BBC Stargazing Live, at the Royal Holloway University, 9th Jan 2014

Our society joined several others in the region, supplying many telescopes to view the night sky, which was clear and an estimated several thousand people attended. Amongst the objects viewed were the Moon, the planet Jupiter and the great nebula in Orion, all well placed, as well as a number of other deep sky objects. Description below slideshow.

Three members went to the BBC Stargazing Live 2014 event at the Royal Holloway University - Alan, Anna and William - on Thursday 9th Jan. It's no exaggeration to say that it was a great success, as there must have been several thousand people attend and the sky was clear. Several local astronomical societies arrived, in force with a good 40 telescopes. We had just two 8-inch telescopes but we were positioned first in line and had a constant stream from about 6:30 to 9:30 pm, so you can judge for yourself how many people looked through them.

The telescope 'pitch' had a good southerly view and as we arrived earlier than most we picked what we thought was the best spot. It was mostly clear from the beginning and one telescope had a neutral colour Baader filter so we could see that huge group on the Sun. A short while later the Sun became obscured behind trees as it set. Between a few small clouds the quarter moon was quite prominent against a dark blue sky, even in daylight, and I knew the forecast was for it to become totally clear.

Most telescopes were trained on Jupiter, as was ours early on, but then we decided to turn to the Moon as we deemed it better fare for beginners. Despite the Moon the Great Orion Nebula would have been easily visible although not at its best, and Alan quite rightly decided that for the vast majority of people, relative beginners, it would not mean very much visually. Given the category of visitor, and the position of the Moon and Jupiter, these were easily the best objects to observe.

Besides Croydon the other nearby societies attending were Crawley, Guildford, Reading, Farnham; and maybe one or two more. There were a variety of telescopes, and homemade equipment, many of the telescopes being refractors, probably because they are relatively easy and more robust to transport. Next to ourselves was a 6-inch Sky Watcher refractor, complete with EQ6 Pro mount and a self-built power supply, which understandably had a long queue of people. I recognised the power supply from the Cloudy Nights forum some months ago where the owner submitted details on how to build one at minimum cost. This Stargazers Lounge forum is also helpful.

One of the most expensive instruments was a pair of giant binoculars by Fujinon, and with 6-inch objectives they weigh in at about a £1,000 per inch of aperture. The mounting was also necessarily heavy. At a magnification of x25 they would be excellent for sweeping the Milky Way, although some of us more senior members would prefer the x40 magnification for a more optimal exit pupil, about 4 mm rather than the 6 mm. Unfortunately Fujinon only make the x40 model when they have a minimum confirmed order of several, each with a 25% deposit.

One of several activities for the public was 'Train as an Astronaut', where you could test your dexterity and skill for life in space. Also a wonderful opportunity to ask those questions that you've always wanted to ask an astronaut, with two astronauts on Skype at hand. In the entrance area was a huge projected display of the Sun in different wavelengths of the spectrum. On the stage was a choir singing space related songs and presenters demonstrating science experiments. It was a busy, educating and fun evening for the whole family.