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About Skylook123

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    Star Forming

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    Tucson, AZ
  1. It certainly should be a bucket list event at some time in an astronomer's life. The sky is wondrous, but the visitors are so appreciative for the awakening awareness of their night environment. After all Half The Park Is After Dark! Hope to see you there sooner rather than later.
  2. The 28th annual Grand Canyon Star Party (GCSP) will be held June 9 through 16, 2018, in northern Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park. GCSP is an annual collaboration between the National Park Service and astronomers from around North America and often the world to bring astronomy outreach to Park visitors. New Moon will be June 13, mid-week, making giving us dark skies for most of the week while providing a few days of crescent moon for the visitors on the last few nights. Amateur astronomers with a telescope and love of the sky to share, and the interested public of all ages, are invited to experience the beautiful Arizona nights in an exploration of the heavenly Grand Canyon skies. Not an astronomer? Drop in for an unforgettable and fabulous vacation for families, singles, and seniors. GCSP will be held concurrently on both the North and South Rims. Visitors to the park are free to show up at their leisure, and observe through any or all telescopes. Astronomers choosing to set up for the event need to register in advance with the appropriate coordinator below. The South Rim can accommodate 80 or more telescopes, and we have not had to limit South Rim attendance thus far. The ten or so North Rim slots on the Lodge veranda, however, usually are accounted for by the end of February. In general, volunteer astronomers should pre-register with the coordinator for the Rim they wish to join. Astronomers are responsible for securing their own lodging, and, due to the nature of the venues for both rims, telescopes generally need to be set up and taken down each night. Please see the North Rim site for unique arrangements for that venue. For the South Rim, we have space reserved for larger instruments, and a second reserved area at the entrance for live video setups, that may be left in place for the duration. Visitor attendance at the Grand Canyon National Park has increased by 50% over the last four years, and lodging has become difficult to get less than four or five months in advance. In fact, Trailer Village has been filled for the June event as early as January for the last two years. If you are planning to attend, make reservations at the earliest opportunity. Accommodation information can be found at the web sites below. At the South Rim component, over the past several years the day time outreach has grown significantly, with daytime hands-on demonstrations on astronomical topics at the Main Visitor Center and occasionally in the Bright Angel area, indoor demonstrations at the visitor center, and solar, lunar, and planetary observing during the day around the park. Also at the South Rim, at the Visitor Center theater we will have a variety of nightly presentations by a great group of speakers as the twilight deepens. Web sites and contact information are shown below. Please contact Steve for the North Rim, or me for the South Rim, if you are interested in attending or for questions you might have. North Rim http://www.saguaroastro.org/content/2018GrandCanyonStarParty.html Steve Dodder Coordinator, North Rim, Grand Canyon Star Party 53750 W. Prickley Pear Rd. Maricopa, AZ 85239 E-mail: fester00 [at] hotmail.com Phone:602-390-0118 South Rim http://tucsonastronomy.org/upcoming-events/grand-canyon-star-party/ Jim O’Connor Coordinator, South Rim, Grand Canyon Star Party P.O. Box 457 Cortaro, AZ 85652 E-mail: gcsp [at] tucsonastronomy.org Phone: 520 546-2961
  3. Very well written and organized, a guided tour of a great night under the stars. For those of us of a more mature age, this will make a fine guide for public outreach three or four months from now. Well done!
  4. I will always be grateful for our special part of the world. We are fortunate, and I wish many more folks could come through and see how the night sky should be. We can't fight weather, but we can sure minimize the human intrusion on the night environment under which we, and the rest of the natural world, evolved.
  5. I do wish our visitor count would have been higher, but there were so many activities going on forty miles away in the town of Willcox, and some guided day hikes within the venue, that we're not surprised. I've been fortunate to be part of several successful IDSP accomplishments, and this location already looks to be on the edge of qualifying. One Park At A Time.
