Mark WagnerI was at the SJAA's Houge Park star party Friday night. I arrived early, and by dark was joined by perhaps a dozen others with their telescopes. What was immediately obvious was excellent seeing. I can't recall a night of steadier skies at Houge.
I was using my 10" f/5.7 CPT Dob. The Royce full thickness mirror was giving highly detailed views of, in particular, la luna - in a very crisp waxing gibbous phase. Rilles were sharp edged knife cuts etched into the surface. Some were black, short, deep slices, others running "with the grain" appeared as lite lines running long distance into and out the back sides of mountain ranges. Big craters like Clavius with small ones inside, and even smaller craterlets in bunches around those. It was spectacular seeing. It looked like there wasn't a breath of air on the moon, or between it and my us.
Some people were looking at Jupiter, bit it was low, and the best that could be said of it was given its altitude, it didn't look bad, and was even showing some nice atmospheric refraction!
The public turned out in good numbers. Kids with parents, college students, return visitors, all sorts. One young guy, Johnny, 7-1/2 years old did not want to leave. I had let him move my telescope and track things down using the optical and unit finders. No better way to get a kid interested than to let them do it. Mom and dad stood by rather nervously, as Johnny pushed the scope around. I was reassuring, but you could see, especially dad, hoping the boy wouldn't tip it over. Johnny left saying he wanted a telescope, and I told them about the SJAA's loaner program. Mom and dad also told me about a great few nights they'd had in Modoc county, what the sky looked like. I told them about GSSP...
One of the other telltale signs of what the night was like was a contrail. It crossed the sky mostly west to east, almost grazing the moon. Not only did the trail hold together from one end to the other, but you could easily see the individual trails within it, one end to the other. Can you say "steady"?
In addition to the rock solid skies, was excellent transparency. I was a Houge a few weeks ago, when there was no moon present. But last night, even with a fairly big moon up, deep sky targets were outperforming what I'd seen two weeks ago. M31 and M32 were easy. The Blinking Planetary proved popular with those who could get it to do its trick. M15 broke up wonderfully. The ET Cluster was a good test of people imagination (some people got'em, others.... well...). It was also fun to show off some double stars....
Eta Cass's companion was ruddy copper. What a color! I heard a friend talking about Gamma Andromedae - great color contrast too - yellow and blue. I started popping some really tight doubles - you just could not throw enough power at these - every one I tried gave back wide gaps. Mack truck like wide. A few people started talking cosmology - the Big Bang - "before" the Big Bang, oscillating universes, speaking authoritatively too - like God planted the answers in their heads! I was enjoying it. They got onto the color of stars and the amateur astronomers began to quiz the curious visitors on which stars were hotter, would live longer, etc. They were showing colored doubles during this lesson.
So, I got my scope back from Johnny, and pointed it to Gamma Arietis, and let them guess which was hotter, and what was there before the stars.
There were wide gaps in their answers. It was a wide gap kind of night....
It might be a while before there's another like it...
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