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2017 Grand Canyon Star Party South Rim - Day 3

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DAY THREE - Heavy Clouds Early, Some Clearing Late

Weather: 92F mid-day, 82F at sunset, 68F when we quit near 11:30. Heavy overcast and some rain in the vicinity when we went in at 7:30 for the night talk, some sucker holes in motion at 9 PM, then moderate clearing around 10:30 PM but moving cumulus nebulae in the sky. 

Seeing and Transparency: Can't say; I never set up since I needed a clear shot at Polaris to trouble shoot the alignment issues, so I did constellation tours and other outreach activities instead.  Equipment:unused except a laptop to educate passers by.  It all started with a clear morning, but by noon heavy cloud cover loaded with rain started rolling in.  We never got more that a few drops, but within 10 miles there was the whole weather show going on with lightning, thunder, and occasional driving rain.  We had about 35 hearty souls come out to wait for clearing, which often happens, but tonight it delayed about an hour and a half from the usual.  Still, we had visitors attend to see what was happening, so we used the time to educate until the sucker holes widened to open much of the sky.

With the weather so unfavorable, I made an early decision to not check polar alignment since the crowd was small enough that another scope would be superfluous, and instead I volunteered to do the last sky tour. 

The talk tonight was a great presentation by Rader Lane, my NPS counterpart as coordinator.  He presented some great historical lesson on how the early astronomers were able to get distances and sizes of the Earth, Mars, and the star Arcturus.  Then, using the 40 light year distance to Arcturus he presented the use of the information the second Chicago Worlds Fair.  The first photomultiplier cell system was set up and driven by a pair of observatories to sent the electricity to power the lighting at the Fair.  The important point was that the first Chicago Worlds Fair was 40 years earlier, so the light source powering the second Fair was generated at Arcturus during the first Chicago Worlds Fair.

The next element of his talk was on proper use of lighting to save the night sky, and showing the scenes at the current National Parks that have been awarded International Dark Sky Park status.  Grand Canyon National Park has Provisional IDSP status, with two more years of light fixture changeover in time to get IDSP status for the Park's 100th anniversary in 2019.  GCNP will then forever be the largest IDSP in the world.

Rader finished with a great overview of the Citizen Science program and how everyone can participate with Globe at Night and light measurements in their own areas.  All in all, a great 35 minutes of public awakening. 

Returning to the setup, I noticed we still had hundreds of visitors and a sky starting to open up.  With the moving clusters of interested folks participating, I replaced my usual video monitor with my laptop and set up a loop of a fantastic video produced by Astrocampania, a group of astrophotographers in Italy, called Wonders of the Universe.  About four and a half minutes of gorgeous eye candy, I had set it up to loop and as people would walk by we'd discuss the object images, each image pausing for a few seconds on the screen.  It has background music from The Da Vinci Code, and makes a very nice rolling panoply of, as the title says, Wonders of the Universe.  We did not need an open sky to entertain and educate!  The rest of the video volunteers were also showing examples of their craft, and more education was happening at the eyeballs-at-eyepieces setups, awaiting the clearing skies.  It was a pretty good experience for the visitors dropping in.  Before I had to run away and start my 10 PM walk around the sky, I had over 75 visitors stop by to watch the wonders roll by on the screen.

It was a typical type of sky tour, modified to catch the open areas but we were able to get all the features discussed.  Actually, I started with 17 people for the first 30 minutes, then went another 30 with three who stayed around and we took a deeper dive into some topics.

At 11 PM we were packed and ready to head to the lodge when I ran into Rader Lane.  We share a passion for cultural astronomy, although his knowledge is much deeper and disciplined than mine.  All of a sudden it was 11:45 and time to escape.  What a great night without a scope!

TOMORROW I'll work on polar alignment.

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  • Skylook123 changed the title to 2017 Grand Canyon Star Party South Rim - Day 3

I wish I had the opportunity to post more observations, but where, in the distant past, we could count on an average of 275 clear nights per year, for the last several years the sky is disappearing, which I hope is a cyclical behavior.  There was a three or four month period recently when we lost 90% of our scheduled outreaches (we do about a dozen a month).  We went two years some time back without losing a single night!

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