Saturday, May 28, 2016

Quick Post: Friday Night at York River

York River State Park--The Wetlands
An excellent night's observing at York River State Park near Williamsburg. Six of us took advantage of the weather and set up 'scopes near the visitors center. Joining us were new members Lori and Steve who brought their excellent 4.4" table-top Newtonian to be checked out and to experience their own "first light" with it. In addition Carl, a young Ameri-Corps volunteer working at the park, made an invaluable contribution to the proceedings by hanging a cover over an intrusive nearby light.
My 10" Dob and observing set-up
It really WAS a beautiful night--something we all needed after the past month of wet and murky weather--and all hands bent to their respective eyepieces with enthusiasm! I found myself hunting galaxies and globulars--M104 and M13 were truly spectacular through my 10" Dob (pictured), though at one point I went off on a double star tangent with v Draconis and Alcor/Mizar and Albireo!
Steve and Lori with their new "Newt"
With moonrise the party broke up, and it was a group of happy astronomers who bade each other goodbye and set off to make their separate ways home. I learned an important lesson at this point about leaving car windows open whilst observing, and drove home with all my windows down so the cool midnight air could flush the hundreds of tiny (thankfully non-biting) insects that had colonized my vehicle while I enjoyed the skies!
Waiting for the night...

Thanks to all who came to join us last night at YRSP; and special thanks to Bill who arranged this rather impromptu star party with the Park rangers, Carl who turned oppressive light into blessed darkness with a carefully-placed trash bag, and of course the good folks at York River State Park and Virginia State Parks who support our stargazing activities with enthusiasm!

 "I would rather freeze and fight off mosquitoes than play astronomy on a computer"--Ben Funk, Jr.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Quick Post: Telescope #8

A little solar observing at Mariner's Museum Park
I drove across the water to Norfolk the other day to help a fellow with his telescope. He was trying to use WAY too much magnification and was very disappointed in what his 'scope showed him. I tried to talk him down from that ledge but it turned out that he'd already made up his mind to give up on observing for now. At the end of the evening he pretty much THREW his ETX-90RA at me! So now I have yet another Mak-Cas telescope--and an impressive set of eyepieces and other accessories--for the price of two hours' driving and a stop on the way home at Subway!

By a strange co-incidence I've been thinking lately about a inexpensive unit to carry overseas when the Navy sends me to one tanker or another! It is truly amazing how steady the air can get in Bahrain...

I've been out for a couple of sessions of solar observing and I'm happy with the scope's tracking capabilities, but it's a bit off optically. Well, on my next deployment I'll have plenty of time available to check and correct (if necessary) its collimation.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Astronomy Day 2016

Yesterday (Saturday) was a lot of fun; in the early afternoon I set up my newest 'scope acquisition--a twenty-year-old ETX-90RA--on a picnic table in Mariners Museum Park and spent a couple of hours enticing passersby to pause for a look at the Sun and a massive sunspot just making it's way 'round our star's limb into view, and come evening I drove over to the Virginia Living Museum (VLM) to participate in their monthly star party.  I joined Derek Hanak of the Museum on the courtyard lawn to man the telescopes as the evening thunderstorm cleared and stars came into view. 

Derek actually managed two instruments--a massive SCT reflector and more compact 80mm refractor, while I set up my Mak-Cas reflector a few yards away.  I concentrated on the 9-day-old Moon whilst he focused on Jupiter (later, after Saturn had risen, he used the 80mm to show the Lord of the Rings off to good effect).  While there was a fair breeze the viewing didn't suffer significantly, and all comers expressed appreciation for the views of planets and our natural satellite.

I know that several folks were manning scopes at the observatory, but I never ran up there to see what was going on; actually, I was having so much fun I never even thought to!

We ran the scopes, with brief pauses for bathroom breaks and an explodey battery pack (still haven't figured that one out!), from just after 1900 until nearly midnight, when a fairly thick layer of low cloud was moving in.  I don't know how many folks took advantage of the opportunity to star-gaze  last night, but I'd guess that at least thirty people viewed the waxing gibbous Moon thru my little 'scope--which makes for a pretty satisfying Outreach event, by my lights!

"Astronomy is good for people's souls"--Deborah Byrd

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Few Photos: The Transit of Mercury

A fellow observer enjoys a morning snack
The Lions Bridge Observatory
A typical view of the day's event!  Mercury at lower center.
Sun-gazing at the VLM: Dr. Kelly Herbst keeps things on-track

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Quick Post: Knock on Wood

I was washing dishes a little while ago and heard a sound I'd not heard in quite a few years...grabbed my DSLR, sneaked out the side gate and around the house and there he was--a Pileated Woodpecker looking for a snack in one of our neighbor Matt's oaks! It's been a long time; I hope he plans on staying around.

Update: 22 May 2016  I've seen our woodpecker friend twice since first posting this.  He appears to live in the trees across and down the road a few hundred yards, and ranges the entire neighborhood.  No sign yet of a mate, though I remain optimistic!