Sunday, June 28, 2009

Austin Under the Stars - June 2009

Last night, the Austin Astronomy Society held one of it's twice-yearly "Austin Under the Stars" public star party events. I've enjoyed helping out at such events recently and volunteered to help out with this one. Actually, my kids came along as well with their 6" Dob, red flashlights and fluffy toys! I took my trusty 12" Lightbridge.

We got there at around 7PM and stayed until just past midnight. The clouds were rather heavy during the day, but cleared away after sunset and we were presented with some pretty nice skies. Possibly 30 other members were there with their scopes, and several newbies with their scopes came along as well. Visitors made their way from scope to scope, asking lots of questions about the different objects they were looking at. Some brought blankets and picnics and sat near the scopes and simply looked up at the stars. It was rather pleasant.

I had a ton of folks come up and peer through the Lightbridge. It was hard to show people anything other than Saturn and the Moon - folks literally demanded to see those two particular objects and they were stunned with them both. Children and adults alike were really taken aback by close-ups of the the Moon, and it was funny to hear some of them utter sheer disbelief when I showed them Saturn.

As the moon set later in the evening, I opted to show the visitors some deep sky gems, namely M13 and M57. To my surprise, the people who visited and looked at these objects were quite impressed by them. M13 is a pretty object just visually, but when I explained exactly what I what they were looking at (composition and distance from us) they were flabbergasted, and I think that the information I provided gave them some real food for thought.

Another fun object was pointing out an iridium flare at around 10:35 PM or so. We gave the visitors a heads-up of the object, telling them where to look and at what time. It came in right on schedule and got very bright very quickly - I love these things! The whole field of visitors and astronomers erupted into applause once the event finished and the satellite went on its merry way.

My two ankle-biters had fun as well. Armed with a little bit of knowledge of the Moon and Saturn, they showed folks the two objects through their 6" Dob, giving their guests some good info, with maybe a little bit of embellishment along the way! ;-)

All in all, a very good night. The Society estimates maybe 500-600 people came through the event. My kids had a smashing time, and I had a lot of fun showing folks the sights of the night sky. I fielded lots of different questions ranging from stellar evolution, telescope types and capabilities, the search for ET through to the effects of light pollution and the moon landings and future missions.

A great experience for astronomer and visitor alike!





8 comments:

Aussie in the USA said...

Sounds like a great night. Great stuff getting your kids involved too. Cheers! :)

Phil said...

Thanks, Jan! Hope all is well down under! Lucky duck!

NiteSkyGirl said...

Wow that is so inspiring, I really enjoyed reading this. I think it's awesome how kids get to enjoy astronomy at an early age. Astronomy life - it's a great life !

Phil said...

Hi Nightskygirl - thanks for visiting and for posting your comment. I've visited your blog many times and have always found it a great read. Yep, astronomy public outreach activities are great fun and I've really been getting into it this year.
Cheers!

NiteSkyGirl said...

loving this ! well described. inspirations continue

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Phil

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