Isle of Wight Star Party

Thu 6th – Mon 10th March, 2008

The dark skies on the south coast of the Isle of Wight provided a brilliant backdrop for the inaugural Isle of Wight Star Party organised by the island’s Vectis Astronomical Society (VAS) in association with the Southern Area Group of Astronomical Societies (SAGAS). About forty five astronomers travelled from as far as Devon and Cambridge for the event, which was held at the Brighstone Holiday Centre, between Thursday 6th March and Monday 11th March, 2008.

The location offered almost 180-degree southerly views across the Channel, and many astronomers commented on seeing stars, such as the lower half of Canis Major, that were so near the horizon that they are not normally visible from other sites. Unfortunately, the worst storms of the winter made imaging all but the brightest objects very difficult, but visual observing was good on the Friday and Sunday evenings. M42 and M43 were obvious early targets, but later Sirius’ ‘Pup’ was seen, as was NGC 3242 in Hydra – one of the deep south objects visible from the site. M65 and M66 were clear in an 80 mm refractor which was pleasing for at least one attendee, as these are normally swamped by light pollution even in bigger scopes. The equipment used during the event ranged from small binoculars, refractors and Schmidt Cassegrains, to a 14 inch Celestron on a modified mount and a 20 inch Dobsonian.

Daytime activities included visits to Vectis AS’s Isle of Wight Observatory, and the National Trust’s Needles New Battery (Ex-rocket testing site), with a talk by someone who used to work on the secret rocket testing programme there.

The Saturday evening was completely clouded out, but with a very high level of audience participation, John Murrell, Owen Brazell, Richie Jarvis and David Rayner, kindly gave fascinating talks which between them covered rocket testing, deep sky objects, digital image manipulation and eclipse photos.

The holiday centre provided some excellent camping facilities, and there were also heated en-suite chalets for those who didn’t want to brave the elements. A kitchen/tea/coffee room allowed for free hot drinks to be available all night long and lockable rooms were available for the safe storage of equipment and the trade stands. A large dining area provided accommodation, not only for a wonderful cooked breakfast, but also doubled up as a wet weather location and meeting/reception room.

There was a great raffle – with a star prize of a Lanthanum eyepiece donated by Orion Optics. (Thanks also to Springer books, Astronomy Now, David Hinds and BC&F for providing other raffle prizes). Thanks are also due to the ferry company Wightlink, who provided a very good deal on the ferries.

The event was run by the island’s Vectis Astronomical Society (VAS) in association with the Southern Area Group of Astronomical Societies (SAGAS). Information about next year’s Isle of Wight Star Party (around 26th March 2009 (New Moon) tbc) is available on www.iowstarparty.org. If you would like to be contacted about future events, please email info@iowstarparty.org.