2012 07 21 – AAS Outreach at Eagle Eye Observatory

This was my second outreach event at the Eagle Eye Observatory located near Buchanan Lake at the Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Preserve with the Austin Astronomical Society (AAS). I set up the double-stacked Maxscope 60mm h-alpha scope on the LXD75 mount and also managed to set up the Zhumell 16″ reflector (f/4.5) on a Dobsonian mount (carried it by myself and maybe even more unbelievable, I lifted it in sections into my CRV as well!).

If any of my insecurities at explaining the nighttime views to the public prohibited me from branching out before, I think it’s safe to say that I overcame them last night. It probably helped that I had my dob instead of the Celestron 102mm as I can move more freely hugging that light bucket, finding targets quicker, and well let’s face it, the views are more awesome! Remembering advice kindly given to me for outreach by other AAS members from the last event, and also advice and guidance from my husband, Paul, I felt much more equipped for this event.

The first quests, a very nice woman with her two adorable grandchildren, showed up shortly after 7pm just in time to enjoy solar viewing prior to the nighttime event. The kids were able to identify plage, filaments, and prominences in h-alpha and were able to tell me why the Sun is so important to us. I gave the three of them solar glasses from the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Outreach Club that I’m a member of as well as flyer with information about the Sun. The next guests to arrive were two gentlemen that were father and son, who also were able to view Sun.

At dusk, I collimated the dob and packed up the solar rig to prepare for nighttime viewing. A three-generation family came to my area to view the crescent Moon. It was fantastic to see a large family making the journey together to enjoy the night skies at this type of event. There were actually a few families, all with younger children and it really warmed my heart. Soon, more people came to my scope to view the Moon. At 8.6% illumination and a 2.8-day lunation, Mare Crisium put on quite the show just in full view off the terminator. I explained maria to the children and how it was formed, what the terminator was, and how craters are formed.

Next up was a very small Mars viewing followed by Saturn, both in the constellation Virgo. The pair of them along with Spica formed a very bright trio just after dusk. Viewers were able to see hues of yellow/beige in Mars and several of them had their first view of Saturn, which always causes exclamations of excitement! The main targets I shared that night with the public were M57 (Ring Nebula); M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy); M71, M56, M22, M28 (all globular clusters). One little girl told me the Ring nebula looked like a…well, a ring! I asked her little brother if it looked like a Cheerio and he very “matter of factly” told me that no, it looked like a doughnut. It was great fun explaining what nebulae and clusters were, how stars are formed, how to read planispheres, and the differences between types of telescopes. Using the laser pointer, I showed the viewers where the objects were in the sky that they had just looked at through the telescope and also showed them the the constellations in those areas.

When the observing field started to become more sparse and shared views through my telescope were less frequent, a few of us from the club that were set up next to each other started sharing the views between ourselves. What fun! It reminded me so much of observing with my friends back home in Ohio, the joking around, calling out targets and drooling over each others’ gear. I played around quite a bit hunting down faint galaxies in Ursa Major as that area of the sky was obscured by trees the majority of the time at our old observatory site in Ohio. The night passed by so quickly that I hated to see it end. I packed up my gear and headed out by half past midnight to begin my journey home, just in time too since a thin layer of clouds was creating murky skies. By the time I got home, they were much worse. Thankfully they held back during the event!

I can hardly wait for our next outreach event, Austin Under the Stars held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin. I will be giving a short presentation on Astronomical Sketching as one of the presenters, followed by solar viewing and then our nighttime viewing.

Link to other outreach events and star parties.

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~ by Erika Rix on July 22, 2012.

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