Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Packed up for travel to Death Valley for Las Vegas Astronomy Club star party, visitors astonished by chance to see the moon in the viewer

Well, this week we packed up a lot of astronomical equipment and headed off to Death Valley for a star party at Furnace Creek.  It was a lot of fun.  We caravanned with friends, Marty and Bonnie, who are also fellow astronomers and hams.  Having the radios along provided a lot of fun and versatility for observing the stars and the sights of Death Valley.  I hadn't been To Death Valley for over 30 years and it was a lot fun to be there again.

The star party sponsored by the Las Vegas Astronomy club was attended by 30-40 telescope operators, about 1/2 from the LV club, others from all over the U.S.  The event was open to the public and hundreds of visitors
showed up each night to get a chance to look through a telescope.

This public outreach event was really exciting and fun interacting with lots of folks who were really excited by just about any view of some astronomical object.  Peggy was sharing her binoculars.  I bounced between Jupiter, Venus and Mars, the Moon, and some deep space nebulas.  I'm quite spoiled with the use of my telescope camera, instead of an eyepiece, and most visitors too were really excited to be able to see astro images on the camera LCD screen, rather than squint through an eyepiece.  When I had the Moon in the scope and then turned up the camera magnification and folks could see much greater detail of the craters, they really got excited.  Showing visitors the moon's of Jupiter and the bands on Jupiter was also a favorite hit.  I was so occupied by lines of visitors, it was hard to get any on my own observing in.  It was really fantastic experiencing the excitement of the visitors and sharing a little bit about astronomy.  One experience with a very, very curious girl was especially rewarding.  She kept asking questions so I helped her go through some calculations and estimates of the diameter of one of the craters on the Moon.  Her parents stood by almost dumbfounded by her questioning and curiosity.

All and all it was a fantastic time combining astro observing and experiencing the beauty of Death Valley.  We set up on the golf course and the glow of red lights backlit the sky and Palm trees.  My major observational failure was not being able to photograph M101, The Pinwheel Galaxy.  It turns out my alignment process was faulty in that I couldn't enter the latitude and longitude of the new observing location and since I wasn't at Palmia, the telescope wasn't calculating the correct pointing angles.  When I commanded the scope to goto M101, all I got was dark sky.  It ain't going to work if where you are is different from where the scope thinks it is.   I've got to get that data entry process figured out.

The last day of the party was spoiled a bit by incoming clouds and prediction of possible rain.  Being in DV when the rain might start is not where we wanted to be so we cut our visit to Ghost town, Rhyolite, out of our itinerary and headed back to OC.

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