  6. Event: Chiricahua National Monument Star Party Date: Saturday October 21, 2017 Location: Chiricahua National Monument, 37 miles Southeast of Willcox, AZ, about 5400 feet elevation Weather: Clear skies, low 90s at home in Marana, AZ about 140 miles Northwest of the park at 2:00 PM, about 70 at the park at 5:30 PM, dropping to upper 40s around 9:30 PM when we left. Seeing: and Transparency: Seeing very steady, transparency generally good with some high stratus due to merging contrails from late afternoon west-bound Los Angeles air traffic. Equipment: 10” f/10 Meade 2120 SCT operating at f/5 (1270mm) for deep sky, Celestron AVX mount, Mallincam Xterminator live video camera, QFX 19" LCD 12V monitor, Werker deep cycle 100 amp-hour power supply with A/C inverter. The TAAA provided Jim Knoll, Dean Ketelsen, Paul Williamson, and myself to set up telescopes to support a public night under the stars, part of the Chiricahua National Monument (CNM)’s efforts to achieve International Dark Sky Park status. Jim did the heavy lifting in setting up the event and visiting the site to choose a setup site. CNM is a picturesque combined prairie and brushy high desert area at over 5,000 feet elevation and about forty miles from urban light sources, a combination giving it very dark skies along with favorable transparency. Humidity for the two days I was in the area was under 10%, helping provide a clear access to the exoatmospheric realm. CNM is rightfully called, quoting from its web site, a "Wonderland of Rocks", waiting to be explored. The 8-mile paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds, and inhabitants of this 11,985 acre site including the Faraway Ranch Historic District with plenty to discover more about the people who have called this area home. The quality of the night sky here, with the cooperation of the climatology, weather cooperates, gives great skies for exploring the full environment at this dark sky site. OK, on with the show. The location is about a two hour drive from home, and then back again. I wasn’t sure how long we’d have visitors since the event was advertised in the area as well as there being a campground within the property. I needed to be there early enough to set up my scope as well as check out the Bonita Campground Amphitheater for a sunset talk I was requested to give, so I was looking at a pretty full day and late night so to be safe, I planned to drive home the next morning and got a room in Willcox. The star party was coincident with several major events in Willcox including a wine festival, the Boulder Dash Trail Run, art classes and festivals, all of which had most of the motel rooms in town booked a couple of months in advance but I was able to reserve one six weeks in advance. After an uneventful drive to Willcox, I checked into the Super 8 and headed the forty miles to CNM. I set up with the others at the Faraway Ranch Parking Lot, headed over to the campground amphitheater. We have been setting up this support for the CNM star party series for around six months, and it was great to meet Ranger Suzanne Moody, our point of contact. Suzanne was setting up the projector, I plugged in my laptop, and we were ready to go. As people began coming into the outdoor arena, Suzanne engaged them in conversation and prompting their observations about the experience in the facility. I am always amazed when I deal with National Park Service Rangers and their positive approach to the whole function. Everyone Suzanne dealt with at the Amphitheater received personal attention with a smile and enthusiasm. And it always seems that way, with the Interpretive Rangers I've teamed with at a half dozen National Parks, Monuments, and Recreation Areas. Always uplifting to be around. The talk is an overview of what’s available to view at night. A brief description of how small and large stars work, basic facts about our solar system and planets, clusters, constellations, galaxies, nebulae, and comets, finishing up with a four minute stream of astrophotographs of the objects we’d been discussing. We had about 20 people show up; the festivities in Willcox cut down the size of the potential audience. I went back to the setup site, and the other three were going strong with about 50 visitors. It took me a while in the dark to polar and stellar alignments done, then I caught up with the others. The first item I showed was M22, the large globular cluster in Sagittarius. The gain was set on 3, with only the 2.1 seconds of integration set, and there were some red artifacts in the cluster core so I backed the gain down to zero and upped the integration time to 8 seconds and the cluster exploded on the screen, filling it like a picture of Omega Centaurus. From then on, I kept the gain off and used only integration time to enhance the various objects. From then on, it was a great teaching opportunity with about a dozen folks who hung around.my spot. For this season, I jumped through my usual list of objects that show well with the Mallincam. After M22, I went over to M8, the Lagoon, and upped the integration time to highlight the huge emission nebula and its evolving open cluster condensing from the gas cloud as each star’s nuclear fusion initiates and sends out a pressure wave to continue the star forming process. In a few million years, all we’ll have to view is the cluster devoid of gas, but for now, what a beauty. Next came The Swan, M17, a red emission nebula that resembles its namesake and appears to be shedding feathers. Some of the most massive stars generating the energy to cause the emission are hidden behind the dust cloud that makes the crook of the neck of the swan, needing infrared sensors to peer into the dark. We spent a good amount of time discussing the range of stellar evolution in view, with the new birthing in M8 and M17, while the end of the process residing in M22. To complete the life cycle demonstration we ended up nearly overhead, first with M27, the Dumbbell planetary nebula in Vulpecula the Fox, just below the Summer Triangle, a huge item on the monitor screen since I operate at f/5, a longer focal length of 1270mm to get a large image size. This item required an increase of integration time to over 20 seconds, but the blue-green ionizing oxygen center was wrapped nicely in the red hydrogen outer layer all generated by the heat from the white dwarf core star caused by the increased stellar winds from the helium flash near the end of life of the dying former star. For a while we went over to The Ring nebula, M57, in Lyra, a much smaller object due to being about twice as far away from us as M27. The double white dwarf stars were clearly visible, but the integration time needed to be dropped to around 5 seconds to accommodate the higher surface brightness of the little Cheerio. As a comparison, I tried to go back to M8 and couldn’t find it, thinking my alignment had gone awry. Then I looked up and saw Sagittarius had dipped behind a high Southwestern ridge, and even the Xterminator has trouble looking through rock. The final object I showed off was NGC457, The Owl Cluster, looking like a bat hanging upside down with the camera orientation appropriate to the upcoming holiday, and is an example of a cluster that has used up all of the source gas but whose stars have yet to dissipate at only about 22 million years old, fills in the timeline of stellar evolution. Our audience eventually left, I packed up, went to the motel, and had an uneventful trip home, except for an accident that had closed I-10 and had us get off and back on. Among the dented vehicles I saw was an auto transporter with six vehicles on fire. That’s going to cost! A nice start to a continuing partnership with Chiricahua National Monument.
