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  1. 2016 26th Annual Grand Canyon Star Party In Memory Of Joe Orr DAY FIVE - Another Fantastic Night With The Visitors Location: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, South Rim of Grand Canyon, AZ, about 340 miles north of home in Tucson, about 7000 ft. elevation Weather: 89F mid-day, 79F at sunset, 48F when I quit near midnight. Quite a few clouds of various nature all around at sunset, with some clearing out as the evening wore on. Seeing and Transparency: Transparency again somewhat obstructed by high altitude moisture and wildfire remnants. Steady seeing above about 30 degrees elevation, but a bit of swimming at lower elevations. Strong gusts after about 10:45 really took away any ability to do video of much duration with my setup. Equipment: 10" Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount, operating all night at f/5 Mallincam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor. Not much going on in the day time. I haven't done any solar this trip because of the heat and trying to save energy for the evening. But the afternoon and evening were very successful in visitor outreach. With the four day crescent moon, I was on it at 5:30 PM. I set the exposure and white balance so that the gorgeous blue sky highlighted the bright crescent. Wirh the relatively long focal length of my setup, the moon, even in such a limited crescent state, over fills the monitor. I centered on Mare Crisium, with the surrounding dry craters providing good contrast. We had to take a break for half an hour to do a dry run of the night talk in the theater, then back to the moon. It was a very nice hour afterward of discussing the likely source of Crisium and the Late Heavy Bombardment about 3.5 billion years ago, and the 2-1 resonance of Jupiter and Saturn intitiating the incoming asteroids, as well as the current ideas of lunar formation due to the early collision of the planet Theia and the earth, the resulting debris field and lunar formation, and the effect of stabilizing the wobbling Earth and possibly allowing the development of regular season and the ability for life to evolve from one and two celled life forms. I also had them imagine Crisium as a pom-pom tail of a show cut poodle, and drew an imaginary line to the shadowed maria of Serenity, Tranquility, and Fecundity making up the rest of the poodle that would emerge in a few days of the lunation. A very nice session before the night talk, with about 150 total visitors passing by. We went in to kick off the night's presentation. One of our astronomer volunteers, Chap Percival from Sarasota, Florida, is somewhat of an eclipse chaser and afficianado has written a book, Go See The Eclipse - And Take A Kid With You. The main focus was on the American Eclipse on August 21, 2017, where the United States will be the only land mass to experience the event. He presented the meaning of an eclipse, and how the alignment of the Earth, Sun, and Moon generate eclipse opportunities. He used two young folks in the audience to help demonstrate the relative scales of the objects, and their distances with a 12 inch ball for the Earth, a 3" Christmas ornament for the Moon, and a slide on the theater screen of EPCOT as the Sun. After the demonstration, he covered the eclipse path next year, and local factors along the way. At the end, we again raffled off a Celestron First Scope thanks to Kevin LeGore and his Focus Astronomy Foundation and Celestron's donation of eight First Scopes for our week. I got back to the scope around 9:10 PM and tried to bring in Saturn but the Telrad was misaligned so I went and did a little more Moon, then had to break away to do the 10 PM Constellation Tour. Following that great experience of the culture and science mix of the night sky, I aligned the scope on Antares and brought in globular cluster M4. We were able to tell the globular cluster story to about a dozen passers by, but that didn't last long since the temperature had dropped under 50 F, and the wind was gusting to 20 MPH or more. The glob was becoming a smear of stars, but the true color of the population of reddish very old stars was on screen with the right choice of integration time and setting the white balance. By now, however, it was after 11 PM and both visitors and astronomers were evaporating, so granddaughter Karina and I did the packup process and left. This time I did not make a single mistake in settings or alignment, until the very end when I was rolling the heavy marine battery over to the take away equipment, and tripped on a tripod leg. Big sigh. Polar alignment AGAIN tomorrow night. Jim O'Connor South Rim Coordinator Grand Canyon Star Party gcsp@tucsonastronomy.org
  2. I'm a member of Catawba Valley Astronomy Club; every year we go to a local holding of "National Night Out", a downtown event of live music, and a chance to mingle and let the kids play, and meet the local services who care for the public (Rescue Squads, local law enforcement, fire department, etc.) The event is only a few miles from the club's base of operation, the Lucile Miller Observatory (more on that later) . The National Night Out event is not a prime location for astronomy, tons of ambient lights, especially once dark hits and the large portable floods get turned on, but we made do. We had a decent southern and western view, and since we set up around 6pm EDT, the Sun was still plenty high. We aimed a couple of filtered scopes and a set of filtered binoculars at the Sun for passers-by to view through. There was a string of sunspots to make it more interesting, and we had displays of photos taken of the recent solar eclipse here. We also had tables of hand-out literature on all aspects of astronomy for the masses, from pamphlets on light pollution and how to lessen it to star charts and getting started in astronomy and telescope types and selection. In one of the pictures below, you'll notice a reference to "Lucile Miller Observatory". Lucile Miller was a local high school science teacher in the 1960's and 1970's who eventually convinced (with lots of public support) the local school system to fund the construction of an astronomical observatory on the high school grounds. It was equipped with a rotating dome on top and a donated home-built (including the hand-ground mirror) 10" f/9.2 Newtonian telescope on a split-ring horseshoe mount. The observatory has been in operation since 1976. Read about it here: http://catawbasky.org/lmo/lmostory.asp As the skies darkened, we changed our aim to Saturn, and once it rose above the trees to the east, the almost-full Moon. I lost count of the people who came by, but was continually satisfied and amazed at the reactions of people who looked through our scopes to see what most had never seen except in commercial photographs. Our three main viewing scopes were a 5" f/5 refractor (home-built back in the '70s), a 8" f/5 Dobsonian reflector, and my C6 f/10 SCT. There was another 3" f/12 refractor and a set of 12x50 binoculars also set up. I had kids from 5-15, young adults and elderly coming by for a glimpse of Saturn and the rings, and you could also see Titan. Total amazement on the faces of many, and one young lady of about 14 immediately took out her phone and started trying to get images through the EP. I suggested she shoot a video and then select a screen shot of the best image, and she got a great one. She also got images of the Moon in the big Dob. Not even 5 minutes into her first astronomical experience, and she was already an astrophotographer! Here's a few pictures of our venue, and a couple of the observatory and some of the privately-owned telescopes. I got too busy from dusk onward to take picture of the visitors, regretfully; hope you enjoy these. We had live music just a few meters away, the "Fabulous Shakers", one of the better-known beach music groups. They've been around since the '60s
  3. This report is kind of late due to so many events on the calendar, and preparing for the Tucson Festival of Books the next weekend. Finally, I wrote something down. It was great to see a nice sized crowd growing at Catalina State Park in Arizona when I showed up around 5:30 PM. This was one of three quarterly events held at the park for the last four years. We had close to 300 or perhaps more visitors for our volunteers, which ended up between 9 and 11 astronomers. Our audience included a group of about 40 traveling students and mentors. I set up my telescope and video system, and generally socialized until Jupiter was available as the sun was setting. I got a very large image, choosing to go to the maximum image size capability (full focal ration of f/10 in the 10" SCT and Mallincam Junior Pro camera). I had a group of around forty observing the planet and moons, so it was a great teaching opportunity. It was very productive to shift between zooned and un-zoomed images, as well as two different focal ratios (f/5 and f/10). This allowed a variety of fields of view. At the shorter focal lengths, the moons were visible at the same shutter speed as the giant planet itself. At either longer focal lengths (set by adding or removing focal reduction from the camera nose), or by using software zoom, the human eye has more dynamic range available than does the camera and telescope combination. That makes the Galilean moons easily visible in non-augmented telescopes, but with video setups several trade-offs need to be made, depending on the desires of the observer. The group at my scope seemed to grasp that while I could show features unattainable in eyeball viewing with a telescope, the human eye can provide a range of capability rarely achieved with video. It was a very productive teaching session. Then it was time for the walk around the sky. We gathered those interested down at the far end where I was set up, and the unveiling of the night sky began. I did notice right away that we had close to or beyond our largest attendance ever, nearly 300. Next time I'll have to use an augmented sound system to reach everyone. We had a textbook demonstration of the ecliptic; after the sun went down and the sky had darkened, Mars and Venus were clearly visible in Pisces at the eastern horizon, while Jupiter was high in the sky to the west. We discussed the comparison of ecliptic, the path of the sun through the year where eclipses occur, with the zodiac, also the path of the sun but attached to specific constellations. Zodiac comes from the Greek Zodiakos Kyklos, the cycle of living things since all zodiacal signs are living entities. We talked about the precursor to the zodiac, developed by the Celts about 1500 years earlier before they were driven by the barbarians to the British Isles. The Celts had an equivalent number of signs, but all were trees flourishing in their month of designation. This would eventually lead to how we how have a Christmas tree. We spent time on the zodiacal constellations because of their familiarity, drifted under Canis Major to talk of the former Argo Navis, now broken into Carina the Keel, Vela the Sails, and Puppis, the Quarter Deck. We talked how the Pleadies, or Dilyehe, is used by the Navajo in a similar way as Sirius was used by the Egyptians, to regulate planting seasons. We crossed through Leo into the northern sky, discussed the constellations and asterisms in view, and more scientific and cultural expositions. Now it was showtime for the telescopes. I couldn't get a view of the other scopes because my crowd was so dense. I also noticed more astronomers arrive late and set up adjacent to me, so we must have had at least 11 or more available. I always had at least thirty around my video setup. I had immediately changed my plans to do a full alignment, which would take 20 minutes and dump extra people on the other scopes. I just did a one-star alignment on Rigel, which was a teaching moment by itself because I had the camera set for Orion's Nebula, which meant integration time and no shutter setting. Rigel was a huge balloon. So as I made the adjustments to the camera to read the star correctly and it changed to a blue pinpoint. I centered it in the alignment mask in the camera, and we were ready for Orion's Nebula. The audience was very interested in the comparison of adjusting a camera where the human eye copes with the range of colors and brightness available. A bit of physiology teaching. I like this target not only because it wows the heck out of people, but it only takes about three seconds of integration time to show not only the Trapezium at the core, but also the colorful nebulosity illuminated by the strong ultraviolet light from the hot stars.. Many video practitioners like to up the integration well over that length, which truly expands the nebulosity, but you lose the detail in the core due to saturation. My group of students and adults were highly engaged in the nature of the Trapezium formation, which we could get in true size by adjusting the camera gain which causes internal safety checks to go back to the native view, and all that was visible on the screen were the tiny seven stars. Then the camera snapped back to full integration. Lots of stellar and nebular science was discussed, with the molecular activity in response to the ultraviolet light from the core hot stars stripping electrons and causing rejoining to emit photons of color appropriate to the gas, mostly hydrogen at the fringes but oxygen and other elements left over from the end of lives of previous stars in the area. We continued the work on this item by increasing the integration time to 15 seconds. Although the core of M42 was blown out, M43, right off the "open gap" of M42, was now a large red chrysanthemum. It showed once again the dynamic range of the human eye, which caused Charles Messier to detect both of these objects in a small refractor overlooking Paris and the wood and coal fire pollution in the late 1700s. But, although the bloom of M43 and the giant nebulous cloud of M42 look like separate entities, they are all in the same cloud. The dark area separating them is an intervening dark nebula, similar to the Horsehead. In fact, most of Orion is embedded in a single hydrogen cloud; the nebulae only shine when a hot or bright star is near by to make a local feature. This was quite an adventure in learning with students and monitors. The questions were flying, the education was rolling along, and my crowd of up to 40 or more people were amazed at the science they could experience in real life. I was awfully glad we were back, now for the second time in a row, to crowd sizes matching the groups we had early in this series of events. Once again, we raised the environmental awareness of a group of public visitors.
