A Successful Halloween Evening

As mentioned elsewhere, when the weather on Halloween allows it, we take a couple of telescopes out by the sidewalk and let people take a look while we’re handing out the candy. Last year, when it was cloudy, we had a decent percentage of folks asking why we didn’t have them out. Apparently we’ve become a minor “thing” in the neighborhood. Last night, the weather was perfect.

photo 3We’ll hang a few ornaments off of the mounts just to “holiday it up”. Since these aren’t permanent mount positions and the scopes are going to get jostled all night long, I don’t worry much about the polar alignments. I just eyeball it and it’s close enough. Last night I got really lucky and the alignment on the 8″ Cave reflector (seen at left above) was spot on and had almost no drift.

photo 2The little Meade is great for showing off big, bright objects (the moon, Jupiter, Saturn) but none of those objects were up last night until well after midnight. I tried to use it to show Venus, but with the fork mount and Venus way down into the southwest, that wasn’t going to happen.

Fortunately, with the big scope on the equatorial mount, it was great for showing off Venus while also keeping the eyepiece down low where the kids could get at it easily. We had about two hours before Venus set, so probably 200 folks or more got to take a look.

It’s always great letting people get their first view through a telescope, especially if you’ve got something like the Moon or Saturn to show off. With Venus, it was about half illuminated, so I quickly figured out with each group to wander through to ask the little kids if they saw it as “round” or as a “half moon”. With that clue, most of them had that “ah-ha!” moment and saw that it really was a half-moon shape. Then, while helping the next kid see, I would explain how and why Mercury and Venus show phases like the moon, while the outer planets don’t.

It’s also great to see how many of the parents want to get a look as well. The flip side of that are the parents who are clueless about “star party etiquette”. In particular, the folks with flash cameras are a trial. An awful lot of them have pictures of me with my eyes closed or holding my hand in front of my eyes to block the flash. I understand why they don’t know why what they’re doing is such a pain, and I understand that this is a surprise and they want to have a picture of Sean or Ashley looking through a telescope. I just wish that I wasn’t blind for the next ten minutes after they whip out that camera. And the folks who park on the street and turn their car lights on bright so that they can see what’s going on? They live — proof that I am a gracious and forgiving host.

Even better sometimes are the teenagers, many of whom are obsessed with being “cool”, of course. But then you catch some of them coming back for a second a third look… And a couple of them actually had really bright questions. Maybe there’s hope for that generation yet (said the snarky old dude with the telescopes on his lawn).

We’ll have to keep an eye on the weather and the celestial calendar over the next few months. While many of our visitors were from out of the area, many were also neighborhood families. The locals were talking to us about having kids at the elementary school at the west end of the block, or the high school at the east end of the block. If we see a Saturday night coming up in a couple of months when some of the big, bright planets are up in the evening along with an early moon, we want to put up some yard signs for a few days in advance and invite folks over to see some more. Even with the city lights, we might take a shot at the Orion Nebula.

photo 1The big disappointment for the night was the super-bright ISS pass that was supposed to occur. We were ready and a couple of different software packages confirmed the event, but we saw nothing, even in a crystal clear sky. That one baffled me.

All in all, a successful Halloween evening!

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