Sunday, August 22, 2010

Escaping the Heat

Yesterday a few members of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) were scheduled for a star party with a payoff - free food! For nearly 10 years now, the Optical Sciences Center (OSC) has hosted a mixer for incoming graduate students, holding it at the Kitt Peak National Observatory picnic area. It is an excellent venue for such an event, with real bathrooms, room to explore, trails to hike, and telescope tours on the mountaintop. If the monsoon gods allow clear skies, there are some great dark skies for some observing. And the payoff for nearly any desert rat is the cool mountaintop for a temporary respite from the heat.

I decided to go up early to take some pictures, and got there just as dark clouds starting approaching from the south. While walking around the Observatory grounds, the rumble of thunder was a constant reminder to keep moving - lightning was coming to the exposed mountaintop soon!

Stereo pairs are still on my agenda! Even though I still have plans to start a 3-D only blog, I've been too lazy to pull the trigger, though I've been collecting images like crazy. Shown at left are 2 versions of the same view. The left one is meant for cross-eyed viewing - slightly crossing your eyes after clicking the image should result in a center 3-D image. The right version is identical except designed for parallel viewing for those that have difficulty crossing their eyes. Look across the room, then look through the screen, and hopefully fuse the images into 3-D. The disadvantage of the latter view is that you can't have images larger than your eye separation, so small details are lost in the reduction. The interesting thing is that slight cloud motion in the few seconds between frames make them appear to be right behind the domes - not quite true in real life! I'm always up for comments on your successes or failures at viewing these, so send a comment or e-mail to let me know how they work for you. More coming in the new blog roll out!

Originally I had planned on taking some infrared scenics, but the increasing clouds made the views less dramatic, so ended up heading down to the picnic area to await other astronomers and the OSC crew. Even with the approaching storm, the radio telescope was actively observing, these shots taken as the rain started coming down. An IR shot was followed up a few minutes later with the more familiar color shot.

The rain picked up as the crowd arrived - I'm guessing about 40 students, half a dozen or more staff and faculty helped out. After cold sandwiches last year, they switched back to catered Mexican food again this year and it was quite excellent. With the arrival of darkness and more sprinkles, I got to be the entertainment, arranged in advance to give a presentation about the Mirror Lab, as well as show some examples of my astro-imaging. I think it went pretty well, after which most everyone packed up the leftovers and headed back to town early. Even with no hope of observing, the astronomers lingered a little, enjoying the cool moist air of the mountaintop. There was still distant lightning for the drive back to civilization and showers even in town (mountains typically get 3 times the annual rainfall of the valley). But we got a nice break from a hot Tucson summer!

2 comments:

David A. Harvey said...

Awesome - Love the IR!

Anonymous said...

I like the 3D pictures best which don't have too a dramatic of a separtaion between pictures. The one on the right is easier on the eye and still gives more than enough depth.

thanx-

Tom Miller