Category Archives: Isle of Wight Star Party

Isle of Wight Star Party 2013

The 2013 Isle of Wight SP, which finishes tomorrow, was held between 7th and 11th March. I had planned to stay at Brighstone again but things didn’t work out and, as it happened, it’s probably just as well as, for the first time the weather has not been kind to the star party-goers. I had to work Thursday, Friday and Monday at my temporary job, so it wasn’t worth staying there, but I did pop over on Saturday afternoon to visit and see my friends.

I took a few photos of the site, with my small Pentax bridge camera (I am currently DSLR-less because I’ve part-exchanged my 7D for a 6D, which is full frame, simply because I want to get into taking more wide angle astrophotos, landscapes and maritime shots and the 6D’s high ISO performance is supposed to be nothing short of superb. I am hoping it arrives on Tuesday).


Isle of Wight Star Party 2013

Isle of Wight Star Party 2013

Isle of Wight Star Party 2013

Isle of Wight Star Party 2013


Despite the grotty weather, people had a good time and even managed to do some limited observing through sucker holes, plus some solar observing when the sun put in the occasional appearance. I was sorry I couldn’t stay longer than the couple of hours on Saturday but there’s always next year.

Hopefully the weather will clear this week because we have a bright comet to look forward to, Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) will be visible in the west after sunset. Wednesday is looking good and I hope the new camera has arrived by then.

Winter lasts as long as winter lasts, but this winter seems to have been interminable, probably because 2012’s summer was so poor, and there have been no real opportunities to observe. I hope 2013 will be much better. We can hope, anyway.

2012 – The Year That Was(n’t much)

2012 was a very poor year for me personally, from an astronomy point of view.

Highlights were the IoW Star Party in late March. As usual this was a superb event and we were rewarded with quite a bit of observing time. Also the Texas Star Party, my fourth, in late April. Every single night was clear right through, if cold, and I did more observing that week than I did all year. I managed to do most of the Astronomical League’s Globular Cluster program during TSP, using a 10″ Orion dob I borrowed from San Antonio Astronomy Association. More importantly, though, I caught up with my friends, which is more of a reason to go to TSP than just the observing.

Lowlights – well, 2012 was completely rotten as the weather took a turn for the worse in April and stayed that way. Next time a water company official or a government minister states we need rain and asks for water measures to be put in place, will someone please gag the twat?

The deaths of Sir Bernard Lovell and Neil Armstrong, in August, and Sir Patrick Moore, in December, meant it was a particularly bad year in that respect, too. On a more personal note, I was sad to hear of the passing of John W. Smith, one of the founding and most long-standing members of Vectis Astronomical Society. Although he was more into astrophotography, John was an influence on me in my first years in astronomy and he will be sadly missed by everyone at VAS.

I also got made redundant, with no sign of anything new on the horizon as yet, so I am hoping 2013 will be a better year!



Isle of Wight Star Party

Registration for the 4th Isle of Wight Star Party opens on Monday, 17th December. The 2011 star party dates are 3rd to 7th March inclusive. So, if you’re a serious observer or – dare I say it?! – imager, and fancy a few days in a picturesque place with dark – and hopefully clear – skies, then you’re welcome to register and join in.
I’ve already bagged a room, no freezing in a tent this year.

IWSP – observing

Here on the Isle of Wight we are fortunate in that we have a southerly aspect with unobstructed and un-lightpolluted views out over the English Channel, from the island’s south coast where the star party is held. The only source of light pollution are passing ships and the light houses at St Catherines Point and Portland Bill (unlike the north east part of the island which is as light polluted as anywhere on the UK mainland).
This year’s IW Star Party had a mix of cloud and clear spells, on the nights I was there, Friday and Saturday. Friday night was clear for an hour, then the weather closed in again and it rained for the rest of the night. Saturday was a lot better, giving us a good couple of hours and what I hear about Sunday was that it was clear for the most part, but I had to miss it because of having to be at work on Monday morning.
I was fortunate enough to share Owen Brazell’s 20 inch Obsession, as well as take peeks though other people’s scopes including a rather nice Orion Optics UK 14 inch Dob (which has a same length, but lighter, tube than my 12″), here are the observations all made with the 20 inch. These aren’t in order, as I was scribbling the notes down on Post-it notes, a pad of which happened to be in my pocket – unlike a notebook – and they got mixed up.

