2012 July – Austin Under the Stars

This was my first year at Austin Under the Stars (AUTS) held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.

ASTRONOMY FOR THE PUBLIC — Austin Under The Stars is a special event, free to the public, offering a full experience of astronomical observation, including safe solar viewing. Hosted by the Austin Astronomical Society and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, the public is invited to join local astronomers who will be viewing our closest stellar neighbor, the Sun, in daytime skies, using special protective filters on several telescopes. After the Sun slips under the horizon, we’ll turn our attention to the celestial wonders in the night skies.

Frank Mikan, Science Department Chair and Observatory Director at St. Stephens, was very welcoming and great fun to be around. He really made me feel at home and explained where everything was and where to set up when I first arrived. It sure helps a first timer when they’re greeted with such genuine kindness.

I brought my 16″ Zhumell reflector f/4.5 and DS Maxscope 60mm h-alpha rig. NASA Night Sky Network had just sent me a package full of goodies to hand out that introduces the Solar Dynamics Observatory and also more Sun “pizzas” that introduces heliophysics. So those along with the solar safe viewing glasses from the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Outreach Club that I’m associated with, there was plenty of handouts for people to take home to perk their interest in the Sun.

We had a “Sky Tour” for the kids and they were handed a “passport” after arriving. On the passport, they had targets to seek out through our telescopes: the Moon, a constellation, double star, galaxy (Believe me, with a 10-day waxing gibbous Moon, it was a strain to share any galaxy with the kids. In the end, M51 provided just enough of a view for most people to see it), nebula, star cluster and Saturn. Once they viewed it, the member that showed them the target would mark it off their passport, which would then be in a drawing to have the Austin Planetarium bring the mobile dome to that child’s school for a presentation.

We had a media tent set up for astronomical related presentations. I did a Power Point presentation on astronomical sketching, Jeff Phillips’ was Death by Black Hole, and Michelle Harvey’s was Anatomy of a Star. I would have liked to have seen both of the others’ presentations (I did manage a short bit of Jeff’s before having to leave to take photos for the newsletter before it got too dark). Our club members from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) were set up inside the gymnasium evidently to promote dark sky awareness. The mobile planetarium and the film “The City Dark” was also inside. In other words, there were lots of good stuff for the visitors to see and do. It was great to see a few familiar faces from previous public star party events that the club held at Eagle Eye Observatory. It’s funny how time flies by so quickly at these events. I wish there more time to spend with everyone.

Terry Phillips, one of the club members, did a fantastic job (and much appreciated) of taking over my Maxscope to share views and discuss the Sun with visitors while I was giving my presentation. The Sun was putting on amazing views yesterday! There were several other solar filters there, but I didn’t manage to steal views from any bar one white light set up of David Ault’s. By the way, I generally bring two batteries for my LXD and wouldn’t you know the time I brought only one (yep, last night), the battery fell in the red during alignment. {sigh} It was green when I packed it. David was very kind to lend me a spare battery that he had on hand.

At one point of the night, there were two guys looking at various objects through my scope and became interested in how to actually find targets in the sky. I explained the type of scope I had and how a Telrad works. I then got out my planisphere and showed them how to use it along with my Pocket Sky Atlas. I had one of the guys try to find the Dumbbell nebula (M27). He got very close and had it not been for the Moon’s brightness drowning out stars, I am positive he would have. Using my Starmap Pro app on my iPhone, I also showed them how to use that sort of aid to find targets. The visitors that came to my scope really seemed to enjoy not only the views through the eyepiece, but also having me point out in the sky with my laser pointer where the targets are and then showing them what the object looks like from Hubble.

It was said before we left the field that there were about 250 guests. I’m not sure anyone counted the members, scopes and binos on the field. I always forget to. It was a terrific night. I got home sometime after 1 am and unloaded the CRV before breakfast this morning. What a great event!

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~ by Erika Rix on July 29, 2012.

2 Responses to “2012 July – Austin Under the Stars”

  1. Was there…enjoyed it. Thanks for making yourself available!

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