Monday, June 14, 2010

Oh My God! It looks fake!!!

Dean has posted, a bit, about the 2010 Grand Canyon Star Party (last week); but there is one aspect that I really wanted to tell about. We had great skies the nights we were there, and we (all of us together) felt that we wanted to show the public the "best of the best" when it came to the incredibly dark skies we had at our disposal. In previous years, Saturn has made an appearance - but was low enough to not be able to show for the entire night. This year was different. Saturn was easy to find before total darkness, and stayed up well into the evening - for every one's viewing pleasure! This picture was taken (not by us), but by a gentleman in Palermo, Italy on 06/06/2010 - Carmelo Zannelli, through a 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (same as ours), and just a few hours before we were able (in Arizona) to show the same view. Due to the calm weather the first two nights of the star party, we were able to show this view at 300+x power. Truly spectacular! In fact, the view we had through our telescope was cleaner, sharper, and included anywhere from 2-4 moons!

Of course, the best part of showing Saturn is what keeps us returning to the star party each year - and embodies the spirit of public outreach. Every person (non-astronomer, and astronomers as well) reacted in their own, unique way to seeing this beautiful planet! Small children, teenagers, young adults, middle-agers, and older adults all had reactions, some that will be remembered forever. Here is a sampling of what we heard when our viewers took that first furtive look: "Oh my God!!!", "That's totally crazy!" (the new 'awesome', we have realized), "Oh my Gosh! Honey you have to see this!", "Wow! It looks fake!!!", "It looks like a play Saturn!" (a 'play Saturn'? really?), "Is that moon Enceladus or Mimas?" (from a 5 year old girl!) "Oh my God...I think I'm going to cry!" (and she did!), "I can see the rings!" (yes, and the moons, too!), and the best were two men (who seemed to be a couple) - in their biker leathers....the first man approaching the scope patted his chest, with tears in his eyes, and said, "I've waited 53 years to see Saturn...this is so emotional for me!!!" Even folks who had seen Saturn in some of the other telescopes exclaimed and asked to "look at it again". I have to admit, I still have that reaction even though it's been over 5 years since Dean showed me Saturn, for the first time, on our first date! While many of the other telescopes moved on to other objects as the night became darker, and the Milky Way was bright enough to provide more than enough light for us to see without flashlights, we moved back to Saturn before the evening was finished. Each night, I was glad that we did. The, now 'seasoned', observers would stop by - one more time - for a last glimpse, perhaps ever, of the planet that everyone loves to see. One lady remarked to me that she was glad to get to see Saturn, as they had been seeing all sorts of star clusters, nebulae, double stars, and other interesting things - but it was nice to see something bright, sharp, and recognizable before they called it a night. Every person looking through our telescope was polite, and very appreciative of what we were doing out there. This is the spirit of the star party, this is what will keep us going back and setting up the telescope year after year.


Andrew Cooper said...

I have a long standing personal bet when Saturn is in the eyepiece and you have a reasonably sized group from the general public... Someone will invariably say something like "It's a photograph", "You put a sticker in the telescope", or simply "It looks fake".

I have NEVER been disappointed in this.

Considering I do public work about once a week, I have had ample opportunity to lose this bet, but I never have.

Anthony Vodraska and Anita Gilbert said...

Thanks for that description of peoples comments upon seeing Saturn for the first time. In a world filled with video, digital and print images there is nothing more astonishing to see Saturn and its rings through a good telescope.