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.

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