Saturday, May 13, 2006
Comet watching (nearly)
We only just made it for 8pm, and then we had a little explore around and met up with Pete and Ali, who'd come up from Eastborne in Pete's Frazer Nash- a very fun way to travel! We had a lecture from Dr Brian Hunter of Queens University Canada, who works at the Castle next door, about comets in general and this one in particular. And then in the lowering gloom, we were told that the telescopes were working (including the one with the moving floor!), and we could go and take a look.
However, sadly the weather was closing in a tiny bit, and high altitude ice crytals were making viewing of the comet unlikely. Indeed, once back outside there was a beautiful and very obvious halo around the moon, never a good signfor an astronomer.
So rather than see the comet we saw Jupiter and Saturn and the Moon through the various instruments, but this was perhaps a bonus. Large planets display a most alluring amount of detail when seen through these large telescopes- Jupiter's bands and moons, and Saturn's rings were all clearly visible, at a range of brigtnesses and resolutions. In spite of the fact that most of the kit at Herstmonceux had not been designed for visual use (most were designed with complex scientific analysis of light in mind, or accurate measurement of angular distance) the evening proved quite magical.
For me the highhlight was to be in the dome of the 26inch Thompson Telescope as the floor descended at the conclusion of viewing- the wood panel walls slid smoothly upward with the scope itself as we and all the other viewers sank back down to floor level- a quite bizarre and dreamlike end to a very weird and wonderful evening.
Many many thanks to the staff and volunteers for a great evening. We'll be back for the meteor barbeque!