Friday, March 21, 2014

What's so great about a star party

And no this isn't a post about movie stars or pop stars - it's about the REAL the sky!

For years I've wanted to visit an observatory and there are lots around the US that are accessible to the public, but there are some that are more accessible than others.  For us, Texas is close and of like mind, so it's easy to trek down here and check out the stars.  Upon arriving, I'm discovering that this area is designated as one of the "darkest" areas in the US - that's good talk for astronomers.

So imagine my delight to not only find a great observatory in this area!  But also to find one that has public star parties - - ooooooo!!!  In the photo above you can see the viewing area with folks waiting in lines to see the neat different objects. But this also shows this neat laser pointer where they could point to places in the sky and you could actually see them with this pointer - it was pretty cool!!!

These folks go totally out of their way to make this a wonderful, exciting, education and anything but boring evening for those who attend.  There's a little deli cafe where you can purchase dinner.  A pre-show (which I highly recommend) and then the evening's program begins.  They have an ampitheater which holds a number of folks, then 3 major scopes (OK they aren't the biggest ones on the grounds, but big enough - about two stories tall and 23" wide - that means a lot of light can get into the scope and of course more magnification), and some other wonderful odd scopes - one was particularly interesting as it was sort of a Dobsonian looking thing that was on a "big bowling ball" as it was described to me.

These smaller more portable scopes were focused on some great things like Orion Nebula (one close and one far away) which is a star nursery - a place where gases are congregating and making stars.  Another was on the Pleiades, a star cluster where the nursery had given way to several stars in the area, and another double cluster in the constellation Perseus.  In addition the three major scopes had their eye on Jupiter with all four of the Galilean satellites or moons (Callisto, Io, Europa and Ganymede) visible.

Here's a map of the grounds showing the 3 major scopes and where the more portable scopes were set up.  If you want to have time on the Harlan (the big mamoo) I think you have to be a serious astronomer like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Brian Green or someone like that!  And although that sounds like a dream, I'm not sure where I would want to start and if the night would be long enough!

Basically the whole night was a dream come true for me, and if you're in the area, it's well worth the cost of the pre-show, the big show and an evening there.  They do a wonderful job of making this as fun for everyone as can be, and even though I WAS on the University of Texas campus....I'm still a Sooner born and Sooner bread!!!!!

1 comment:

Mike Goad said...

We had the good fortune to be at Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah on a day when they had a star gazing program in the evening. They had two large portable telescopes set up.

Natural Bridges is a "dark sky" park. There is virtually zero light pollution.

What was interesting was how well the eyes can adjust to see when the only light that was available was the light of the stars. It was enough to navigate around the group and get in line for each new sky position.

Mike at Haw Creek