Stargazing Weekend in the Achterhoek

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Me, giving a talk in PJs (picture by Steven Lantinga). Click on the picture for my flickr album!

Ever since I gave a lecture for the group of amateur astronomers from the Astroforum, when they were in Limburg for a weekend of stargazing, I’ve been a member too. It’s the forum Steven’s been on for a while (and we actually discovered later we’d already ‘spoken’ to each other on there, before we met in real life!) He told me they do these trips more often, so when I saw the announcement for the stargazing weekend in the Achterhoek, I signed on straightaway.

Picture this: a group accommodation with bunk beds, which you might remember from school camping trips, near a forest somewhere in Laren. This time my ‘classmates’ were 35 people of whom I’d only met 5 or so before. They had all agreed to spend the weekend together on a forum. (Remember the days when you were warned about meeting people you had only spoken to online?!) I thought most of them knew each other though and at first it felt as if I was the only one who had her name written on her forehead.

But – although colleagues had frowned upon my plans – I thought this was so wicked. Plus, I don’t need a lot to feel like I’m on (a much needed) vacation. My sleeping bag in a different environment with fun people will do. The plan was to get together for the first meal on the Friday afternoon. We’d stay two nights, watching the night sky. So I put some clothes in a bag when I came home from school (interesting classes) and took along the stuff the lovely boyfriend had forgotten at my place and I dragged it all to the station.

In Eindhoven, Joep joined me with his 50+ kilograms of stargazing equipment. We took up almost the whole balcony of the train, which was sort of uncomfortable to a level that I started to find it amusing. Steven picked us up from the station and showed us where he had saved us a bed. We were sharing the room with our pal Jan Willem and five others. We chatted a bit while waiting for the dark, when Joep and I noticed this lantern was kind of in the way. We assigned ourselves the task of dimming the light, which was a creative challenge.

Meanwhile the other amateur astronomers had set up their scopes and Steven showed me a couple of pretty things. I remember the Beehive Cluster and seeing Mars for the first time through a telescope. It was a fairly good evening, weather-wise, but I went in a little earlier than the hard-core stargazers and just chatted over tea to the few who kept coming in to warm up. The next morning, I think I was the first one awake, which was only fair given I was the first to eventually hit the sack (I’m a lousy amateur astronomer really).

I had slept fine. Like outside in the field, lights were kept off in the bedroom and I didn’t hear any of the guys coming to bed. That Saturday morning, I quietly climbed out of my bed and went for a walk. Joep had left his airbed in the field and I declared my love for him for this fact when I decided I’d lay down again, in the Sun. Erik, who had taken on the ‘job’ of organising a few things, had asked me to take my slides with me, so I could give my talk for those who hadn’t heard it yet. We planned that for the afternoon. Steven would also give his first lecture and two others presented as well.

This was the first time I did it in PJs and flip-flops. We also had an interesting discussion afterwards. Then we played around for a bit and we tasted a flower from a cluster of flowers because Roel said it would taste like carrots. It did, a little. The things you learn on an astronomy weekend! Casper and Daan, who slept in their very cool van, had brought the music and this is how we passed the time until we had dinner and an actual homemade carrot cake for dessert.

That evening was another good one. We had an hour less, because of the clocks changing to summer time, but we made most of it. This was also the evening the World Wide Fund for Nature had organised Earth Hour – when they ask participants to turn off their lights for an hour. Check. Lots of pictures were taken too, of the deep sky even. And while I was chatting to Esther, we missed a fireball right behind us. The response from the field was priceless too though. Compared to the others, I had another early night, but I wasn’t the first to wake up that morning.

Casper had already crawled out of his van and we used his scope to look at a hot air balloon (upside down!) I heard they had debated whether or not to wake me for Saturn that night and I jokingly gave them a hard time for not doing that. Maybe next year. After the late breakfast, it was time to clean up and pack. And to get the plastic off the lantern of course. Casper and Daan had taken care of this. Meanwhile Ruben called us clowns for trying to fit all of our stuff in the car (but thanks to him for waiting to see if we would manage!)

It was awesome. Picture proof of this can be seen on my flickr page and here’s also a time-lapse film made by Esther. Funny detail: you can see us dimming the three lights! Thanks you lot!