  7. Thanks for taking us on your journey. Very nicely related. After reading it, I think you can increase your admirer total to 51.
  8. Location: Biosphere 2, near Oracle, AZ, about 50 miles north of home in Marana, AZ, about 3900 ft. elevation Weather: 96F mid-day, 88F at sunset, 70F when we quit about 9:30 PM MST. Cloud free. Seeing and Transparency: I never got a chance to really evaluate conditions due to the nearly full moon. Equipment: 10" Meade SCT on Celestron AVX mount, Mallincam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor. First, a bit of background. Several months ago I needed a quick replacement mount for my video scope and bought a Celestron AVX from Starizona: 1/3 the weight of the mount I was using and much more accurate in pointing, with an upgraded ADM dual saddle plate (Losmandy D and Vixen) replacement for the heavy scope. Due to a wind accident at the Grand Canyon Star Party, the mount head ended up needing repairs. All seemed great, but on Friday afternoon I was checking the AVX and the hand controller gave a failure indication. I ran the system over to Starizona in the late afternoon and we found the electronic failure in the controller, but we also found that the ADM piece to carry the larger scope had been incorrectly machined and was causing a binding/lock-up on one axis. For two and a half hours, Dean Koenig at Starizona re-machined the bad mechanical component and provided a new mount controller. By now it was after 5:30 so it was a challenge to get to Biosphere 2, a waiting group of University of Arizona Science Journalism students, and get set up for the outreach. I got there well after the other three had set up and scrambled to get up and running in the dark. Eventually, all was assembled and the repaired system worked as it should have. The moon was about 18 hours past full, so it hampered contrast quite a bit. It rose just after astronomical twilight ended, so, while we did get to see the glorious Milky Way above us for about 45 minutes, the moon wiped all that out. Unfortunately, our visitors arrived from dinner just after the best sky left us, but we did well with what we could work with. Don, Don, and Richard were rocking with the night sky and Saturn, M13, Albireo, and other eye candy. After my belated alignment, I started in Sagittarius for M22 and taught the nature of globular clusters and the recent research, including some ground-breaking discoveries from Kitt Peak National Observatory, that seem to identify that there are three unique formation mechanisms for globular clusters. The starting point of the genesis exploration begins with their age. While the Milky Way is approximately 7.5 billion years old, the stars in these objects show ages approaching 12 billion years, making them Population III, the earliest generation of stars. But if they are circling the Milky Way, how did the chicken-egg conundrum begin? Initial internal studies showed supermassive black holes at the cores of the first globs studied, the indication that these balls of several hundred thousand to several million stars are the cores of early, smaller galaxies subsumed by the later development of the massive Milky Way. But then, other globs show no such black hole core yet all of the stars are of approximately the same age, suggesting these globs evolved from a common, massive gas cloud, and their mutual gravity prevented their dispersion. Finally, continued research showed some globs with disparate ages of stars, indicating that they were at one time smaller clusters of different sources, and in passing by each other became mutually attracted and formed a single entity. Three unique apparent mechanisms of formation. Although there are less than 180 of these objects in extended elliptical orbits around and outside of the plane of our galaxy's core, other galaxies show 4,000 or more of these entities, leaving the mystery of what limits the Milky Way to so few of these objects? This is similar to the question of why the Milky Way has fewer stars than its apparent mass and dimensions would suggest, so the more we learn, the more we see we need to study. This is where the Mallincam Xterminator proved its usefulness in the demonstration. Because of the tremendous reduction in contrast due to the nearly full moon in the dusty Arizona sky, the eye alone in an eyepiece sees hardly any detail. The Mallincam, however, could be adjusted to overcome the environmental features and get the object into a teachable state. In fact, with subtle adjustments, it was possible to pull out a few red giants from the internal structure and use the visual information to discuss stellar evolution. These stars are mid-sized or smaller items, at 12 billion years old, and the larger stars have long ago gone to supernova state. Thus, we’re looking at stars in globular clusters that are, for the larger of the remaining lights, near their end of life and have become red giants. Impossible to grasp this in an eyepiece on a typical amateur telescope, but the magic of Near Real Time Video and highly sensitive CCD chips can open a new world of study and teaching. After exploring the