  4. We are running a session at my local society on transits and occultations. One station will focus on exoplanet transits, and we'd like to build a very simple model to demonstrate this. We have a star (light source) and an orbiting "planet" but I need to work out how to detect the changes in light intensity and display this on a laptop, like a classical transit photometry trace below (taken from https://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/tess/primary-science.html). Is there a way to take a feed from a DSLR through the USB output to do this, else I could get an adapter for my ZWO and put an EOS lens on the front of that. I really do want a light intensity vs time trace in real time on the laptop. This model will be run in a darkened room. Thanks for any comments. James
  5. Hello! So I need little bit help to make my solar outreach events better. Usually most of my solarsolevents events have been for schools and little bit for general public But now I am going more towards college students and arranging events specific for solar observation. (It used to be more like complimentary with night sky observations) Since I am not a science student (learning physics by myself only), I don't have exact idea about what topics should I cover in theory. (Also what should I learn as well) Usually I take a projected image of the sun using my 90mm refractor and do H-alpha observation using my Lunt 50mm telescope. As for theory, I cover little bit about nuclear fusion, sun as a magnet, little bit about solar spectrum. If time allows then I refer Sun's images like magnetogram and all to have a better idea. Any suggestions would be helpful! Because it looks like I am still the only one here taking H-alpha observationsobservation. P.s. I will be putting up this question in solarchat as well. But more help will be better! Thanks! EDIT : currently I am thinking about adding a small radio telescope. Also, looking out for something to make so that I can see the solar spectrum much better.
  6. Date: Saturday, October 22, 2016 Event: Pima County Natural Resources Ironwood Star Party Location: Tucson Mountain Park Ironwood Picnic Area, Tucson, AZ Weather: Mostly cloudy at sunset, later cleared somewhat. Seeing and Transparency: Not very good at sunset with clouds over most of the sky, but later partial clearing allowed operations.. Equipment: 10" Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount, Mallincam Xterminator video system, 19" QFX LCD monitor. This event was one of the regularly scheduled Pima County Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Department’s star parties at the Tucson Mountain Park Ironwood Picnic Area. Usually we get about 40 or 50 visitors and schedule two or three volunteer astronomers to support it. This time we had four volunteers: along with myself, we had Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association members Paul Ross, George Hatfield, and Rob Halberg. All day, the weather, which had been predicted to be favorable, was getting progressively worse with clouds rolling in from the South. With the sky about ¾ obscured at 4:15 PM, I talked the situation over with Yajaira Gray, the PCNR point of contact, and we decided we’d show up and give the other astronomers the option of coming. I got there about 5:15 and the sky was mostly obscured with rain in the distant south and east. There was some promise of clearing after 7:30 PM, so I set up all of my equipment with hopes that things would clear up some. By 6 PM , just after sunset, all four of us were present along with two visitors. Things did not look good, and were getting worse. Frankly, as cruddy and obstructed as the sky looked at sunset around 5:45 PM, I was surprised that we had all four astronomer volunteers present. The sky had a big sucker zone to the North, with the remaining sky occluded. We all set up and waited to see what would happen. I need to have a pretty accurate polar alignment for my setup, or the drift will kill the very narrow field of view with the camera installed, as well as it allows a single star alignment. Eventually, Paul was able to get his SCT aligned, but George's setup needed more of an open sky, and it kept getting worse. I went over to Venus, it was great for a while, Paul and Rob were jumping to open spaces and initial planetary discovery, but eventually I lost Venus in the clouds and, since we started with two visitors and grew to a half dozen or so early on, we were kind of overkill. George's lack of a good enough sky to find a coordinated set of stars to complete an alignment meant his station was out of the game. So, we did some talking about the night sky, some ecliptic vs. zodiacal discussion and the use of the sky, and I introduced my little bit of Celtic history and Paul did a great discussion on the general accession of one culture's mythology by another, dominating culture and really put the Celtic and other Roman-dominated cultures and the succeeding Christianity incursions into context. After about 90 minutes or so, George was out of options for aligning, so he had departed. This was very disappointing; I was looking forward to his great knowledge and experience to have around. Then, after about 7:15 or so, holes started opening up. I could hear Paul doing the planetary tour including Uranus, plus Mizar when it opened up. I did a new arena for me; with a 1-star alignment on Schedar in Cassiopeia, I was able to do The Owl Cluster, and then each element of the Double Cluster; fortunately, I nailed the exposure on the camera and was able to pull true color out of stars in the clusters. My time ended after I went over to the always gorgeous Ring Nebula in full color. As always, it was a lot of fun explaining the stellar evolution process with the great Xterminator putting the Ring at about the size of a quarter with the outer red hydrogen zone, the strong blue-green inner ionized oxygen region, overlapping of the colors leaving a yellow region, and a crisp carbon white dwarf showing off in the center, a cosmic diamond with the mass of a star but at the size of the Earth. Thermal energy in the ultraviolet was doing the electron stripping that caused the gorgeous view as replacement electrons snapped into their atomic locations. I heard Paul was on M13, the Hercules Globular Cluster, and I wanted to jump over to it just to show the red giant stars in its membership, in color, or try the Dumbbell Nebula, but in mid-slew to M13 all power failed. We were breaking up anyway, so I did some trouble shooting and found the battery supply was still up near 13V, but the power converter light was dimly flickering. Later I recalled that one of the 12V lines in the distribution harness has an intermittent short in an unused line; I hooked the wrong line to the mount, and the internal short disabled the power converter. I ran a separate line from the battery to the mount and when I pulled out the bad line, the monitor and camera came alive and the AC inverter showed the right draw. I re-parked the mount head and let the camera go through its three minute shut down since I had the cooler going and wanted a stable ending. Many thanks to Paul and Rob who stuck around for my laborious pack out with the troubleshooting equipment to deal with along with getting the mount and camera back to a known and stable state. What started as the appearance of a lost night turned out great for the 10 or 12 (I think!) visitors who joined us. PCNR point of contact, Yajaira, was doing her first of these events and was great at continuing forward to salvage what turned out to be a pretty good session of education for the visitors with the Xterminator on Venus, three open clusters, and a planetary nebula.
