AstroCamp 15 - Encouraging Others

I'm home!

Hello reader.  Thanks for stopping by.  I've arrived back home after another very successful camp, and unpacked in enough time to watch the rain hitting the window hard and to see the updated weather warnings being published for the coming 24 hours.  Good timing, one could say.
What's gone on and what might you have missed?  In this latest ritualistic blog post of AstroCamp, I want to record some memories of my own, and hopefully inspire others.
Once again, AstroCamp and the folks from Awesome Astronomy put together an absolute belter, and need I say, perhaps the best one for a couple of years in my opinion.  
I've put together my 5 best highlights of this camp, in no particular order.  If you were there, it would be great to hear yours too.

1 - A good old catch up.

I've forgotten how many AstroCamp events I have been to now.  Perhaps 8, 9?  10 maybe.  By now, I've come to know many familiar faces who have now come to be, what I to refer to as my Astro Family.  Such is the appeal, and the ethos of AstroCamp, it prides itself on being 'the friendly star party' and that means making new friends at every event.  I love my Astro Family.  I love catching up with people whom I don't always get to see from one camp to another, or even from one year to another.  It's the simple things that make the biggest impact, and what's simpler than sitting down with friends and chewing the fat?

2 - Sharing.

A huge part of the hobby, but in what context?  At AstroCamp 15, I had some amazing experiences.  I arrive at camp a day early, on the Friday.  The weather on the days running up to camp had been really good.  Warm, still and importantly, clear nights.  I had been out observing from home the night before camp, and knowing the forecast was due to be good for the Friday too, I couldn't wait to get to camp and set up.  It proved to be a night to remember, not only for me, but hopefully for a few others too.
As AstroCamp hadn't officially started, the site was still open to other groups and public.  As darkness fell, the dob was uncloaked and unleashed on the night sky.  This drew the attention of a few other people on the campsite, particularly a group of people on their Silver Duke of Edinburgh award.  What followed was a brilliant impromptu outreach astronomy session, during which my neighbours (Mark, Karen and Steve) and I combined forces to provide views and a tour of the night sky.  We were able to share peoples first views of a number of clusters in Hercules and Cassiopeia, and a number of nebulae including the Eastern Veil, Wester Veil, Ring and Dumbbell along with many other targets.  With the aid of some UHC filters, the nebulae really leapt out of the background sky.
The most special moment of the session though, was providing a young man called Aston, his first view of Saturn.  Saturn is visible in the early part of the evening at the moment, just after it gets dark.  It gradually falls below the horizon in the couple of hours after dark, so it was important that we could observe this target as soon as we could.  I will never forget Aston's reaction when he first saw the planet, with it's rings tilted.  I remembered my first view of Saturn being something very similar.  A truly special moment.

3 - Ride the bike.

Having turned up to camp a day early, I had a chance on Saturday to get off site, and do something a bit different.  Fellow AstroCamp attendee, Mark, brought his bike to camp with him, and we arranged to get up and going on Saturday morning.  After the brilliant weather on Friday night provided us with some superb observing opportunities, the favourable weather stayed with us all Saturday.
Cwmdu is positioned on the edge of the Black Mountains, with the Brecon Beacons a short distance away.  On days of clear blue sky, there is no where better down this end of the world.  We chose a route which would take us away from Cwmdu, over into the next valley and past Llanthony Priory before climbing up to Gospel Pass.  This was the highest point of the ride, and provides awesome views of the Wye valley and the northern edges of the Black Mountains.  Our route continues down the side of the mountains into the famous town of Hay On Wye where it was time for a spot of lunch.
Continuing on from there, we made our way over to Talgarth before being detoured off our intended route which should have taken us back to Cwmdu.  Instead, we headed for the village of Llangors, enjoying further incredible views of Pen y Fan (the highest peak in South Wales) and Llangors lake.  Eventually, we made it to Bwlch before getting back into Cwmdu.  We had cycled around 47 miles in stunning weather, through mountain passes and country lanes.  It was an absolute pleasure to share it with Mark.

This is the view that greeted us when we topped out at the top of Gospel Pass.

Me, and "King Of The Mountain", Mark taking a quick selfie opportunity after dropping down out of Gospel Pass.

Looking across the northern spurs, gullies, ridges and plateaus of the Black Mountains.
Heading from Llangors to Bwlch, the view across Llangors lake with Pen Y Fan in the background.  Photo Credit: Mark Gatehouse.

4 - Winning and losing.

Always something that features on the highlights reel of camp is the quiz at The Spiral Arms, which is the pop up pub in the local village hall.  This year, I joined forces with Mark and Karen to form a team for the quiz.  Around 35 questions make up the astronomy themed quiz.  The prizes for the quiz are always quite serious, supported by Tring Astronomy.  In previous years, prizes have included gift vouchers, binoculars, eyepieces, telescopes and a whole list of other astronomy accessories.
We started hopeful, but faded fast!  As the questions flowed, so it became apparent once again that the gaps in my astro knowledge are about as vast as the universe.  With Mark and Karen chipping in with answers, providing most of the right ones to our sum total we remained hopeful, although mid table obscurity was always going to be the expected outcome.
At the end of the quiz, answer sheets are swapped and the answers are read out, papers marked.  When we got our sheet back, it turns out we hadn't even made it out of single figures!  It looked like even mid table obscurity was perhaps too big a target to hope for.  Starting from the top scorers, prizes started being handed out.

