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Lunar Eclipse Observing Session 2007

Rather than the standard report, it was decided that those who attended the observing session should have their say. Eighteen SIGMA members were joined on the evening by at least 45 members of the public, who gathered to watch the spectacle unfold. Gloriously clear skies and the relatively mild conditions made for a fantastic evening.

From Karen Cox
A big thank you to all of you for coming along and supporting SIGMA tonight. To those of you who brought along telescopes, your input tonight was invaluable!! I don't think anybody left without having seen Saturn or the Orion Nebula and they were certainly extremely impressed with everything they had seen!

To those of you with the "knowledge". Your patience and time was certainly enjoyed, especially by the Gordonstoun crowd - I think they all went away with a great memory.

Gordon, a personal thank you for the loan of your lens - I will email some of my results to you later on. I certainly wouldn't have been able to capture the moon at all tonight if it hadn't been for your generosity, so thank you very much.

Stan and Moira!! What can we say ..... a constant supply of tea, coffee and hot dogs! How many astronomy clubs can boast those kind of facilities on their observing nights. I don't think thank you quite covers it, but I will say it again, thank you!!

What a night, so who ever booked the weather, thank you to them too!

I think we made SIGMA history tonight folks and I feel honoured to have been part of it. I know Christopher managed some Messier bagging and that Stan had a telescopic breakthrough tonight too, so it seems the night was a success on so many levels!!

And Bill, thank you for all your hard working in making sure the press and the public knew about the event. If I have missed anyone out, I apologise, my brain cells are still defrosting! Here's to the next one!


From Bill Leslie
That was an astonishing night. I would love to see stars and planets pop out in a daytime sky at a total solar eclipse but I didn't dream for a second that we would see so many faint stars around the Moon or that the sky would become so dark.

During totality, the skies at Birnie looked like they do on a clear Moonless night. Orion went from having a dim outline in a washed out sky to being a sparkling giant and the skies in the north were transformed. M31 became a naked eye object and the Double Cluster and Beehive Cluster further east, both looked enormous. The biggest surprise of all was the way that deep sky objects suddenly became possible to see. Stradders and I talked on Friday night about how we were looking forward to seeing the effect of the eclipse on these faint fuzzies but it was astonishing. People were "bagging" Messier objects they had never seen before and I managed to pick out some of the really faint ones in Virgo. Best of all, I managed to see the two sets of three galaxies in Leo and they were just a few degrees from the Moon!!

It was a fantastic night, a great turn out from the club members and the best atmosphere we have ever had at a public observing sessions. The families who came along all had a ball, the kids had a great time and the Gordonstoun pupils were a credit to their school. Everyone who turned up made a huge contribution to making SIGMA's profile even bigger and better. I'm sure the club will benefit enormously in the long term. And hot dogs as well, thank you Stan and Moira.


From Jean Stocks
I echo your sentiments entirely Karen, what a super night, everyone was so kind and helpful.

Thanks to Bill, Chris and Ian, I now have a long list of M numbers in my book and what a tremendous view of Saturn, thanks Stan.

Tea and coffee was also much appreciated.

It was great to see the children enjoying themselves so much, and so well behaved. Maybe a future Astronomer amongst them thanks to SIGMA. Looking forward to the next one.


From Chris Stradling
Dear SIGMA Members.

Firstly can I say a BIG thank you to Karen and Bill for there efforts in organising the Bothy viewing session on Saturday night. Anyone who would rather spend there 40th birthday freezing in a field in the middle of nowhere, rather than going to for a celebratory meal with their family must surely need there bumps feeling, but thanks anyway Karen.

As observing sessions go I heartily endorse the comments of the others who have added to this post by saying that the whole evening was an experience not to be missed and the atmosphere of friendliness and comradeship amongst the SIGMA members who were there was a pleasure to be a part of.

My experience of the evening actually started on Friday morning when under perfectly clear skies, I dragged my telescope out of the garage, cleaned off the 2 months worth of dust that had accumulated and then carefully packed it into the boot of my car ready for an evening of viewing at the Bothy after another excellent meeting at Thomshill. Even the weather forecast gave me hope of things to come. However, as I drove into Thomshill and was greeted with thick cloud, cold winds and torrential rain I knew that it was not going to be. However, the evening was not completely ruined. Thanks Bill for another outstanding talk. As usual, the Views from the Croft and Space News were both up to the expected standard. I now even know where the Mo Jaiv Desert is!!!