nuances of the aged, stellar retirement home of our globular cluster example, I went over to a young, star forming element called The Lagoon, M8, a mixed cluster with nebulosity. Several million years ago, a gas cloud that had been invariant for over 13 billion years was excited by some dynamic event, possibly a near-by supernova or a passing giant star. This event changed the local density of hydrogen just enough to kick-start a star to begin formation, whose ignition sent a pressure wave out and cascaded the process. As a result, the Lagoon is a tight grouping of new stars being generated across the gas cloud like a glacial waterfall, and eventually, millions of years from now, all the hydrogen will be in new stars or blasted away by the dynamic pressure of the star formation. This object filled half of the video screen with neophyte stars, but the normally gorgeous nebula in the remaining half of the view was wiped out by the moon glow. With a UHC filter or much more tinkering with the settings on the camera I could probably have brought out more of the nebulosity, but I wanted to make better use of our limited time. Pity, because it's a tremendous red cotton ball awaiting its turn to form stars. Since faint fuzzies seemed to be less preferred targets with the bright moon, I went over to an open cluster in Cassiopeia, commonly called The Owl Cluster, nomenclature NGC 457. It really does look like a pointillist impression of an owl spreading its wings. The camera happened to be positioned such that it was upside down in the monitor, and one of my visitors immediately noticed the shape and said "It's a bat." Yep, for Halloween in front of the house, that's what I do for the kids - show them "The Bat." It has an alternative name in some cultures as The Kachina Doll Cluster. Some years ago it picked up the name ET Cluster because of the movie, and even the movie Short Circuit cause it to briefly be called Johnny 5, after the robot in that movie. With its spread wings, The Owl looks to be repeating Johnny 5's famous movie line, "No Disassemble!" At about 22 million years of age all of its gas source seems to have been consumed and at nearly 9,000 light years distant, these are all giant stars, not much longer to live. Moving back to Sagittarius, I tried The Swan, M17. This is a large, red emission nebula which seemed invisible until I jacked up the gain way over the normal limits (usually I use AGC=OFF on Deep Sky Objects, here I set it to 5), set the Gamma 1.0 as though it was a dim object, and extended the usual integration time from 8 seconds to 20 seconds and son of a gun, The Swan exploded in the view. So we discussed emission nebulae, with the UV energy from bright, new giant stars causing electron stripping from the hydrogen gas and other electrons racing in to balance the atomic charge, resulting in a hydrogen photon being released, billions of times a second and giving us a beautiful red and slightly blue reflective giant swan. The neck of the swan is really a dust cloud hiding the giants causing the emission but require an infrared telescope to view. That became a big hit as we defeated the Moon's attempt to hide the beauty from us. We finished up on the Moon. Awesome view, and we started with the explanation of the formation of our satellite about 4.5 billion years ago with the collision of the lost planet Theia with the Earth, and the resulting debris forming the lunar eye candy. We went over the Grand Tack, with newly formed planets arranging themselves like sailing ships to achieve equilibrium. At 3.5 billion years, this resulted in the Late Heavy Bombardment, the asteroids being disrupted and penetrating the inner solar system and leaving the evidence on the Moon in the form of the Maria, or lava seas, as the Moon was cooling. We also looked at and talked about the later bombardment at about 1 billion years ago that left the ray craters as evidence of the now cold rocky moon. We talked about a whole lot of other concepts like the tidal bulge and our length of day changing, the earth wobble and precession of the North Celestial Pole, the evidence of several other planetary collisions, and some of the lunar landings and their discoveries. Listening to Don, Don, and Richard was great to hear as the education and introduction to the home universe was pouring forth. All in all, a great night since at 4 PM or so I had no scope to use!
  9. I've heard that opportunities are always available in the past tense. My wife and I lived on an island in the Pacific at about 8 N latitude. Talk about a new sky. Scorpius overhead, Omega Centaurus naked eye. A few nights ago I was observing the Swan late in the evening as it was setting, and it went from brilliant, crisp red to losing detail as the atmosphere played more of a role in the image. Always more to enjoy, though, now that the humidity is under 17% and the dew point is 60F/35C under the ambient temperature. Unfortunately, when at home in my back yard facing North, I can't see most of the southern hemisphere with the house and neighbors' trees and on my front walk, the house and the neighbors' trees hide the north.
