This event had been planned last year, and coincided with the centre being awarded ‘Dark sky status’ making it three sites in the North York Moors area.  Richly deserved it is too, as we consider it the best ‘observer friendly’ venue of the three.

You never know what the weather will throw at you in February, so at least it was comforting that no snow lay on the ground, or that it wasn’t sub zero or blowing a gale, just cloudy, with just a hint of meatballs.

Keith, Lee and Mark made the journey over, prepared for all eventualities, packing the LX 200 as well as Lee’s scope and all the other equipment for the indoor stuff.  On arrival, the hole in the clouds, visible as we drove over, started to fill in with just brief glimpses of the gibbous moon.  We had already been for warned that BBC Look North were coming along, but as yet hadn’t arrived.  The LX would serve as a fine (lottery funded) display scope and if required could be called into action.  We set up just in front of the Centre building itself.

Tripod, levelled, scope hoisted out and placed on top we were cooking. 

Keith: Where’s the spreader plate (bolts scope to stand)

Mark: it’s in the car...err..somewhere; i could have sworn I put it in, looks like it’s turned into a large misshapen car jack.  ****’s!

Mark: tell you what, we’ll use the bungee cord for the dew shield and fit that round the fork base and tripod head.

Keith: Then just to make sure, lets gaffer tape round the joint.  The plan worked, as long as the scope wasn’t used in GOTO mode, cue more cloud prayers.

Mark to Keith: better put an eyepiece in, there’re bound to want a picture of someone looking through it.  I’ll get the eyepiece case out.  Opens case to reveal a ....JIGSAW!! What! (if you’ve seen the Fawlty Towers episode in which he looks for the Duck in the large gateaux – you get the picture)

Mark: Hang about... I didn’t bring the silver case with the eyepieces in anyway, there’re in the black case with the LX controller leads.  They were, crises averted.

Lee calmly set his scope up with no fuss or bother.

Whilst Keith and Lee manned the scopes in readiness, Mark legged it upstairs to prepare for his presentation.  Sixty people had booked to come along to the ‘star night’ and after witnessing ‘keystone astronomers’ in action as they filed by, god only knows what carnage they were expecting upstairs.  Luckily, Look North had still not arrived.

The presentations actually played out very well, the only interruption being the arrival of the Look North reporter, Phillip.  After a brief tour of the night sky using the Starry Night program, and a presentation on the solar system, it was time to demonstrate the scale solar system outside.  However before this, it was interview an ‘astronomer boffin’ time.  Mark would have to suffice.  Lights, Camera, Action...  more light.  ‘Geordie Mark’ squinted into the dazzling, blinding light, a metre from his face and answered the questions.

The scale solar system demonstration went down a storm with the assembled crowd.  The planet ‘light spheres’ held aloft by the eager volunteers, strung out into the distance.  Phillip from Look North also entered into the spirit of the occasion, apparently imitating Voyager 2, getting a gravity assist from ‘Jupiter’ and wandering off into the recesses of the outer solar system, interviewing each planet as he sped by.  Somewhere en route he must have morphed into the New Horizons probe as I’m sure he paid Pluto a visit.  At least that’s what it looked like from our vantage point; the planets of the inner solar system, huddled around the Sun.

"Very pleased to have been awarded Dark Sky Status." 
Rita, Jupiter, Mark and Keith on BBC Look North.

The whole charade was then played out again for all those who missed the initial launch, although Phillip must have drifted off to planet 9 as we never saw him again.

Proceedings finally drew to a close, with a short presentation in the events room.  The ‘supernova element debris segment’ seemed to create quite a stir, especially when the poor woman who volunteered her gold wedding ring promptly dropped it on the floor – cue much scrabbling around.  But it all added to the fun of the occasion, one which was much enjoyed by everyone.  Just a shame it was too cloudy for observations.  Prayers answered; maybe there is a god after all!