Viewing Saturday night at Chabot Space Center

by Michael Swartz

I suppose you all know that Chabot space and science center has three observatories on a mountain top in Oakland. There is a fair bit of skyglow around the edges but the upper sky is fair and you can even see faint clouds of the milky way. Ideal observing location, nope! Not even close. But, it kind of neat to go hang around an observatory. Every Friday and Saturday nights they open the domes to the public for free. The parking is free too. And there are usually a half dozen amateurs there with there scopes set up for public viewing as well. The deep sky viewing isn't as great as our TAC locations but, again, it is kind of fun to once in a while go up there and mingle around, catch a view through some cool scopes and talk with other amateurs.

Chabot space center has an 8 inch refractor, a 20 inch refractor, a 16 inch reflector made by the telescope making class there, and a relatively new 36 inch cassagrain scope in a building with a slide back roof. The 8 inch and 20 inch refractors are very old and quite beautiful (for telescopes that is). The have old style brass fittings and all.

Anyway on with the story. So last night I wanted to go up there around midnight and catch a view of Mars through the big refractor. I got there around 11:30pm which I thought would be after the rush. There is normally only a small crowd. Last night there were hundreds of people waiting in line. The line went half way down to the parking structure. I laughed in disbelief and walked around to make sure that I wasn't imagining things. There were amateurs with their scopes set up here and there so there were a number of nice diversions on the way up to the main courtyard that is in between the observatory domes. The waiting for the 36" was the longest so I chose the 20" refractor line. It offered a view through the 16" reflector and a view through the 20" refractor. By the time I got my turn at the eyepiece it was getting close to 2:00am. I got a nice view through the 16" of Mars but it wasn't the best I'd seen. It was bright and a little washed out. Not much detail or color. They had the 20" pointed at M15. That was a real pretty view but not what I wanted to see through it.

As I was leaving I noticed a guy off to one side with a good sized refractor set up. It was a 5" Takahashi. Wow! Now that was a nice view. If I'd known he was there at the start, I could have had the view I was really hoping for and then gone home. But, the socializing that happened in the line on the way to the scopes was also worthwhile. I wouldn't do it every night or perhaps even again this season. But, I did enjoy it.

I think they have a pretty nice program there and recommend a visit every once in a while. I think they're even having a Martian costume party this Wednesday. I would also assume that there will be a sizeable crowd too. So, I'll be joining some of you at one of the TAC sites this Wednesday night.