  7. 2016 26th Annual Grand Canyon Star Party In Memory Of Joe Orr DAY EIGHT - Heavy Clouds At Sunset That Gradually Cleared Late Location: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, South Rim of Grand Canyon, AZ, about 340 miles north of home in Tucson, about 7000 ft. elevation Weather: Chilly and windy, with another huge weather front moving in. Predictions said early clearing, but that did not happen until nearly 10 PM. Seeing and Transparency: Non-existent until after about 9 when some holes opened, then spread out clear. Thunderstorms forecast for early morning did not happen, but some raindrops were fealt around 9 PM but the sky cleared later. Equipment (did not set up tonight): 10" Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount, operating all night at f/5 Mallincam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor. Today was the final day pot luck, this time in the campground. It was a nice final gathering, but we could see the clouds forming during the early afternoon. Still, it's always nice to see the faces behind the voices we hear around us at night. The weather from yesterday left, only to be replaced by more thick and threatening skies. I had packed up the night before, and wasn't feeling terribly well I didn't bother setting up at all. The group tried, though, with about thirty telescopes in position. Not even the Moon nor Jupiter were burning through as the sun went down and we went in to start the night talk. Dennis Young, from the Sirius Lookers in Sedona, was our presenter at the sunset talk, showing off a set of phenomenally beautiful combinations of scenic geological views with astronomical themes, comets passing by some of the spectacular red rock formations in Sedona, and other unique geological locations in Arizona, demonstrating a variety of lighting tools to bring out the beauty of sky and land, water and rock, cactus and comets. He ended with a couple of short videos. The first was a well-produced message about the negative affects on human health and general environmental impacts. The second was a compilation of thousands of Cassini images of Saturn into a dynamic movie forming a spectacular full screen view of Cassini's path to, and past, Saturn and through the ring plane, including moons as the craft flew through. After the indoor night talk and award of the final two Celestron First Scopes, I came out to find only Vega in the Eastern sky. Without a scope set up, I volunteered to do the 9 and 10 PM Constellation tours, with the main themes being the cultural use of the night sky throughout history. Once again, I led the 9 PM Constellation tour, starting from the perspective of why cultures needed and used the night sky using examples of 100,000 and 26,000 year discoveries. I was somewhat surprised that over 30 visitors risked the night adventure to come out and join the tour. I again used the Moon and Jupiter, and later Mars and Saturn breaking through the thinning cloud cover, to discus the ecliptic and zodiac orientation. Some segments of the night sky were coming and going, so I was able to repeat last night's alternative cultural approaches to the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, and was able to do a lot of exposition on Greek, Near East (Elephant of Creation), and Navajo cultural use of the asterism and constellations including Polaris between them, all with just the laser pointer. Parts of the Milky Way were appearing, and we used Greek, Seminole, and O'odham conceptual use of the the arms of the Milky Way. Scorpius was now uncovered, allowing the comparative cultural uses of Scorpius and Orion by the Greek legends and Zeus separating them as an example to separate our conflicts, and the Navajo seeing the scorpion as a wise elder with a back bent from age, with the tail being unrelated rabbit tracks, and Orion being the warrior symbol as an example for preparedness. But for the Navajo, the First Great One and the First Thin One are also called the Mother-In-Law and the Son-In-Law. The are separated in the lore and in real life, as it is traditional that when a Navajo girl gets married, her husband and mother are not allowed to see or speak to each other for the rest of their lives. With Mars and Antares now visible, I shifted to the Greek name for Mars, Ares, the god of war, and Antares, as the place where the spirits of the soldiers who had died in battle are now reposing. We did a few more examples from more well known asterisms in the sky, and how various cultures used them, so we had a great 35 minute sky tour! By the time of the 10 PM tour, the sky had virtually cleared, so the tour had real life sky characteristics with which to repeat the topics of the earlier tour with more emphasis on the visible elements such as the Summer Triangle and the alternative to Cygnus being Niska the Goose for Manitoba First Nations cultures as it indicates the migratory flyways for the returning geese and the opportunity for a change in protein source. It is always encouraging to seen the enlightenment arise in the audiences as the usage of the artifacts of the night have a cultural use, adapted by cultures going back thousands of years. To teach behavior and self-discipline to children, the Elephant of Creation is watching so better behave. Alternatively, Milky Way forming a magical spider web that a child violating a tribal rule might get stuck to so the parents can retrieve the young one are teaching tools, as well as all of the other guidelines in the sky for life lessons, from how we should interract with each other, to planting and harvesting regimens. One hundred thousand years or more have shown various cultural uses of the night sky, and to learn one's own culture it is sometimes helpful to study others. At the end of the tour, the sky was cleared and visitors were still hanging around as well as some of the intrepid astronomers showing off the wonders of the night sky, some still going after midnight and with high winds and temperatures down in the mid-40s. Thus ends another year of fostering environmental awareness, the special achievement of Provisional International Dark Sky Park status, awarding eight Celestron First Scopes, and some absolutely gorgeous views of the objects of the night skies, all elements of the viewers' home universe. It would not be at all possible without the outstanding efforts by our A-Team of outreach specialists donating their time and equipment to this adventure, as well as the support of the National Park Service Ranger staff. The hard physical work for their setup begins several days in advance, and now, on Sunday night after a long day of de-configuring all of the traffic controls and signage, there still is more effort to finish the clean up. It is very inspirational to watch this incredible staff work with the public. They have an internal mantra that I wish I could fully adapt in my own life...whatever the circumstances, Ranger On. We stayed the extra day for R&R, fix some of the Park's spotter scope solar filters, and perform some other administrative functions before the trip home. Now the truck is all packed, we're looking forward to a full night's sleep, and an early trip home.
  8. 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!
  9. There's a six-week online course starting on 5th September aimed at teachers, but also people involved with astronomy outreach. I'm planning to take it, and it might be interesting for other forum members involved in this area: http://www.europeanschoolnetacademy.eu/web/teaching-space-awareness-in-your-classroom
  10. I was looking forward to Saturday's public outreach at our local Catalina State Park. Our club, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, supports public star parties at this park three nights a year. I usually start the event at dusk with either a walk around the emerging constellations, or relate cultural information about the astronomy in the area, especially the historical Native American viewpoints. Saturday night I gave a comparative discussion about the local culture called the O'odham, which translates into "The People", and the more distant Navajo culture, who also call themselves "The People." In particular, I addressed the competing views of creation, and the comparative origins of the Sun, Moon, and stars. In addition, I was eager to try out my new battery setup, since the week before at a Boy Scout event saw one of my two 35 amp-hour deep cycle batteries fail catastrophically; at some time during charging, an internal short had occurred and the battery. upon inspection inside its Battery Box, had the shape of a sphere instead of a rectangular shape. The weather reports all claimed it would be nearly clear. When we arrived to start setting up, the sky was nearly totally overcast with adjacent puffy cotton balls like broccoli, horizon to horizon. I gave my talk to about 100 hearty souls who showed up despite the sky, but no improvement by the end. I spent the next several hours discussing astronomical culture of the Native Americans with the visitors, who were a very eager and receptive audience, but nothing was to be had from the sky. Usually, I do live video shows for public events using a Mallincam JR Pro and 19" Monitor, as many as eight or ten a month. Weather was predicted to be around 25% cloud cover at first, with some clearing later in the evening. At show time, it was virtually 90% cloud cover and never got any better. It never did clear, so I had no alignment stars on my side of the cloud layer. This was not all bad, since the hearty souls who stuck around were interested in talking about the Native American cultural views such that a telescope was superfluous. Still, it was very frustrating to have 9 telescopes and little to show the visitors. Sunset had been about 6 PM, I did my cultural talk for about thirty minutes hoping for clearing and nothing but a sky full of gray-white broccoli. An occasional star would pop through a boundary of the hundreds of lumps of clouds, sometimes a whole constellation such as Cassiopeia would flash into view for a moment, but never long enough to even slew a telescope to the hole in the cover, much less do an alignment. Around 8 PM, I was frankly annoyed at having a full setup ready to show wonders of the universe and no way to use it. Frustration finally peaked about 8 PM. We were down to about 25 or 30 visitors milling about. I noticed an occasional Polaris view winking in and out, mostly out, so I did a cheating form of close polar alignment by adjusting the mount head mechanically using the Telrad. Then I noticed that Vega was popping in and out, mostly in, so I did a quick 1-star alignment on Vega, crossed my fingers, added the wireless controller to MCJR Pro, and did a GOTO to The Ring. There it was, on the screen! I had to increase the integration time to 10 seconds but left the AGC at 4. As the slowly migrating cloud cover was in motion, about 50% of the integration cycles showed a beautiful image of the planetary nebula including the clearly visible double white dwarves inside the disk, the other times were a startling curtain of reflected light from the shopping area outside the Catalina State Park boundaries, mostly the reddish near-IR effects from the reflected light. At no time was Lyra in The Ring area ever visible to the naked eye. So, for another hour, a very nice view of The Ring in beautiful living color for about half the integrations, and on about 25% of the time an actual black background and crisp image of the planetary. And let me be clear; at NO time was Lyra ever visible to the naked eye! The imaging system was pulling these views through the awful cloud distribution, admittedly in clumps rather than a continuous layer, but the coverage was total and when the edges of the clumps allowed, the camera did it's job flawlessly despite the image not being visible to the human eye through the cloud. The weather forecasts were TOTALLY wrong. Not clear at all!! Very odd cloud pattern; all but about 10 degrees at most around the horizon covered with cotton balls like a standing formation of soldiers. On occasion, a patch as big as Cassiopeia might open up, but really a cloud farm. But I had plenty of audience who wanted to talk astronomy culture so I left the mount initialized but the monitor power available but off, and the camera off. Just idling. This went on for about an hour and a half, and our group of about 100 dropped to about 30. Some scopes got M13, one got Albireo, but that was it. Then at a bit after 8 PM I did my GOTO to The Ring, and son of a gun, it showed up dimly at 4 seconds integration which is usually good enough to get a pretty view. So I upped the integration to 10 seconds, and about one out of every three cycles, beautiful. No filter (I should have added a UHC and maybe an IR cut filter because of the bias with the city lights outside the park reflecting off the cloud deck), but it was good enough to be stunning every now and then. Many stragglers were coming down from the campground, including a science club from UCLA who didn't know a thing about what was going on and were visiting the Univ of Ariz for an unrelated event. Lots of science got packed into an hour on stellar evolution at my table. So I did the whole O'odham and Navajo contrasting views of creation and the sun, moon and star development, and ended with the pure science. Perhaps in a few years I'll stop being amazed at what a Mallincam can provide, but certainly not today.
