Observing session

Wednesday 2nd December 2009

With observing a literal washout due to rain in Papworth, we fully expected a much reduced turnout of Club members to the second observing evening of the year. In fact we had a good number of regulars who enjoyed an evening discussing  practical astronomy in an informal and friendly atmosphere. This was helped by the presence of Lee Sproats from Green Witch Telescopes in Dry Drayton. The world of astronomy is continually developing, with new equipment being introduced by specialist manufacturers on a regular basis. This was highlighted by some of the new products that Lee brought along from the Green Witch showroom.

New cost effective telescopes are always of interest. The Heritage 76p is a 3” mini-Dobsonian reflector specially designed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first observations together with the International Year of Astronomy. Its compact size and ease of use make it suitable for a young person to handle alone. Its decorated tube certainly looks very attractive and the optical quality will be significantly better than that of the toy telescopes being offered to the same market. In fact there was some discussion about whether such an inexpensive reflector could compete with the much more expensive refractors of the same aperture.

Lee then showed us the Heritage Explorer 130, a 130mm (approx 5½”) compact Newtonian with an innovative mechanism for collapsing the tube size for increased portability. This instrument is decorated with the names of significant astronomical figures from the past.

Telescopes are obviously the centre-piece of most practical astronomy, but it’s important to know where to look in the night sky and understand what you are seeing through the eyepiece. The practical observing books written by Stephen James O’Meara are of interest to those who want to deep sky objects from different catalogues. O’Meara has written guides to the Caldwell objects compiled by Sir Patrick Moore in addition to the well known Messier collection. We were able to browse a copy of this well illustrated book and one covering the less familiar Herschel 400 deep sky objects. To make up for not being able to see astronomical objects for ourselves that evening, we were shown books of amazing celestial photographs by amateurs; Star Vistas, by Greg Parker and Noel Carboni and Capturing the Stars by Robert Gendler.

Finally we had a demonstration of two quite different products; one was the Bresser Planetarium, an interesting educational toy that projects different vistas of the night sky onto the ceiling. The other was a Celestron LCD microscope. While not strictly astronomy related (except for meteor samples?) this was of interest to those who have peered through microscopes without the benefit of the LCD screen like the one fitted to this instrument. It provides a very clear view of what is normally seen through an eyepiece.

Although we would have liked to use the observing evening to try out our various telescopes in the Papworth night air, we had a very enjoyable and productive evening all the same!

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