Thursday, March 29, 2007

star party (Sharon)

[corrected on 10 Apr 07 for incorrect, reversed, use of RA and Decl]

Geoff had arranged a show and tell astronomy night for the kids and parents of a school in Sharon, near East Gwillimbury, originally for the evening of the 27th, inviting RASC/TC members to participate. I was very interested in going and helping out but Tuesday was not a good night for me with special preparatory work I had to do for the next day.

I wanted to go for several reasons, one of which was to start wrapping my head around the organisational and teaching aspects of such an event. Upon meeting Geoff in person, perhaps I would be able to ask him questions about how to do an event like this, get some tips and tricks, and so on.

That evening, from my desk, as I slaved away, I kept an eye on the western sky. When I saw clouds rolling in at sunset, my heart went out to the group. Hopefully, the skies up north were in better shape than ours in the city. And that was the last that I thought about it.

I had emailed Geoff earlier to say that wanted to come out but that it was unlikely that I would be able to make it. I asked him to keep me informed of future events and that I was very interested in helping. He assured me there would be other events...

It was with a certain degree of delight when I saw Geoff's email Wednesday morning relaying the bad news—they had been clouded out so rescheduled their star party to Thursday. This would work for me! While I would be working in Mississauga, I would already have my (crappy) car with me. I would already have my telescope with me. And, finally, I didn't have to work on Friday! The stars would be aligned... Sorry—bad pun. Woo hoo, let's go!


I got to the school early. Some kids looked at me strangely when I drove around the back paved play area. I split, bought a light dinner from some local stores (near Leslie St), then returned to the school parking lot, and waited for people to show.

lat: 44.10 N
long: 79.43 W

Scott and his daughter were the first to arrive (aside from me). We parked beside each other and in short order were unpacking and setting up.

It wasn’t long before the gaggles of kids, prides of parents, and bevy of visitors descended upon us. And when I exclaimed, “I’ve got Saturn!” a long of jostling humans formed at my eyepiece. What a fun night!

The only drawback was that I had to babysit the 'scope! I wasn’t worried about damage or anything like that in this case—the kids were well-behaved, patient, courteous. It was the constant right ascension (RA) adjustment. While running at 110 power with the Meade eyepiece, I needed to slew the 'scope every 15 or 30 seconds. It would have been so easy to fire up the motor and walk away. Hmmm, I need to step up a purchase to unchain myself…

The continuous manual RA adjustment also prevented me from spending time looking through anyone else’s. That would have been fun to compare them all, side by each. I think we had 7 or 8 'scopes out! When the crowd thinned, I was able to take some quick peeks in Gilles's small motor-driven Meade Maksutov-Cassegrain and Scott’s WO apo.

Received a lot of compliments on my views of Saturn (despite the central obstruction!). That was surprising and satisfying. The Meade OR 18mm eyepiece is very pleasing, has great eye relief.

Some of the exclamations at the eyepiece were classic; others hilarious. They included: Wow. Cool. Stunned silence. Oh my gosh. Oh my God. Is that a picture? Wicked. It’s moving fast! It’s off the screen! That's totally awesome. Incredible, just incredible. Sick.

I myself really enjoyed Saturn. The bright point to the right (mirror-reversed) we took (incorrectly) to be Titan. Geoff said it was Rhea to the left (mirror-reversed). As the air cleared through the evening, I saw possibly 6 moons around planet.

My quick notes during the evening.


I kept getting a lot of vibration. When I touched the 'scope it would oscillate like crazy. And it would take a long time to settle. I wonder where this is coming from.

Was the asphalt a factor? Scott had his dampening pads...

Should I be moving the counterweights around?

Is there lash in the mount?


Scott had forgotten his battery pack. And I was still without my dew controller. I offered my battery. Briefly, Scott ran off Gilles portable power supply. But then we substituted my big lead acid source. Happily, it turned out I did not need the dew equipment.


Before leaving Malcolm’s for Sharon, I grabbed his step stool again. I knew it would be very handy with the school kids. It did prove invaluable (even though a bulky thing to transport). The right way to go is a collapsible unit. And ideally, with some sort of handle or bar, to help people keep their balance…


I noticed Scott had lots of cases for storing and transporting gear. He even had some of those toolboxes with telescopic handle and wheels. Good idea! And he also had a three-step folding stool for the short humans. A perfect, simple solution. I’ve seen those at Canadian Tire. I’ll keep an eye out.


Scott was great with the kids, asking them lots of questions, full of praise and compliments, keeping it simple and to the point. Having a powerful green laser pointer sure helps, though! (If I do the gig later in the summer, I shall have to see about borrowing one.)


Met lots of RASC members this evening along with Sue, the principal of the school. Met Guy again (he referred to us as "big guns"). Saw again and chatted at length with Gilles and his wife (Nicole). And I finally met Geoff.

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