November 2006 Public Observing Session

Our two public observing sessions on 17th and 18th November were timed to coincide with the peak of the Leonid meteor shower, but didn’t exactly go to plan.

On the Friday, the snow arrived from the south west around 5pm so that was the end of that night although the skies did clear after around 10.30pm and some SIGMA members managed to catch a glimpse of a few meteors.

Saturday was a beautiful day… until around 4pm when the cloud began to roll in but as the forecast suggested that the skies would clear later on in the evening, we decided to go ahead. The skies had cleared again by the time we arrived at the Gliding Club and it looked really promising. Around 20 members and friends rolled up and we had about seven telescopes on duty. It was a bit chilly but a slight breeze kept the frost at bay.

It didn’t take long for the cloud to roll in again and we spent the rest of the evening chasing clear patches in the sky. Ironically for November, the clearest part of the sky was in and around the Summer Triangle so the most looked at objects of the night were the double star Albireo, the Ring Nebula and the Dumbbell Nebula. While we had a clear patch in the north, Alcor and Mizar put on a good display along with the galaxies M81 and M82. The famous Whirlpool galaxy was only just visible in the glow above Elgin.

A few sporadic meteors were spotted, some of them quite bright but none of them were Leonids as they were seen before the radiant cleared the horizon at 10pm.

A few more gaps in the clouds gave us a chance for a quick glimpse of M31, the Andromeda galaxy, and one of its satellites, M32.
Fleeting glimpses of the globular clusters, M15 in Pegasus and M2 in Aquarius were snatched, with some people seeing these gems for the first time.

Press and Journal reporter, Sarah Rollo and photographer Ed Jones came along to see what we were up to. Sarah wrote a full account of the evening in Monday’s edition of the paper and during a period of total cloud cover, Ed produced an image showing just how horrendous the orange glow above Elgin can be. They were both delighted with their first views of astronomical objects through large astronomical telescopes and provided Sigma with some excellent publicity as well as telling their readers about our plans for the Geminids in December.

During the later part of the evening, Ian reports that: “We had a lot of cloud, but some breaks, enough to catch the Trapezium in the Orion Nebula.”

By 10.30pm, the thickening cloud drove everyone home but a number of people managed to see some Leonids in the early hours.

P&J reporter Sarah Rollo sent me this message: “Last night, about 1am, I went into my back garden and saw two amazing meteors – my first ever. I was most delighted. I didn’t expect them to be so powerful.

Thank you, and the other members, very much for your hospitality last night. I certainly had great fun. I only wish I’d remembered my gloves. :)”

Ian Brantingham reported: “Got home and it went gin clear by 01.30, but all I got was 2 real bright ones at 01.50, so not a good show unless they came after 04.00.”

Alan Tough tells us: “I had a look out of my kitchen window early on Sunday morning and after about 10 minutes I saw a very bright, very fast Leonid heading north. The afterglow lasted about 4 seconds.

I was going to return to my bed but after seeing that beauty I decided to go outside. I saw 8 faint Leonids between 5:10 and 5:40 a.m.”

On Wednesday 13th December, we plan to hold another public observing session, this time to coincide with the Geminid meteor shower.  This is the richest of the annual meteor showers and usually slow bright meteors, earlier in the evening than the Leonids.

See you then,