  11. Due to some health reasons, a lot of outreach, and preparing for the Grand Canyon Star Party I've been quite scarce around these parts lately, but I thought I'd scribble a few notes about a special outreach event we had on Saturday, April 30th; a combined "star party" and "insect party" at Tucson, Arizona's Ironwood Picnic Area, hosted by the Pima County Natural Resources Parks & Recreation. In my typical commentary on observing sessions with the public, "insect party" would be some sort of tongue-in-cheek dig about the session's environment but this time, the event was a joint educational outreach by PCNRPR, a chance to raise environmental awareness in two areas concurrently; the night sky, and the insect life after dark. Despite the weather conditions that looked impossible for night sky viewing, I decided to show up for a couple of reasons. First, there were five of us from Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association scheduled to bring telescopes. Usually, we support PCNRPR at Ironwood with three, or even only two telescopes, which seem a good number to serve the number of visitors attending. With the setup area being a pullout at a rest room facility, when we've done more than three scopes in the past, it's been very tight to get the scopes set up and still have room for a group of guests to participate. With five scheduled, I thought I would come early and talk with the Park Rangers regarding how we could best use the space and parking. Second, the weather forecasts promised a clear sky after 7 PM, so I thought I'd take a chance on the sky conditions. I was mulling over that decision on the 24 mile drive down to Ironwood from north Marana, with quite a bit of rain as I drove down. I got to Ironwood about 6:00 PM, and there were remnants of final sprinkles as the cloud coverage eased from about 90% to 50% in about 20 minutes, so I had hopes. The first ranger, Jeff, showed up not long after I did, so we spent some quality conversation time. Then Fran and Axhel arrived and we waited for the public. Wisely, none of the other astronomers showed up. Contrary to weather forecasts, the sky kept to about 50-70% cloud cover. No visitors appeared for quite a while, and with the clouds and high level moisture obscuring stars in most areas, I saw no reason to set up. But just as astronomical twilight was deepening, two cars of "bug hunters" showed up. PCNR staff unpacked the special UV lighting equipment and set up for their show time. I hung around to learn about looking down, to go with the usual looking up. The southern and western sky were clearing to overhead, Jupiter, Leo, Arcturus, and the area around Canis Major, Gemini, and Orion were appearing in the haze, and some of the visitors were remarking on Jupiter and the hunt was on for binoculars. I said what the heck, and while more insect hunting and study was going on, I unpacked and set up my 10" SCT and Mallincam Xterminator to try to grab video on Jupiter and The Orion Nebula. I was able to get Jupiter immediately in the camera, so we played with that for a while. I had wanted to catch Jupiter's moon Io coming out of eclipse at 7:19 PM, but I didn't set up until after 8 so all four moons were available. Nice disk about the size of a quarter, but not much definition to the Jovian bands; usually, I can drag in at least 12. By then, the cloud cover was getting worse. For a while, the Big Dipper was available but no Polaris to align on, and worse, the thick cloud cover started chasing Leo and Jupiter and all that could be seen in the western sky was a bit of Gemini, and some of Auriga. And Jupiter was coming and going with the cloud movement. One minute there, next minute winking out. Normal Jovian shutter speeds are in the 1/2000 to 1/3000 seconds, but I had to keep adjusting and at times it took from 1/150 down to 1/30 seconds to even get the disk. Meanwhile, the clouds just wiped out most of the sky. I did a little talking about the ecliptic and zodiac, and the Big Dipper being the Hindu Elephant of Creation, and the Mizar double star lore for the Plains Indians and buffalo hunting, but huge sections of the sky were coming and going, mostly going. Gemini, Leo, and Auriga were the only constellations I could point to. But the insect study was fantastic. The nine visitors we had really were enjoying the adventure, with one bringing his own pocket black light and finding a scorpion, while the other light setup was uncovering other discoveries, with a lot of enthusiasm all around us. The temperature was pretty chill as the time wore on, and the visitors eventually left around 9 PM. While I was packing up, the Rangers were talking about other naturalist outreach opportunities, including possible overnight sessions. I talked about possibly using the camp out opportunities to consider on the naturalist front for PCNR, with possible sketching of the night flora and fauna to go along with some astronomical night sky awareness. I am REALLY glad I decided to show up; the enthusiasm of the small crowd along with the staff was really contagious. And we did get a little observing in. After a lot of conversation after the visitors left, by around 9:45 PM the sky was almost clear! Three hours late, though. I do love doing the Ironwood events, and now I have things to look for closer to our planet next time we support the events.
  12. 2016 26th Annual Grand Canyon Star Party In Memory Of Joe Orr DAY THREE - The Temperatures Drop Almost Ten Degrees, But Cloudy Early On Location: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, South Rim of Grand Canyon, AZ, about 340 miles north of home in Tucson, about 7000 ft. elevation Weather: 90F mid-day, 82F at sunset, 48F when I quit near 11:30. Nunety percent cloud cover during the afternoon broke up to many patchy spots and light overcast all around until about 10 PM. Seeing and Transparency: Transparency very occulted until late. I didn't set up, so I can't judge the seeing but M51 looked very steady on one monitor. Sunset winds were again moderate, but not strong enough to blow the clouds out. Temperatures dropped a bit, still 5 degrees F above normal. Equipment: 10" Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount Mallincam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor. But tonight, only a laser pointer. This will be a short one. With the early heavy cloud cover, and needing to escort several news organizations and conduct the 10 PM Constellation Tour, I decided to have an easier night. Dr. John Barentine, Program Manager at the International Dark Sky Association in Tucson, AZ, was our speaker at the night's sunset talk. We were privileged to hear Dr. Barentine's wise light use presentation, and, as every night raffled off Celestron First Scope. Celestron again donated eight First Scopes for our week, thanks to my good friend for many years Kevin Legore, head of the Focus Astronomy outreach foundation and Celestron employee. Every night, a potential future Nobel Prize winner leaves with something to start their night sky exploration. When I left the auditorium to meet my first escort and interview task, the sky was awful for a constellation tour; at best, the planets were somewhat visible with the patchy thick clouds, but for the most part stars dimmer than about magnitude 2.5 were lost and in spots, whole constellations would be absent as well as Saturn. I started looking around for my CBS News contact, but they had been clever and while we were inside for the talk, did walk around interviews with the astronomers so I was off the hook. Check CBS Morning News on Sunday. Since it was after 9 PM and I had the 10 PM tour, I didn't bother setting up and acted as a roving information source, doing mini-sky tours for groups of visitors exploring the site. I was fortunate to have the clouds almost completely evaporate starting about 9:55 PM, so I took my group of about 25 over to the adjacent parking lot and was able to do a high quality (for me!) cultural tour of our home universe. We started with the planetary lineup and the recently set three day old crescent moon to the 7:40 PM sunset point, delineating the ecliptic plane and the path of the Sun through the year. I swithed definitions to rename the path in Greek Zo=living, dia=Day, cos=solar related, and Kyklos, or Cycle, so we had the Zodiacos Kyklos, the cycle of living things for the annual cycle of daytime locations of the sun. We shorten that to The Zodiac, with each constellation along the Sun's annual cycle representing a living object. We had a whole lot of exposition of the audience's "Home Universe", in the point of views of many Native American, Hindu, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Sumerian aspects. It was a very enthusastic crowd for our 40 minute exploration, and I had a whole sky to work with! I killed time in various wanderings for about an hour, then left as one of our Ranger's for the evening, Rader Lane, was begining his interview with Page from CBS Morning News. It really was a very enjoyable night with the visitors despite never uncovering the scope. As I write this on Tuesday morning, the sky is clear and the temperatures are predicted to be more reasonable. Another windbreaker night, thank goodness! It was so uplifting to have so many one-on-a-few discussions of the visible night sky, compared to dozens at the monitor looking at a gorgeous piece of eye candy. It fealt great to know that what I was providing to them, they can take home and appreciate the beauty of the dark night sky. Another priceless night here on the South Rim. Jim O'Connor South Rim Coordinator Grand Canyon Star Party gcsp@tucsonastronomy.org
