September is perhaps the best month for a dark-sky star party. Skies darken early, and the selection of targets makes for lots of fun as we begin to say farewell to our summer loves and late-night hellos to winter’s treasures.
As we rolled into the parking lot of Long Sault Conservation Area for the September 3 event, there were some trail bikers rolling out — local firemen who are both keen cyclists but, like so many, somewhat disadvantaged astronomers. They live under fairly dark skies, have telescopes but don’t really know how to find cool stuff except the Moon. They hung around for quite a while, picked up lots of tips, took our cards and will watch our website for future events. Sharing what we know is part of the fun of this pastime.
We had it all. From 8×40 binoculars to a 12.5-inch reflector and every size and design of binocular and telescope in between. And Bill Longo also had a serious imaging setup with a 9.25-inch scope, several finders, an auto guider and a laptop — impressive. What did we do with all this stuff? After a quick look at a setting Saturn, we turned to our summer loves: the Wild Duck Cluster (M11), Lagoon Nebula (M8), Great Cluster in Hercules (M13), nearby M92 and several other globular clusters, including M22, M15 and M71. We caught a few other nebulas including the Ring (M57) and the Dumbbell (M27). Later in the night, more late-season targets rose and we enjoyed views of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Pinwheel Galaxy in Triangulum (M33), which was dim but definitely there, and the Double Cluster in Perseus, which is an amazing sight under dark skies. We also made frequent return visits to M13. And as we began to pack up, we all lamented the rising of the Pleiades, which reminded us that the end of summer was at hand. The last of us left, perhaps a bit reluctantly, just before 1 a.m. with the Hyades rising in twilight.
It was a fantastic night.
Stu McNair organizes the RASC Toronto Centre’s observing events. He got his first telescope while living under the mostly cloudy skies of Gander, Newfoundland. A retired meteorologist and former glider pilot, Stu loves everything celestial.