Observing The Night Time Wonders

MAC holds dedicated Observing Sessions at its observing site in Clonminch, about 2 miles from Tullamore town centre. Our Site offers clear southern skies away from the light pollution of the town. It can accommodate about 12 to 15 cars for parking, and has a segregated observing area.

We meet on the first Friday of the month for dedicated observing, and also hold spontaneous sessions from time to time.


Dedicated Observing Sessions

For these, we meet at the Site from 8:00pm. For those that do not know where the Site is, a MAC committee member will wait in O'Connor Square, Tullamore for those who wish to come by following the person in front, or even to get a lift with someone. Please be punctual, as those left behind if late will miss the fun!


Spontaneous Observing Sessions

Usually, these are instigated by our Secretary, Seanie Morris, who has all the mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses. He sends a text on behalf of the club to those numbers he has, and also sends an e-mail around. If you would like to have your details (confidentially) submitted for either or both means of communication for notification, please send him an e-mail (tullamoreastronomy 'at' yahoo 'dot' co 'dot' uk).


For Your Safety And Enjoyment

Children under 15 MUST be accompanied by a relative responsible for their safety. MAC is not responsible for the safety and well-being of visitors or their equipment while on our Site. If you use the site away from organised events, you do so at your own risk. Please read the following section for tips on how to make your stay with us comfortable (especially in Winter).


Observing Night Preparation

The following is a guide, based on the experiences of fellow observers:


How To Start - For Beginners

The best observing instrument, of course, are your eyes. To start, why not take up a small book about the night sky. Get familiar with the patterns of stars that make up the constellations with Star Atlas’s and Charts. It does not make much sense if you want a really big telescope in the future and not know where to point it.

Many stars make imaginary pointers to other well-known stars and celestial objects. On any clear night, simply look up: Orion’s Belt made up of 3 stars in almost a straight line; in a south-west kind of direction from this will bring you to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky; Dubhe (pronounced 'Doovay') and Mirak, the last 2 stars in the Plough’s ‘bowl’, point to Polaris, the Pole Star (celestial North); Cassiopaeia looks like a W or M, and near it are star clusters, and the radiant of the Perseids beside it. All these aides lead to bigger and better things. Like all great endeavours, you first have to start small!


Choosing A Telescope or Binoculars

As you learn more, you will want to get something to improve your observing power. If you are new to astronomy as a hobby, you will probably have been told by now that a good pair of binoculars are well worth spending your money on. They are cheap, robust, and are easy to maintain and store. A good size to start from would be 10X50’s. What does this mean? 10 is the magnification, and 50 is the size of the objective lens in millimetres. Thus, 10X50’s allow a larger field of view than 10X40’s with the same magnification. If your price range allows, go for bigger.

Get a star atlas. They come in many sizes, from the Collins MiniGem series that fit in your pocket to almost A3 size. Many will have easy to recognise shapes and colours for the different categories of objects that can be found in a binoculars or telescope. Invest, too, in a small red flashlight or head torch. This is important because you will need to see what you are reading at a dark observing site, but not ruin your night vision with brighter lights. It can take your eyes about 30 minutes to FULLY adjust to very dark surroundings, and a normal flashlight will ruin that in a flash! A red candy wrapper sellotaped over the flashlight window is childs play.


Come Prepared

Wrap up warm during Winter, or when the forecast says it will be cold. On extremely cold nights (which Ireland has in the coldest Winter), it is important to do so if you intend to stay out for long periods. Boots are a must for your feet, with 2 pairs of socks. 2 pairs are better than 1 because not only will they keep your feet warm from the cold ground, but also comfortable while you are standing for long periods. Sometimes 2 pairs of gloves are handy (bad pun!). A small thin pair with the fingertips cut off for grabbing eyepieces, pencils etc, while a bigger pair to put over them to keep them warm. A woolly hat instead of a baseball cap for the head. 2 fleeces are thin yet comfortable and warm, inside a warm coat. A scarf for the neck if neither of your fleeces offers a 'turtleneck'. A tip for your legs: wear a cotton tracksuit pants or thermal longjohns under your outer garment (jeans, khaki's etc). And if you do wear a trackpants or longjohns, then tuck the ankle cuffs into your second pair of socks - you will feel very snug!

Take notes when you are observing – you never know what you might see. But, use a pencil. Ink in a pen will freeze quickly, and may burst when it thaws causing a mess. A clipboard with some plain paper attached is ideal for writing on. Bring an easy-chair to sit on to take a break now and again. It is not good to stand and crick your neck skyward for long periods of time.

If you are travelling some distance to your observing site, be prepared for the worst. You may discover you will run out of petrol/diesel and will have to stay the night (worst case scenario: you're on your own and your phone battery dies). Have a sleeping bag or blanket in the car just in case. Spare batteries for your flashlight, a bottle of water (for when you’re thirsty!), and even a book to read are great companions if you get stuck somewhere till daylight comes. Above all this, remember to have the fuel can in the boot of your car topped up, and you wont have to worry at all.


Some 'Do Nots'

If you smoke, try not to when you are out in the cold. Nicotine is a vascoconstrictor, this means it will restrict blood flow to your extremities (fingers, toes, ears, and nose), making them feel colder, quicker. Alcohol and coffee (caffeine) fall into the same category. Bring hot drinks in a thermos instead, like tea or even better, soup. Snacks are allowed too, but try to avoid anything greasy – getting greasy fingerprints on eyepieces etc. is not good.

Always have consideration for those around you. If you MUST turn on a bright flashlight to look for something, remember to shout out in advance if it is ok to do so: someone might be taking some photos of the dark skies, and those closest to you would have had their eyes adapted to the dark.

As you go to lectures and observing nights with your local club, you will hear astronomers call out objects in the sky by their names or perhaps even their M numbers and so on, e.g. The Orion Nebula is also M42, the Crab Nebula is M1 etc. Don’t be distracted from hearing all these odd sounding names and numbers – as you learn more, you will remember them too! But, if in doubt, just take a peep at a book.

It is always important to remember, that when we go out observing, that it is for FUN!