Last week, following my Mum’s recent 80th birthday, the parents and I hot-footed it down to Galloway in the south-west of Scotland.
As a birthday gift to his dear spouse, my dad had booked a week’s self-catering holiday in a converted milking shed called Cairndoon Steading, near the village of Monreith.
Much to my delight, our arrival was greeted with a box of freshly baked fruit scones, kindly provided by the owners of the house.
The house was nicely decorated inside, and the view from my bedroom window was extremely pleasant.
Inside the house there were flyers advertising a forthcoming public viewing at the nearby Galloway Astronomy Centre. On 9 May, between 12:07 and 19:34, the planet Mercury was due to tootle across the face of the sun, the first time this had occurred since 2003. My dad was quite keen to take a shufti at it, so we made our way along the road that afternoon to see what was what.
Beyond the first telescope, there was another one set up with a small group of hatted people sitting near it drinking tea in the sunshine.
As we made our way towards them, we were greeted warmly and invited to have a squiz through the telescope.
I don’t have pictorial evidence of what we saw, but I will attempt to describe it. The lens was focussed on what looked like a round orange disc (the sun). Inside the orange disc, near the top right, was a tiny black dot (Mercury). What I thought was a dirty smudge on the lens a little further down inside the orange blob was apparently a sun spot.
If I hadn’t had it on good authority that I was looking at the sun, the planet Mercury and a sun spot, I might well have thought it was just a picture of a round orange shape with a couple of black dots on it.
Although looking at a couple of black dots on an orange disc wasn’t the most exciting experience I’ve ever had, the people were friendly and enthusiastic. I suppose, for an astronomer, it wasn’t too bad a way of spending the daylight hours: sitting outside on a warm day drinking tea, popping up now and then to check the progress of one heavenly body across another.
For me, there were more interesting shapes to be surveyed closer to home. One of the things I particularly appreciated about Cairndoon Steading was the daily viewing of local animal life. I do like to see a few nice cows when I’m on my holidays.