  10. Thank you, Alan. I have a bit of wiring problem in the brain box that impairs memory creation (a form of Attention Deficit Disorder), combined with small motor coordination that many artist friends have tried to overcome and teach me to sketch but of no avail, so the only way I have to remember my observing adventures is to produce word pictures. And it's just not real unless it's shared. As far as The Swan, yes, down here at 32 N latitude, it is nicely above the horizon, as is Omega Centaurus at favorable times. While for several decades I've enjoyed the Sagittarius, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, and Centaurus regions blessed by this latitude and an 18" truss dob, several years ago the smaller 10" combined with live video opened the world of color in the view, and the striking red tint of the emission nebulae is a life changer for the visitors to my setup. Some day, all astronomers from your part of the planet should experience the wonder of seeing these marvels at our 8,000 foot altitude at the Grand Canyon Star Party. During June, for each of 8 nights we will have approximately 1,500 visitors to our 130 telescopes, and our additional task is to count how many visitors we can cause to leave with a tear or two at being introduced to their home universe. I hope some day you can have the privilege of seeing the universe as we do, at high altitude with dry skies and inkwell black nights. But then home becomes a bit unsatisfying! Thanks for reading!
  11. Event: Oracle State Park Star Party Date: Saturday September 23, 2017 Location: Oracle State Park, Oracle AZ, about 4400 ft elevation Weather: Clear skies, mid-80s at home in Marana, AZ about 35 miles southwest of the park 5:45 PM, dropping to mid-50s in the park to around 9:00 PM when done. Seeing: and Transparency: Generally good. Equipment: 10" f/10 Meade 2120 SCT operating at f/5 (1270mm) for deep sky, Orion EQ-G Atlas mount, Mallincam Xterminator live video camera, QFX 19" LCD 12V monitor, Werker deep cycle 100 amp-hour power supply with A/C inverter. I usually try to have my equipment set up and ready to go well before sunset since my method of public outreach involves both a telescope and a live video presentation of the day and night sky. This is to enable participation by visitors who might have mobility or vision issues, or smaller children who have not yet developed the ability to visualize the eye candy in an eyepiece (it takes from about age five to as late as age 7 to build the out-of-context discrimination capability in the maturing brain). I rely on the live video display on a monitor to help those who might have difficulty accessing an eyepiece or processing the image. Unfortunately for me, I came down with a bit of food poisoning in late afternoon and did not get to OSP until after sunset. I knew there would be at least five other telescopes set up, but I really like the visitors who attend events here. Through their efforts, park management, and volunteers, two years ago they completed the work to get the site designated an International Dark Sky Site by the International Darksky Association and they really do appreciate their environment, both day and night. I scrambled to get my stuff crammed into the astronomer gaggle, but I wasn't set up until well after 7 PM. The visitors at the other scopes, and the volunteers showing the home universe to the audience, were great to listen to while I fumbled around in the dark. Then came the usual annoyances when setting up late; somehow my polar alignment was way off, and the focus of the scope was hugely off the mark. It took about 20 minutes on the setting moon to even find a bright object to get the focus fixed. After that, it was a wonderful night. The camera performed greatly. Usually, aligning and pointing would take about 20 minutes, but I threw the rules out into the bushes and did some old geezer tricks. I remembered where Polaris should be in the Polar scope for that time of night, and polar aligned first. That's a cheat for this mount, because then all I need is to find a star near my target and not worry about multiple star pattern matching. Polar took a minute, Schedar in Cassiopeia took two minutes, and done. Jumped right to The Owl Cluster, NGC 457, one of those few objects that looks like it's name. It filled the 19" monitor, a cluster of about 150 or so stars making a pointillist image of an owl spreading its wings. This is a fascinating object for young, and old, alike because it does look like an owl spreading its wings, an amazing 8-9,000 light years away yet very bright, indicating the large size of these relatively new stars, about 22 million years in some references. Being so big, they won't last very long. Since I can rotate the camera and give it any orientation, for Halloween I show it off upside down as The Bat for kids. For about fifteen or twenty years, it picked up the colloquial names of The ET Cluster or the Johnny Five Cluster, after the movies ET and Short Circuit, and I even had scouts at a Davis-Monthan AFB camporee call it The F-15, but mostly it has reverted back to The Owl although there is an accepted name of Kachina Doll. The challenge I gave my visitors was to spot the color variations in the constituent stars. Stars look white unless you test yourself, then the subtleties of the stellar temperatures start invading the consciousness. Cold stars are reddish, hot stars are bluish, with some of the red lost in the infrared and invisible, and some of the blue up in the ultraviolet also lost to our vision. Lots of teaching can happen here. Well, on to the pretty stuff. I swung the scope over to Sagittarius and the star Nunki, the top left star in the teapot handle. Aligning there, it made all of the gorgeous items toward the core of the Milky Way Galaxy available. I jumped over to M22, a globular cluster over the lid of the teapot. This is one of the top four beautiful globs, along with Omega Centaurus, M13 in Hercules, and M4 next to Antares in Scorpius. Globs are weirdly