Unlike last year, when it was cloudy on Halloween, this year it was “clear and a million” so we had the telescopes out. We started doing this a few years back and it works like a charm. The Long-Suffering Wife hands out candy and I give a three-hour long impromptu astronomy lesson to one and all.
All set up, waiting for the first trick or treaters, and some darkness. Note the attack beast in her guard dog position – she ended up inside for most of the night, howling in protest. The kids started showing up before it got dark enough to see anything. Those first few were disappointed with not being able to look through the telescopes, but many swung back around later and got to take a look.
The main instrument for the day is my 8″ Cave Newtonian reflector. (The big white one in the middle here.) It’s the easiest to use and re-point quickly and that’s key in this kind of thing. Probably a third or more of our guests end up moving the telescope while trying to get to the eyepiece, so being able to re-aim it quickly is essential. The 8″ has a good spotter scope and I used it with the 25mm eyepiece which gives a wide field of view, about the size of the full moon.
The little Meade is better for photography and not easily aimed, so while I hoped to use it, I rarely had time to play with it at all. On the far end are the binoculars on a tripod, and while they give some fantastic wide-field views, it’s a bit futile to have out if no one is there to help people with using it.
The biggest problem tonight was the lack of any big, bright objects to observe in the early evening. The moon, Pleiades, Orion, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars all rose later, starting about 21:30. By that time, the kids were gone and I was tearing down the equipment.
I had hoped that, even in the light polluted city, it might be possible to spot at least M13 and M31, but that proved to be so much wishful thinking. In order to get the ball rolling, I put the scope on Vega. To me it’s boring, just a bright star which doesn’t look much different in a telescope than it does to the naked eye. You can see a couple of other field stars when looking at it, but it’s sure nothing special…
…unless you’ve never looked through a real telescope before. To the vast majority of the kids, teens, and adults who stopped by and saw Vega, it was a real treat.
Once it got a bit darker I switched over to Albireo, a double star system with one golden star and one blue star. It’s very pretty, easy to spot (it’s the bottom of the “Northern Cross” in Cygnus), and much more interesting than “just plain, old Vega.” Albireo was a huge hit, especially when describing how the two stars orbit around each other.
It was again a huge success. We have so many people thanking us for doing this, many noting they’ve been here every year. (Last year when it was cloudy, almost half of the people coming to the door asked, “Where are the telescopes?”) The teens all want to look but want to do so without looking too geeky in front of their friends – but they all look. The adults often assumes we’re doing it just for the kids, but when they find out they can take a turn as well, they all want to look.
There were several times when we had fifteen or twenty people lined up. Judging by the amount of candy that disappeared, we probably had in excess of 200 kids there, and with the parents as well, I wouldn’t be surprised if 300+ people took a look.
Best of all is when the young kids, maybe five through ten years old, see for the first time. You often get an audible gasp from them, often a shout to their parents. “I see it!” It makes it all worth it.
Let’s hope next year we have a couple of nice bright objects up in the evening. (There’s an app for that.) A first quarter crescent moon plus Jupiter plus Saturn would be just fine, thank you.
A programming note – in an hour it will be November. We know what November means, right?
National Novel Writing Month = NaNoWriMo. One month, 50,000+ words, a “zeroth” draft of a novel. Editing be damned, just keep writing! There’s plenty of time in 2016 to edit, re-write, clean up, rearrange, and polish this nonsense into something resembling a first draft.
Of course, as an egomaniac with a web site, I inflict this raw verbiage onto my loyal readers (i.e., you), with various levels of success. The 2013 effort was pretty good, if somewhat unfinished. The 2014 quest had a really good idea which I still want to explore, but the NaNoWriMo treatment of it was awkward and unwieldy and sort of fell apart.
We’ll see what the 2015 campaign brings. All things being equal, I was thinking about skipping it this year. But there’s a meme going around that basically says, “You must meditate an hour a day, unless you don’t have the time to spare, in which case you must meditate for two hours a day.” Applying that philosophy to this problem, I don’t have time to write two novels this month, so I had better make time to write the one.
Of course I will gladly accept constructive comments as we go along, but if you want to just ignore the whole thing I most certainly won’t take it personally. (I won’t have the time to take it personally, I’ll be too busy working on tomorrow’s 2K words!)
As for my regular, daily posts, expect lots of pictures all month. You’ve been warned.