Sunday, November 02, 2008

Public Outreach

Last night, the Austin Astronomical Society held a public outreach event at the Perdarnales Falls State Park, a campsite and hiking area about an hour West of Austin. I had never really taken part in such an event and thought it would be neat. Myself and a couple of mates, including Scott the Prankster (more later on this) headed there at about 6PM, under cloudy skies.

My intention was stay for the public outreach part, and then stay back further until about 1 or 2 am to try some astrophotography from a dark sky site. So, I took both my Meade 12" Lightbridge and Meade LX200. While I used the Lightbridge to show the public visitors the sights of the sky, I kept the LX200 powered down until later in the evening when it was time to conduct some image gathering. Admittedly, I also wanted to conduct a side-by-side shoot-out between the two to compare them.

People started rocking up to the site at about 7:00PM or so. By this time, the clouds had rolled away, a crescent moon sat in the low Western sky along with Venus and Jupiter. The crowds were a mix of young and old but all really exhibited a genuine interest in the stars. There were maybe 10 people from the Society there with scopes of different sizes and configurations. The visitors made their way from one scope to the next, taking peeks at this and that and asking some excellent questions about the objects they were looking at, the scopes and their specifications and more personal questions about why we were into astronomy and how hard a hobby it is.

Like I said, I used the Lightbridge for the public viewing, coupled with either my 30mm 1RPD wide field and Panoptic 22mm. Favorite targets were:
  • M31 galaxy group
  • Double Cluster
  • M15 Globular in Hercules
  • M57 Ring Nebula
  • Jupiter
  • the Moon
As the night wore on the moon set, the sky grew very dark, very quickly, revealing a lovely view of the Milky Way. M31 was easily visible naked eye! The folks who came to my scope really seemed to love what they saw, and were very excited by it all. It was great fun to talk to them about the objects themselves, show them some star maps and explained how the telescopes worked.

So, I really enjoyed the public outreach activities, and along with the other folks who were there took a lot of pride in sharing the hobby and hoped that we maybe sowed some seeds in the process. Folks started filtering out at about 10:00PM or. We estimated maybe 80-100 folks came in all, but it was hard to tell. Good fun!

It was about this time that I succumbed to a little prank from Scott. He had called me over to his scope indicated he'd been looking at some object he had never seen before, stating it was full of dark veiny regions. I looked at his keypad, M52. Okay, never seen that before. Looked in the eyepiece, and quite a sight of stars, light sky perforated with dark regions, almost liek dark nebulosity of some kind. Impressive!!! I was going to cancel My M31 imaging for a while to check it out when he pointed out I was looking through tree foliage! The dark areas had seen through his scope were tree leaves/branches whatever. Scott - I know you read this. This means war, mate! :-)

As people left I set up the LX200 for some imaging sessions. After having read about lights, darks and flats I felt prepared to attempt to get some really good images. My main target again was M31 by piggybacking the Nikon D40 to the Lx200 and using my 200mm zoom. I took about an hour's worth of data and am processing the images as I update this blog. I finished imaging M31 at about midnight, and noticed that Orion was now sitting a fair way above the horizon. I couldn't resist the urge to take some snaps of M42, the Great Orion Nebula, so spend another hour or so taking all the required frames for that. Again, I am processing those images and will post the final, best image on the blog if it's decent.

As far as the side-by-side shootout between the LX200 and the Lightbridge went, sadly my Lightbridge left the LX200 in the dust from an image quality perspective. Much brighter, contrasty images were obtained in the Lightbridge. M15 was bright and the mass of stars were very easily resolved in the Lightbridge. The LX200, while resolving the cluster just fine, it was much darker and not quite as tack sharp as reflector. I guess the Lightbridge has an aperture advantage, and also doesn't have a large central obstruction to contend with. But the LX200 is a great scope in it's own rate, having GOTO, tracking and photography capabilities.

I have to say that this dark sky site is very impressive. It is only an hour's drive, and closely matches the other dark site that I typically go to but takes two hours to get there. I'll be going back for sure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cut the trees down and the prank can't happen again! It will improve your field of view too!!