Date: 13th March 2010
Conditions: chilly, cold breeze, some high cloud. No Moon.
NELM: 6.3
Seeing: Ant I-II
Instrument: 20 inch f5 Obsession Dobsonian, 21mm Televue Ethos, 13mm Televue Ethos, 8mm Televue Ethos and OIII filter.
M42 in Orion: I’ve seen this in every instrument I have looked through but this was the best view I have ever had. So much detail, wisps, tendrils, dark areas…and the Trapezium was as detailed as ever I’ve seen it. You could clearly see the hole, caused by the young stars blowing the gas away from their surroundings. The E and F components were easily seen, as were much fainter stars in the nebulosity immediately surrounding the Trapezium.
Jonckheere 900, planetary nebula in Gemini: Small, round and fuzzy. Quite bright. 318x + OIII
Jonckheere 320, planetary nebula in Orion: I have tried for this with my 12 inch from home without success. In the 20 inch it is small, not quite stellar, round and has a fuzzy appearance, this fuzziness preventing it appearing stellar. 318x + OIII
B33/IC 434 (Horsehead Nebula) in Orion: At last! I have made numerous attempts to see this, with no success. However, I suggested to Owen that we have a crack at this, so he put the 13mm Ethos and a HBeta filter in and we saw it comparatively easily. B33 (the Horsehead) stood out against IC434, as a large, dark, semicircular area cutting into the ribbon of IC434. With averted vision, we could just make out the horse’s nose. For me, this was the observation – and the highlight – of the weekend. 120x
Abell 21 (aka Medusa Nebula) planetary nebula in Gemini: Eastern side is the brighter and is crescent shaped, in fact almost triangular. There is also some nebulosity on the western side. (Magnification unknown) + OIII
NGC 2022, planetary nebula in Orion: Oval, bright and slightly darker in middle. 318x + OIII.
NGC 2683, galaxy in Lynx: Large, bright edge-on spiral. Brightens beautifully towards centre.
NGC 2371-2, planetary nebula in Gemini. This is a very interesting planetary, consisting of two lobes, the western lobe being the brighter of the two. It does look like its nickname of the ‘peanut’ nebula, especially at low power. 318x + OIII
NGC 3242, (nickname Ghost of Jupiter) planetary nebula in Hydra: Very bright, oval with brighter middle. 318x + OIII
The clouds rolled in again just after midnight, so after a talk, I headed back to my tent (although I ended up abandoning it due to the cold!). It was a short, but good, session and the undoubted highlight was seeing the Horsehead Nebula for the first time as well as M42 in such incredible detail.

The 2010 Isle of Wight Star Party – hypothermia and the Horsehead

I have just returned from the 3rd IWSP and, while it was an enjoyable event, I have decided that camping in March is a Bad Idea. Never, in my entire life, have I been so cold so, next year, I will get a chalet instead. Because it was so cold, I ended up sleeping on someone’s chalet floor (thanks Iain!)!
One corner of the star party site, showing the kitchen (self catering), the dining room area (left) and various attendees.

Some of the chalets

The Island coastline, looking south-east, seen from the campsite.

Looking south, over the English Channel. There’s nothing between here and France except sea, the only light pollution comes from ships, such as the container ship heading down the Channel from Southampton seen in the distance.

