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5/08/2010

Missed Opportunity or a Good Night Out

The skies were pretty clear, and I knew they would clear more as we got into the evening hours. A star party at a school that was on the route toward one of my dark sites was occurring that night. I had signed up to participate and had taken my 16 year old son with me. We drove around trying to follow the directions and got lost. After about a half an hour, we both were about to give up and go to the dark site to observe on our own when we found the street. When we got to the school, there was no one there. One guy was walking around, and after waiting for 30 minutes we found approached him and he said this was the location. Based on this and conducting a star party once a month for my own program I offer the follow suggestions for schools hosting a star party. These are only suggestions and they are mine, so feel free to disregard or adapt what you want.

1. Provide a map with clear directions. People will support the star party but not if they can't get there.
2. Have a list of what time to arrive at. Since some will have dobs, please give them 1 hour to cool down. You as a school worker need to be there to direct them where to set up.
3. Have a designated area picked out, and have the parking lot lights shut off for the event AND if on grass during watering months, have the sprinklers turned off for that night.
4. Let observers and viewers know the time frame. Often after viewers leave the astronomers may want to stay to try out equipment, compare views etc. A closing time allows them to do this, and gives those who want to leave a time to pack and drive away.

Anyway, it was fun to watch my son show off Saturn, Mars, Regulus , M13 and a few other items. He only needed help one time and that was with finding the keystone.

I showed Mars, M66 and M65 and M97 that with the Ultrablock Filter, popped right off (an experience eye could see it without though rather easily). The cool thing this night is as twilight evolved into the night, I was on M66 and M65 and NGC 3628 popped out just like stars. It was a cool experience to watch the detail emerge from them.

So I traded a night of observing and sketching for a night of outreach. Was this a missed opportunity? Probably in the sense there just haven't been too many clear nights and may not be for a while. Was it a good night out? Definetly as the students, teachers, and the members of the club there all enjoyed ourselves and each other's company. Also, I got to look through some really good eyepieces, Nagler etc. and formed some opinions on them versus other eyepieces. That will be for another post. Hope the skies are clear for me and you tonight! No sketches though and I forgot my digital camera.

Edit: I guess I should mention what scopes I saw there. There was a Skywatcher 12 inch, an Orion 8 inch Reflector F4.0 on a mount, a 18 inch Obsession and two more SCT scopes that I didn't view through, then my 8 and 10 inch dobs. I looked through the SkyWatcher and liked the view and how the scope works. It was very interesting. The Obsession I mentioned, love the mirror and the setup, very good view.

If your new to astronomy, the editors over at TheOneMinuteAstronomer have a page for beginners. It is the Crash Course in Basic Night Time Observ
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ing. The link above will take you there. They cover Day 1: What can you see up there. Day 2 How the Sky Moves Day 3: How to Read a Star Char and Mini Tour of the Night Sky. Day 4: Binoculars and Telescopes. Day 5: How to See Faint Celestial Objects/What to do Next. If your new I invite you to take a look at their site, they have some good information on it and this is a pretty good site for information. If your experience, but know a beginner, you may want to pass the link to them. Or you may choose to ignore. By the way, the weather isn't looking too good right now here. Sigh. I'm tired of clouds (first verse).