Astronomy Benalla
Reports - 2012
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Astronomy Benalla  Dark Sky Site Report - Saturday 19th May 2012 Early in the morning of May 19  th  the sky was largely clear, clearer still by mid-morning with just a little cloud around the  horizon. Come midday the situation was not quite so rosy with some cloud gathering, predominately low in the sky as per  the early morning view. As the afternoon wore on, things deteriorated markedly and by mid-afternoon cloud cover was  virtually unbroken with a  particularly menacing sky to the east. Around 3:30 the situation started to improve once more  and  shortly before 5 pm, approaching sundown, the cloud cover resembled a sea of pancakes with the gaps between  the clouds ever growing.  With confidence gathering in inverse proportion to the cloud cover the first of the 'scopes – Wayne's 12" dob – took to the field to capture some fine views of Venus as a slim crescent, only 10% lit. Those of you who have not seen this spectacle may regard yourselves as being truly disadvantaged, comments from the uninitiated in the past include “O.K. So you've shown me the Moon, now where's Venus?”. It really does look like a miniature version of the Moon, the slimmer the crescent the more impressive. With the sky rapidly clearing, more 'scopes were set up – Rupe's 8" reflector, the societies 80 mm refractor, Les' big 16" dob and a stand-mounted pair of 10 x 50 binoculars were soon ploughing the heavens as the sky opened up completely and things looked promising. Magnificent views of Saturn with its captivating ring system – currently near their minimum opening for the year but still riveting at an inclination to the planet's disk approaching 13   degree – were had by all over a wide range of magnifications. An indication of the clear seeing at this stage was the tentative sighting of a cloud band on the planet itself, amateur 'scopes will struggle to achieve this due to the planet's distance and the relatively faint banding (far fainter than the oft-viewed banding on Jupiter). Views of Mars; the stunning globular clusters Omega Centauri and 47 Tucanae; the Tarantula, Orion and Eta (η) Carinae nebulae; numerous double stars including the stand-outs (in the author's opinion) Alpha (α) Centauri and Acrux (Alpha Crucis, the brightest star in the Southern Cross); galaxies M95, M96 and NGC 3628 ( the Leo triplet), the Sombrero galaxy (M104) and Centaurus A (NGC 5128), along with numerous other targets followed before the clouds closed in again. We all trooped in for a cuppa and a biscuit about 8:30 as it looked decidedly unpromising overhead and emerged around 9pm to find – guess what, it had cleared up again! Back to the 'scopes, but in what seemed no time flat the erratic weather gods turned the clouds on again. This time they were decidedly nasty about the whole thing and accompanied the increasing cloud cover with a heavy dew which quickly saturated the optics of all present, even partially overpowering the dew-supressing heating pads on the 12 incher. We admitted defeat a little before 10pm, but all had managed to enjoy some very pleasing heavenly gems. Those  present for the evening included eight members of the society and four guests – Martin, a regular attendee of the U3A  group which gave birth to Astronomy Benalla brought along two of his son-in-laws and also in attendance was Gary, a  photographer who expressed interest in expanding his activities to include astrophotography. All in all a good evening  was had by all despite the premature close and the on-again off-again cloud cover. Next month (June 16  th ) will see us  gathering at our nascent dark sky site at Winton wetlands – check the web site and hope to see you there. Wayne Roberts
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