NB: yes, this is several days after the weekend. Whatever. Also, I'm quite smug that I'm writing this based on notes that I wrote in the front of my Pocket Sky Atlas - the first few in the pitch black, then the others with the aid of our red light. (Have I mentioned this before? We found a red light! It looks an awful lot like a bike's rear light.)
We're hoping to make good use of the new moon weekends this year, and we decided to start by going to Forrest - a bit more than two hours from Melbourne, it's close-ish to the coast and fairly far from big urban sprawls. And hey, how convenient! There are mountain bike trails for during the day!
...had us alternately groaning and gleeful, as we drove down, because the clouds built up and then disappeared several times. Early in the evening it looked like the clouds had come in... but then, by the time it was properly dark (except for the glow on the western horizon which stayed there, and so was presumably Geelong rather than the sunset) the clouds had gone and voila! for the first time in a really long time, there was the Milky Way. It was dark enough to see the Coal Sack quite clearly, next to Crux; and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds were totally obvious. Lack of light pollution makes the most stunning amount of difference.
First, because it was there, we tried looking at Mars. Sadly, although it's at its closest for years, it was quite a small disk. Distinctly red, though. For something a bit different, we swung over to Omega Centuari: the largest globular cluster in the southern sky, I think? Pretty impressive, anyway, although I actually think not quite as good as 47Tuc, because it didn't seem to have the tendrils reaching out.
(Pause for collimation...)
On to the Carina constellation - which I still can't quite figure out, the Pocket Atlas isn't so good for that - and checked out the Eta Carina Nebula, which is enormous and has really cool dust lanes in it. The whole area around that nebula is pretty cool - heaps of stars, of course, because it's bang in the Milky Way. Then off to the Southern Pleiades, an open cluster... and I just don't find open clusters that interesting. They just look like a bunch of stars. Yes, sometimes they're in a pretty formation - I like the normal Pleiades - but... anyway. Also in this area is another, tighter cluster - IC2581. And it was more impressive, I think because the stars are closer together and there are more of them that are obviously part of the gang.
Moving on, we decided to get a bit ambitious and have another look at the Large Magellanic Cloud. I probably didn't actually spend enough time looking at it, to allow my eyes to adjust enough to pick out interesting aspects; there was too much else to look at. But I'm quite sure that the fuzzy blob - in the same place as when we looked at it in Ballarat - is the Tarantula Nebula. It's pretty awesome to have found an object in another galaxy.
Finally, to finish Friday night (by this time Saturday morning), we had a look at Alpha Centuari - split it easily (I think I'd like to start collecting double stars...), and of course it wouldn't be a complete viewing night at the moment without checking out Orion, which looked breathtakingly awesome. Of course. A final look at Eta Carina, and 12.30 on a Friday night was definitely bedtime.
Also, we saw numerous satellites.
... was another very off&on again day, cloud-wise. We really thought we were going to get screwed over, but come 10.30 or so (and a little snooze) it had cleared enough that we bothered dragging Ptolemy onto the balcony. (Did I mention that? Observing from the balcony. None of this whole going-a-long-distance-from-the-house-or-car business for me.) We had a quick look at Eta Carina again (and aren't we glad the Atlas comes with a Greek alphabet guide, since it's a long time since I did esoteric maths), but frankly the most interesting thing about the sky was watching the clouds and general murk come... and go... and come again. I think we only stayed out for half an hour or so, because then a sky-covering cloud came in and ruined our fun. There was certainly no Mars viewing.
The one thing I was sad about? No Saturn. Rising too late, meant that it was in the murk both nights. Hopefully we get to see it over winter.