Moel Famau – And Our Early Encounters With The Night Sky

As many astronomers have found throughout the centuries, obtaining a high vantage point from which to make their observations, has oft been found advantageous. But not to be overlooked, should be the prevalence of city lights. And consequently, our choice of the lowly mountain site of Moel Famau, whilst atmospheric, extremely panoramic and picturesque by day, suffers badly from ‘skyglow’ or even, ‘light pollution’, as today’s society has variously named this astronomic affliction.

But despite this, our early, enthusiastic viewings from the area, have witnessed many a sighting of the ISS (International Space Station) as it plots its so regular path across the skyline. It warmed our hearts during those far more often occasions, where, our chosen focus of observation was lost in a low haze and/or an exuberance of street reflections against us. Far more common were plain, boring clouds, which of course, are anything but plain or boring, but frequently obstructive here in Britain none-the-less.

These events, coupled with an excess of enthusiasm, can lead to several fairly rapid alterations to an astronomer’s practices and/or equipment. Not to be overlooked, we found, was the need for advanced preparation and research on our chosen area of observation. I.e. Get a fairly accurate bearing and inclination of what you want to see, from people who actually know what they’re doing!! It was also quickly found by us that, if this childish enthusiasm can be combined with some form of basic planet finding/locating mechanism, much added enjoyment can be obtained on the day. When, the many website assurances of how absolutely easy, planet X and Y combinations were to find, even by complete novices, were NOT realized by US, having an easier Plan B (and C) location was also often needed. Once on site, clouds are such a killer of enthusiastic exuberance, and hope over experience was an all too frequent occurrence!

Being bodily comfortable, both inside and out, was also a maxim that we found kept us ‘on point’ for longer during those, “I’m pretty sure this is it, but I’m not sure” moments. I’m not saying that we were ‘nesh’ in those early days, but flasks of various hot and cold liquids, plus some of Lynda’s Tiffin, had much the same effect as any St. Bernard’s brandy or any Kendal Mint Cake to skiers and mountaineers.

But I digress. Did we actually see ‘stuff’ whilst there? Well, Yes. Similar to the response of Explorer Howard Carter in Egypt, having just broken into Tutenkhamen’s tomb. In answer to the question, “Can you see anything?”, like him, we could say, “Yes, [several] wonderful things”. But after all said and done, if you were to ask Paul or I what our FIRST, most memorable night was, whilst on a return trip from Moel Famau, I think we’d both possibly say, making one such wonderful viewing outside Roger’s house, with a bright orange street light not more than 15 yards away (I should say metres, but I’m old). We were slightly discouraged to have NOT seen the planets we wanted, but saw a flash sighting of something else, in between two houses on the trip home. After setting up the tripod, we even managed to get a couple of mobile shots taken through the view finder, which, although basic in quality, meant such a lot to us on that night. Such can be the rewards of the enthusiast who sticks at it, and maybe, that’s a good place for me to stop this piece now.