In mid May 2010, a friend I work with invited me to an astronomy weekend in the foot hills of Barrington Tops. He is a member of the ICEINSPACE forum .... a large forum that caters to those of us who like to spend their evenings peering at the stars.
This is how the weekend went.....
I decided to entrust the entire trip up there to my TOMTOM GPS navigator. It worked well, taking me on shortcuts that I would never have taken myself. With the exception of one bad direction ( is it OK to have " just one bad direction " ? ) which sent me down a dirt road that was luckily only about 100 metres long. If I could offer any advice for the use of these devices, it would be that you have the backup of a road atlas, and for those who are directionally challenged ... a compass.
It's a funny thing about country roads too, and that is that their condition is proportional to the distance from any main regional centre. The road into Lostock itself was no exception to this rule, and I won't sugar coat it, the road is pretty patchy. The last few kilometres however was on dirt road which was in very good condition.
On arrival I was greeted by all, introduced and offered a beer (obligatory on any guy weekend). After which I began to unpack my meagre bag of warm clothes ( this will come back to bite me later ) and settle back for some leisurely banter.
The sun goes down....
Have you ever seen those National Geographic programs showing some isolated tribe in Papua New Guinea waiting with eagerness for the arrival of their god from the sky ? .... much the same here. Even before the sun dipped below the hill you could hear the sound of motor drives spinning large reflector telescopes into position. Earlier that day I mentioned that I had never seen a galaxy ... one after another the guys called me over as galaxies swung into view.
I have to say that seeing a close-up of Saturn is a pretty amazing thing, but to see galaxies !! .... fantastic. It can be a bit difficult to absorb all of the information in the viewfinder and it makes me think that anyone who believes that we are the only life in the universe, hasn't looked through the eyepiece of a telescope and seen the endless depth of space.
At about 7:00PM the guys all began to don there freezer suits. Yes people "freezer suits", you see, in the country it gets pretty cold very fast and they knew this .... but I didn't. Remember when I said that my meagre warm clothing would come back to bite me ? Well I lasted till about 9:30PM until it got too cold ( and that was after a couple of glasses of port !! ) and I retired into the warmth of the house.
So keen are these guys that during the night they don't use white light to see by. To use white light would interfere with their night vision.... so for the purpose of making a cuppa or some dinner, the kitchen is bathed in red LED Christmas lights.
I was in bed by about 10PM, but woke up at about 3AM and wandered outside to see the guys still peering through eyepieces.
I would like to thank the hospitality of the ICEINSPACE crew and look forward to meeting them again .... this time I will bring my own freezer suit.
I hope these photos do the weekend justice.
** As a footnote to this story the whole landscape including the rustic appeal of the old house reminded me of the days when my father would take me out to Lithgow, where we stayed in an old house and prospected the area.
Astronomy in Lostock