In the week I was stopped by my next door neighbour, while on my way in from work, with the starting sentence “that’s a large telescope you were using last night, is it yours?”
“It is” I replied “It’s actually one of two that I have.”
“Ah I see, my son saw you out there with it the other night, but was too shy to come over and ask for a look”
“That’s no problem at all” I said “He’s welcome to come and have a look at any time. Assuming the skies are clear over the weekend, I”ll get them both out and set up, and we can do a bit of viewing”
So, Sunday evening arrives and the skies are perfectly clear. I have a group of friends with me (who also wanted to see what was going on in the skies). I set up both of my scopes, the 8″ Skywatcher 200 and the 3″ Skywatcher 102. The 102 is computer driven and this would be the first time I had used it in such a configuration since having it.
I started the evening with a small sky orientation, using the same reference points, that I use to align the 102. Vega (located in East), Arcturus (in the South West) and then pointed out Saturn (also in the South West) and Polaris (in the North) These are the main objects that I use, when I am out, as they are most familiar to me in relation to my surroundings (i.e. my garden)
The first object of interest we looked at, was Saturn. Fairly low in the South-West, just peaking above the roof top of the adjoining houses. It was particularly clear and crisp. I had the 8″ on it, with a 25mm eyepiece and 2x Barlow, so the view of the rings was pretty spectacular. The Cassini division was clearly visible, as at the current time, the rings are tilted down towards us. Saturn was the first of the planets that I ever saw through a telescope, and I am pretty sure it is what got me hooked on astronomy. It’s always a good reliable object to view for first timers, as it has that WOW factor. (Plus, at this point the Moon hadn’t risen above the horizon)
Next we moved on to play a game that I call “Red Star, Blue Star” I use this to show that stars have different colours and how this relates to physical parameters of stars. We used Vega and Arcturus for this as the colour difference between the two. I explained that blue stars, are generally large very hot yet short lived (in star terms) and that red stars are cooler, and yet live a lot longer. This then led on to the talk about stellar distances, the light year, and how astronomy is basically time travel.
After all looking at both stars, I then used the 102 to point to a number of different star clusters (M13, M92 and M5) and had a discussion about them and what they are.
The hardest question of the night, was trying to explain what would happen if gravity between binary stars stopped. Tricky because its hard to explain to a 10 year old the answer to this question, and not go into too much detail about general relativity. However I think we managed.
Finally, around 11pm the Moon made a spectacular appearance from below the horizon. Bright vibrant orange. Attention to this then took up the rest of the night. Both the 200 and the 105 were slewed to it. The 102 using a 35mm camera projection wide angle eyepiece, and the 200 the same 25mm with 2x barlow. The craters were lovely in the orange light, and made for great viewing. There were lots of images taken using iPhones by the members of the group.
Hopefully the evening of astronomy helped inspire a new generation of amateurs, and as the year goes on, hopefully I can hold another evening, when there are different objects visible.