever will, it was bound to happen at Astrocamp 13. A rather odd expression given that the whole event promotes evidence based science and rational thinking! Quite amusing.
Arrivals T-1 day...
On the run up to camp, I had put forward the idea of having kind of a popup Astro DIY workshop and encouraged people to come along and show off their DIY modifications and projects. I mentioned the idea on the camp Facebook page and was really pleased to find it well received. Throughout the weekend, a variety of people stopped around where we were set up on the campsite and were keen to check out each others ideas. Indeed, only this morning, I have been out and bought components and materials for my next DIY project. More on that in future posts!
I decided to turn up a day early to give myself as much opportunity as possible to get some observing done. This proved to be a good idea given the forecast for the main arrival day was for rain on and off throughout the day and evening. With this in mind, I had packed plenty of different kit in the van which would keep me occupied for the weekend. Boxes of electrical components, ongoing DIY projects, books and even the guitar made a rare trip out of the house. I managed to get some observing in on the Friday evening and was pleased to observe the Great Cluster in Hercules, the Ring Nebula and Mars. This was the first time I had chance to observe Mars for some years, so I must have spent 20 minutes or so looking at it alone. Clouds came and went, but eventually covered the sky.
Arrivals day at camp is brilliant. A chance to catch up with friends from past camps, and just as important, to make new friends. This year, next to my pitch, I was fortunate to be joined by Raoul. A first timer to camp, but not new to the hobby. He brought with him various DIY projects including an array of Arduino based ideas that he was working on. Perhaps the most impressive of his projects, and the one which I would consider trying myself, is a meteor detector which can detect the passing of meteors through the atmosphere regardless of weather or day light. He demonstrated what was possible, showing us some recent recordings captured during the Perseid meteor shower. Showers and cloud allowed me time to work on one of my own projects, and to solve an issue of dew bands not heating up when used with my DIY dew band controllers. So, it was out with the pliers, screwdriver and soldering iron in the tent as the rain pattered down onto the tent roof.
Sunday morning started early for me. Not being able to train my body clock to simply allow me to have a lay in, I was up and about at around 6.30. After the previous days rain showers and cloud, I was greeted by occasional patches of blue sky and some warm sunshine during breakfast.
Sunday is always a day I look forward to the most at camp. It's the day when everyone moves down to the local village hall, and to the pop up pub 'The Spiral Arms'. It's also the venue for the much anticipated pub quizzes and talks which are always popular and never disappoint. This camp, the guest speaker was Libby Jackson who spoke about women who work in space. Libby is author of 'A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space''. A collection of stories about women who have made massive and significant contributions to space science and space travel throughout history. It wasn't until Libby started talking about her research and her book that it hit me exactly how under recognised these women have been by the history books. Her talk was incredibly enlightening, and now that I have returned from camp, I look forward to reading her book to learn more. There are so many events that have happened in human space history that would never have been achieved without some significant and important contributions by these women, that it baffles me why they don't get the recognition they rightly deserve. Libby's talk was by far the highlight of my camp and one that I will remember.
Back in 1973, the famous Welsh poet, singer and writer, Max Boyce wrote a poem about a legendary event in Welsh rugby history when Llanelli beat New Zealand 9-3. But the event wasn't entirely about the win itself, but more that the pubs ran dry! Well, at Astrocamp 13, Welsh history was to repeat itself once again, as indeed, the pub ran dry. It made the final quiz of the day, dubbed 'The Masters Of The Universe' quiz all the more important as entrants were playing for a case of beer!
