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Friday, September 1

CAS Observing Evenings - FAQ

When do they take place?

Observing evenings are held every month during the 'dark months'. That means we don't bother meeting during the summer when it doesn't get dark until very late. The evenings are planned for two nights in the diary, however we only meet on one of them.

In order to give us the best chance of observing under a clear sky we aim to meet on the first date, but if it's cloudy we meet on the following night.

The dates of the sessions are in the CAS Programme and are generally planned around the weekend before the new moon. This gives us the best chance of observing under dark skies without the moon causing a distraction.

Where do they take place?

At the moment our observing nights are at the entrance to Big Wood, near Higham. That about a 10 minute drive from the centre of Cockermouth. You can find a map and directions here .

Do I need to have a telescope to come to an observing evening?

No. We always stress that you don't need a telescope to look at the night sky. Our aim is that observing evenings are a social event and a chance for people to discuss astronomy and learn from each other. If you haven't got a telescope there will be plenty of people who have got one and will be only too happy to show you.

Please ask before you touch someone else's telescope. Set ups can be different for each scope, and someone may be in the middle of taking a photograph or something, even if it looks as if no-one is using the scope.

If you do have a telescope, but haven't had much success using it, don't be afraid to bring it along. You'd be surprised how many people struggle to find objects in their new telescope, you are not alone. Bring it along and someone will be happy to give you advice on setting it up, and finding your way around with it.

What equipment do I need to bring ?

The main essentials are warm clothing and perhaps a warm drink and something to eat. No matter how warm it may have been during the day and what the weather forecast says, if you are stood under a clear dark sky for several hours it will be COLD ! We don't want any hyperthermia cases on our hands.

It will be dark, so you may be tempted to bring a torch. If you do, please make sure it gives out a red light. It takes about 20-30 mins for the human eye to become 'dark adapted' for optimum viewing. A white light will cause you (and others) to lose that dark adaption. Using a red light avoids that, while allowing you to avoid obstacles and read star charts etc. You can buy special red light torches, but just cover a standard torch with some red plastic and tape it on to get the same effect.

How long will observing sessions last ?

That all depends on the weather, and perhaps most importantly how cold it is ! Normally people start to drift away around 11pm and only a few hardy souls make it past midnight. On a particularly clear night with plenty to see things may carry on into the small hours, but don't feel obliged to stay to the end if you'd rather be in bed.

How do I know if the session is on or not ?

Generally if it's completely cloudy then the session will not be on. Check the CAS News blog for an update on the evening. Or just turn up and see if anyone's there!

Am a complete beginner. What do I need to know before I come along?

There is no 'required level'. There will always be more experienced people that you can learn from, and you'll probably know more than you think anyway. It really is just a case of turning up, introducing yourself, and enjoying the view.

Etiquette for observing evenings

We don't have strict rules for observing sessions and keep things very informal. However a few common sense points of etiquette will help things run smoothly;

  • Ask before you use someone someone else's telescope.
  • Don't shine bright lights around where people are observing.
  • If you are arriving late or leaving early, try to avoid car headlight beams shining where people are observing.
Safety tips

Astronomy is not a dangerous sport, but there are a few things to remember;
  • It will be dark at the site and there will be plenty of things to trip over; telescope tripods, cables, storage boxes, carrying cases etc. Take care to avoid obstacles and try and leave space between telescope set ups if you can.
  • It will be cold. Make sure you dress appropriately.
  • If you unsure about anything, just ask. There are plenty of people there to help.

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