  13. Following is a Thank You I sent to all GCSP volunteers for whom I had an email address. Grand Canyon Star Party Volunteers, I am sending my personal thanks for all your efforts, and to thank you all for how well everything came out. I’ll apologize for being somewhat late in getting this out; some of you know I had short-notice heart surgery four days after GCSP, and rehab is as good an excuse as any for the delay. All is going great, however, so call it luck of the Irish. This was an extremely special event, with the International Dark Sky Association designating Grand Canyon National Park as a Provisional International Dark Sky Park. There are now three years to complete the modifications for full status, which will correspond with the 2019 100th Anniversary of the Grand Canyon National Park. All of the volunteers at GCSPs over the 26 years played a role in this award, accomplishing an essential education and environmental awareness function that goes into the award determination. Well Done, everyone! CBS Morning News recognized this noteworthy event with a feature on Dark Skies along with the IDA award to GCNP. If you missed the showing of the news feature on August 12, you can view it at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/grand-canyon-star-party-dark-sky-designation or on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3NpqDu__Cw It focuses attention on dark skies including video of a night at GCSP, and interviews with Ranger Rader Lane, IDA Program Director John Barrentine, and a great personal touch by our own astronomer volunteer Marina Corrieri. Mike Magras has established a Dropbox picture sharing site to post or view GCSP photos: https://www.dropbox.com/home/GCSP 2016, or contact Mike at mike@sargamites.net) I have to thank the NPS for all of the support before and during the event; Ranger Marker Marshall's exceptional coordination and behind the scenes arrangements and patience with my fumbling efforts, Rangers Mike Weaver, Ty Korlovetz and Rader Lane for their great assistance, and especially my grandkids Karina and Stephen who always looked for more to do, to help move things along. The weather was less favorable than recent years, but we set a record for volunteers at well over 120 astronomers, so the total contacts we accomplished will again be impressive. Our A-Team of outreach practitioners from around North America, England, and France made thousands of people aware of their universe, and touched a lot of people's lives. Special thanks to Kevin LeGore, founder and director of Focus Astronomy who arranged the donations of eight Celestron First Scopes to the Grand Canyon Association, which we awarded to eight young visitors at drawings at the end of the night theater talks. I really need to thank Mae Smith and Dr. Mary Turner for the special day time hands-on demonstrations of Space Rocks they did in front of the Visitor Center. What a great, personal interaction with the visitors! And thanks to all of you who set up during the day around the park with solar and planetary observing and spread the word of the night activities. Thanks also to our evening speakers. Each talk was a unique look at the night sky, from our place in the universe, wise lighting and light use, the inner workings of stars and their signatures, how eclipses occur and how and where to view the American Eclipse of 2017, personal interaction with the night skies, the starry nights of the Grand Canyon, and the unification of astral and geological effects and using several forms of light to compose striking images. Thanks again to Gary Fix (www.garytheastronomer.com) from Massachusetts, who once again presented his daily sextant lessons at the visitor center, then nightly set up with us out back and presented his study of Italian cathedrals their architectural demonstration of True North. Thanks also to George Barber and all of you helpers for all the effort to continue our traditional Thursday huevos rancheros breakfast! Finally, special gratitude to Mae Smith, who not only arranged the design contest, inventory purchase, and sales of this year’s GCSP T-Shirts, but also volunteered to be our point of contact in Mather Campground. Thanks VERY much, Mae! Once again, we left the Grand Canyon charged up for next year, June 17-24, 2017. THANK YOU ALL!!
  14. Hello! So here in Mumbai, we are soon going to end with stargazing season from May to November for ainy season and it's the time when I am banging my head for my next upgrade. As my previous posts, I conduct outreach sessions as a Freelance educator and I started solar sessions with Lunt50mm SS as well. Although the programme had few problems, the word has gone out so next season will be good. This upgrade will be a jumpstart for my mobile solar observatory too. I am also seeing little competition upcoming so need to work and upgrade properly. Which brings me thinking about my next upgrade as follows : 120mm f/5 short tube refractor + Daystar Quark (chromosphere)+ full disk erf + az4 or eq3 mount (or similar) 1. I have read many posts which point out at the inconsistency in quality of quark. That's too risky compared to the unavailability of any guidance over here. 2. I don't know whether I can have full disk views using 40mm plossls or so. Although that's not compulsory since I will use the small lunt in the observation session. 3. The gear needs to be kind of portable. I carry around 18 kg weight for my night sky session. 4. Wait time is not that much of problem. Temperature over here does rise up to 42 degree C in summer. 5. I am putting the full disk front erf because I have to sell the idea that we can see the sun through Telescope with proper gear. 6. No clue about how a short tube refractor will work. CA might be an issue in night sky. 7. No clue about how many years the quark will work. If it's not going to work for more than 2-3 years then no use. I will wait for few more years and get a bigger lunt. I don't intend to buy the gear right now. It will wait for few months till I get the funding and get the proper idea of what am I getting into. Also, we shift our preferences so much that it's better to start the search early. On second thoughts, since I am putting a full disk erf, I also thought about This one : 127mm mak cass + daystar combo quark (chromosphere). The reason is that I might end up using this gear for.night sky session and have no clue how would a 120mm f/5 refractor will work. But, a combo quark might not get that greatly used since I don't see myself buying more scts or maks than refractor. CA is bearable since right now my regular scope is 90 mm f/10 refractor. Overall idea is, let's say in extreme case, I get a night and solar session for same group and I need to give a decent performance without carrying more than 2 telescopes which includes my small lunt. Any thoughts about any of the mentioned scopes and accessories? Any other recommendations?Also which telescope brands? I am in good touch with local skywatcher dealer. Can't comment on other dealers. Mostly we have orion,skywatcher,celestron,Meade brands available easily over here. Also, comments like "you're an idiot!" Are appreciated!!! Thanks for reading that long speech! P.s. I am kind of stepping into adulthood now so price is an issue. xD
  15. 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
  16. Yesterday evening, I had invited my tax advisor and his astro-interested (but unexperienced) girlfriend for an observing evening; another young lady joined the group; and after dinner, we started to explore the evening sky with 8x40 and 7x50 bins, and three dobs (5,1", 8" and 18"), supported by a green laser pointer. None of them had looked through a scope before; and, as they all are living in a rather light-polluted area, I started with the basics. The Plough, the way to Polaris, extended to find Cassiopeia; Perseus, Andromeda, Pegasus; Summer triangle. The first look through the 5" was at the Double cluster; not as impressive for them, as I had thought. But then one of the ladies spotted the Pleiades, just rising, naked eye, and I had her point the 5" at the cluster. Many "oh"'s and "great", especially, when they found out how to spot the cluster with bins. Meanwhile, I had prepared the 8" for a look at M 15 globular at 100x mag; they were astonished to see the pinpoint stars, and even more, when I had them take a look through the 18" at mag 250x. But I was somewhat surprised - the most pleasure, as it seemed, they all took from looking at the sky just with the bins, which went from hand to hand (and I was eagerly supporting them to find objects with the laser pointer!). So they made their star-hopping ways to M 31; with the 5" to the Owl cluster NGC 457; later to Lyra; and I had them point the 8" at the Double Double, which was easily and clearly separated; M 57 (explaining the stars life cycle); M 81/82 still low down, and finally at Albireo. After about two hours, the sky was rapidly fogging up; and we finished this evening of "firsts" with a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. All were pleased (and the accompanying outdoor cat, liberally caressed, as well), and very grateful for the views. As it seems, all three are hooked; and are pondering buying some good bins and later a scope (the 5,1" Heritage, I guess). Very pleased about this evening, and so to bed. Stephan
  17. 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.
  18. The next monthly meeting of the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers is planned for one April evening from our 'launch window' of 18th, 19th or 20th. The date to be decided on the 17th when weather forecasts have been considered. Held of the terrace of the Hub, Regent's Park from 6:30pm until 11.00pm, anyone is welcome to attend. The meetings are fun, educational, family friendly and free of charge; no need to bring any equipment. If you know London friends who have never seen Jupiter and its four Galilean moons through a telescope tell them not to miss this opportunity.
