NSAS Dark Sky Roadtrip
18th September 2004
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Taken from our observing location, looking south.

I recently joined up to my first local amateur astronomy club, the NSAS, and the timing was just right for me to attend a special dark sky observing night, away from their local observing location at North Turramurra Golf Club.

The dark sky location was outside Vacy near Maitland, almost 2 hours drive north-west from Gosford. It was an all-weekender for most of the people that attended, hoping for a Friday and Saturday night session under the dark skies. I opted for just the Saturday night session, and headed out at about 2pm on Saturday.

I didn't really know where I was going, but blindly followed the directions given to me, along windy country roads, dirt tracks and cattle grids. When I rounded the last bend and saw a bunch of telescopes pointing upwards, I knew I'd reached my destination. The weather was fabulous - beautiful cloud-less blue skies, about 24 degrees C, with a small wind from the South.


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The view looking north.

From our setup point, we had near 360 degree views of the horizon. The property owner was Darren, an NSAS member, and he had some family up for the weekend, as well as some neighbours, and about 8 club members had made the trip, hoping for some fantastic dark sky views.

I arrived at about 4pm and found everyone in afternoon relax mode, after a busy day of flying remote-control planes, riding the tractor and motorbike and a late night the night before, waiting for the clouds to clear.

I saw a Coronado PST set up outside the house, and took my first view through the H-alpha setup. I'd read a lot about these scopes on various forums and was anxious to see whether they lived up to the hype. Well, it certainly did. The deep orange sun looked spectacular with a few prominences visible, as well as a sunspot or two. I can see what the fuss is about, and could've kept looking through it all afternoon.


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The setup area

It was time to unpack the car and setup for the evening.. The collection of scopes already setup included 8 and 10" SCT's, so my 10" dob looked a bit out of place :) My homemade observing chair received some good feedback though :)

Most were 8" Celestron's, the biggest and most expensive scope was Ray's Meade LX200GPS. He had some great camera equipment too (Canon EOS 300D, LPI, Toucam Pro, StellaCam) which we were hoping to make use of during the night.


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Things were not looking good for a clear evening.

We were hoping that the beautiful day would continue into a beautiful night, though the signs were ominous as the breeze from the South strengthened and some clouds from the Southern horizon started making their way north.. and not the type of clouds that block your view for a minute but are clear either side - the type of clouds that blanket the sky and make (good) viewing virtually impossible.

As the afternoon turned to evening, people finished the setup of their scopes, while a few flew the remote-control plane, I had a go at shooting the bow+arrow, and David got the whip out and started cracking it around us :)


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Great looking sunset.

As beautiful as the sunset looked, the clouds kept rolling in and dampened the mood a bit.

We got dinner underway though, and a bit of food helped brighten the spirits. We had a BBQ + salad and the stories around the dinner table of UFO and meteor sightings kept everyone amused.

I checked outside from time to time to see if a miracle break in the clouds appeared, but alas it was not to be. Even the 1/4 moon looked hazy and washed out through the high cloud.

After dinner, we headed up to the scopes to see what we could see through the clouds.. unfortunately, "not much" was the answer. Alpha-centauri, a hazy 47 Tuc and the Butterfly Cluster was about all that could be seen.

I was hoping to be able to compare views through my scope + cheap Plossl eyepieces, with views through the top of the range eyepieces in Ray's LX200, but it wasn't to be. At around 9pm I could see no break on the horizon so decided to pack up and drive home, I still had a 2 hr drive ahead of me and didn't want to take any risks being too tired.

So all in all, not a good viewing weekend, but a great opportunity to meet some of the guys from NSAS. Looking through the PST was the highlight of the weekend, and the PST is definitely on my growing "nice to have" list when the budget allows :)

Limpet Controller
Astronomy and Electronics Centre
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