Saturday, April 21, 2007

helped at Astronomy Day (Don Mills)

In conjunction with the Ontario Science Centre, the Toronto Centre of RASC executive and members celebrated International Astronomy Day with some day-time activities and a big public star party right in front of the OSC, in the Teluscape "park."

I arrived a little before 6:45pm, parked in the south (staff) lot and headed into the lobby. Had a brief chat with Leslie and Shawn. She gave me my name tag. Geoffrey arrived a few moments later and when he announced he brought his telescope, I followed him outside to discuss where I should set up.

As I walked back to my car, I found the west gate padlock was not closed. I undid it and moved the chain out of the way. Seconds later, a RASC member drove through. I followed them in and unloaded all my gear. So much for packing light...

Shortly after I finished my setting up, people started wandering through. And our only target was the first quarter moon through hazy cirrus clouds. This was not looking good. And it did not improve for the next hour.

Fortunately the clouds on the horizon were breaking up so later we got a pretty good view of Venus.

And later still, though still through haze and cloud, we started watching Saturn. I could not make out the Cassini division. There was one bright point nearby...

I had remembered, this time, to print a chart of the moon positions at 9:30pm and Titan was right where it was supposed to be.

I was pleasantly surprised with a small discovery with my light box. I turned the sheets over, i.e. face down, to mimic my telescope's mirror-reversed view. That was cool.

Later I started going for some double stars. I looked at ε (epsilon) Boötes (Izar) [see below], Mizar and Alcor, γ (gamma) Leo, and Castor. Tried to go for some others but it was challenging with the general cloud cover and difficult to spot constellations.

The highlight of the evening was when I coincidentally was looking in the right direction, to the north-west, when the International Space Station came into view. Funny. I had set an alarm in my palmtop but with a 15 minute lead. Which I then completely forgot. So this was a freak chance event that, as I was chatting with the visitors about something, I happened to be looking in the north-west sky. I ran around the Teluscape telling people, including Guy, Denis, Geoffrey, and others. And, right on schedule, 3 minutes from the start, it fell into Earth's shadow, and winked out of sight. That was a lot of fun.

Next time, I'll set the alarm for 1 minute before, and drop everything...

Overall, it was an enjoyable evening. Sara made her rounds. It was great meeting more society members, like Geoffrey and Katrina. Chatted with Scott and Mickey again. And headed out to the pub afterwards with Guy, Denis, Scott, Shawn, and others.

Hey. Look. Phil took a picture of my butt!

The crowds were a lot of fun. The kids were very enthusiastic. And it seemed to me more girls than boys. That was satisfying to see. All age ranges again. Sara's sisters were pretty amusing too. Like last night, lots of questions from the visitors: some easy and some challenging. I need props. And an easel... (Or my portable whiteboard!)

FAQs for the evening:
  • how far away is (that planet / that star / the Moon)?
  • how do you know where to look?
  • how do you know that's a planet (as opposed to a star)?
  • can we look at Jupiter?
  • when can we see Venus?
  • when can we see Mercury?
  • can we look at constellations (through the telescope)?
  • are these double stars related, i.e. orbiting one another?
  • how much did your telescope cost?
Used my palmtop effectively to answer a few of these.

I shall have to anticipate these in the future and perhaps have a sheet or poster prepared (like Denis)...


This was the second night viewing Izar in Boötes. This is a very interesting double. The secondary star is very close to the (gold) primary. As well, it is much fainter. You cannot see the separation if the air is at all unstable. For a second or two, when it settles, you can see it. And it is thrilling!


When I look up a planet in Procyon X on my EPOC palmtop, it states the distance. But I think this is now the planet's distance from the sun, not from us...

(Follow up: The distance is the distance... I.e. the distance shown is the calculated distance from Earth!)

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