This past weekend, skies were looking promising and so I planned to do two star parties back to back. Friday night was the first one in Carp, the last RASC star party of the year. I’m not only a member, but I’m also actually serving as the acting star party coordinator. We have marshals though to cover if I’m not actually there, so mainly my job is to send out the notification emails in advance as reminders, and then make the call for the day before or day of the event.
I was a bit later arriving there than I had hoped, not getting there until about 6:30 p.m., so had to set up in the dusk. Long past the sun dropping below the horizon and taking the moon and three or four planets with it. I was wondering if I would be able to see Mars, Jupiter or Venus if I was using my solar filter as they are really close to the sun, but I wasn’t overly hopeful. I never got to try though.
Saturn was still up, so that was good. Turnout was about average, maybe 20+ scopes with the big 25″ from one of the members down at the end. I wandered down around 9:00 p.m. and the line-up was about 25 people long, and apparently was even longer at times.
I had this great idea to use a special list I organized on my tablet as my viewing targets, and it went out the window pretty fast as I didn’t have it set up early enough to avoid blinding people with white light while I got it going. So I did my basic alignment and some star tour stuff, before heading for seeing Saturn. Shortly after I got going, someone wandered over to say they had a new 8SE, same scope as mine, and would I mind coming over and helping him get going as he was having trouble with the red dot finder. Don’t we all?
I felt like it was time to repay some of the help I’ve received from others. Lots of people are reading my blog entries about my alignment problems, often looking for tips and tricks to see what might help them. But within RASC, I’m more often the one asking for help than giving it. It was nice to be able to explain some of the setup steps, how to make it work well the first time, etc. And more importantly, to get the dang red dot finder to align on a red light above the Diefenbunker. One alignment on Mizar and one alignment on Altair later, and he was aligned. First target was Saturn, and it was awesome to hear his excitement in seeing it in HIS scope and to then immediately call over his son who had passed the initial patience point several minutes before (I’ve been there, I recognize it!). They looked at a bunch of stuff for the rest of the night and it sounds like it went well.
Then I lost my scope. Not really. It was just that I wandered back, and of course, it’s VERY dark, and I couldn’t even FIND where I had set up. I had to wander back the opposite way twice to just to figure out where I was. Mostly as there were people looking through it at Saturn still. 🙂
I looked at a few things, and then I heard someone say in passing that the only planet available was Saturn. And I thought, “Wait a minute. I know I looked at Uranus and Neptune a week or two ago, they should still be up now.” So I went looking. Until I found Uranus. So then some visitors wandered over, and we all agreed yes it was disc-like and yes we thought it was Uranus. Hard to see it in a simple 25mm eyepiece or even my 17.3mm. But one of the other RASC members came over and confirmed it was indeed Uranus. So we tried for Neptune. That one we were far less certain of, but we did find something disc-like, just without the tell-tale blue. But again, the member confirmed it was indeed Neptune, which made one of our guests quite happy — he had now seen all 7 visible planets in a scope. Beats me — I haven’t seen Mercury yet.
Two more guys wandered by and we started looking at nebulae. The nearby member also lent me an Oxygen III filter to pull out some details from the Veil Nebula which was cool, albeit quite dark with the filter on. We looked at a bunch of objects for about 90 minutes. Mostly as the one guy is thinking of buying a scope like mine, and wanted to experience it. Around 11:00, I think, I happened to notice that Orion was up, and someone mentioned the Orion Nebula. I hadn’t seen it in almost two years, so I was in. But the guy loaned me an UltraBlock filter. Which made the nebula just “pop”. Eloquent as always, I think my official comment was “Holy crap!”.
After the two guys left, a couple came along where it was obvious the guy was super interested and his girlfriend was playing a supportive partner. She was interested, but she clearly had passed her interest point. Nevertheless, she was game to keep going, so we split some stars, looked at Uranus, etc. Just before the end of the night, I wandered down to the 25″ scope to see M15 and then looked at it afterwards on my own much more pitiful 8″ scope. It was almost laughable the difference. On the other hand, mine fits in the back of my car; the 25″ travels in a horse trailer. I love to see through it, but man, it’s HUGE.
And that was it for the night. And for the season. Sad to see it go, particularly as I have everything working now!
On Saturday, I ran by the telescope store to talk about filters and a specific EP that I have, checked a few things out for their “used” items, and then I headed out to Luskville for the AstroPontiac evening. I’m on the Board, although that mainly means I try to go to their star parties, I do the website, and I sign some docs from time to time. My friend is the main driving force, and he has some good results to show for it.
My son had asked to go on Friday night to the Star Party in Carp, but with my marshal duties, I wasn’t planning on leaving until after midnight, too late for him. So I planned around him coming to Luskville, along with my wife, and we got there just between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. Not that there was any rush. The skies were REALLY overcast.
Fortunately, it’s right next to the Luskville Falls hiking trail, so we went and looked at the waterfalls and then had a little picnic dinner while watching leaves fall in the dusk light and listened to the falls themselves crashing in the distance.
Just after 7:00, I said, “Why not?” and I tried setting up out of pure force of will. The skies weren’t cooperating, but perhaps if I set up, they’d open up. They were supposed to clear at 8:00 p.m., but it wasn’t certain. We crossed our fingers.
I did manage to catch Saturn not long after 7:00 through a small opening in the clouds. I wasn’t aligned, but I could manually spot it. The clarity/seeing was pretty low quality, but we saw it. Then the hole closed and we waited. Just after 8:00, it did look like it was going to clear…some of the clouds started to drift away, I managed to do an alignment, and then they clouded back in again.
My friend managed to keep a bunch of people engaged for about 45 minutes explaining the sky, even if he couldn’t show it to them. And I passed the time giving an interview to the local press about the Initiative. That was a first for me.
Not too long after 9:00, we called it a night and started packing up. Most of the night, Jacob was in the car playing on his tablet, which is the reason I brought it. Sitting around in the dark talking about skies we’ve seen in the past isn’t that exciting for him. I managed to show off some of my old photos of what is possible to see even with a basic scope, but that’s a pale imitation of the real thing.
However, although it wasn’t the BEST NIGHT EVER or anything, it was still fun. We can’t always have great nights, but we can make whatever night we have as great as possible. And any night I can see Saturn, I call a win.