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Sunday, January 13

A successful dark sky event

We has a great observing night yesterday at the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre Dark Sky Discovery Weekend.

I arrived mid afternoon and already there was the rare sight of patches of blue sky overhead, a promising sign. After setting up  the telescope and display equipment I had taken along, and the first of many cups of tea by the log fire, it was show time! A planetarium show that is, presented in the STFC inflatable StarLab, by Alan and Wendy. An entertaining tour of the solar system with some spectacular graphics followed by a guided tour of the night sky with the planetarium.

After that I presented my own tour of "The Ten Most Amazing Places in the Solar System". By then darkness was falling and better still most of the cloud had gone. We had clear skies in every direction.

Setting up as Orion rises over Pillar

Once the sky got truly dark, and the centre lights had been turned off, the sky really came to life. Red light torches were essential as without them you could easily walk into someone. The conversations about constellations, planets, telescopes and deep sky objects were frequently interrupted by apologies, "sorry I didn't see you there!" 

My small Skywatcher 130P Dobsonian saw plenty of use 
The Lake District fells provided a fantastic 'frame' for the night sky.
Jupiter and it's moons were a favourite starting point for many, and it's always a pleasure to be able to show people a view through a telescope for the first time. The Orion nebula, The Pleiades, Beehive cluster, Andromeda galaxy and star clusters in Auriga were all well placed for viewing. The telescope and binocular views prompted many questions and explanations.

I couldn't resist a self portrait!
As the temperature dropped the hospitality of the field centre team was greatly appreciated, hot homemade soup and plenty of tea coffee and cakes were on hand. After another quick warm by the fire and a second talk to a new group of visitors (including some old friends of CAS) it was back outside to continue the observing.

There were plenty of telescopes on hand to show off the night sky objects
Observing was still going strong as I packed up to leave with the STFC team just before 11pm. Many people had booked to stay the weekend and were looking forward to getting up early to observe Saturn in the morning sky.

As I drove the 35 minutes or so back to Cockermouth, I reflected on how lucky we are to have such a great facility virtually on our doorstep. As an official Dark Sky Discovery Site it is open to the public at any time to enjoy the night sky in the beautiful setting. The team of staff and volunteers could not have been more welcoming. And it was great to see so many people attend, both locally and much fiurther afield. We should really make best use of this facility.

If you're interested the event will be repeated on the weekend of 9th and 10th February. We'll post more details on the CAS website nearer the time.

Before that though, is our own 'Stargazing in Cockermouth' event. That is this Saturday, 19th January. Starting from 1pm at the United Reformed Church Hall in Cockermouth Main Street and moving to Memorial Gardens about 7.30pm for a public observing session. I hope the weather is as good to us as it was last night.


  1. Seems like a great night to stargaze. I remember when we were a kid, we used to go up on the roof of the house and admire it from afar.

  2. I'm just reflecting, on this evening and glad I could find this post. It was incredible. I got bitten by the astronomy bug properly about 18 months ago and started casually observing from my garden near Bradford. I was so nervous about whether or not we were going to get a good sky because we'd had such oppressive cloud cover for about 12 days before hand. We stayed at the facility friday night, climbed Pilar through the day Saturday (I have an open space and depth related phobia so I was trying to confront and flood it!) and then the sky event was practically spiritual. There's so many things I wish I'd hunted for in my scope, in retrospect, but I was just so aghast at the naked eye views. Truly incredible.