interesting collections. Although the Milky Way is on the order of 7.5 billion years old, these constituent elements' stars approach 12 billion years of age. What's up with that? Several theories have been proposed. Cores of small, old galaxies cannibalized in the formation of the Milky Way, or maybe a huge gas cloud formed a million or more stars in such a small region that their mutual gravity kept them from dissipating, or perhaps multiple smaller clusters of stars passed each other and their mutual gravity bound them into a single object. Some years ago, Kitt Peak National Observatory was part of a study to use non-visible frequencies to track the beehive of motion at the center of some globs, and sure enough, supermassive black holes were found at the cores of the first few studied. That's an indication that these are the cores of old galaxies integrated into the Milky Way. But wait a minute. A few more were studied, no black hole, and all the stars were about the same age. OK, a second theory might also be in play. Then, while studying globs around nearby galaxies, mixed ages of stars and no black holes were discovered. Wow, all three theories seem to be valid. So these tight beehives of fast moving aging stars have multiple possible sources. One remaining mystery is why the Milky Way only has less than 180 of these in highly elliptical orbits around the core of our galaxy, when others in our local group have as many as 4,000 globular clusters. And using the camera with its color sensitivity, we were able to see some of the stars in M22 are approaching end of life and can be seen as red giants among the white diamonds. With that teaching accomplished we moseyed on over to M8, The Lagoon, formally labeled a "Cluster With Nebulosity", meaning stars are still forming out of the gas cloud. For billions of years, a hydrogen cloud, sometimes with other elements added in from past supernovas in the vicinity, will be hanging around without the density to pull together and start star formation. The something will happen to change the environment, perhaps a passing star, or maybe a supernova, and the local density somewhere in the cloud will pass the equilibrium state and start contracting, eventually compressing into enough heat and pressure to initiate nuclear fusion and a star is born. The new star blasts out an initial pressure wave that triggers another, and another, and each triggers more cascading star formation. That's The Lagoon; one half newly formed stars densely packed, the other half a gas cloud waiting its turn. We were treated to a bright red emission nebula of gas cloud, energized by the hot new stars and the ultraviolet energy of formation causing the remaining gas cloud to fluoresce a brilliant red along side the tight cluster of bright new stars. More great teaching opportunities. We finished up on M17, The Swan Nebula that looks like, well, a glowing gaseous mass in the form of a swan. The teaching moment here is that the red textured emission nebula, while appearing in the form of a swan, is not, really. The area around the head has the shape of a swan's head and neck because of an intervening dust cloud. The young hot stars, whose energy is causing the gas cloud to glow red as an emission nebula, are completely hidden inside and behind the dust cloud. However, advances in infrared technology finally unveiled the cause for the glowing emission nebula of The Swan. A very nice way to end the evening. Well, what started as a chaotic swirl for me ended up a very nice night with what usually proves to be some of the best audiences in my ten events or so each month. OSP gets a special audience who are a joy to work with, as well as the park staff (missed Jennifer Rinio this time, since she was not with us) and the help and efforts by Mike Weasner and volunteers and Friends of OSP. So many visitors show up we do need the scopes to support the great folks, but it does get a bit crowded. Works great, though!
  12. My outreach dual outreach setup at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska. About 250 of the several thousand visitors hung around my live views.
  13. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Latitude 42 25 32.30 North Longitude 103 43 58.82 West My story of The Great American Eclipse 2017 goes back well over a year. My form of astronomical adventures are public outreach using live video, four to ten times a month at a school, park, or special event, sometimes accompanied by my retired earth science teacher wife if hands-on demos are requested, through the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association's support for non-profit outreach. This was Susan and my fourth solar eclipse; two totals, one annular, and a partial. Our first total was the 1998 adventure in Aruba, aboard the Dawn Princess. By the time of the 2012 Annular Eclipse at the Grand Canyon, I was heavily into public outreach and coordinating the South Rim Grand Canyon Star Party in June each year, so I gathered about 30 of my Grand Canyon gang together and we had a great experience for that one. Some of us went to various observing points for the public, and about 25 of us set up at the main Visitor Center with about 3500 visitors. When the 2017 event came into our consciousness, we started planning how to get involved with public viewing. I contacted Interpretive Ranger Kevin Poe at Bryce Canyon National Park fifteen months ago and he told me about a goal to try to get at least one outreach specialist at each National Park, Monument, and Recreation Area along the path of totality. I knew we would be doing an annual trek to and from Ohio about that time, so I looked at the path and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska seemed a perfect spot to stop on the way home from Cleveland. I contacted Ranger Anne Wilson at Agate, and we started our planning for Susan and me to show up and help work with visitors. As we were getting ready to head out from Cleveland for our return to Tucson, eclipse weather at Agate Fossil Beds looked to be the big risk, with many weather models in disagreement as the date approached. Virtually all were predicting from 50% to total cloud cover for the event. We pressed on anyway. On the way to Cleveland from Tucson, seven weeks in advance, we stopped by Agate for a preview of the site and to touch base with the staff.  Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is one of America's best hands-on depiction of the methodology of scientific approaches developed in the 19th century to study the huge great dying area from 15-20 million years ago. Agate seems like an analog to the process of evolution in the Serengeti. But most amazing was that the discoverer of the fossil beds, James Cook, in the late 1880s made contact with Red Cloud and the Lakota Sioux. Half of the visitor center is Native American focused, with many gifts from Red Cloud and other leaders who trusted the scientists over decades of mutual study. An incredible collection of artifacts, beautifully crafted, art work so precise and well done. Dinosaur bones I've seen, but never so many artifacts of life on the Plains.  Members of the Black Hills Astronomical Society also attended the event at Agate, arriving in advance and camping on site. They put on a star party Sunday night, but due to the family responsibilities we had in Cleveland we just couldn't head out early enough to make it.   We stayed down in Gering, Nebraska, at the Monument Inn, a great little place to bunk. The whole Scottsbluff area was really into the eclipse with days of special activities. The Inn is about an hour's drive south of Agate on "normal" days so we were concerned about traffic on eclipse morning but when we got on the final two lane road north, we only saw three cars in 37 miles headed north! Morning dawned with a dense fog, only about three car lengths visibility as we headed out around 6:30 AM. Hardly any traffic on the way, and fog cleared out about forty minutes into the trek. We ended up with a virtually clear, blue sky with only one wisp of a cloud. On the way up to Agate we passed about 100 cars in clusters parked off to the sides of the road, but mostly just open prairie. We got to the park entrance with a three mile road into the main visitor center area and the Rangers were awesome with controlling the influx. My guess is several thousand people pulled off in mown areas along the road. We got to the visitor center, and I saw the Black Hills folks about 200 yards into the fields south of the visitor center. I unloaded my equipment up at the visitor center, but stayed within 20 yards of the sidewalk since outreach was our mission.   I set up two telescopes; a Lunt LS60THa-B600 for the H-Alpha work, using a Mallincam Jr. Pro live video camera into a 19" monitor, an a 90mm Orion ShortTube with a Baader filter for white light, using a Mallincam Xterminator feeding into an 18" laptop to try to grab and store live video of the corona. I was fully set up by 8:30, except I couldn't control the Xterminator from the laptop. I tried everything I could think of, then left the 90mm/white light alone and way over-exposed, and worked on the H-Alpha image, which became perfection. I started the outreach with the two live video displays, but only one with anything useful.   The Lunt setup was perfect except the polar alignment had a bit of drift, but the image of the sun was incredible. Meanwhile, the 90mm white light was on a Celestron AVX mount and perfectly polar aligned; I didn't have to re-center it except for three hours later, just a tweak. For the H-Alpha, I used the native focal length so the 19" monitor was filled top to bottom with the solar disk. I had it tinted an orangish-red, and the monitor controls allowed a perfect view of the main mid-disk active region, a bright white slash at least 10% of diameter along the mid-line with accompanying sunspot groups at the ends, a small family of filaments on lunar approach limb, and a smaller bright active region with sunspots on the limb diagonally opposite the filament group. There were three or four strong prominences around the 8 o'clock position, and a thicker grouping extending out about 90 degrees away. What a show for the visitors. The white light view was poorly set up. The Xterminator sensitivity did not allow me to block the sunlight sufficiently to keep from overexposing. I probably should have used the cameras on the opposite scopes!   A majority of the thousands of visitors stayed close to their vehicles, so I had about 250 of my "closest friends" drop by when they heard about the video, and about fifty took screen shots. For about three and a half hours, we talked solar physics, the views, the spirituality of it all, just a great time with people in awe of the spectacular event. Then the miracle, just before first contact. I found that the serial cable had backed out 1/4" from the camera, and upon pushing it in, full camera control but the overexposure in the setup never did allow itself to be adjusted out.  About thirty minutes prior to first contact, there was an introductory talk given by a Lakota speaker, dressed in his ceremonial style. I try to study many cultures and customs in all astronomical environments, so I was interested in his presentation of a Lakota point of view. For some cultures, like Navajo, the duty is to spend the time of an eclipse indoors in quiet contemplation and self-examination. As relayed to us during this event, for our Lakota speaker we should contemplate the situation of our own existence and where we have been, and were in life we were going, but at totality it was time for celebrating our role in the universe and awakening our duty to cope with life and to work to be better in unifying ourselves with our universe. As first contact began, eyes were skyward and observing. The monitor views were striking, with the "bite out of the cookie" getting larger. In some cultures, we would be making noises to scare away the (pick your animal or spirit) trying to devour the sun. In our venue, the ceremonial music by the Lakota began at totality, calling forth good medicine to help us with our lives and our interaction with our spirits and our universe for the betterment of all.  