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Skylook123

Outreach Report, Oracle State Park, AZ 9/23/2017

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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!

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Another great report from you Jim, I bet The swan looks great from down there, I have 10 degree on anywhere in the UK but I imagine it is about another 10 or so higher in the skies for you, a lovely object. The likes of M13 we have almost overhead and is superb in any instrument.

Alan

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10 hours ago, alan potts said:

Another great report from you Jim, I bet The swan looks great from down there, I have 10 degree on anywhere in the UK but I imagine it is about another 10 or so higher in the skies for you, a lovely object. The likes of M13 we have almost overhead and is superb in any instrument.

Alan

Thank you, Alan.  I have a bit of wiring problem in the brain box that impairs memory creation (a form of Attention Deficit Disorder), combined with small motor coordination that many artist friends have tried to overcome and teach me to sketch but of no avail, so the only way I have to remember my observing adventures is  to produce word pictures.  And it's just not real unless it's shared.

As far as The Swan, yes, down here at 32 N latitude, it is nicely above the horizon, as is Omega Centaurus at favorable times.  While for several decades I've enjoyed the Sagittarius, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, and Centaurus regions blessed by this latitude and an 18" truss dob, several years ago the smaller 10" combined with live video opened the world of color in the view, and the striking red tint of the emission nebulae is a life changer for the visitors to my setup.

Some day, all astronomers from your part of the planet should experience the wonder of seeing these marvels at our 8,000 foot altitude at the Grand Canyon Star Party.  During June, for each of 8 nights we will have approximately 1,500 visitors to our 130 telescopes, and our additional task is to count how many visitors we can cause to leave with a tear or two at being introduced to their home universe.  I hope some day you can have the privilege of seeing the universe as we do, at high altitude with dry skies and inkwell black nights.  But then home becomes a bit unsatisfying!

Thanks for reading!

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As I thought you gain an extra 10 degrees on me and that would put them nicely above my horizon. I can see pretty much all of most of these areas but trees do not help the situation and now someone is building a house down that way which will cut out one of my best areas. The trouble is that very low down it is never going to be wonderful viewing with all that atmosphere to look through, a mountain range also steals some of the south too. I have seen some of these constellations overhead from my travels but of course never had a scope with me and though I mostly carried a camera a pair of binos would not have been a bad idea, a bit late now though.

Alan

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15 hours ago, alan potts said:

As I thought you gain an extra 10 degrees on me and that would put them nicely above my horizon. I can see pretty much all of most of these areas but trees do not help the situation and now someone is building a house down that way which will cut out one of my best areas. The trouble is that very low down it is never going to be wonderful viewing with all that atmosphere to look through, a mountain range also steals some of the south too. I have seen some of these constellations overhead from my travels but of course never had a scope with me and though I mostly carried a camera a pair of binos would not have been a bad idea, a bit late now though.

Alan

I've heard that opportunities are always available in the past tense.

My wife and I lived on an island in the Pacific at about 8 N latitude.  Talk about a new sky.  Scorpius overhead, Omega Centaurus naked eye.

A few nights ago I was observing the Swan late in the evening as it was setting, and it went from brilliant, crisp red to losing detail as the atmosphere played more of a role in the image.   Always more to enjoy, though, now that the humidity is under 17% and the dew point is 60F/35C under the ambient temperature.  Unfortunately, when at home in my back yard facing North, I can't see most of the southern hemisphere with the house and neighbors' trees  and on my front walk, the house and the neighbors' trees hide the north. 

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