Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grand Canyon All-Stars!

Melinda and I are just back from the Grand Canyon Star Party - the 23rd annual since I started it in 1991!  We only stayed the first half of the 8-day event - I've got appearances to make at both my jobs tomorrow and I've also got a medical procedure late in the morning, so will be making up for time "lost" the last 4 nights we've been away...

It was a great event!  We had some great crowds of public looking though our telescopes, and a pretty good variety of telescopes, from Dennis Young's 28" diameter Dobsonian, to a few large refractors (up in the 6" to 8" range), and even  pair of 6" diameter binoculars.  I had the Celestron 14" on the "new" Astro-Physics AP1200 mount, which got lots of attention from the astronomers.  Evidently the mount is little seen by many local astronomers, so many were interested in seeing how it assembled and how well it worked.  It is a big step up from my older Losmandy G-11 mount, holding up well against the stiff breezes that are not-at-all unusual at the Canyon.

The big stars at the event (get it, sort of a pun!) is the rising Milky Way - our own galaxy.  Here in early June, it rises shortly after sunset and the sight of it rising in the eastern sky is one of the most awe-inspiring events you can spot in a really dark sky!  The shot here at left is taken from the observing field where we set up right behind the main Visitor Center.  The shot was made with a Nikon 8mm fisheye at F/2.8 with Melinda's Canon T1i. and is a 50 second exposure at an ISO of 3200.  This year our ranger had the scopes set up around the periphery of the parking lot, leaving the center portion clear for pedestrians and vehicle traffic when picking up and dropping off scopes.  The red lights are parking cones with red flashlights providing illumination.  The glorious sight of the edge-on view of our Milky Way galaxy dominates the view, visible here from Scorpius at right to Cassiopeia at the left.  The greenish glow at the eastern horizon (picture bottom), is a display of airglow that was visible most every night we were there.

The view of the rising Milky Way was certainly my favorite sight there.  There is little telescopically that can compare with the naked-eye sweep of our own galaxy, and I often found myself gazing upwards with mouth open in amazement!  I took a few walks of the 200 meters or so to the rim at Mather Point near where we set up to gaze outwards over the abyss of the Canyon.  Illuminated only by starlight, Canyon details were mostly invisible, but the stars, planes and satellites overhead were quite amazing.  Walking back to the star party I came upon the scene shown here - the center of our galaxy rising over the scrub trees that line the Canyon made for an interesting sight.  Scorpius is just right of center, Sagittarius just left of center, with the center core of our galaxy between them.  Enormous lanes of dust obscure distant star clouds, creating the gaps in the edge-on glow of our galaxy.  About the only sky glow, seen near the right side is from the small town of Tusayan, about 7 miles to our south.  Las Vegas is also visible far to the WSW, but is little of an observing issue.

The other observing highlight for me was the innermost planet Mercury.  It was perfectly placed for observing - at greatest eastern elongation, seen just about as high as it can be seen in the northern hemisphere, and conveniently places a few degrees above and left of the brilliant planet Venus.  Since Mercury was at its greatest elongation, it showed a beautiful little crescent phase, like a first quarter moon.  Using Venus as a finder aid, Mercury could be spotted very shortly after sunset, and many of our visitors got not only their first glance at the innermost planet, but also understood why it looked like the quarter moon!  This photo was taken Monday night when the thin crescent moon joined Venus to the right and Mercury between them and higher.  My C-14 is at left with the planet-moon alignment at right.  Above them are Gemini's bright stars Castor and Pollux.  Click the image to load the full-size and see all the objects...

Part of the fun of these public-outreach events is catching up with far-flung friends that return to the star party like we do.  This being the 23rd version of the Grand Canyon Star Party, I was happy to see our friend Elinor making the trip from Kansas City.  She and her husband David had joined us at the first edition of the event in '91, as well as being regular attendees over the decades.  Even though David passed a few years ago, she still makes the trip to visit her friends at the star party and also connect with her niece Cathy who lives in Sedona.  At left is a group shot last night, a rare mostly-cloudy evening in front of the C-14.  From left is niece Cathy, Elinor, Melinda, and our friend Donna who travelled with us to the Star Party this year.  Above us in the sky are Saturn at left and the bright star Spica to its right.  Though most scopes stayed covered, we showed over 60 people Saturn through thin clouds.  Over the course of our 8 nights we had over 800 public observe with our telescope.  At right is the view of the beautiful sunset (partly cloudy nights always result in the best sunsets!) from last night as well.  I always tend to be the optimistic sort when presented with these sorts of skies, so we set up "just in case". 

We felt a little guilty leaving at the halfway point of the star party, but our return couldn't be avoided, but the views of the heavens shared with the public this week will keep us going until next Spring!

1 comment:

Andrew Cooper said...

Thanks for the writeup. I miss GCSP! Nice to know Dennis is still around with the 28", a great scope!