Spacey things wot I did from yesterday

There were two spacey things going on yesterday for me. The first involved hauling a rickety telescope over to Kendal Museum along with a load of cereal boxes – and then hauling them all back home later. The other involved standing alone in a field with a camera uttering oaths at Kendal Fell and the trees that crown it. Neither of these things should be thought of as unusual or out of character.

First up was Space Explorers, the young (9-16 years) space/astronomy class held at Kendal Museum once a month – third Saturday at 2:30pm-4pm, costing £3 a session, next session July 17th. This month’s topic was the Sun, and what does the Sun produce, lots of light. I took along a telescope to project the disc of the Sun and explain how to observe safely. I also took along some boxes with which to make CD spectrometers, but that ended up being shunted to next month due to the amount of other activities that were available (it joins a gravity experiment from last month also shunted over).

The session began with Stuart Atkinson‘s news notes and then moved onto a quick quiz about how many types of energy are ultimately derived from the Sun. There was some discussion and pictures about sun spots and the solar activity cycle. Continuing with the creating a model solar system theme, we then had the kids sculpt solar prominences using polyfiller and some polystyrene balls.

After all that, we moved outside into the garden where the Sun was putting in an occasional and rare appearance. The telescope was set up and the Sun projected in white light. Unlike midweek, there were no sunspots available, but it was a rare opportunity to see a telescope in action and a discussion of solar astronomy. Then we moved on to a copy of the local paper and a magnifying glass. After I had demonstrated how to set fire to it, the kids took over and some poor guy whose photo adorned the uppermost page suddenly started to lose eyes and teeth while gaining a toothbrush mustache thanks to some rather chillingly accurate burning…

Roughly twelve hours later, I had given up on comet hunting for the night as the nearly midsummer twilight bit out a substantial chunk of the sky. Jupiter was rising nice and relatively early, but I hadn’t seen a single hint of NLCs. But a text from Stuart Atkinson soon revealed why. The things were hiding in the North West.

My home and my observing sites are on the western side of the north-south running valley that gives Kendal its name. This, and the peculiarly badly placed outcrop of rock called Kendal Fell, means that I have a poor western horizon and a very poor northwestern horizon. The reason I hadn’t seen the NLC was they were hidden behind other stuff.

Positioning myself in the extreme south-east of Castle Howe, I managed to catch the billows and tendrils of the NLCs in one or two snaps, while Stuart Atkinson, from his more central and more level position on Castle Hill (Castle Parr, or Kendal Castle, the newer one) in the middle of the valley, captured a much better view.

But one thing we both saw was the beauty of that particular night. It was one of those nights when people had been off work and enjoying the sunshine and were now returning home after enjoying themselves under a crystal clear canopy dotted with stars. The midsummer twilight kept the north ablaze with colours, like a sunset that instead of fading, simply moved its way from the west to the east and brightened once again. It may have meant I missed the comet, and will do for a few nights yet however much it brightens, but I still got a lovely night with a stunningly colourfull and very drawn out sunrise.

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