My wife had her Canon EOS T3I set up next to me with a schedule of settings to use. All was set for totality. She kept rounding up visitors and sending them over to my live videos, and we both pushed the annual Grand Canyon Star Party as another bucket list event to attend.  As totality neared, we noticed a twin engine general aviation aircraft was screaming toward us opposite the sun, landing lights on, about 1500 feet in the air. Another aircraft was behind it. We thought a third was following them when our Lakota announcer said that it was an eagle! Sure enough, in binoculars a gigantic golden eagle at much lower altitude had joined the parade. I turned back to the sun, mind sufficiently blown, I thought, until totality hit.  Totality was even more breathtaking than our first eclipse onboard the Dawn Princess near Aruba in 1998. As always, NOTHING like the pictures; it seems to be moving toward you, and you can reach out and touch it. You feel the incredible wonder of the spectacle in front of you. To the naked eye there is a dark inkwell of a circle with an intense pencil thin light around it. The corona is a shimmering isinglass curtain extending in all directions, stationary yet it's alive! A glorious grayish artifact almost as iridescent as the Ring Nebula, at first about one additional diameter beyond the Moon. It virtually screams "I'm The SHOW, Folks". The background is stunning; not black at all, but a steel blue. On second contact, Bailey's Beads were crisp and a string of pearls with a bit of refractive red strong dots, and a nice diamond engagement ring. Then the corona exploded, and as our dark adaption started taking over, the eyeball view went from a bright ring around the moon with fuzz and grew into a tremendous, glorious huge butterfly with wing tips stretching out past the main corona at 10, 2, 5, and 7 o'clock. Most noticeable was that the sky stayed a dark blue. Venus vas visible about 10 minutes prior to totality, Susan pointed out Jupiter popping out at totality, and it was glorious to see sunset in a 360 degree circle around us in a deep red glowing LED like display. On the white light scope I had gone the wrong direction on the level control setting and made the overexposure worse, ruining the corona shot and movie.  Now that we were dark adapted, the third contact diamond ring was an explosion of light. Again, distinct Bailey's Beads despite the intense diamond ring, so huge and profound in dark adapted vision. As in our prior eclipse 19 years ago, the totality duration flew by. But the full totality is burned in my memory, along with the "good medicine" drums and chanting by the Lakota for the event.  As the moon was going on its way, I was again struck, just as 19 years ago, by the anticlimax as people kind of hung onto the image of totality and just wandered around, and within 30 minutes a lot of equipment was being packed up by the astronomer contingent. My audience really thinned out, but the conversation quality increased. I had nice discussions with foreign visitors, both veteran eclipse chasers and first time new groupies. I talked a while with a very nice young lady from The Netherlands who was attending her fifth eclipse. She missed the Libya eclipse because she was ill when the time came for making reservations and missed her chance, but her 80+ year old mother was on a historical vacation trip to Egypt, not really interested in the eclipse, but got to see it! I talked to so many people from northern locales, like North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and even Canada, who had no intention of being at our site specifically, but followed maps and traffic and just lucked out and ended up with us.  Around 4th contact I started packing up. Sure seemed like a longer lug back to the car than out to the setup spot. After a long wait in line for a last bathroom break, we headed out and again, hardly any traffic other than three or four cars at stop signs in a couple of small towns near Mitchell.  The only disappointments were that I fumbled the wrong way on settings for the corona and missed it, and didn't have the H-Alpha being recorded, an awesome view. In Susan's case, we found out her ISO settings were one step too high, so her images were overexposed as well, but the experience was priceless. Highlights for me was the outreach with the public with whom to be able to share the scientific and cultural information and especially the live video experience. Also, the cultural attention paid to the event, the dedication and attention to detail by the National Park Service Rangers, the highly professional job done by law enforcement (city, county, and state police in the right places, the right times), and how well the Monument Inn supported the event, with commemorative room keys with a gorgeous eclipse photo on the key. For our adventure, the NPS and the State of Nebraska really came through for a smooth, seamless experience.  In April, 2024, a total eclipse goes through my mother-in-law's yard in Cleveland, Ohio. Looks like we have a place to stay!
  14. I'm on the 8 week road trip that will include the eclipse, and got a call a few days ago that the telescope is completely repaired; the focuser rod had popped out of its restraint on the primary mirror, and it will be waiting for me when I get back home. Only $120 including a full cleaning!
  15. I wish I had the opportunity to post more observations, but where, in the distant past, we could count on an average of 275 clear nights per year, for the last several years the sky is disappearing, which I hope is a cyclical behavior. There was a three or four month period recently when we lost 90% of our scheduled outreaches (we do about a dozen a month). We went two years some time back without losing a single night!
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