Monday, November 18, 2013

Faces of ASAE 2013!

This last weekend was the Arizona Science and Astronomy Expo (ASAE) for 2013.  This was the second ever, and it was a spectacular event - a total immersion into all things astronomy, great speakers, interesting panel discussions, a very nice collection of vendors, and enough draw to attract friends and astronomy acquaintances far and wide!  If you were only mildly interested in astronomy or space, you had no excuse missing this event!

Last year I only had one day at my disposal to attend, and I bypassed the great speakers to spend my hours in the vendor area, which isn't a bad thing.  So this year I was determined to go to most, if not all of the talks.  I committed to going for both days, which left me time to hit vendors too.  At only $10 admission, it isn't like it is expensive to spend time there!  In my first trip through the vendor area, I ran into Steve Peterson, shown at left.  Steve is an astro-photographer extraordinaire, and besides working with me in a past life at Kitt Peak, he is now working on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.  He's also fond of a bargain, so is always found reviewing the vendor displays at events like this.  At right is Clay Kessler - another astro-imager from the olden days, now having fun working for a new startup telescope parts company called Telescope Support Systems.  While I see him only occasionally (he is from Michigan), each time is like catching up with an old friend - a great guy!

Speaking of vendors, at left here is Dean Koenig, a super-vendor here in Tucson!  Shown giving his typical one-on-one service to a customer, he is showing off how his innovative Hyperstar corrector system works on a telescope.  Among one of the most popular accessories for photographers using the Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes, it allows using a camera at the "prime focus" of the primary mirror, which usually at F/2 or so means wide fields of view and short exposures to record very faint objects.  And there were celebrities too!  Well, at least celebrities that nerds know...  He is shown at right surrounded by swooning females - do you know him???  He is non other than Story Musgrave - 6 time shuttle astronaut, one of the few to have flown in all 5 of the space shuttles!  Of course, the females are well-known too - at left is science writer Camille Wheeler, and right is my better half Melinda...

The vendor area was great - many of them had well-known innovators and inventors on hand to describe their products.  For instance, Roland Christen from Astro-Physics was there showing off their mounts and telescopes with a couple other engineers to answer questions.  I recently obtained one of their mounts and they were able to answer my autoguider questions and offer some advice.  I also met the fellow who developed the Astrotrac camera tracking mount, and as a Canon user, sat at their table for 20 minutes looking at their equipment and asking questions.  Shown at left is a table full of their premium cinematography lenses - absolutely the best resolution and aperture for their approximate $5k cost each.   At right is an array of eyepieces - many of them available to try on telescopes for viewing across the convention center...

The vendor areas also had displays for the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA), as well as tables for Kitt Peak National Observatory's observing programs that cater to amateur astronomers, and Adam Block was there representing the Mount Lemmon Sky Center, which offers a similar program operated through the University of Arizona.  Shown at left is George Hatfield whom I've worked with (and observed with) on Kitt Peak, while he was on duty representing Kitt Peak.  There was also an exhibit of space and astronomy-themed artwork, where I saw Michele Rouch.  I had met her a few years ago when Kitt Peak had an artist residency program.  Besides some of her aviation-themed artwork - she showed a more whimsical side in her retro-50's-styled fashion art.  it was way cool!

The talks, forums and speakers were also
uniformly spectacular!  Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a fan of comets and with the approach of Comet ISON this Winter, a comet panel was thrown together with some local comet celebrities.  What, you didn't know we had comet celebrities in Tucson?  Well shame on you, we've got some great observers, discoverers and scientific experts here.  The panel is shown here - at left is David Eicher, editor of Astronomy Magazine and writer of a new book titled "Comets!", next to him is Steven Larson, long time observer and scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, the panel was moderated by Carl Hergenrother, at right in the photo.  The photo at right shows Jim Scotti at left, another well-known observer with the Spacewatch Program, and, of course, David Levy, well known observer, discoverer and writer.  After discussing recent "great" comets and what made them great, thoughts turned to ISON.  With the very recent brightening of the comet to naked-eye brightness, the panel's prediction was that it would either hold to prediction and be a spectacular sight in the morning sky in early December, or it will disintegrate and disappear in a puff of dust and ice as it skims the sun's surface...  Of course, that is quite a range in suggested appearance, but about all you can predict about comets.

There was also a more general science panel
assembled on Saturday, among them one of my favorite bloggers Emily Lakdawalla shown at center in the left photo.  She blogs for the Planetary Society, specializing in images from planetary probes.  She gave a great talk on "the Golden Age of Planetary Exploration" on Sunday, which is right now with all the active probes returning data from all corners of the solar system.  To her right in the image is Story Musgrave, who in the panel stood in for Phil Plait, who couldn't attend because of illness, and to Emily's left is biologist Carin Bondar, producer of a well-known webcast "Wild Sex" of the animal world!  And speaking of Story Musgrave, he gave a spellbinding account of his life that lasted nearly 2 hours with no one leaving without hearing every word.  He has lead an amazing life, with nearly 4 or 5 different careers, starting as a farm boy and highlighting as shuttle astronaut.  With surgeon, computer engineer and careers in the Marines and Air Force thrown in!

In all it was a great weekend, and a good chance to catch up and spend time with friends from far-away places too.  I'm assuming that this November tradition will continue and I encourage you to join in next time!

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