Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Whipple Observatory Star Party Epilogue

After Dean and I had been out last Friday night, at Geology Vista (Mt. Lemmon), we headed back out again on Saturday night to Whipple Observatory for one of their quarterly "public lecture/star party" evenings. Public star parties are always fun, and they're always in need of more telescopes so it's easy to just show up, ready to show off the sky!

I had never been to Whipple, though we had gone sight-seeing in that area before. We took this opportunity to arrive early enough to enjoy a nice dinner at the "Cow Palace" restaurant in Amado (Arivaca Junction) before heading up into the Santa Rita mountain foothills to the Whipple base camp. Whipple Observatory is the home of the Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT), as well as many other telescopes. The MMT houses a 6.5m mirror, made in the early '90's at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab - polished by none other than my own dear Dean! While unscheduled visitors are not allowed to travel up to the mountain top to see the MMT, they do have a very interesting display in their Visitors Center, at the base camp. Included in the display are numerous pictures, one in which Dean is shown working on a mirror! He's always very modest about things like that; while I'm the one showing him off!

The star party was very well organized and I (for one) am happy to go back there again and again! My priorities aren't always the same as others, but the conveniences there made for a very enjoyable evening! It was nice to have hot coffee and hot chocolate served all evening, though I didn't have any. I did take advantage of the clean, well lit, modern restrooms in the Visitor Center however! Mind you, most of the times that we go out observing we are in fairly remote locations - usually without any sort of toilet facilities (yes, I've learned to look and listen for rattlesnakes and assorted critters)! The lecture seemed to be well attended and included people of all ages, including a Boy Scout troop working on their "Science badge". There were aproximately 15 telescopes set up, each giving it's viewers a glimpse into the heavens. While we were hoping for a clear night (we always hope!), we ended up being challenged by about 50% cloud cover at any given time. Fortunately, those clouds move so we could switch between Jupiter and it's moons to Andromeda, the ring nebulae, and assorted globular star clusters. Jupiter was being especially "showy" on Saturday night - with the Giant Red spot appearing shortly after we started observing! While we had plenty of people looking through our telescope, I took the opportunity to also set up my camera and take some pictures. Friday night (see previous post) was the first time that I really seemed to "get it" - setting the exposure, getting the focus, etc. Going into Saturday night I was anxious to set the camera up and see what I could do! Fortunately Dean didn't mind me abandoning him at the telescope for blocks of time and I think I was able to get some decent beginner shots! I'm looking forward to our next trip out (this coming weekend), and maybe using the "cam-trak" to see what more I can do! Dean is a very patient teacher, so he doesn't seem to mind trouble-shooting and answering my neverending stream of questions. I have a long, long way to go (so don't judge my attempts too harshly!), but am excited to be learning so much! It's nice to be past the monsoons and into clearer skies again - we've missed the stars.

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