Saturday evening started at around 7:15PM when I arrived at the airfield. Despite Bills very kind offer of help in trying to set up my Lightbridge (which I politely declined) I was still fully operational (including a full collimation) by 7:30PM. With the full moon it was very difficult to get a good view on all but the most obvious of targets, although Saturn did show up pretty well. Throughout the night Chris (topher) and I battled to see who could find the most moons, the highest estimate being 8. However,  in retrospect (and having looked at Starry Night on Sunday) I think the most we actually saw was 5. Even Andromeda (M31) was pretty difficult to see but the Orion Nebula was okay. Venus gave us the usual treat but unfortunately it disappeared below the horizon before most of the public made it to the airfield.

From about 8:00PM a steady stream of people made there way to the site and were given a chance to view some of the objects on view. Unfortunately the penumbra, which was due to start around 8:15PM, was not easily visible. However, the umbra, which started at about 9:30 was, and it gave everyone gathered the opportunity to watch the eclipse unfold and also to let there eyes acclimatise to the growing darkness. It was then that the true benefit of a dark site like Easterton Airfield comes into its own. More objects hove into view and by totality, which occurred about 10:45PM, the sky was bristling with M numbers. Easily visible was M31, 32 and M101. Also found was M81 and 82 (despite being almost perfectly overhead. It's not easy to get a Dobsonian to move the right amount and in the right direction when it is almost totally vertical). A challenge was then given by Bill to try and find M51, which at 37 million light years away is now far and away (no pun intended) the furthest object I have seen. Also spotted was M101, which was very faint but worth the effort. Stan managed to find M1, which looked stunning and after a brief search (and a fair amount of help from Bill), M3 was added to the list. All found without the aid of any kind of computerised star-finder systems. The only 'Goto' system on a Lightbridge is the clown behind the eyepiece.

However, the real star of the evening was undoubtedly the Moon. The deep copper red colour looked amazing, and almost seemed to float out of the sky when you looked at it close up. I also found that even the view through a pair of 10x50 binoculars was spectacular. Both Karen and Pete managed to get several pictures and Alan's picture, that now graces the front page of the SIGMA Website, is stunning. However, without a doubt the best picture I have seen yet was taken in Port Ellen on Islay by Eric Walker of HAS.

To be part of such a great evening was a real thrill. Not just to be able to witness with such clarity a total Lunar Eclipse, but also to help so many people see things that they have previously only ever heard about and to be able to share in their joy and wonderment as they view Saturn, Pleiades, Andromeda or the Orion Nebula for the first time was truly special. The comments, questions and thanks from them all made the whole evening worthwhile. Without doubt the most enthusiastic viewers were the party from Gordonstoun, although I did spend some time chatting to 2 guys who had travelled all the way from Inverness just to come to the Bothy (on a Saturday!!!). That has to be one in the eye for HAS.

Who could ask for more? A perfect night, a total Lunar Eclipse, an appreciative crowd, a cheese and watercress sandwich and a cup of awful coffee. Sorry Stan, I never did get to try a cup of coffee or one of your famous Hot Dogs, although I do know that the crowd of children from Gordonstoun who were eating them as I was showing them round the sky were very appreciative.

As a very amateur astronomer I am slowly growing in confidence and the list of M numbers in my collection is growing with every outing. I do also get comfort (and a small smile of achievement) from being able to study a star chart, drag out my Lightbridge and then find what I am looking for reasonably quickly. It was also nice to see (although not in a smug way) the guys with the 'goto' having a few problems with alignment. I have been really pleased with my Dobsonian and I have seen some amazing sights, all found through patience, study and probably quite a lot of luck. If anyone is interested in buying a telescope in the near future, I would strongly recommend you steer clear of the computerised GOTO 'scopes' initially, get your self a good star chart and a reflector. I believe that the benefits of learning your way around the sky, rather than just programming your target into a mini computer, far out way the initial difficulties of finding interesting stuff to look at.

Unfortunately I will not be able to make the Messier Marathon in March as I am in Edinburgh but I wish those that attend all the very best for a successful evening. To those that attended the viewing last Saturday I would like to pass on my thanks once again for being a part of such a fantastic night. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was quite sad to leave.

Lunar eclipse
Lunar eclipse

More images can be see on our Flickr pages