Autumn is a welcome time for us stargazers as the longer nights offer more opportunities for enjoying Scilly’s stunning skies. What’s more, as our climate retains that little bit of extra warmth as the nights draw in, we look forward to some toasty evenings up at the observatory without too many added layers! And if we do get chilly, we can retreat to our cosy warm room. We can even operate our largest telescope, the 14 inch Meade, from the computer in there! Not that anything quite beats looking at some of our skies’ wonders with our own eyes, direct from the eyepiece.
It’s been a brilliant summer for us in several ways. In our first 6 months, we’ve welcomed nearly 700 visitors. We’ve had some heart-warming feedback about both what we’ve achieved and our enthusiasm. It has been terrific showing off the observatory to visitors of all ages and giving some visitors their own astronomy ‘wow’ moments, hopefully which will inspire them to pursue this most rewarding of hobbies.
We always talk to our visitors about what makes Scilly’s skies unique, our chief attribute being complete lack of light pollution. We want people to understand what this means and why we’re in the dwindling 21% of the UK that still has pristine night skies!
We have had some terrific evenings of observing with still, clear nights, and have cast our telescopes on not just star clusters and planets, but distant nebulae and galaxies.
As we get further into autumn and winter, the last of the summer constellations drop out of view and new ones appear. Now is a great time to catch the rich heart of our Milky Way at its best. Constellation Cygnus, the swan, which can be reduced to the Northern Cross, lies smack bang across the Milky Way and offers a rich area of observing. Gorgeous ringed Saturn will still be viewable in much of September up until November in fact, albeit very low in the southern sky; and giant Jupiter’s hanging around our early evening skies. Both are magical seen through our observatory’s telescopes – reality sometimes is more wondrous than you can imagine!
While we’re open until the end of October, with our first ‘season’ under our belts, we can now look back – and forward – to think about what we might do differently next year. Opening twice a week has worked well for us, with sell-out Tuesday nights and more informal Friday afternoons for drop-in tours and sun-gazing. While we’d like to be open more, we’re still a small team of dedicated volunteers (though in the longer term, there’s potential for a paid job there!). It’s still the case that visitors not staying on St Martin’s need to arrange their own transport to us, which poses issues due to the inevitable night boating: but this is island life. There’s also my previous point about peak season on Scilly not being the optimum time for stargazing – we could put on extra dates but it wouldn’t get dark any earlier, nor could we guarantee clear weather.
You’ve got until the end of October to pay us a visit in person. Then it’s our chance as a team and an island community, over our first Winter with our kit all up and running, to have a good play and build our working knowledge. One of the best things, however, about astronomy, and indeed running a community observatory, is that you can never know it all!