  19. 2016 26th Annual Grand Canyon Star Party In Memory Of Joe Orr DAY TWO - IDA Awards GCNP Provisional International Dark Sky Park Status Location: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, South Rim of Grand Canyon, AZ, about 340 miles north of home in Tucson, about 7000 ft. elevation Weather: 94F mid-day, 88F at sunset, 56F when we quit near 11:30. Incoming cloud decks from the west, wildfires disturbed the night's activities. Seeing and Transparency: Transparency started OK but recent wildfires took away transparency to the east and south, and the western clouds also were getting in the way. Sunset winds were 10 to 20 mph. Temperatures dropped a bit, still 10 degrees F above normal. Equipment: 10" Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount Mallincam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor. This was a VERY special day for Grand Canyon National Park. At 8 PM, the International Dark Sky Association formally awarded Provisional International Dark Sky Park status to GCNP. This is the result of a tremendous effort and investment since the begining of the Grand Canyon Association's 2012 Dark Skies project. GRCA was able to raise funding lin the range of $170,000 to push the project to the point where the local light environment is now understood, and the upgrades required are known. Thanks to the Orr Family Foundation and GRCA, the upgrades are in work with a goal of being completed in 2019, and the award of full Interrnational Dark Sky Park status can occur concurrent with the 100th Anniversary of the Grand Canyon National Park. Following the formal award presentation, Dean Regas repeated his awesome presentation of the Universe to the night talk audience. His interaction with the audience, especially the younger members, presents what could be complicated information showing the relative structure and elements of the known universe, and the the time it would take to travel to far off domains. Intermixing humor with his interogatory exchange, is a wonder to behold. And when he is done, and we need to get outside, it's mostly the young children who mob him at the front of of the auditorium. And the kids ask great questions; he really awakens their thinking about their home universe. Another record for astronomer attendance. We had at least 58 set up, needing to spread to the overflow area in the adjacent parking lot. And we are international this year, with volunteer astronomers from England and France. Busy week coming up! After the night talk, granddaughter Karina and I again started with Saturn, but while the seeing was noticably better, although wind gusts had Saturn doing figure eights at times, the transparency had dropped markedly. I had to extend the shutter speed well slower than the night before, and the great detail from the night before was not there. I decided that I'd see how Deep Sky Objects would do, which meant I had to change the focal ratio from native f/10 so I chose f/5 to start with. I had noticed that the polar alignment was not good, and checked it and found somehow the alignment had shifted over 3 degrees east on 3 degrees north, so we fixed that, added the 0.5 reducer and adjusted the focus. We aligned on Vega and dropped over to the Ring Nebula, and could immediately tell the transparency was not good at all. Usually, with the Xterminator, down at 3000 feet elevation I can get the nebula to show in the monitor at 2.1 seconds of integration, but although we were at 7000 feet, it took a full 15 seconds to get a faint outline, and 20 seconds for the beautiful color and whit dwarf star to come out. Karina and I did the stellar evolution story, intermixed with the usual sky tour of the ecliptic and Milky Way, and many of the various cultural significances of what was in view. The Ring, though, was quite a show. But it started washing out, and finally by 11 PM the wildfire effects were not only visible, the smell of the burning vegetation was being carried north to us as well. Enough for the night! The Xterminator had put on a great show, but it couldn't quite beat Mother Nature. Usually I have a few human intereest interactions, many involving younger people, but tonight the audience was much more scientifically grounded and the conversations were very interesting from a cosmology point of view. The ace in the hole was the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Native American cultural layer that made their stop at my location worth their time. In the end, Coma Berenices was about the least affected, so M51, the Whirlpool, became a target of choice for some folks. Most of us, however, were giving up with the loss of good resolution on the southern eye candy in Sagittarius. The transparency was just too negatively affected, better to save the feet and legs for another day. Jim O'Connor South Rim Coordinator Grand Canyon Star Party gcsp@tucsonastronomy.org
  20. Observing Report - August 13 Arizona Sonora Desert Museum "Cool Summer Nights" Location: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ, multiple locations on the grounds Weather: 100+F mid-day, 90+F at sunset, 80F when we quit near 8:30 PM. Open sky before sunset but thunder heads moving in and over us, at and sfter dusk. Lightning caused a halt in the operations. Seeing and Transparency: Better than average until after dusk, then sucker holes were stable but sparse. Equipment: 10" Meade SCT on an Atlas EQ-G mount Mallincam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor. This observing session was in support of the ASDM Cool Summer Nights Saturday night fiesta. The astronomy part of the night was provided by several organizations; seven astronomers and six telescopes from Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, and additional scopes and support from ASDM, National Optical Astronomy Organization, and the International Dark Sky Association. We were scattered at several venues around the grounds, so my direct involvement was to set up at Cat Canyon with Bob Williams and his Celestron 11" scope, and Peter Bibbo joining us without a scope and acted as additional guidance and helping with the visitor load. The support from the staff at ASDM was great, picking us and our equipment up with golf carts at our vehicles and transporting us to and from our setup locations. The only suggestion I'd make for the future is to consider having the astronomers park in the spaces normally reserved for buses; that would keep the volunteers consolidated and the transportation shorter and less impeded by the regular guests and traffic. Otherwise, the setup and adminsitration seemed very well thought out and supported. It started out as a great evening. After Bob and I got dropped off and we set up, and Peter joined us, I set my video view on the first quarter moon, while Bob did great finding Saturn, and later Jupiter, in the daylight sky. I was doing my usual discussion of the lunar origins and crater and maria configuration, and the combination of the Seas of Serenity, Tranquility, Fertility, and Crises forming a perfect Lunar Poodle, and the Apollo 11 Landing site was of interest to visitors as well. Bob, first with Saturn and then Jupiter with all four Galilean moons on one side, was the popular place while Peter was aiding in the crowd control and diseminating information. My estimate is that by thirty minutes after sunset or so, we already had nearly 100 people come through. I was struck by the number of very young children out for the adventure. With the less youthful folks we had some good exchanges about the beginings of the moon, how it progressed, evidence correlating lunar material with Earth crustal evidence, and the possibilities of future space exploration. The craters were putting on a show that highlighted the solar ray alignment, acting as bright beacons when the Sun's rays were favorably oriented. The Lunar Poodle, though, was almost as big a hit as Saturn and Jupiter, and once seen on the monitor could be detected naked eye on the brightly lit surface. I was eagerly awaiting alignment stars to pop into view so I could jump over to more eye candy when I noticed the roiling thunderheads coming in from all directions. Weather reports had forecast clearing past 7 PM; Instead, by about 7:50, we were down to sucker holes and the lightning was fairly far off, but moving in. By about 8:20, the lightning had moved from over 10 miles out to within 4 miles. And our crowd had disipated as well, so Bob and I started shutting down. Scopes and humans don't take well to 200 kilovolt jolts. What an immense disappointment! The visitors were fun to work with, and the way we all were distributed around the grounds was well thought out. If not for the major shift in the weather, Bob, Peter, and I would likely have had over 300 people at our location alone. This is a great concept in evironmental awareness, with the plant and animal displays sharing the stage with the rest of our home universe. We were able to get enough information shared that it was well worth the effort for the short time we had. This was my first outreach experience at ASDM, and I hope to have many more. Jim O'Connor South Rim Coordinator Grand Canyon Star Party gcsp@tucsonastronomy.org
  21. Last Saturday, four of us from Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (Stephen Ferris, Chuck Hendricks, Bernie Stinger, and myself) supported Pima County Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Department with their periodic night under the stars in Tucson Mountain Park's Ironwood Picnic Area. PCNR has increased the frequency of these events, and when the weather cooperates, they become active, productive sessions of educational inquiry and exploration of the night sky. This was one of them. It was also a personal highlight for several reasons I'll detail. Since the moon, 2 days from full, would rise an hour prior to sunset, I arrived very early since I wanted to do some trial runs with various focal reduction configurations. If you don't like techie stuff, skip this paragraph. For public events, I use a 10" Meade SCT mounted on an Orion Atlas EQ-G equatorial mount and tripod, with a Mallincam Xterminator live video camera feeding into a 19" QFX monitor. The camera performs as an equivalent 8mm Plossl eyepiece with 50 degrees apparent field of view. If I operated the SCT at its native f/10, the magnification would be too high, field of view too tight, and exit pupil not optimum for Deep Sky Objects. I needed to reduce the focal ratio to under f/5 for best performance. Usually I've been using a 2" 50% focal reducer, but while the resulting 1270mm effective focal length works well with some deep sky objects, for the sun, moon, and most open clusters and emission/reflection nebulae the image is larger than the monitor. My early pre-sunset goal was to try to mix and match a Celestron f/6.3 reducer with either my 1 1/4" or 2" 50% reducers without inducing coma or vignetting. My experience was that with the f/6.3 reducer/field flattener installed, the 2" 50% reducer greatly shrunk the field of view, but I did not have enough focuser travel to achieve focus. However, with a 2" to 1 1/4" adapter and the 1 1/4" reducer, the shorter nose piece allowed focus although with a larger image that just fit on the monitor. When I got the right combination of focal reducers, it turned out that the nearly full moon was far too bright for the system; even at 1/12000 second shutter speed and gamma adjustments, the majority of the moon was a bright blur. I was able to add a polarizing filter at 40% to the optical train and it got a great view of Luna. The first thing that made this a great outreach was that, in the first group of visitors to arrive, I got a chance to meet Anne Wilson, a National Park Service Ranger at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska. Next year, for the Great American Eclipse, my wife Susan and I will be supporting public activities at Agate. Anne was in town with one of her sons, visiting a friend from high school, and she came to the event with her son, her friend, and her friend's mother. It was great to meet Anne and the rest of the gang. We went over the lunar history, the various cultural artifacts like the Lunar Poodle, the Chinese Lunar Rabbit and their lunar calendar, Lady in the Moon, and other various topics. As soon as it was dark enough to get Polaris, I did a quick polar alignment and started hunting objects. More visitors had arrived, and I aligned on Schedar in Cassiopeia and started with The Owl Cluster, NGC457. With the extra focal reduction it easily fit on the monitor. Visitors generally like this object, and it's a good one to introduce stellar formation and evolution Since many of the stars are very large, they are young but will reach the end of their lives soon. With too long an integration time (I started at the maximum SENSE UP, about 2.1 seconds), so many stars are shown that it is hard to see the Owl in the rest of the star field. I eventually reduced the integration and the Owl jumps out. Back to the longer integration, I could point out a few of the red giants in the mix; although the cluster is only about 22 million years old, a lot of the stars have already progressed to end stage development. Lots of teaching can go on with this cluster. I then hopped over to the Double Cluster, NGC869 and NGC884. Each cluster filled the monitor by itself, so we could point out a lot of features. Even in an eyepiece, the colorful stars are notable, but with the video, there is a higher intensity to the colors. While we were in the area, we talked about Persius and the Cassiopeia/Andromeda story along with Persius' prize; he went off to slay the Medusa, and he has brought the head back. This is a fairly short period variable star, and the fact that the variability is notable over about a 3 day period caused Semitic peoples to name it Satan, the Devil, or the spectre of a ghost, The Ghoul, or Al Ghoul, later becoming Algol. In among the cluster show, we also explored some other cultural stories regarding elements of the Milky Way (Via Galacticos, leading to now calling all stellar island universes Galaxies), how the Zodiac came about, Cygnus versus Niska the Goose, and more. I learned a bit of the effect of atmosphere conditions on the camera image. We had scattered cirrus around, and moisture at altitude that was just below cloud formation. But the moisture and clouds have an effect on urban lights, with the red component being reflected from these layers such that there is a strong red highlight to the image needing a blocking filter like IR or Ultrablock to knock down the interference. I got surprised by the effect of the moon. There was a constant red splotchy nature on the monitor when not pointed at the moon due to the lunar light's red and longer wavelengths maintaining their presence while the shorter wavelengths being scattered. The moon, when off-axis, was also providing a lighted circle brightening to the side of the center. I was able to remove the light and atmospheric effects by altering the brightness and contrast settings on the monitor, although I should have used a blocking filter. We had a group of seven or eight deaf young folks with a signing interpreter visit, and were really enjoying the clusters. I tried to modify my usual ramblings to make the discussion easier to follow. It was extremely enjoyable to work with the group, and another element that made this a great outreach. At the end of our cluster show and tell, Anne and her party headed out, while I went for more eye candy. I shifted over to The Ring Nebula, M57. With the new reducer configuration shrinking the exit pupil, the image was a bit smaller than I usually get (a nickel instead of a quarter) but the colors were more intense and brighter. Lots of excitement over the double white dwarf artifact and the cosmic diamonds. Then I shifted over to M27, the Dumbbell, and although a bit smaller than earlier times, it was still over a quarter of the screen with a diaphanous blue-green central element and bright red caps at the ends . The integration times on both nebulae were significantly shorter than without the double focal reducers. I was able to discuss the stellar evolution process again, this time with two examples of our sun's likely demise. All good things come to an end, and the visitors and we left Ironwood after an enjoyable evening.
