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Your head in the stars

Experience - an evening where, while enjoint a delicious meal, I learnt a few basic concepts about astronomy and I discovered the sky through a professional telescope. 25-09-2019
Your head in the stars-46001

The evening begins at 18h30 with an aperitif at the restaurant ‘Les Bisses’ in Planchouet. Our group, of about twenty people, is heterogeneous : three generations of the same family (grandfather, father and 8-year old daughter), three couples in their thirties, a group of young people and two friends in their fifties.

Jos, from Astro Events, takes the floor for an hour of theory. 60 minutes of a « lecture » on astronomy with its figures of many zeros and its immense distances, all this on a Friday evening after a day’s work ? I must admit that, at first, I was not very motivated about the whole idea.

But that was without counting on Jos’ overwhelming enthusiasm and communicative passion: he uses images, comparisons and a healthy measure of humour in his explanations. He shows scale models of planets and involves the audience by inviting them to participate in discussions.

How to distinguish a planet from a star with the naked eye ? If the sun was one metre in diameter and was in this room, how far would the solar system extend ? Why do the stars vary in colour ? So many topics, and so many others, addressed by Jos in simple words.

He adapts his presentation according to what can be observed that night in the sky : he defines and explains the elements that we will then be able to see outside. And he encourages everyone to ask questions, so much so that many participants dare to engage in down-to-earth, metaphysical and even philosophical questions.  Jos has the answer to everything mastering both his subject and the art of popularizing science.

And meanwhile, in the kitchen, the chefs are busy : as a starter, reblochon nems with nuts and saladine, for the main course, chicken breast served with cream sauce, vegetables and rosemary potato skewers, and for dessert a red fruit panna cotta. The restaurant ‘Les Bisses’ is known for its generous and refined cuisine made from local produce, which changes with the seasons. The service is efficient and the dishes are delicious. What a wonderful way to spend the time needed for the night to fall upon us.

Then it is time to go outside and observe the sky. Two professional telescopes are set up on the now very dark car park. This activity is not organised in Planchouet by chance: we are far from any light pollution. The date was also deliberately chosen. To a participant who regrets the absence of the moon, Jos answers that it is deliberate, the moon being so bright that it prevents us from seeing what is around.

A game of hide-n-seek begins with the clouds. At first very veiled, the sky is revealed piece by piece, pushing Jos to move the telescopes in function to this : « The sky is the one deciding what we will see on the programme tonight. »

At first, I don’t see much, then my eyes start to focus. I listen to Jos’ advice : you should use your peripheral vision by rotating your eye around the viewfinder or close your eyes if a car passes by (it takes 30 minutes for the eye to « recover » from the glare).

A special feature of these telescopes is that their tripod is equipped with a motor that rotates to follow the rotation of the earth ; otherwise the object observed would quickly leave the field of vision !

Everybody has the chance to look into these advanced instruments, then Jos changes the settings to allow us to see new elements. I can easily distinguish the star clusters, galaxies and constellations that Jos points out to us with a very powerful laser. The sky suddenly seems within reach as if we could almost touch it !

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