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Macquarie Open Night Report
By Greg Bryant

Published in the November 1989 issue of Universe
 
 



Saturday, November 4, was the date for the 3rd Macquarie University Open Night, the purpose of which was to help raise funds for the Foundation for Astronomy to construct a six million dollar observatory and planetarium.  During the week, the weather reports said that there would be a good chance of late afternoon or evening showers on this day, with the possibility of a thunderstorm.  Sure enough, by about 4:00 pm, clouds were beginning to form in the west.

I arrived at the sports grounds of Macquarie University at about 6:30 pm to find plenty of cars already parked, and the sky quite cloudy.  I eventually found a way to park my car with telescope on an oval, and proceeded to set up my 6 inch reflector.  Following this, I looked around some of the telescopes, paying particular attention to a 10 inch Meade. I think I have found my next telescope.  A number of members from the ASNSWI were present, including Glenn Dawes, Ken Wallace, Mark Suchting, Geoff Pearson, Peter Norffifield, and Merilyn Mathews.  I spoke for quite a while with Glenn and Ken, and as we did the sky definitely began to clear.  So much for the Dawes-Wallace effect.

Following sunset, I spoke to a number of families who made enquiries about my telescope and astronomy in general - one young teenager was planning to make his own 6 inch telescope. At about 8:00 pm, the sky was dark enough, and the clouds sufficiently cleared for observations of the moon to begin. The 5 day old moon was quite a sight to observe, and this more than compensated viewers for the fact that it was causing considerable light pollution around the Scorpius - Sagittarius area. Many wonderful comments were made about the number of craters visible, and a number of people observed a small point of light visible in the unlit area of the moon. If anyone who knows their way around the Moon could tell me the name of the peak that was catching the dawn light from the rising sun, I would very much appreciate it.  I wasn't able to move away from the moon for over an hour.

Although Alpha Centauri was low down in the sky, its double components were certainly worth a look, even though they changed colour continually.  Viewers were amazed to know that the star which they could see in the sky was in fact a binary. Alpha Centauri is of course a multiple star, but Proxima Centauri wasn't really visible. Following Alpha Centauri, I turned to the M7 star cluster in Scorpius, and a lot of people enjoyed looking at this group of 50 stars arranged in a cross shape.

During a break I visited a nearby telescope and found that someone had trained their 4" on the Andromeda Galaxy! After taking a look through their telescope, I asked for directions and shortly afterwards, I was looking at M31 through my own telescope - a first.  As the night progressed, I tried to fmd 47 Tucanae, but experienced immense difficulties.

Just after 11:00 pm, I visited Mark Suchting and the Society's incredible 16" telescope. There was still a queue to look at the Moon, so I visited the astronomy stands in the Pavilion before returning to find that virtually the entire public had departed. Those who remained expressed a desire to look at 47 Tucanae.  We eventually found the globular cluster after a considerable number of "Yes, I've found it!... No! I've lost it!" cries. 47 Tuc was an incredible sight, with the resolution just unbelievable. Mark was complaining that the viewing was terrible. If so, I can't wait for a better look.

Next on the list was NGC 2070, the Large Magellanic Cloud's Tarantula Nebula. As the assembled numbers waited to look through the telescope, we reminisced on that day way back in February 1987 when we first heard about a certain supernova in the LMC. When I eventually climbed the ladder to look, the sight was well worth the wait. NGC 2070 certainly has a spidery shape.

As it edged towards midnight, we decided one more object would be seen, and what better way to end an observing session than with the Orion Nebula.  Through the Society's 16", the view was certainly a sight to behold, my best ever of the great Orion Nebula.  As I clsely examined M42, it seemed as if there were wisps of gas just floating around and 5 stars were plainly visible in the Trapezium.  Overall, the Open Night was truly fantastic.  I only hope that more members can make the next one, which should be in late April, early May next year.  In the mean time, try to get to the Australia Day Weekend 1990 Summer Ilford Astrocamp.  It promises to be an incredible occasion.  I'm certainly looking forward to it.