2006-09-04

A holiday with a little bit of astronomy

Last week I was away for a few days holiday, first a few days staying in Whitby and then a couple of nights camping in Teesdale (staying at Highside Farm if anyone is looking for a good campsite in that part of the UK — great location and very friendly and helpful owners).

Before we set off I had a serious think about packing the Antares 905 but, given that the forecast wasn't looking too good and given that I wasn't that happy with the idea of keeping it in a hotel room for 4 nights, I decided against it. Instead I packed a tripod, L-mount and a 10x50 binocular.

The forecast turned out to be about right and during the whole week there wasn't a single reasonable clear night.

I did, however, manage to have some astronomy-related moments.

On the evening of the first full day in Whitby, at the top of the west cliff, I saw a chap putting out some signs for a star party later that evening. The society running it was the Whitby and District Astronomical Society. Even though the weather didn't look at all promising I couldn't ignore the fact that there was an AS event almost on the doorstep of my hotel. Later on in the evening I went along and had a chat with the chap running the event (sadly I forgot to take a note of his name). Normally, if the weather is good, they have a few members and many 'scopes at such an event but that evening they'd decided to keep it small.

Although I didn't get to look through anything (pretty much constant cloud) I did get to have a look at the equipment available and had a good chat about the problems and rewards of running an astronomical society.






The weather was a little better the following night (mostly cloudy with some reasonable gaps) so another small gathering was held and I went down again. This time it was fun to have a chat with some children who had come along with their parents to have a look at (and through) the telescopes — they also all seemed very keen to demonstrate their great understanding of astronomy my telling me that there were only eight planets in the solar system. ;)

The couple of nights spent in Teesdale passed without any clear skies at night (but lots of rain) so I didn't even manage to get the binocular out. That was a bit of a shame really given that the views looked like they might be quite good from Highside Farm.

After Teesdale it was back home and then, last Saturday, off to The National Space Center for a British Astronomical Society out-of-London meeting (dragging Bob D'Mellow along with me — he'd twisted my arm to go camping so it only seemed fair that I try and push him into astronomy a bit more <grin>); the subject for the day was Birth & Death of Stars and the Bits In-between. It was a really enjoyable day with some very enthralling talks. Given that I've recently got into some (simple) solar observing I especially appreciated the talks given by Alice Courvoisier (The Magnetic Sun), James Wild (Aurora Watch & the UK Sub-Auroral Magnetometer Network) and Graham Vernier (BiSON — Birmingham Solar Oscillation Network).

I was also very impressed with the talk given by Dr Darren Baskill (The Evolution of Cataclysmic Binaries). While the talk as a whole was very interesting (and it's rekindled a desire I've had for a while to get into observing variables) the thing that impressed me the most was his open and honest discussion about the fact that he'd done many years research on a theory regarding a particular problem with the periods of cataclysmic binaries and how, recently, all that work has been thrown into doubt. While some people might view this as a failure I (and Bob, who was with me, shared this view) saw this as a great example of science doing what science can do best: being honest about results and documenting intriguing mysteries. Even better was the fact that I got to have a brief chat with him later and he was more than happy to answer (what must have seemed to be) my rather simplistic questions. That sort of patience and desire to help never ceases to impress me.

The only real downer during the whole day (other than the less-than-ideal room with its really uncomfortable seats — give me a proper lecture hall any day) was the fact that we'd all been given free tickets for the Space Center itself but, by the time the day finished, last entry was a couple of hours in the past. Although I've been a couple of times in the last two years a quick whiz round would have been nice.

So, a week without any form of observing at all, but at least I managed to get some astronomy-related activities done.

File Under: Whitby, Teesdale, National Space Center, British Astronomical Association, BiSON.

2 comments:

Stuart said...

That would be the great British summer trying to put a dampner on things as usual ;-) One day I'm going to have to go to the National Space Centre.

Dave Pearson said...

It's well worth a visit. I'd say it's not quite as good as it could be (but don't ask me how it could be better) but, and this is important, it's nowhere near as bad as it could be.

If that makes sense?