  22. It's been quite a while with family travels and bad weather, so I haven't been very active around these parts, but I thought I'd come out of my cave for a bit. September 27, 2015: Public Outreach With Supermoon Lunar Eclipse Location: University of Arizona Mall In Front of Flandrau Planetarium Weather: Gorgeous. Comfortable temperatures in low 90s when we began setting up around 5 PM, and staying comfortable all evening. The sky was mostly clear, with a few clouds to the East where the moon would make itself visible. Unfortunately, the full lighting on the mall combined with several days of moderate to high winds kicked up enough of the Arizona talcum powder-like dust that it accentuated the light pollution as well as did the moon glow. During totality we did get the Summer Triangle, but Polaris was only visible with averted vision. Otherwise, the sky was like a gray felt blanket, Seeing and Transparency: Seeing was very stable, but transparency was good enough to see the moon, although the redness was suppressed, but Deep Sky Objects were an impossible dream. The loss of contrast due to the full lights on environment within the buildings and along University Avenue around the mall stole a lot of contrast. The moon, however, cooperated well. Equipment: Some new configuration changes this time out. 90mm f/5.6 Orion ShortTube refractor on Atlas EQ-G mount Mallincam Xterminator video system,19" QFX LCD monitor. 105 Amp hour deep cycle battery, with a new addition; an 800 watt inverter Orion lunar filter early and late Home-made Baader film solar filter for pre-moon rise system checkout High Point Scientific 0,5X focal reducer I used at the last minute post eclipse This adventure rivaled nights at the Grand Canyon Star Party. We had five telescopes from the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, many telescopes from the University of Arizona Student Astronomy Club, and another half dozen folks who just showed up with scopes and binoculars on their own. Flandrau Planitarium was going full bore, with several organizations doing hands-on demonstrations including my wife who had several kits and demos set up, and the 16” Flandrau scope was in use as well. The crowd was tremendous. As many as 700 were milling around checking out the telescopes and observing on their own. I had the only live video setup going and it attracted quite a group for most of the event. Eventually, I would get interviewed by Tucson Channel 9, KGUN News, about the science behind the Supermoon eclipse, and then what the roll live video can play in public outreach. I had a half dozen mobility and optically challenged customers that the video screen was their only access, as well as small children, most of whom don’t develop the ability to discriminate the eyepiece views until around age 5, sometimes as late as age 7. Some adults as well don’t have the ability to process the eyepiece view (my wife included, who taught astronomy for many years and has never seen a deep sky object in an eyepiece). It was an easier task to discuss and teach the event when viewed in a 19” monitor. I did set up to do imaging as well with my laptop, but I was never able to get to it! Too many customers and continuous adjustments to optimize the monitor view. It was very disappointing to have a “black” eclipse to the naked eye due to the heavy light pollution and the dust kicked up over the last few days, but in the monitor I was able to adapt the settings as the event when on, eventually have to use some integration settings rather than shutter speed to get the entire figure visible. I was able to periodically adjust the white balance and get the redness in the eclipse view that was not seen in other methods. I was using the inverter for the first time at the advice of Rock Mallin, developer of my fantastic camera, the Mallincam Xterminator. With just the battery, the power needs to be shared by the monitor, camera, and equatorial mount. The EQ mount has a down conversion on the voltage input that fixes it at 11.7 volts if it is running alone off the battery. However, when the draw is split, the voltage to the mount was dropping by almost a volt, causing a low-power warning light to flash. At Rock’s suggestion, I introduced the inverter and all night I monitored the voltage internal to the mount. It started at 11.9 V when I started on the Sun at 5 PM, and was 11.6 V five hours later when we quit. Nice to have regulated power input. Now for all the mistakes. First, I thought the f/5.6 native to the scope would be fast enough. It turned out not so. The initial look at the Sun was very soft, although we could see four large sunspots in view. As the moon came up, I took off the filter and added a polarizing filter. Not nearly enough reduction in light transmission, as its maximum was only 40%. Fortunately, I had an old Orion 92% blocking filter and swapped it in, which allowed working with the lunar image. The contrast between the eclipsed region and the still illuminated moon was a challenge to chase, but it was possible to vary the shutter speed enough to get the black to the naked eye eclipsed region into a reddish illuminated zone along with the still full brightness area. Some time into the show, the filter needed to come out, and as full totality set in, it was necessary to extend the integration up to about 1/15th of a second to bring out the eclipsed details with the camera enhanced coppery red view. As the shadow started to walk off the moon, the adjustments had to go backwards. That’s when I discovered the final mistake. I should have used focal reduction. At the native f/5.6, the Supermoon exactly filled the monitor; truly super, since other times out the moon would have a ½” margin around it. As the brightness began to dominate and make chasing exposure times an adventure, I added the 50% reducer and got down to f/2.8. The image was now half screen, but super easy to adjust with the lunar filter also installed. The biggest mistake might have been running all the cable to the laptop, and forgetting to take any images! Too busy with the multitude of visitors. Despite the things I might have done better, it was still a great night for the public. An endless number of conversations about what was going on, lunar exploration history, how the moon got into the shape it was in, even discussing other culture’s approach to the lunar experience, from Native American to British Isles. I just recently learned of burial caves where bones have been found with notches cut in them At first it was thought that the bones were about 7,000 years old, and the cut marks were a result of hunting or harvesting the meat. Recently, though, carbon dating of artifacts from caves in Ireland has moved them back to about 26,000 years ago, far before originally thought, and more importantly, the cut marks are now traceable to lunar cycles – the long bones with the cuts are a lunar calendar 26,000 years old. I learned a bit more in how to manage my equipment, had a great experience with the news media and with all of the curious people (I ended up with close to 200 at my spot), and I owe Rock Mallin a tremendous thanks for the inverter suggestion. Another great night of outreach!
