I have always tried to promote our hobby of stargazing to the masses and usually organize sessions closer to the southern winter as there are many brighter things to look at. Also I usually choose public parks such as Robertson's Park, Indooroopilly or Mount Cootha. This time with 10 people in total, I chose a site not too far from home and work, Perrin Park in Taringa, Brisbane, QLD. I have also used that site extensively since moving there.
This time of the year (mid September) Orion is still up for a bit, and the winter milky-way rises not much later. Taking it from the top, I began talking about open clusters and how they form from collapsing gas in nebulae, galaxies (tried to show them NGC 5128, Centaurus A but failed), globulars (everyone was impressed with Omega Centauri, 47 Tucana and M22 and all could make out individual stars at high magnification). Open cluster the Pleiades was the first. Everyone agreed that the views were much better in the 20x80's, with the StarBlast coming a close second. Then we moved onto M42, the Orion Nebula. This one drew gasp through the 10" with many commenting on its "greenish" open flower appearance.
It was also a good time to explain the difference in light gathering since I had a good representation of scopes (4.5"f/4, 6"f/5, 10"f/5, 20x80 binoculars) as well as the effects of light pollution and the use of ultra high contrast (UHC) nebula filters. Most liked the views of open clusters M6, M7 and the star spangled area around Eta Carina better in the StarBlast and the 20x80.
Throughout the night, I showed them more examples of gaseous nebulae. They got to compare and contrast M42, the Orion Nebula versus Eta Carina Nebula. Most of them agreed that Orion was easier to look at, but Eta Carina showed more character due to dark lanes, that were emphasized much better with the UHC filter. But it wasn't these two celestial showpieces that stole the show, it was M17 (swan/omega nebula) in the northern reaches of Sagittarius. When some could not quite make out the shape, one of my female colleagues dropped onto the grass scrunched herself up to make a swan shape... definitely the highlight of the night!!!!!!
Finished off the night right at the end of a stars life and showed them examples of some of the skies best planetary nebulae, M57 (Ring Nebula, Lyra) and M27 (Dumbbell Nebula, Vulpecula). My colleagues loved my association of M57 to Homer's doughnut, but they could not quite understand why M27 was called the Dumbbell Nebula. Apple-core or football nebula was more appropriate ;) As some of them put it, without the UHC filter, it looked like someone took two bites on either side of the football. Fantastic night out with great company. This is also a good way to educate people on why we must preserve our night skies for future generations to come.