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…