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A visit to the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre at Ennerdale

Dark skies –  I mean truly dark skies – are becoming harder and harder for amateur astronomers and skywatchers to find and enjoy, and more and more we’re having to travel to out of the way places to enjoy a good view of the night sky. We go to organised annual star parties in forests and the countryside, and trek to areas which have worked hard to protect the darkness and have been recognised for their efforts.

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One such place is the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre at Ennerdale (above), and last Friday several members of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal headed up there to join astronomers from around the country for a special “Dark Sky Weekend” of skywatching, talks, demonstrations and general astro fun, Unfortunately the event fell foul of the same godawful End Of The World weather which has been slapping the UK across the face for the past month and a half, and we only managed to grab an hour and a half of clear sky on the Friday night, and during that time clouds rolled, blew and flew across the sky several times, but it was definitely worth heading north in gale force winds, driving rain and sleet, and then shuddering and juddering down the cratered, pitted obstacle course that passes for a road down the side of the lake to the field centre…

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…just to be under a genuinely dark sky for even that short a time.

Here are some of the photos I took, using just my Canon DSLR on a tripod, no tracking. First some single frames, no stacking, just a little enhancement and tidying up in image processing programs…

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That’s Jupiter shining through a gap in the clouds…

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The Milky Way taken with a wide angle lens… yes, that’s M31 down at the bottom…

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Orion fighting to be seen through the clouds…

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Stars shining through gaps in the trees surrounding the Field Centre (I admit it, I LOVE this pic!!)

I stacked some frames too, and the following are just stacks of 4x 4 second images taken with a 50mm lens set at f2 and 6400 ISO…

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M31…

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M31 AND M33… I know, look at that…!

It was fantastic being under a truly dark sky, and gazing up and marvelling at the stars, but the icing on the came for me was managing to get a picture (after stacking) of the supernova in M82…

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Unfortunately the clouds covered the sky late in the evening and then the rain resumed and we all knew there was little or no chance of seeing anything else that night, so everyone retreated back indoors to sit beside the flickering open fires and chat about astronomy over glasses of wine, beer, or coffee…

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The next morning the weather broke just long enough to let me dart outside and take a photo of a patch of blue sky before the clouds rolled over it again…

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The Centre is a fantastic place, with great cooking and sleeping facilities if you fancy staying over, and a classroom / teaching area for talks, demonstrations and the like. There was a full program of talks scheduled for the Saturday afternoon, but unfortunately we had to leave as I had to go back to work, but one day we’ll go for the whole weekend…

Some more pics…

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Above: telescopes and cameras sheltering inside from the wind and rain… awwww….!

And finally, if you like wildlife, there’s a LOT of wildlife at Gillerthwaite…

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Thanks to everyone at the Centre for making Stella, Carol and I so welcome. We can’t wait to get back to the Centre for another of their events. Catching just that fleeting glimpse of the dark sky there was enough to show just what a stunning view there must be there on a properly clear night, with no cloud, wind or rain…

 

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