During the day on Sunday, a wave of optimism washed through camp as rumours spread of a window of clear sky that evening. As people headed back to the campsite from the Spiral Arms, attentions turned to getting prepared for the potential of an evening of Astronomy. I decided to set up my refractor and imaging equipment. At first, given the forecast window of clear sky was quite short, it might have seemed a bit of a waste of time. However, as readers of my previous posts might know, I have recently bought a new mount and I wanted to get some more use out of it. I seemed to have had a good run of luck with regards to guiding and setting this mount up for imaging runs, so I wanted to confirm to myself that this wasn't by some sort of accident. So, the only way to prove that my recent results haven't been down to pure luck is to ensure that everything is repeatable. So, it was pleasing to see that once again, I was able to achieve a good guiding graph using PHD2. But, perhaps even better, I was please to be able to demonstrate to some fellow campers the ability to polar align using Sharpcap Software, the ability to slew the scope to various targets using Cartes du Ciel and finally, to set up an imaging run. My luck soon ran out though. By the time I had achieved everything I needed to do and I was ready to start imaging, I only managed a single 2 minute exposure of Andromeda before the clouds rolled back in bringing proceedings for the evening to a close. I'll still chalk that one up as a success though.
Should I Stay or Should I Go???
Monday is the hardest day of camp for me. Knowing that the end of camp on Tuesday is approaching, almost straight away, me and many other Astrocampers look to the weather. The thoughts of the pending journey home. This year, the forecast for the last night of camp was for very little observing opportunity because of cloud, and the potential of rain coming through during the early hours of Tuesday. The possibility of dropping a bone dry tent and dry kit and then not have the problems of needing to dry everything out always makes the choice a tricky one. Monday is the day of high tea on the common area of the campsite. Everyone from camp gathers together to enjoy their last afternoon together. It's a point in camp that I look forward to, but alas one that I did not attend this time around. I made the tricky decision to bring my stay at Astrocamp to an early close. Not that I rushed to get packed away at all. I don't have much of a journey home. So, at a leisurely pace, I set about getting everything cleaned up and helped out others where I could before loading the last of my kit in the van before heading home. It's always sad to leave, but leave we all eventually must.
April 27th 2019 will see Astrocampers gather once again in Cwmdu. With bookings due to open in around a months time, it's already a date put into the calendar. This camp, I had a walk around the site, looking at the sky from different pitches to ones that I would normally consider. On a small site such as the campsite in Cwmdu, you don't have a lot of choice, so it's often a race to get to the prime pace you want to, but I will be there, finger on the button and ready to book. Already, I'm looking forwards to seeing my friends again, making new ones and swapping stories about what we have been up to over the Winter.
This camp has been a great reminder of what I missed back in the Spring, but at the same time, it's like I never left. Putting on events such as this takes a team of very dedicated people, and it's only right that they be appreciated. So, firstly, my thanks to Libby Jackson for coming to speak to us, and for providing me with my highlight of the whole camp. My thanks of course has to go to the team at Awesome Astronomy, Ralph, Paul, John, Damien and Jen. Every camp means another brilliant and memorable time to be had. My thanks also to my friends and neighbours, old and new at Astrocamp 13. You put up with me and always have time for me, which is truly appreciated.
Why I'll be at Astrocamp 14...
Many comparisons are made during various star parties between organising groups and venues. Some of these opinions are formed on the experience and views of others by people who have never been. I have always said that I intend to visit a selection of different events around the country. Earlier this year, I attended the Spring Kelling Heath star party in Norfolk. That is a huge event with hundreds of attendees spread across a very flat and well appointed site, with generous sized pitches. Being in the East side of the country, it could also be argued that there is a better chance of having more observable nights, with slightly better weather than is experienced in the mountains and hills of Wales. So why not return? The reasons are numerous. What Astrocamp brings to the table is what many perceive to be a much more friendly atmosphere. I went to my first Astrocamp on my own several years ago, not knowing anyone. By the end of that first camp, I had made friends for life and had been left with no doubt that I would return. Undoubtedly, the key reasons for this were the smaller site which makes the whole event more intimate, the Sunday in the Spiral Arms and perhaps more than any other, the common area in the middle of camp. This is the place to meet, to share stories and views through the eyepiece, and in the event of a cloudy evening, chew the fat over a couple of lemonades. Would I go back to Kelling? Not for a star party, no. Astrocamp however is a completely different experience.
Thanks for reading!