SFAA City Star party May 10

by Jane Houston Jones

SF's Land's End is tucked into the northwest corner of San Francisco, where the city meets the sea. It's a perfect sunset viewing spot, and tourists and local folk flock to watch the sunset, see the sea and observe the wildlife in the air and on the ground. The first two star parties of 2003 offered amazing seeing, good sized crowds and plenty of good views. There were 15 telescopes at the February star party, 20 telescopes at the March star party when we also started the SFAA/Sidewalk Astronomers telescope clinic. April was rained out, but did not dampen the momentum. Yesterday, May 10 was also Astronomy Day, and some club members came to the city star party after spending the entire day showing the sun and manning other exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences annual Astro Day festivities.

Sky conditions were just what the clear sky clock predicted for last night. Outstanding seeing and lousy transparency. But by 6:30 p.m. people and telescopes started arriving. First the dozen or so people who signed up for the telescope clinic arrived. Three new LX 90's, about 5 ETX's, a couple Nextstars, and a couple reflectors and refractors were soon being lifted from cars by nervous newbies. Each clinic participant soon had an experienced SFAA member at their side. The ETX's all set up together, and the row of 4 LX-90's was quite a site. Some were learning to polar align, or to collimate their dob, use their finder, or just have someone watch and confirm their first setup, as they took that first step into stargazing. A few just watched from the sidelines, but will bring their own old-or- new and seldom-or-never-used equipment next month for some help.

By 8:00 p.m there were 30 telescopes set up, and several more in cars that owners didn't set up. A few solar scopes were already stowed, so I guess the count is even higher than 30!

Views of Jupiter, with an Io transit and red spot appearance were awesome through Rod, our own f/9 AP180EDT using a 6 Radian for 280X. Rock steady views of Copernicus - the many domes near Hortensius and Milchius were visible, but the lines were pretty long and steady, so I only took a few peeks. Just about everybody could see detail and color in the red spot in our scope last night.

I helped a dob class f/4.something 10-inch with a collimation clinic before dark. I used a sharpie and marked on the wood tailgate which direction each collimation bolt tilted the primary mirror, sideways, up and down, or diagonally. Then I showed him how to align the telrad, and soon he aimed at the moon and Jupiter - Jupiter for the first time! A little later he found his first Messier object: M-44. Much later we coaxed a poor view of M-13 out of the clouds.

Kerry Sagar's little 113mm f/4 Orion StarBlast was a blast to use, and it was one of the more popular telescopes, in spite of 14-inch SCT's, an 18-inch dobs on an equatorial platform, our 7-inch refractor, a portaball, giant binos compliments of Scope City and nearly a dozen each of reflectors, refractors and various sizes of SCTs and Maks. There was even a 3-inch Vernonscope down at the end of the row.

By about 10:00 p.m. the conditions turned yucky, with predicted low clouds and lots of moisture, and so people started packing up. We had long lines at our telescope until the we couldn't see Jupiter very well. The moon through the 31 Nagler wasn't bad either, Then we packed up, and were among the last to leave at about 10:30 p.m.