Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another (Yawn) Spectacular Sunset

If anything, the Desert Southwest is known for it's impressive sunsets. It is mostly due to the clarity of the air (visibilities can easily exceed 150 miles), and also to the fact that parts west of us get even less rainfall. Thus the sun often sets into a clear sky where the reddened rays can light the underside of the clouds with spectacular colors. A few days ago we were waiting for our friend Chuck to arrive before heading out to dinner. He called to alert us to his schedule and to check out the sunset. I'd been out just minutes before feeding cats and it was pretty bland, but evidently the show was to get better as the sun set. We grabbed the camera as we went out the door, and it was just us and the Mourning Doves (on wire at lower left) enjoying the last rays. Less than a minute later the peak was gone, but in the growing darkness, the bats came out to feed on insects. Though there were 3 or 4 flying in the area, they are difficult to catch - will have to work on that!

Tonight the White House threw a star party for 150 middle school students in Washington DC. Turns out, one of the 20 astronomers was local business owner Dean Koenig! He runs Starizona, an astronomy and nature shop known throughout the region - a truly great guy. The business is known for being open 4 nights a week where you can actually "kick the tires" and use the telescopes or equipment at night before you buy - pretty much unheard of. Will have to talk to him about THAT star party!

Anyway, when the local Flandrau Science Center heard about the White House event, they quickly pulled together an even on the University Mall for public viewing, where astronomy club members and others set up scopes for the public.

Unfortunately, the normally great fall weather didn't get the memo and the sky gradually worsened as it got darker. There was a great display of crepuscular rays towards sunset - you can see how the Arizona flag's designer got their inspiration. I took a sequence of the fast-moving clouds in the darkening sky for an animated gif, but it never cleared for observing. I spotted Jupiter once for about 10 seconds, just long enough to point the scope at it, focus and see that the seeing (atmospheric turbulence) was just about as bad as I'd ever seen it! Even so, the folks who set up interacted with some gathering public, and caught up on astronomical news. In the bottom picture, John Kalas adjusts his telescope, just in case it clears. More astronomy events planned for the weekend - forecast calls for clearing!

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