Event report: BBC Stargazing Live 2013 – Night 2, 9th January 2013, personal report by Mark Galvin

Wednesday night’s Stargazing Live was even better than Tuesday night’s – we actually got to observe more than clouds!

Again, a huge thanks to Jodrell Bank and the BBC, including all the behind-scenes staff, of which there are many.
Everybody from both organisations was helpful and very polite, despite the pressure that a live broadcast entails.
Once again our Junior Members made us proud, with some taking part in a live chat with Mark Thompson.

Going back to earlier in the day, Wednesday afternoon was quite misty and as far as we could tell, cloudy across most of the North-West. When we arrived at Jodrell Bank in the late afternoon, the mist and fog had lifted but the sky was almost completely overcast.

My apologies for the quality of these images – they were taken in haste and without proper equipment!

The Lovell Telescope (facing away from the camera) at Jodrell Bank, Arriving at Stargazing Live 2013, Wednesday 9th January 2013

The Lovell Telescope (facing away from the camera) at Jodrell Bank, Arriving at BBC Stargazing Live 2013, Wednesday 9th January 2013

There were a couple of small breaks where blue sky could be seen, but they were few and far between and didn’t stay for long.
The weather report indicated that the cloud wouldn’t be as thick as the night before, even if it didn’t clear completely, so we had hopes that we might at least get to see a glimpse of Jupiter and a couple of the brighter stars such as Sirius and Rigel. As sunset came and went, the sky cleared quite a lot – there was still some cloud but it was slowly moving, Jupiter was in a nice clear patch and the western sky was almost completely devoid of any cloud at all and glowed a nice orange as dusk set in.

The Lovell Telescope (floodlit at night, facing away from the camera) at Jodrell Bank, at Stargazing Live 2013, Wednesday 9th January 2013

The Lovell Telescope (floodlit at night, facing away from the camera) at Jodrell Bank, at BBC Stargazing Live 2013, Wednesday 9th January 2013

At that point we had to begin setting up equipment to be ready in time for the live broadcast, and refresh with tea, coffee and sandwiches. Many had had only a few hours sleep and some less than that, so this was gratefully received. During this setting up and refreshments period, the weather must have spotted the telescopes, realised that we were going to try and observe and promptly re-clouded the entire sky. The stars and even Jupiter were completely obscured again.
The cloud was now pretty low, and as the Lovell Telescope is flood-lit from multiple directions, so its shadow was cast onto the clouds in multiple locations. This was quite an eerie but beautiful sight. It’s a shame that there’s so much floodlighting, but at least something nice can come of it.

Incidentally, for those who don’t know, the Lovell Telescope is the proper name for the large radio telescope which many people know simply as “Jodrell Bank” or “that one where Tom Baker fell off and turned into Peter Davison”. The history of the telescope is quite interesting and well worth a read. More information about the Lovell Telescope can be found by clicking here to visit the Wikipedia page.

About 20 minutes before we were due to go live, small breaks began to appear in the clouds. Jupiter was visible for brief periods, as well as small parts of Andromeda, and the eyes of the Gemini twins peeked out for a minute or two. Over the next 15 minutes the sky was gradually revealed, and with less than 5 minutes to go it was almost completely clear of obscuring cloud, if a little hazy from the high mist.
As time progressed however, even this cleared enough to give us some lovely views.
The timing was fantastic. Perhaps one of the people who read yesterday’s brief report really does have a cloudbuster in the shed, or knows some special dance! If so, can we arrange some sort of schedule?
Back to the astronomy – I personally saw the Pleiades (M45), the Orion Nebula (M42 / NGC 1976) and Jupiter (plus the Galilean moons) through various people’s telescopes, binoculars and on screens where CCD imaging was taking place. Amongst others, one gentleman (I didn’t get his name I’m afraid, but I think he may have been with the crew) was using a narrowband Hα (Hydrogen-alpha) filter to image the Orion Nebula with a Starlight Xpress.

Also viewed by members were the Andromeda Galaxy (M31 / NGC 224), and leading on from the discussions of star colour in the programme, some of the more noticeably colourful stars.
I’m sure there were other observations going on and hopefully we’ll get some more event reports in from the members who were present (with photos if possible).

Many of us noticed noiseless, blue-white flashes coming from the towards the Eastern horizon every now and then, and although they brought to mind a passage from H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds” where each time a Martian Cylinder lands, there is a flash in the distance – a silent brightness like summer lightning – it transpired that it was more likely to be caused by the somewhat more mundane and significantly less apocalyptic railway electrics which are situated some distance away.

As the first programme of the evening finished, we hurried across to an indoor waiting area near to the studio in the buildings of Jodrell Bank, and most of us were then allowed to be part of the audience for the second programme of the evening. I don’t know if all the members present were able to take part, as everything happened very quickly (less than 90 seconds from the waiting area to the studio proper) and the studio isn’t a huge area so fire regulations come into play too.

Once in the studio we stood and watched the discussions taking place. I don’t think any of us had sat down for more than a few minutes, if at all, since we arrived, so standing still for the whole programme was a bit of a challenge, but very much worth it. I was lucky enough to be standing right at the front and I had a brilliant view of everything that was going on in the studio.
There were multiple times when I wanted to join in or ask a question, but of course that isn’t possible and you just have to strike the thought from your mind.
A plate of doughnuts (presumably representing a toroidal model of a finite universe) was present on the table, and remained there until almost the very end when they were passed around to the presenters and then handed to our part of the audience :-) There weren’t doughnuts enough for everybody to have to one, but they were an unexpected bonus for those of us that did, and quite tasty.

After the programme, many of the members briefly got to meet members of the cast. Many people think that when a programme finishes it, everything slows down – that’s definitely not true. There was still lots going on and people were very busy. I did get to quickly meet Brian Cox though which was the icing on the cake (or doughnut) for me. I hope everybody (especially all of our Junior Members) got to meet the people they wanted to too.

All-in-all, I had a fantastic night, and I’d do it again in a second. I’m very grateful that being part of the LAS allowed me the chance for this to happen.

With thanks,
Mark Galvin