Kidding around at Coyote Lake 9/21

by George Feliz

Saturday I took my 10-year-old Michael out for his first taste of a darker site. Michael has previously helped me at small, local star parties for neighbors and Girl Scouts, He also had a great time at the last PAS event at Foothills Park. Since then, he has been enthusiastic about spending time in the backyard finding new objects to "discover". When I asked him if he'd like to go to a darker site, he accepted faster than you can say Nintendo.

We arrived at the boat launch area about 7:30 and set up our small refractors in about 5 minutes. After a quick break for some anti-mosquito spray we wandered around, and ended up showing some boaters a quick, watery look at Mars (but then they seemed a bit watery, too). The night was wonderfully warm T- shirt-weather for most of the night.

Soon we were panning throught Sagittarius and Scorpius with Michael quickly finding M22, M8, M7 and with a bit of help, M6. One way we are trying to learn the sky is for me to put an object in my scope, and then point out where it is relative to some bright stars. This seems to work well for us, with the usual result of a smile, and a cheerful "I've got it!". Those small moments make the entire night for me.

Michael uses an 8-24mm zoom eyepiece on a 70mm refractor with an alt-az mount. The zoom gives him a maximum field of view of 2 degrees at 20x, and he can usually aim the scope close enough with a 1x, red dot finder. He can then zoom in to 60x for some detail and a darker sky background. He is rapidly developing his Wagner-esque NSC's (Neural Setting Circles).

I guess we sounded like we were having fun because a small group of people wandered over to see what the happy commotion was all about. One couple had problems with their GoTo scope, and a father-son-friend trio also sauntered over. So Michael switched into Tour-Guide mode, and we showed some familiar views of M13, M92, M31/32/110 in the same field, the Double Cluster, "ET" (NGC457), Mizar, the Coathanger, gamma Del, alpha Her, and Mars.

It was very pleasing to see Michael sharing our limited knowledge, some of it picked up along the way from more experienced friends (many of them TACos - you know who you are). The good Karma from sharing allows us future, guilt-free mooching of views from others (especially from bigger, nicer scopes). :-)

After our new friends left, we surfed some more including M27, the double-double (which needed a barlow to split - even young eyes need more than 60x), M57, M15 and gamma And. Along the way, Michael set a new speed record for finding something (M34). I told him that it was about 4/10th's of the way between Algol and gamma And, and a little to the left. About 5 seconds later, before I could put it in my scope, he straightened up and said "Got it!" After a quick peek we shared a celebratory fist bump (a modern "high five").

It was not much later that he started to tire, and rather than have him sleep in the car while I continued, we decided to call it a night.

I do not think it will be our last together under the stars...