On 8th November Martin and Jane made welcome a small group of star-starved Londoners and gave us a dazzling guided tour of the star-spangled sky over Romney Marsh.
Martin trained his Meade 14” SCT (Schmitt Cassegrain Telescope) on a fascinating variety of deep sky objects and planets. With such a powerful telescope we were able to see the more distant planets, Uranus and Neptune, and to pick out their green and turquoise hues (respectively), as well as the closer Mars. We saw three multiple star systems: the beautiful double star systems, Albireo and Almach, with each individual star distinct and the colour difference of the individual stars in each system (blue and yellow) very noticeable; the third was Castor which appears to be a double star but is, in fact, six stars. Continuing with the theme of colour, we had a novel view of the two stars Vega and Aldebaran when we looked at their spectra. We were reminded of how very important spectroscopy has been to the pool of knowledge in astronomy – and the rainbow colours of the spectra were simply lovely to see as well. We had fabulous views of the M15 globular cluster and the Perseus double cluster. By request, Martin also pointed the ‘scope at the Pleiades open star cluster.
In between each turn at the viewfinder, we had been admiring the star-filled sky and noted how far the Pleiades seemed to travel across the sky after emerging into plain sight above a tree. There was plenty to see and discuss on top of the amazing sights through the telescope.
Our celestial tour took in the Cat’s Eye planetary nebula (nothing to do with our planets) and the four galaxies M81, M82, Andromeda and NGC7331. The viewing of M82 sparked recollections of Steve Fossey’s Flamsteed Lecture in 2015 when he described events following the discovery of a supernova in M82 (the ‘cigar galaxy’) by UCL’s observatory in Mill Hill in 2014. Sustained by hot drinks, deep interest and favourable conditions we overran our usual finish time but eventually left knowing we had seen some amazing sights.