Thursday, June 23, 2011

Canyon Visit

We just got back from 5 nights at the Grand Canyon, attending the 21st Grand Canyon Star Party. After all those versions of the star party, one would think it would start getting boring, but no, we were sort of sad to leave after only half the event. But with our next trip only a couple weeks away, jobs and duties called, so left the paradise of Northern Arizona for the 108F heat of Tucson and Phoenix!

It was a great event! We still do a great job of getting the public excited about observing in some of the darkest skies in the country. This year we had a new venue. For 2 decades, we set up in the Yavapai Point parking lot, but in some Park changes, Yavapai no longer had evening bus service, so we moved to a commercial bus lot behind the new Visitor Center. Instead of having an outdoor slide show, sometimes with 2 strong volunteers holding down the screen against the wind, we had access to an indoor auditorium that still had that "new auditorium" smell! The staff went to a lot of work to block stray lights, put in light ropes for visitors to find us, and it came out great! I was really concerned that moving away from the rim, we would lose a lot of accidental contact from the public as they left the edge of the Canyon after sunset. In fact, the numbers were down a bit, but only about 30%. In the old days, we'd peak at 330 people looking through our scope per night. This year we hit a peak of 230 at our scope.

The skies at the site were great - better horizons, and a very large intimate area with no headlights! The pics enclosed here are for a video time lapse and shows the Milky Way as it was rising and a few hours later as it neared the meridian. The former is a 30 second exposure, the latter 40, with a 16mm fisheye at F/2.8. Visible in the distance is the outline of the VC, lit up by the light ropes, with the "Telescope Field" in the foreground, lit by power indicators and red flashlights.

For the last few years Jim O'Connor has been running the event, with park ranger Marker Marshall on that end. After 18 years I'd had enough of dealing with everything, but I'm still glad to attend - and glad to let Jim take care of the details. He has done a fine job, ably assisted by wife Susan and this year, two of their granddaughters have made the trip and are turning into astronomers in a trial-by-fire as the hordes of public descend as quickly as the twilight.

And of course, there is more than just astronomy, socializing and eating (though that seems to be a big part of the event) going on! We got out nearly every day to do some exploring, check out new exhibits, and a bit of hiking. Here is a pic of Melinda getting out on a cliff near Yaki Point. Realize this was only a few yards away from where we saw a gopher snake (future post), and I had to do a quick inspection to make sure there were no other creatures around... More to come!

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

Great stuff D & M! I've never had the pleasure of attending the GCSP - but it is on my bucket list.