A dark affair with star gazing

Have you seen Orion’s belt? Taurus the bull? The Seven Sisters?

If you think these are just quirky game-show questions, then you need to get yourself over to a meeting of the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society.

The society meets monthly, and for $25 a year you can become a full-fledged member, which entitles you to accompany other members to a very dark site on a private estate, where a sophisticated Meade LX 200 – 10 inch computer-driven telescope with GPS is set up. Valued at around $4,500, this telescope was donated by Wesley Howell in January 2010, and its use is restricted to the society’s paid membership.

The primary telescope in use at the public meetings, usually at Pedro Castle, is a 10-inch Orion Dobsonian

President Nick Kelly says membership has remained fairly steady over the 20 years of the club’s existence. He adds that one bonus is the fact that Cayman is so close to the equator, thus affording a view of almost 80 per cent of the night sky (as opposed to much more limited views from the higher latitudes). Further, he notes, the viewing conditions are generally good.

Recovery since Hurricane Ivan

All of the founding members have since moved on, Kelly says, but the society has remained alive and well, surviving the loss of all of its equipment to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

The group’s first telescope was a 12-inch Celestron Reflecting telescope donated by the Rotary Club in 1991. This was supplemented in 1999 by a 12-inch Meade Dobsonian purchased by sponsorship from the late David Foster and membership subscriptions.

This early, basic Dobsonian pretty much just wore out, Kelly says, and with the demise of the Celestron’s tracking motor, in early 2004 an Orion Atlas 10 EQ- Reflector was purchased with club money and membership donations.

Observing sites

Various sites have been used over the years – each influenced by the increasing problem of light pollution balanced against the need to for an easily accessible location, Kelly says. Pedro Castle, Prospect Point Youth Club, the Cayman islands Sailing Club and various members’ houses have all been used in the past, with Pedro Castle being the usual site now.

Among notable activities: The society hosted a well-attended lecture by a visitor from Jodrell Bank observatory in the UK, and on 26 February, 1998, the society assisted at a public viewing of the solar eclipse in the car park of Foster’s supermarket at its airport location.

Another highlight was in 2008 when a special “transit of Mercury” occurred, Kelly recalls. This was observed from Spotts beach using special solar telescopes owned by members of the society.

Last week, a session on astrophotography was held, open to the entire community.

Recent acquisitions

In June 2010, membership subscriptions were used to buy supplementary items to support the LX 200, including a specialist dolly to allow the heavy telescope to be moved relatively easily, and a shed to protect the scope at its current “dark sky site”.

These telescopes came with their own eyepieces, Kelly says, but viewing through both has been much enhanced by the donation in May 2009 of a high quality set of Televue eye pieces, valued at $2,500, by George Dalsheimer.

The Astronomical Society’s meetings are noted in the Calendar section of the Caymanian Compass. For further information visit    here.

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