|Holidays abroad can be a great way to get some different or
better views of the night sky for all those who may be interested in astronomy
but have never really looked up, those of us too busy at home and also the
Recently I visited the small
Greek island of Alonissos, it's a perfect location for astronomy with very
little light pollution even at the busier southern end of the island. The
Northern end of the island and along the mountain tracks is pure wilderness -
perfect. That's not to say that other holiday destinations wouldn't be as good,
I have holidayed all around the Mediterranean, in the Indian Ocean, Egypt and
quite a few places beside and most destinations offer something for the UK
based astronomer; both darker skies, due to lower levels of light pollution,
and crucially clear skies with reliable, stable conditions.
Now I should add
if you're an astronomer with a partner who will scream if you take the hobby on
holiday that a two week trip does present opportunities under darker skies for
you to see a lot more in a shorter space of time. With two weeks away there
will nearly always be an opportunity to take at least a few views in the early
evening. For the beginner who perhaps has never really seen the beauty of the
night sky a holiday can present a perfect opportunity to see some of its
wonders without expensive equipment.
I had planned originally,
knowing from past experience how dark Alonissos can be, to take my small
Nexstar 4SE telescope along. During packing it became obvious that even the
tiny Nexstar would be too tough to transport if I wanted to take extra dresses
and shoes - heart won over head on this one and I packed some extra frocks
rather than the telescope. We did however have space for two pairs of 10x50
10x50 binoculars can
provide a very good view of the night sky. Far more so than many people
believe. To show you how inexpensive astronomy can be one of the pairs of
binoculars I use cost a whopping £14 in Lidls. Equipped with only
binoculars, a red light torch and an astronomy magazine with a free sky map you
can start to learn the sky and see some amazing sights while abroad.
The skies on Alonissos didn't let me down and most nights by early
evening the stars were out in force in all but the brightest lit areas of the
main town. By 11:30 even from our apartment balcony many objects which are
supposed to be naked eye in the UK, but in reality seldom are, were out and
visible. Just a quick look around the sky near our apartment revealed the
Pleiades, the Andromeda galaxy, the double cluster in Perseus, Kembles Cascade
and, in the early morning, the Orion Nebula.
All of these were easily observable to the naked eye but
with binoculars most of them exploded into view that gave some truly
breathtaking sights that even a small telescope in the UK would be hard put to
Such is the quality of far flung skies. Now you maybe thinking 'oh
yeah - but I'd never be able to find these objects' well you'd be wrong. Most
of them are visible to the eye as faint smoky patches in the sky. Just take a
look at what your seeing through your binoculars and you'll be amazed. If your
completely lost just use your binoculars to scan across the sky slowly. Under
the sorts of skies most holiday destinations offer you will see many of the
brighter objects just by looking around. A simple sky map from a magazine will
help you identify them and in no time you'll be able to identify and find some
of the brighter objects easily.
Kembles cascade for instance
is a beautiful shower of stars just beneath Cassiopeia in the late evening in
August or September. Cassiopeia is easy to find and from that you can find the
double cluster in Persues, Kembles Cascade and the Andromeda Galaxy. If you
think you cant - believe me you can. Most people can spot the Big Dipper and
Cassiopeia is just as easy to find in the night sky - it's a big 'W' in the
sky. Just by finding that you will be close to three of the Northern
Hemispheres best sights.
Stay up late
or get up early and you can also see the Orion Nebula. All of these objects
look truly lovely through the binoculars but especially Kembles Cascade which
looked truly magnificent through the 10x50s matched only by the Orion Nebula.
Early in the morning the Orion Nebula
showed definite nebulosity of ghostly blue around it even with just binoculars.
How I wished at that moment I had gone ragged and barefoot and taken the
Nexstar 4SE with me.
Across the two weeks I managed to see so many Messier
objects I lost count. I started off by working around Sagittarius where, in the
space fof a few degrees you can see M25, M24, M16, M17 and M18. Most of these
are quite small but M24 which is a star cloud is a great view. Each night the
sky was alive with so many objects I simply forgot to take notes. The views
were among the best have ever seen and a reminder to myself that astronomy
doesn't have to be expensive and that sometimes the best views are achieved
with the least equipment. It's all too easy with a complicated set-up to get
immersed in the technical details of the hardware and forget to simply enjoy
the wonderful views.
To cap it all off because we were away at the start of
September one of the most beautiful sights was available. This is the Zodiacal
light which I have never seen in the UK thanks to our poor quality skies. From
somewhere like a Greek Island in late September look East about an hour before
sunset - you will see a shaft of light in the sky as if the sky were being lit
up by a giant searchlight. This is the dust cloud in the plane of the solar
system and it's the dust that the planets, and in fact our own sun, was made
from. Its an amazing sight being both beautiful and, when you think about it,
You can spend as little or as much time as you want
observing the sky on holiday, you don't have to be up early for work, you may
be out late anyway enjoying the local nightlife so why not get a bit more from
your time abroad and enjoy the night sky as well. You don't have to be expert,
you can simply enjoy the beauty of the views, after all you don't have to be a
geologist to enjoy spectacular views on earth and likewise you don't need to be
an expert astronomer to enjoy the spectacular views of the heavens either.
So there you are, a pair of binoculars, a red light torch and free
star map from a magazine (all in cost around £20) and you can observe and
start to learn the sky. Believe me it looks more impressive when you know what
your looking at and under balmy skies you can be observing in not much more
than a bikini and a wrap which makes a nice change from the UK where your often
observing while bundled up in a Parka.
|Main Picture -
Moon and Venus at Dawn.