Quiz masters Ralph and Paul at The Spiral Arms.
This year, first prize of £250 of vouchers to be shared between members of the winning team were claimed, and second place prizes of a book and some accessories were also handed out.
So, why is this such a highlight of camp for me this year?  The whole ethos of AstroCamp is down to it's friendliness, the opportunity to learn, to share knowledge and to encourage.  Our score of not even double figures meant we were well out the running of either of the top prizes.  But there was one more prize to hand out.  The so called losers beginners prize.  This is usually something which will help get the recipient into astronomy.  The way in which this prize is handed out changes from year to year, so no one can intentionally try to win the prize.  This year, Ralph and Paul decided to do it on a draw basis, taking in all the answer sheets which scored less than 10.  Ours certainly fell within that category!  The prize was announced as being a rather nice SkyWatcher 127 GoTo telescope, and though being a very nice prize, for the winner to receive, before the draw was made Karen, Mark and myself all agreed that should our answer sheet be pulled out in the draw, that between us we had no realistic use for the prize.  Moments later, our answer sheet was pulled out, and we were announced as winners.  As agreed, we declined the prize, but after a quick discussion, elected to give to a young lad, Aston, who was attending his very first camp.  To say he was pleased with it was an understatement I think.  Aston, we all hope you enjoy using your new scope, and can't wait to see you using it under the dark and crystal clear skies of Cwmdu at future AstroCamps.

Aston getting to grips with his new telescope.  Photo credit - Steve Davey
Aston couldn't wait to open up his new telescope when he got back to the campsite, so with the help of Chris, they soon had it up and running, learning what each piece did, and how it all fitted together.  In my astronomy box, I have carried around some spare 8mm eyepieces for a couple of years.  I remembered that I had them with me in camp, so I decided to give one to Aston for use with his new scope.  I couldn't think of a better new home for it, and it was a pleasure to be able to give it to him.

5 - @pilliarscreatio does Apollo

Nope, it's not a spelling mistake.  That is the Twitter handle of Apollo authority, Gavin Price.  This Autumn, AstroCamp was held during a time where the moon phase allowed observers to observe the lunar surface if they wished.  Usually, the event is timed to run with as little moonlight as possible, typically over a New Moon period.  However, this year, AstroCamp had an Apollo theme running as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the moon landings.  As part of the theme, the organisers from Awesome Astronomy invited Gavin Price to take centre stage at the Spiral Arms and give a talk on the Apollo missions.  Gavin has spent many years researching, learning, and via his very active Twitter account, educating followers of his findings about the Apollo missions.
I was fortunate enough to meet Gavin a couple of years ago at North West AstroFest.  From the outset, his enthusiasm for space travel and space history was obvious.  I started following him on Twitter, and reading his tweets.  With a current number of almost 47,000 tweets sent from his account, it gives you an idea of how much time he dedicates to the missions.
But this wasn't any old talk.  It was different for a number of reasons....

Gavin had gone a bit quiet, and his tweet explained why.  This was his first Apollo talk he'd ever given.  He started off by explaining that it was quite possibly the worst time to give a talk on the Apollo missions.  This year, the media have covered the Apollo missions in their own way to celebrate the 50th anniversary which has left people quite saturated with facts, figures, pictures and film clips of all aspects of the mission.  I must admit, I was feeling the same.  So many documentaries and articles have turned up, that I found it hard to get through them all.
However, Gavin's talk was different.  He put together a talk on based on little known facts about the missions, the people who worked on them and the effects the missions still have on space exploration to this day.
The talk was impressive.  If you get the change to listen to him at future events, please do.  When I used the word 'authority' to describe him, I don't do it lightly.  He knows his onions!  It was a pleasure to sit and listen.  Follow him on Twitter.  You'll see and learn something new every day.

Gavin taking the stage at AstroCamp.

Back Home...

They were my highlights of camp.  I've had a brilliant time yet again.  The title of this blog post is Encouraging Others.  Countless times through camp, it's something that has cropped up repeatedly.  From encouraging people to take their first views of Saturn, to encouraging people into the hobby and even clapping in fellow cyclists to the top of Gospel Pass encouraging them to keep pushing for just a few more seconds to get to the top.  I've also been encouraged.  Just having an event such as AstroCamp encourages me to get out under the sky, to make new friends and to catch up with old friends.  For me, that's what it's all about and I can't fault it.
My thanks go to all those who give up their spare time to organise camp.  I completely appreciate how much time and dedication it takes to get events off the ground, even just once.  But to do it twice a year, year after year on top of producing podcasts and everything else twice a month, it takes a special sort of dedication.  I'm very grateful.
So, as we welcome in the start of this astronomy season, I'm revived, rejuvenated and encouraged by what's around the corner.  I'm already looking forward to the next time I meet up with my astro family.  Hope to see you there.


  1. Hi Tony, I always look forward to your round-ups, and this one's a cracker. I was really gutted to have to miss out on camp this time, but fingers crossed for the next one :)

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for your comment. It's a shame you couldn't make it this time. You missed out on a good one, despite slim pickings in terms of observing opportunities. I'm already looking forward to Spring camp. I always come back from camp buzzing!

  2. Great review of a great camp - thanks!

    1. Thanks Geoff. Fingers crossed for a good autumn and winter. Then we can do it all again in Spring!

  3. Fabulous write up mate, wish i had been there

    1. We missed you, Paul. That's for sure. We'll have to make up for it in Spring, or beforehand if we can get our act together.


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