The star party began on Thursday, but as I was stuck in my temp job until lunchtime Friday I didn’t get there until late Friday afternoon. After going home and packing my stuff into the car I went to Brighstone via the VAS Observatory at Newchurch, which was hosting an open day for star party attendees. On leaving the observatory, the heavens opened and it was torrential rain for the next ten miles to the star party site – not a good omen. I put up my tent, amid much swearing – and with help from fellow star party attendee Richie Jarvis – in rain and wind, and wondering just what the hell I was doing.
On check in at reception I had been told that I was doing a talk and that it was on the Texas Star Party and that I was doing it that evening at eight o’clock. There’s nothing like being well prepared to do a talk and I wasn’t, but fortunately I had brought my remaining working laptop with me which, even more fortunately, had a load of hitherto-forgotten photos on it – including a bunch of ones from TSP 2006. With the help of Power Point I managed to cobble something together, gave the talk and it went down well, initial technical issues with my slow old laptop and the projector aside.
During my talk, it had cleared so we all got ready and went outside. We got an hour in before clouds rolled in again and I spent most of it observing with Owen Brazell and his beautiful 20″ Obsession. I also took peeks through a 14″ Orion Optics (UK) dob and a 12″ Skywatcher dob.
The sky closed on us and we went back inside for a talk by Owen on observing galaxy clusters, which was a very interesting talk, as this is a subject I am very interested in, galaxies being my favourite deep sky targets. Once Owen’s talk was complete we looked out but the sky remained obstinately shut so I headed off to my tent. This is where things started to go a bit pear shaped. I am not much of a camper but, so I thought, I’d brought enough blankets, sleeping bags and clothes that I would not go cold. By 2 am I was very cold and decidedly not happy. I got out of the tent and went over to the kitchen, where other party goers were gathered: ‘Fuck camping, I’m freezing!’ were, as I recall, my exact words – in fact, I was so cold I was considering gathering my valuables, putting them in my car and heading home but Richie lent me a cable and Iain Melville lent me a fan heater and I spent the rest of the night a much warmer and happier person, lying in my tent and listening to the patter of rain on the fly sheet.
The next morning, Saturday, dawned sunnier and much more pleasant. The wind was cold but, out of it in the sun, it was reasonably warm. The vendors set up, although, there was nothing I needed, and there was an astro-jumble where we could sell any unwanted items. Owen Brazell had a selection of TeleVue eyepieces he no longer needed, including a 16mm Type 2 Nagler. I didn’t buy the Nagler (beaten to it by Iain) but I did bag a lovely 22mm Panoptic which has now joined my other eyepieces, snug in their case. It’s made my 25mm TeleVue Plossl redundant, so I am going to have to find a home for it. I am looking forward to trying out the new arrival!
The afternoon was spent sitting around and periodically checking the football results online, via BlackBerries, iPhones and laptops. Among the amateur astronomers gathered were a QPR fan, a Spurs fan, a Southampton fan (me – and I am pleased to say Saints beat Leeds 1-0), a Crystal Palace fan and fans of various other clubs. People were also checking the Six Nations rugby scores (England could only manage an abject 15-15 draw against Scotland) and the Formula One Grand Prix qualifying session in Bahrain.
A couple of people were observing the sun, with a Coronado and a Lunt solar telescope. The Sun had some spots and the most spectacular prominence which later detatched. I tried taking a photo through the Coronado’s eyepiece, with mixed results. I couldn’t get the prominence but did get the spots and granulation (click for larger photo).
There was a spectacular sunset, which promised at least some observing the coming night:
After dinner, we got ready and uncovered the scopes. I am going to put the observations in a separate post, but I again joined Owen and the 20″ and we looked at both the bright and famous as well as the faint and obscure. I suggested we have a crack at the Horsehead Nebula, something I have never seen, despite several attempts. We indeed saw B33 and the bright nebula it is in front of, IC 434. If it wasn’t for IC 434, B33 would be invisible as it is highlighted against the ‘bright’ nebulosity of IC 434. Once I got my eye in, the shape was obvious and, after a minute or two of looking, could just about make out the horse’s nose as well as the rest of the head. This was even better than Saints beating Leeds and was, for me, the observing highlight of the evening.
Other highlights included Abell 21, Jonckheere 320, Jonckheere 900, M42 (which was absolutely spectacular in the 20″), M82 and the Trio in Leo.
The Obsession 20″
and an Orion Optics UK 14″ Dob.

