2020, certainly has been one of the more unusual years most can remember, and sadly, one that some would rather forget. Who would have thought this time last year events would unfold as they have. But here we are at the start of a new year and although an end of some kind may be in sight, normality is still a tantilising prospect on the horizon some months down the line. 

2020 had kicked off promisingly for the society with some remedial work carried out on the Bruce observatory at the very end of 2019. Towards the end of January Andi Ye swapped the warm climate of Tenerife for the even warmer climate of Whitby when he visited for a week. This called for a get together and a number of society members 'endured' a very enjoyable evening in the corner bar at the Royal Hotel. January also saw a few decent open nights at the observatory, but February was going to be our busy month with various events/evenings/star parties, requiring society participation scheduled.

Re-felted roof flaps (click for larger image)

First up on Feb 21st was another attempt to host a star party at the Fox and Hounds, Ainthorpe, Danby. The owners-Colin and Vicky's 'star weekend' had fallen victim to bad weather the previous October, which necessitated an indoor show only. Well, lady luck deserted us once again with high winds followed by rain sending us back indoors to enjoy a splendid dinner! Third time lucky this February? We'll see! At least their guests did manage to view the night sky as the following night we decamped at the Danby Moors Centre for their Dark Sky evening. Skies were clear, conditions very respectable for time of year and with numerous scopes erected everyone saw something special.  

Feb 28th found Keith and Mark D down at Fylinghall School for their 'star night'. Yet again cloud prevented any viewing, but even IT teething issues prevented an indoor presentation. The following evening Mark had driven over to Hunley Hall, near Brotton, to assist in some capacity with the dark sky event being run by the Hall management and members of Cleveland and Darlington A.S. Yet again the wind did blow and the rain fall! But the indoor presentations were excellent. 

Feb 22nd, Danby Moors Centre, setting up. (click for larger image)

Fylinghall School - Feb 28th - another indoor show! (click for larger image)

Mid March saw Mark and Keith visit Errington Primary School in Marske by the Sea. The pupils were staying overnight in the main hall and one of the activities was star gazing. This was just about possible before cloud spilled in and so the evening ended with a 'here's what you would have seen' show. As it turned out this was our last event for many months as two weeks later lockdown arrived. Meetings were cancelled, open nights called off, and star parties postponed. 

Errington Primary School visit
March 13th
(click for larger image)

Spring came and went - days were curiously sunny and warm, everywhere, eerily quiet. Lockdown continued. Predictions of a bright comet in April, Comet Y4 ATLAS, caused a stir in the astro community, before fragmenting into obscurity. Reports of another likely naked eye comet in May came to our attention. Comet F8SWAN was going to be the 'special one'. Well not really, not from these parts, again history repeated, another break-up, another naked eye dud, media curse strikes again. Venus and Mercury tried to make amends, putting on a good show in the late May evening twilight sky.

Venus (brighter right) and Mercury - late May evening twilight (click for image)

On June 19th an occultation of Venus by the moon occurred in the morning daylight hours, but the best efforts by members to view it proved fruitless. Summer arrived, and yet another prediction of a naked eye comet. Comet F3 NEOWISE was surely destined to go the same way as the others? Well, blow me down with the draught from the beat of a blue tit's wing, NEOWISE came good, and was a fine sight in the late evening/early morning sky low to the north. For several weeks at the end of June /start of July, the comet lured many a amateur astro-photographer out to deserted locations to capture this visitor from the far depths of our solar system. A beautiful portent of doom, (so it is written) hanging in the twilight sky.

Comet F3 NEOWISE- Imaged by Alan Bentley
(click for larger image)

Neowise captured by Paul Ming (Click for larger image

F3 NEOWISE, Image by Mark Dawson (click for larger image)

By August the comet was a faded memory, as too was Whitby Regatta; cancelled, as well as all the societies' summer star party schedule. Even when restrictions were at a minimum and small scale star parties could have been held, the weather stepped in and thwarted our efforts! The Perseids, were hampered by moonlight and rather predictably; cloud. Mars was growing in brightness in the post midnight sky, Jupiter and Saturn reigned supreme low to the south. September, still no meetings possible, although covid matters looked artificially better. (fools)

Autumn arrived, as did the 'God of War'; Mars, an orange beacon ruling the late evening sky. Covid restrictions allowed tentative planning for Mars party evenings at the Bruce Observatory. These bookable events were number and time limited, but would at least allow the public views of Mars just after opposition, the most favourable for UK observers for a generation. The introduced tier system meant the events remained viable ... just. Unbelievably, for once the weather was generous too, with most observing evenings going ahead as planned and proved were popular. Proceedings ran like clockwork, not a fine Swiss watch type movement, more of a very cheap facsimile, but good enough. (something to remember for the future.)  

Mars imaged through Cooke refractor by Richard Randle using i-Phone
(click for larger image)

By November matters had deteriorated, 'tiers of a clown' weren't working so 'lockdown lite' was introduced. No meetings were possible and planned events fell by the wayside, including our Christmas meal. The year ended with very mixed emotions.  Covid rates and deaths were spiralling dangerously upwards once again, at the same time as working vaccines were, or about to be, rolled out. At least in the sky one final memorable planetary highlight of 2020  thrilled observers who witnessed the closest conjunction of the two largest planets since the year 1623, (see Jupiter-Saturn conjunction article) in an era that saw the country ravaged by numerous, dreadful plagues! Let us all hope history fails to repeat itself.   

You can read and see in full, accounts of 'our' 2020 in the monthly 'Society News' section of the website.