The telescopes were primed, the clouds had been towed away and late night revellers were frogmarched to the eyepiece – yes it was an Eddington Society MoonWatch at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. Stuart Atkinson played a blinder with the choice of venue as we had a nice clear view of the Moon, plenty of space to set up telescopes, though not so much we were lost in the jungle and a captive audience of people milling in and out of the Brewery, most of whom had never seen the Moon through a telescope before. See his report of this event here.
This was the first time I’d taken the Celestron 130 SLT for a ride out in public with other people. At previous events I’d either left the ‘scope at home for fear of the weather or taken control of another’s telescope. Nevertheless, it, the eyepieces (25mm and 9mm) and various other bits for demonstration purposes were packed onto my person and into bags for the journey. I lumped the lot into the car and was driven and dropped off at the Brewery. The first guy I met was our Minder. He gave a half smile as he watched these strange people with their telescopes. He had mentioned to others that he wasn’t particularly keen on astronomy, though he must’ve eventually seen us as good things as he was off within quarter of an hour, leaving us to our own devices for the next two hours.
As soon as I had put the telescope together and switched on the motors, I had people at the eyepiece, my own father was firs but two more queued up behind him and by the time I’d dealt with them he and his car were long gone. The public at the event were all well mannered and excited by the prospect of looking at the Moon for themselves through a number of different telescopes. We were provided with Moon maps to point out all the main exciting features and the two that particularly stood out were the cratering at the bottom of the Moon (top of the flipped image) and the Sea of Tranquility where forty years ago this summer, the first of the Moon landings occurred.
The early crowd included a lot of families and individual children hovering about. This caused a little bit of a problem as my telescope has quite a high tripod. At first I lowered it, but then had to bring it up so I didn’t have to crouch down, then I just let parents lift (or attempt to lift) their children up to the eyepiece. There was at least one child friendly telescope in Ken Hough’s refractor, which had a low enough tripod for children to look through – though the muddy mark on his knee in the picture above does suggest one drawback.
Later on, the crowd moved on to the various people who had been drinking in the Brewery and those either waiting to watch the later music, or those waiting to perform or provide technical support to it. The latter variety produced a guy who watched and watched and watched. Of particular interest to many was the cost of a computerised Celestron 130 SLT, which comes in at around £250. A Skywatcher starter scope, of greater diameter than the 130 SLT and on an equatorial mount, comes in even cheaper, belying those who believed these things would set them back a couple of grand. Mine being a second hand one made it even cheaper, of course.
During the Moon Watch, many things were raised about the Moon and about astronomy in general. I gave a demonstration of how Venus rotating round the Sun causes it to go from being the evenning star to the morning star. I talked about how Saturn’s rings are only just too small to be seen by the naked eye and how binoculars and small telescopes will bring them out, as well as the bands of Jupiter and the phases of Venus. Lunar geology came up a lot with the formation of escarpments, the physics of crater formation (especially the little hill in the middle of the crater) the size of features, the dusty regolith of the lunar surface (and how far the Apollo 11 lander sank into it) and even the reasons behind why Apollo 11 landed where it did.
One thing I managed to do a demonstration of was taking a quick photograph of the Moon or three. This gave me a chance to show children who couldn’t reach the eyepiece what could be seen through it and others a chance to see how photographs tend to be taken. I also brought my T-adaptor with me to show the mechanics of attaching a camera to the telescope. In the early part of the evenning, I found time to add to my present Spring Moon Watch collection of Lunar shots. The shot (below) shows a flare of blue sky from the daylight still shining around at that time (around ten or twenty minutes before the Sun set).
The Moon Watch’s timing was rather set by the 100 hours of astronomy program of similar events happening globally and the Society for Popular Astronomy‘s Spring Moon Watch going on throughout the UK, both as part of the International Year of Astronomy, 2009. Nevertheless, any readers of the Times who were present may well be spooked to find mention of the Moon following them around in tomorrow’s paper. It is approaching the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landings and in an article tomorrow to promote their new book, George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt, Lucy and Stephen Hawking discuss how spaceflight has inspired humanity. Stephen Hawking also adds a little note on why he believes those who oppose manned space exploration are simply wrong.
Finally, I should give a mention to the great Eddington Astronomical Society members who brought along their own telescopes. There was a great variety from the large Meade Maksutov (a catadioptric telescope with a lens, mirror and Cassegrain focus – ie the eyepiece is out the back), my Newtonian Mounted Celestron, Stuart’s Newtonian telescope and two refracting telescopes all joining together for a peek at the Moon. The picture above has been gratuitously leeched from Stuart Atkinson’s account, but I hope he won’t mind too much as it is the only image of all the telescopes together and, on the far left with my hand in a ball showing how the Moon moves through the heavens, during a discussion on Alt-Az versus Equatorial mounts with a couple of fellow astro-enthusiasts, there is me. What better thing to end on I can’t imagine…