After about three hours, the weather decided that it was going to be a pain again and shut us down. After listening to a late talk by Richie, we looked outside again, but the sky was so bad it wasn’t worth the bother, so I headed to my tent. It was then that a mini-disaster struck, as the fan heater I was lent decided not to work anymore. By then I was cold and I certainly wasn’t going to shiver in my tent all night so I found Iain and told him that his heater was either buggered or I was doing something wrong. Iain declared it ‘buggered’ as it was quite old and told me to get my sleeping bag, etc, and doss on the chalet floor. So, I fetched my valuables, sleeping bag and mattress from the tent and spent what was left of the night on the floor which was warm and pleasant after the tent.
After the raffle I decided to pack my car and head home. I would have liked to stay on, but work on Monday morning and the horror of the tent made it not possible so, after farewells, I came home. Between Wroxall and Whitely Bank I had a brief moment of confusion when I tried to remember where I was. I think that mild hypothermia and sleep deprivation were the cause of this and I am glad I got home in one piece.
It was a good star party, although my ‘domestic arrangements’ were a disaster with the conditions being so cold the tent was untenable. Next year, I will get a chalet. If it hadn’t been for Iain helping me out, I’d have packed in and gone home on Friday, as I had mild hypothermia and was not a happy person. Also, the communal shower area was hideous. It wasn’t dirty, but it was freezing, the stone-tiled floor was horribly cold on feet, painfully so, and the shower was uncontrollable – but at least it was hot, rather than freezing.

And, why do I never do anything in raffles? But the raffle was still worth attending, just for Owen’s reaction to winning a Revelation eyepiece set! It was negative, but hilarious.

On the upside, when it was clear, the observing was good, and I managed to bag the Horsehead for the first time. There’s no substitute for aperture and good, dark skies, and it shows. I now have aperture fever and am wondering how long it will be before I can afford a 20″ of my own – I hope that by the time I have saved £4000 David Lukehurst is still making his big scopes.
I will make a separate post about the observing and put it up tomorrow.

Yuck, murky conditions indeed

Clear skies were forecast for this evening so, wanting to get a bit of observing in before the Moon rose, I grabbed the binocs and headed outside, hoping to knock off some of the rest of my AL Binocular Deep Sky objects. Once my eyes had adapted it quickly became very apparent that I wasn’t going to be doing much – the conditions were terrible with a high thin veil over the stars.

It is supposed to clear later on, but the moon is one day past full and is 98% of full, and was already washing out the sky it’s not worth the bother, I’ll just go to bed instead. I am just pleased I didn’t lug out the 12 inch.

It’s the Isle of Wight Star Party next week. I am looking forward to this, no matter what the weather may bring. I had intended to go to and from home and the holiday camp in Brighstone but what I might do instead is take my tent, brave the cold and camp there as I don’t think I can be arsed to drive between there and home. I have managed to get next Friday afternoon off work so I can come home, get my stuff and head over there and not have to go over in the dark.


I haven’t gone away, I am still here. However, since getting off to a flying start 2010’s observing has taken a nosedive, with endless crap weather and almost constant cloud cover. We did have three clear(ish) nights at the end of January, but these were – typically – around a Full Moon, so I didn’t bother. I haven’t even seen Mars this opposition.
Like other amateurs, I am hoping that the coming spring will bring clear skies and galaxies.

I got my registration confirmation for TSP a couple of weeks ago. It’s looking likely that I’ll be there but that’s subject to an upcoming temporary work contract which begins on 15th February. If that falls through and I can’t get anything else, I’ll have to give TSP a miss. My fingers are crossed that all will be well, though
In the meantime, we have the now annual Isle of Wight Star Party to look forward to in March, from Thursday 11th to Monday 15th March. I am a volunteer for this event, so I’ll be there from the Friday night until the Sunday evening. Obviously, I hope we have good weather for this, not only for the – hopefully lengthy – observing sessions, but because I am camping and don’t fancy it if the weather’s unpleasant.