  23. Date: Saturday, January 30, 2016 I’m woefully late getting this out, but better late than never. Location: Catalina State Park, Catalina, AZ Weather: mid-70s at Noon, Low 60s at sunset, 50s when we quit near 10:00 PM. Some clouds forming during the day, thinning at sunset, open sky when we began serious observing. Seeing and Transparency: OK, not great due to the moisture pumping in off the west coast. Equipment: 10" Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount Mallincam Xterminator video system, 19" QFX LCD monitor. This was the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association’s winter star party supporting Catalina State Park. This was an unusual event in that we had no moon or planets to get an early start on, so we and our eventual 250 or more visitors waited for astronomical twilight to set in so we could enjoy some viewing. We had 10 astronomers to support the event, and we were all pretty busy. After dark, for most of the event, I had about 35 people rotating through my video display all night. As the darkness was settling in, I invited any interested visitors to a side area for a laser sky tour. We covered ecliptic, the relation to the zodiac, all of the visible constellations, and many myths from multiple cultures associated with the constellations and asterisms, comparing the Pleiades, Orion, Scorpius (not visible, but part of a similar separation legend in Navajo to the Greek), Cassiopeia, and the Big Dipper and how they are interpreted among Greek and Navajo cultures. We also discussed the point of view of the creation of the Sun, Moon, and night sky as taught by Tohono O'odham and Navajo, and the nature of the night sky as understood by Cherokee, Seminole, Navajo, and other cultures. It was quite a nice experience with the visitors. Back to the scope, I aligned on Rigel and we enjoyed M42, Orion's Nebula for some time, discussing the nature of this stellar nursery and the Trapzium and its generation of the emission/reflection nebula on the screen. I used the flexibility of the imaging time selection to show, at 2.1 seconds, the Trapezium and some of the nebulosity around the four main stars, then upping the integration time to seven seconds for the glory of the colorful hydrogen emission and the reflections around the nebula. Increasing the integration to 15 seconds brought out M43, the emission nebula adjacent to M42, and marveled at Charles Messier’s ability to pick this item out 235 years ago with a small telescope and the wood and coal smoke pollution. Then we went over to Cassiopeia, and after aligning on Schedar, spent time with The Owl Cluster, which filled the monitor. Rotating the camera allowed it to appear upside down as the Bat, as well as ET and Johnny 5 and other cultures’ name as the Kachina Doll. We then went up to the Andromeda constellation for the beautiful planetary nebula, NGC7662, the Blue Snowball. It was a blue disk over ¼” in diameter, all alone in the view. We talked about stellar evolution and the source of the oxygen glow due to the white dwarf at the core. By now, it was time to close up shop as the visitors left happy, and educated, to the environment that is part of their home. Once again, the Mallinccam live video system enabled showing natural wonders and performing education for a large group of visitors. We’ll be back again next quarter!
  24. My son asked me to bring my telescope to the family picnic. I decided to take the 80mm Refractor to keep things simple. A clear sky showcased a beautiful first quarter moon and I knew the little scope would provide a great show, especially for people who had never looked through a telescope. I set the scope up directly in back of my car knowing that there would be many kids who would want to take a look. This would provide some protection for the telescope set-up and direct people to gather in ONE general area rather than in 360 degrees around me. It turns out that this was a good idea. As soon as the word was out that I was there with my telescope, everyone gathered. I remember my excitement when, as a five year old, I took my first look through my Grandfather's telescope. I was about to witness that same excitement as, one-by-one, kids and adults took their first close-up look at the moon! I am a retired teacher and I have always enjoyed watching the discovery process happen as the lightbulb goes off in a child's mind. Tonight, it was just as fun to also see it happen in the adults as they asked questions and learned something new! Here are some of the comments and questions that made the evening such a pleasure for me! "Wow!" "I can see the moon moving..." "You mean it moves?" What are those circles on the moon?" "I'm 37 years old and have never looked through a telescope." "That is so incredible!" "Can we see any planets?" "What? You are kidding me. That bright star right there by the moon is Saturn?" "OMG, I gotta get a telescope!" After a while, everyone went back to the campfire except for two people. One nine year old boy and one really turned on adult. We talked for another hour! (Note to self: next time ... set up an even better perimeter for crowd control. Little girl tripped over trip-pod.)
  25. Location: Catalina State Park, AZ, about 20 miles east of home in Tucson, about 2700 ft/820 meters elevation. Weather: About 75 F at sunset, 60 F when we quit after 9 PM. Rolling overcast and open spaces all day, some thinning at sunset, hardly any ground wind but the competing cloud elements to the north leaving but heavier weather from the south easing in had the overcast miss the forecast by being about three hours early. Seeing and Transparency: Seeing was a little rocky due to upper level winds when a hole could be found. Transparency varied from around 90% overcast near sunset as predicted, clearing shortly thereafter to about 60% moving cloud that was supposed to drop to 40% until after 11 PM, but never did. After about 8 PM, virtually total cloud cover. Equipment: 10" f/10 Meade SCT on Atlas EQ-G mount, focal reduced to f/5 to start the video show. Mallincam Xterminator Astronomical Video System, which includes thermoelectric (Peltier) internal cooling and an external heat sink mount with two fans to reduce or eliminate hot pixels on extended integration runs, as well as newly developed circuitry called Amp Glow Reduction along with a new Sony chip that features much more sensitivity that earlier chips. Camera equivalent focal length is 8 mm, with about 50 degrees Apparent Field of View. Equivalent to an 8mm Plossl eyepiece. 19" QFX 12V LCD monitor. My usual process is to start at native f/10 for planets or comets to get image size, then drop to f/5 for the larger field for some objects such as the Orion Nebula or larger galaxies like M82 (Bode's Nebula or Cigar galaxy) or M51, the Whirlpool, then dropping to f/3.2 for other eye candy to fit the open clusters into the Field of View. This time, looking up, Jupiter at the moment was not very clear so I went with f/5 for M42, the Orion Nebula, which was clear as I was setting up. Without focal reduction, it would be running at 317X, nearly overdriving the scope on a good day so focal reduction on larger scopes is essential for field of view, and for reducing the exit pupil and placing enough energy on the chip. With the wrong focal reduction configuration, however, field curvature is introduced so focus is lost around the edges and it it is possible to introduce coma (stars around the margin looking misshapen, as though out of collimation) and possible clipping of the field with vignetting. Setup was a real thrash due to my own forgetfulness. To run the setup, I need two 12V lines. One goes to the monitor, the other goes to a five line distribution octopus that comes with the camera to power the mount, camera, dew heaters, and guide equipment at the mount head to save cable runs. But one of the lines was dead, and I left five spares at home in the garage. Then I remembered that in the old configuration before the octopus and single 100 Amp Hour Deep Cycle battery, I used two 35 AH batteries. One fed the monitor, the biggest power draw, the other fed the camera and mount. I still had the old shorty cable with the monitor, and had brought one of the 35 AH batteries as a backup, so eventually I was saved. But it took so long to untangle the mess and get it right, it was past sunset and time to do the sunset sky tour. I try to make the sky walks interesting by introducing other cultures besides the standard Greek, and point out the human calling to the sky in all cultures. After all, with now virtually total overcast except around Orion and the Big Dipper, over 35 visitors made the trip to attend the event. With Venus very bright, and Jupiter a moderate beacon in the sky, I started with the explanation of the ecliptic, the path of the sun through the year and named so because that's the line along which eclipses can occur, if the moon's tilted orbit is favorable. But this is also called the Zodiac, or in Greek Zodiakos Kyklos, the cycle of living things (think "zoo"), even Libra, the scales of justice with a lady holding them. With no sky, I went back in history to nearly a millenia before the Greek zodiac when the Celts had a similar cycle, with 12 months, each highlighted by a tree that thrived in that month. There is a connection to the Celts. driven from n orthern Europe by the barbarians and settling in the British Isles, picking up some Roman mythology with the feast of Saturnalia being in December, and the tree of the month being a fir tree, that was brought into the homes with the thought that they would bring winter life into the dwelling. Well, when Christianity was spreading across Europe and into England, the Saturnalia holiday of the pagans was adapted by Christianity so now we have a Christmas tree. Don't need any sky to talk about that. We also discussed the aspects of light use that would affect the audience, like overuse of light causing the expense of overbuilding capacity, and the production raising the carbon footprint as well as recent discoveries of mental and physical health issues related to excess urban lighting. One of the main reasons we hold this event is to raise environmental awareness, including the effects of light. Lots of economic cost to the public for unwise use of lighting. I told some of the Native American thoughts about the sky that really didn't need constellations to point to, mostly Seminole and Cherokee points of view about what the stars are and what they signify. Since we did have Jupiter and the Orion Nebula available so we broke up and grabbed targets. I was running way behind, and no Polaris to align on. I went back to the video setup and the sky was not allowing me to do a regular alignment but a sucker hole opened near Orion so I did a one star align on Rigel (perfect) and jumped to M42, the Orion Nebula. I just got the Trapezium in, and started the integration to get the nebula, we could see it begin to grow in the monitor, and all heck broke loose with swirling clouds. No Joy in Mudville. We reverted to talking about occasional appearances of Polaris and the Big Dipper and certain Plains Indian, Navajo, and Persian meanings to some of the elements as well as the multi-dynasty Egyptian use of their north star, which for us is Thuban in Draco, half way between the bowl of the Little Dipper and the handle of the Big Dipper, because the Earth wobbles like a top spinning down and the pole star shifts. With the bowl of the Big Dipper available along with the Big Dipper, I was abl e to relay the Cowboy Clock method of telling time on a cattle drive, but no luck on video. Bizarre effects when the electronics try to do tricks with clouds. Jupiter alternated between occasionally burning through over bright, then when the shutter speed was changed it disappeared, so I spent about an hour toggling shutter speeds to no purpose although an occasional two striped ball would fit the electronics, but the clouds would come or go and we'd be hunting the image again. Gave up, packed up, and left about 9:30. Lots of good talk with the fifty or so hearty souls who stuck around, but a weather bust.
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