Saturday, September 6, 2008

Summer Observing At Its Best at Houge Park

I honestly can't remember the last time I went to Houge Park for an SJAA public star party prior to last night. But it proved well worth it.

I brought out my 10" f/5.7 CPT, and at sunset was enjoying excellent views of the moon and Jupiter. Although I didn't pump up the magnification beyond the 120X my 12 Nagler gave, the detail even at that modest power was very pleasing. I think my 10" along with Daniel Stepanescu's were the biggest scopes, with various refactors ranging from about 6" down, and a few small Cats and JVN's equatorially mounted Optical Craftsman rounding out the instruments. I don't think I looked through one other scope!

Probably the most fun I had with the public was a 6-3/4 year old girl who fell in love with the views of Jupiter. Her mom couldn't tear her away from my scope. I taught her how to move the Dob, and keep the planet centered. Little tugs toward her... she was having a blast.

I also showed M31 and M32, both were obvious, M15, M92, M13 and Alberio. M13 and M92 kind of stole the show for unusual objects - most everyone else far as I could tell were showing Jupiter. The globs broke up nicely at 120X, but were dimmed enough at that mag that the views at 72X (20 Nagler) really showed them off - more in context - not very resolved, but also much more obvious.

As usual I had fun testing the public on Alberio, seeing the variations in people's color perception. Nearly everyone last night saw the colors "correctly". Sometimes you get someone that is way off. People asked interesting questions about the double, are they a true binary or just an optical alignment? How far away are they, etc. If they stuck around for a minute, I'd ask them which star of the pair should have a longer life, telling them its a science quiz, but common sense will provide the answer. Most people got it right after thinking about it a bit.

A couple other "observations" about last night. While I didn't see the Milky Way, I didn't really look for it all that intently. It was not obvious in Sagittarius, or Cygnus. But the skies were pretty good, if I can see M31 in the scope easily, its one of the better nights at Houge. The temps last night were amazing. I was wearing a thin tank top. Sandals would have been fine. For an in-town star party, this was summer observing at its best at Houge Park. Two things I don't like at Houge though - there are new "security" lights on one of the neighborhood houses, right where the driveway is - and I mean lights. Maybe 8 of the, on the roofline of that home, so bright they cast dark shadows all. I don't recall that from before. Way overkill, and unshielded. I's sure that with such a display, nobody will steal that house! I also find the sidewalk at Houge transmits way too much vibration. I solved that one though by simply moving my scope onto the lawn.

It was a fun night. I called it quits kind of early, about 10:15, as the public participation was waning. But it was certainly a rewarding experience. It always is. And it was good to see friends there like Daniel, Chambers, Van Nuland, Rob Hawley and Mark Johnston. I should go there more often.

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