2nd Isle of Wight Star Party, 26-30th March 09

It was the second Isle of Wight Star party last week. I could only get there for the early part of Saturday night as I had to be up and out early Sunday morning, but the weather was great. It was mostly clear, if cold and windy. I spent my limited time there observing with Owen Brazell and his new 15″ Obsession UC which is a super scope (I want one, I can’t afford one, especially as the exchange rate is now so bad; thanks in part to the Americans, the banks and HM Government f***ing up the economy between them).
We observed (well, ‘looked at’ is probably a more accurate description) some bright lollipops: M42, M78, M43, M51, Thor’s Helmet (which was partially obscured by cloud) and Hubble’s Variable Nebula. HVN was incredibly bright through the 15″ and one side the right side (as we were looking at it, with the ‘head’ at the top) much brighter than the left. Fan shaped. A fascinating object.
By this time I had to leave and get home as I had an early start Sunday and the clocks were going forward (why can’t they leave them alone? There’s nothing wrong with GMT that a little education of the thicker sections of the public who think that BST gets us, magically somehow, extra daylight, can’t cure.)

The 2nd IW Star Party was an outstanding success, with all four nights being clear, unlike the washout of last year. Hopefully this bodes well for the future.

IW Star Party Part 1

Friday: I finished work earlier than I thought so I headed off to the merry gathering at Brighstone Holiday Camp. When I got there it was less peopled than the Marie Celeste due to the fact they were all at the observatory at Winford (just down the road from home). Anyway I had a wander round and looked at the dangerously close cliff edge and the chalets that had been abandoned due to severe erosion. The whole Island is prone to erosion but the south-west side is worst affected of all. Basically it is greensand sandstone that sits on top of Gault clay. The rain percolates through the sandstone but as the clay is not porous the whole lot is prone to slippage, with disastrous results – many places that were once miles inland are now teetering on the edge.

Huts teetering on the edge.

View of the camp site, looking north

View looking east-south-east, back towards Chale.

VAS member Bill Johnston’s Celestron C14

As it looked like it was going to be clear, I drove home, picked up my stuff and drove back; Radio Solent’s weather forecast was excellent, promising clear skies and a frost. When I got back to Brighstone, Owen Brazell was setting up his gorgeous Obsession 20″ Dobsonian and others were getting their gear ready as well. Dusk was falling and it was looking reasonably good.

Unfortunately this state of affairs did not last long. A threatening bank of cloud in the north-west decided to make its presence felt and soon blanketed the sky. Soon all observing was being done through sucker holes that kept opening and closing aound Orion, Canis Major and Monoceros. I managed to get a look at NGC 2359, known as ‘Thor’s Helmet’ in Canis Major, through Owen’s Obsession. This is a comparatively bright nebula and, visually, looks more like a referee’s whistle more than a Viking helmet.
Of course, the scopes were more engaged looking at the lollipops, because the conditions were no good for serious deep sky observing and, naturally, Orion’s famous M42, the Great Nebula, was a main feature. This showed superb detail though a Meade 10″ and even more so through the 20″ with a UHC filter attached, with filaments and extended nebulosity. You could easily see the structure that 18th and 19th century observers such as the Herschels and Lord Rosse drew and described, with the hatched structure very evident. I’d never seen this structure visually and had always thought the old drawings a little fanciful – but not any more!

Soon the sky was a complete cloud out and, as I’d had to be up that morning at stupid-o’clock to go to work, I packed up and drove home at 9pm.

It was a good fun evening and, despite the limited observing, was full of conversation and happy faces. I hope our little Isle of Wight Star Party grows and grows. It has a bright future, despite the iffy weather.

More to follow…

Isle of Wight Star Party in March

In three weeks the inaugural Isle of Wight Star Party will be underway. It runs for four nights from 6th – 10th March and is being organised by Vectis Astronomical Society. It is not a public outreach event, so is not being advertised in the mainstream press. Outreach events are all very well, and VAS does plenty of these, but it is good to have events run by astronomers for astronomers with some serious observing without interruption. I just hope the weather co-operates and we can have plenty of fun and observing!

So far we have got 35 people coming, with more likely to book nearer the time. If you are interested click the link at the top of this post for full details.
Of course, I’ll be there for a couple of days and nights at least, so photos will appear here.