Last weekend we both went up to Cheltenham for the British Astronomical Association’s Annual Deep Sky Section Meeting,

While I have been to the BAA’s Winchester weekend for the last six years, this was my first visit to one of their section meetings.

The itinerary for the day was a follows.

  • Stewart Moore: A review of the deep sky year
  • Nick Hewitt: Barnard, Gordon and the darkness
  • Paul Curtis: Deep sky imaging and processing using a modified DSLR camera
  • Gary Poyner: RR Tauri and its nebula – a BAA project
  • Martin Lewis: Eye and pencil
  • Grant Privett: Deep sky imaging on the cheap

The professional talk will be given by Dr Phil Marshall, University of Oxford, on Cosmic Telescopes.
The review of the section’s year was quite interesting. What struck me was the spread of member’s observations made by sketching. While the majority were CCD images, the proportion of sketches was significant. The sketch seems to be overlooked these days but what is quite important to note that a sketch is only going to show what the observer actually sees. This tends be a much more reliable guide to show others what is likely to be seen through a particular scope and it’s a pity this medium is not used more often when doing, say, outreach to the general public or to someone who is starting out in astronomy. While the CCD images are great, I always feel that someone new to the hobby gets the impression that that Hubble Image of M42 in all its glorious colour and detail is what they are going to see through a telescope and that on some occasions there is a feeling of disappointment.

The sketching work of two BAA members Martin Lewis – who also gave us a talk and Dale Holt, stood out for me.

Their webbys can be found here
Dale Holt- Chippingdale Observatory
Martin Lewis – Sky Inspector

Nick Hewitt’s talk on Dark Nebulae was also notable. Being a B&W photographer I was gobsmacked when I came across the work of E E Barnards and his ‘A photographic atlas of selected regions of the Milky Way‘ The quality of the images, even by todays standards, is impressive when you consider most of these were taken in 1905. The glass plates were sized at 12″ x 12″ or 8″ x 10″ depending on which scope was being used and all were hand guided for anything up to 5 hours!! That’s quite a feat I remember guiding a half meter newtonian was knackered only after 15 minutes.

The highlight of the day was Martin Lewis’ Talk on the the Eye and pencil. While I initially thought the talk was going to be on sketching techniques, it primarily covered the eye and observing techniques to get the bet out of the the Mk1 eyeball. For instance, there is more to averted vision than you would think. While we all know about rods and cones I didn’t know that there is a blind spot at the ear side of the fovea, so when averting your vision you need to either look above or below or to the left of the object placed in the centre of the eyepiece.

Martin also discussed how to protect you night vision and for how long. The best idea appears to wear red tinted goggles 20 mins before you going into the observatory or whenever you are likely to come across a bright, white light source. Apparently some astro equipment dealers even sell them.
Rather than go through everything discussed by Martin, I suggest you download the PDF of his talk from his webby. While you are there, he also has a PDF on Astronomical Sketching which is worth a punt.
All in a a very enjoyable day out and something I can recommend for next year.