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2016 Grand Canyon Star Party - Day 7 - Overcast and Lightning


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2016 26th Annual Grand Canyon Star Party In Memory Of Joe Orr

DAY SEVEN - Virtual Wipe Out

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, windy, overcast at sunset and huge weather front moving in.

Seeing and Transparency: Non-existent. Only Moon and Jupiter barely detectable in the overcast, disappearing by 9:15 PM. Thunderstorms forecast for 1-5 AM.

Equipment (packed up for the night):

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.

The weather caught up to us. All day the satellite radar and IR showed a huge cell moving in from the southeast with lightning and heavy rain. We tried, though. About six to ten scopes were set up on Jupiter and the Moon, but thick overcast everywhere. We carried on with the indoor night talk and tried two of the Constellation Tours in a modified way, but gave up when lightning was getting closer as the front moved Northwest from Flagstaff.

Dr. Andy Odell, Professor Emeritus in Astrophysics now retired from Northern Arizona University and doing further research at Lowell Observatory, was our speaker. Andy's talk was on Stellar Clusters and Stellar Evolution, and we needed to kick it off. After getting some equipment gremlins out of the way, we were off and running.

Dr. Odell's talk was a fascinating comparison of the inner workings of a star, compared to how members of a cluster show the signatures related to their size and age. Starting with the Hertsprung-Russell diagram to illustrate, in effect, the family portrait of stars and how we can characterize and classify what we see. Then he jumped into the forecasting of stellar phenomena from the inside out, as the star goes through its evolution. His wealth of cluster photographs allowed him to make the point of determining the age and nature of the cluster and its members told the story visually.

I headed out early to try the 9 PM Constellation tour. I did the talk from the perspective of why cultures needed and used the night sky. Since only Jupiter and the Moon were vaguely visible in the overcast, I used their orientation to do the whole ecliptic and zodiac discussion. Then we faced around northward, I drew the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia on the clouds, 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. We spent time on the location where the Milky Way would be found, and used Greek, Seminole, and O'odham conceptual use of the the arms of the Milky Way. We talked a bit about comparative cultural use of Scorpius (another sketch on the cloud bank) 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, showing planting with the tail being unrelated rabbit tracks, and Orion being the warrior symbol as an example for preparedness. But for the Navajo, the Great One and the 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. 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 with NO sky!

I had 18 guests at the talk, but by the time I got back to the scope lot Ranger Marker Marshall was doing the 9:30 PM tour as a teaching lesson in using a sky map without the sky. She had about 8 or 10 people, but everyone else had seen the lightning moving in on the horizon and the visitors were now gone, and scopes packed up. Got some early sleep!

Saturday is the final day/night and promises to be clear. We'll hold the traditional last day Pot Luck in the campground, and then go on for one final night in a great week.

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