Sunday, January 31, 2016

Beneath Orion's Sword

Setting Up for Skywatch. Photo by Grant Wylie
Last night; a beautiful stargazing session at Northwest River Park south of Chesapeake.  It was the monthy 'Skywatch' public outreach event run by the Back Bay Amateur Astronomers and I'm pleased to report that the star party was a great success!

I drove down from Newport News in late took about an hour to get to the Equestrian area of the park, and by the time I arrived the sun was already behind the trees and at least ten members were in the process of setting-up their telescopes. Quite a turnout--and more were coming!

Weather was cold (though not as bad as I'd expected--and dressed for!) and as I prepped my 'scope (after some thought I'd decided on the Astroscan for this "exploratory" session) there were some high cirrus overhead.  Thankfully the predicted winds (2-16 knots on the Clear Sky Chart site) failed to materialize!

Since the Astroscan sets-up in about two minutes (Step 1: set down the triangular mounting on a flat, stable surface; Step 2: place the telescope's spherical base firmly into the mounting; Step 3: pop in an eyepiece; Step 4: Allow to cool to ambient temperature. Serve chilled.) I had plenty of time to wander around meeting club members and looking over their instruments.  There was a good variety; a remounted "classic" C-8 (to right in photo), a nice 6-inch Newtonian, a few refractors and a selection of "Dobs"--both GoTo and "Mode III".  Later, a few Members of the Public would show up with their 'scopes.

The Public WERE out in force last night; during the four hours of the event an estimated 100 people came to view the skies and talk about astronomy!  Just as I noted after the "Boardwalk Stars" event that I attended in Virginia Beach last summer, the BBAA really knows how to "do" Outreach.

The big 'scopes (and their owners of course!) spent the evening sharing views (and images) of the Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and other deep-sky splendors; I played to the Astroscan's strengths, concentrating on the lovely open clusters to be seen in Taurus, Auriga and Cancer.  The "Beehive" and "Pleiades" were hits of course but I'm pleased to report that quite a few people were also impressed by more subtle sights like Iota Orionis and M35.

While not running the Astroscan through its paces I had the opportunity to assist a couple of gents with setting-up and using their telescopes; one with a 60mm and the other an ETX mounted refractor.  A little coaching on finder-scope use and Autostar alignment and both were off and running.

Four hours simply flew by, and before I was ready it was time to pack up and begin the drive home.  I found "Skywatch" to be quite enjoyable and rewarding, and really enjoyed spending an evening under beautiful winter skies with the membership of the Back Bay Amateur Astronomers.  I think I'll be doing this again, and more; I suspect that I'll be getting involved in the entire array of BBAA activities.

This could be the start of something big.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Blinded By Science

The greatest obstacle that scientists face in
communicating concepts to the general public is that
that very public has a distorted idea of what science
actually IS. Science isn't just a body of knowledge
which we learn in middle school and then take
on"faith". It is a process by which theories
(explanations) for phenomena of nature are examined
and tested--and the most powerful test of a theory is
it's ability to predict future events or behaviors in
nature. And this is not tested once or twice, but
continually challenged and examined from every
possible angle. What the public often sees as
conflict or controversy within scientific circles is
actually the process at work as theories are checked
and rechecked by the originating and other
researchers. Science has been described as
"Imagination in a Straitjacket" because of the way
the process constantly checks and corrects itself. In
other words, science isn't a noun; it is a verb.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

By The Oakland Bridge

Well, my plan to catch the Moon setting behind the
buildings of San Francisco didn't--to borrow a '49er'
phrase--pan out. Just as I got to my first chosen
imaging spot (at the SF end of the Oakland Bridge),
heavy rain clouds moved in and began to dampen my
enthusiasm somewhat!

This negative shift in the weather (which, truth be
told, I half-expected) brought about a change in
plans for the evening. To wit; I waded back to the
ship and, having indulged in a long, hot shower,
curled-up with "A Ship Is Dying", a novel by Brian
Callison. NOT as a reflection of my mood, mind
you--it's just a damned good sea story!

Friday, January 15, 2016

What Am I Doing In San Francisco?

What am I doing in San Francisco? Well, week or so
ago I was sitting in the MSC Pool (in Norfolk) and
got word that I would be flying-out to meet a ship
the following day; the rub is I usually get assigned
to ships actually IN Norfolk or deployed from there
to the Med or Persian Gulf--so I was mightily
surprised to learn that I would be going to a tanker
in San Diego...odd, but okay!--packed my laptop,
grabbed my go-bag, rubbed the puppies and smooched
Lucy and was soon airborne and enjoying the joyous
fun of $12 Paninis and a LOUD baby in the seat behind
me until I Got to S.D. and went aboard my new ship
only to learn that instead of a 4-month (or longer)
tour of duty I would only be aboard for (at most) a
few weeks; just long enough to take a cruise up the
coast to Oregon where the ship will be going into
drydock for a few months and ME coming aboard with
100 lbs of gear and personal effects! Got underway
for the Oregon Trail a few days later only to find
our path blocked by the Pacific version of a Perfect
Storm which forced us to perform the maritime version
of "Duck and Cover" until the blow ends. So here I am
in San Fran waiting for the weather offshore to
moderate and wishing I knew somebody in the area or
at least that the local amateur astronomers had some
kind of event a meeting or something going on this
weekend because I'm broke and bored and it's raining
and I forgot to pack deodorant OR any decent shirts
oh well I suppose I'll just have to spend the next
week or so binge-watching X-Files...and THAT is how I
came to be in San Francisco!