Saturday, August 29, 2015

Phoenix??? Yes, Phoenix!

We like to kid that the only reason we have to go to Phoenix is to get through it to more interesting places beyond - mostly the Grand Canyon or California... But this is not strictly true - a few times a year, like yesterday, we go up to the great metropolis to the north to attend the Saguaro Astronomy Club (SAC). I've developed quite a number of friendships among their membership over the years, have spoken to their club on several occasions, and they even made me an honorary member, ostensibly for restarting and running the Grand Canyon Star Party for a generation. Overall, they are a friendly outspoken group of quite avid amateur astronomers, and their meetings are always fun to attend. So even though Melinda was 26 hours past getting her latest chemo treatment, and I had a long day of meetings and work, 5pm found us hitting the road for points north.

The 2 hour trip door to door at Grand Canyon University is pretty boring unless you enjoy expanses of flat desert (even less exciting than expanses of cornfields in the Midwest!). The monotony is interrupted by passing between Picacho and Newman Peaks (left-to-right) about a third of the way there, and continues past occasional cotton fields, pecan groves (thanks to prodigious irrigation pumping), and small desert communities. About 70 minutes after the picture at left (including a 10 minute bathroom break along the way), we descend a hill into the urban jungle with a view of Camelback Mountain at right(because of its resemblance to a reclining camel). We got to enjoy a pretty sunset over the downtown skyline, but no place to pull over for a picture.

Right on schedule at 7:15 we walked into the meeting room to surprise our friends there. Melinda was just about tackled by our friend Jennifer who repeated her hug so I could get the picture at left. I can personally attest she gives great hugs! After greeting and pestering a few of our buddies, the meeting got underway - the topic this time was a "Member's Night", where 9 members gave short presentations about items of interest or projects they are working on. These are great opportunities to see what a club's members are doing and how serious they are in their pursuits. The show tonight was uniformly very good and interesting. One of the first was from Steve Dodder, shown at right, who had replaced the heavy base of a club telescope with one that only weighed half as much -assuring it would get used more often. Steve stepped up a decade or more ago and runs the North Rim version of the Grand Canyon Star Party, so it was good to see him, though he didn't bring his better half, Rosie to the meeting...

Another great talk was by SAC president Michael Poppre. He's developed a friendship with Lowell Observatory mechanical engineer Ralph Nye. While Ralph's work has lately been wrapping up the refurbishment of the 24" Clark refractor at Lowell Observatory, Michael talked about a similar task - resurrecting a John Brashear 9" F/9 astrograph that he had found abandoned at the Observatory in his spare time over a 4.5 year period. The telescope (along with a 6" astrograph and 4" guide scope), is again used for imaging by Ralph using sheet film. Supposedly the walls of his wife's restaurant "Crickets" in Montezuma's Well is lined with images from the "new" century-old telescope.

Another thing I like about the SAC meetings is that there is a break early in the meeting for some socializing, refreshments, as well as a small swap meet in the rear of the room. I wasn't too interested in much (after a stern look from Melinda), but ended up with an adaptor, and a t-shirt for a $5 donation. There were a pair of 20X100 binoculars that were tempting for only $175, but with my very own even larger antique pair, I couldn't justify the deal. At right Paul Lind tries them out while the inset shows the details. If any of you are interested, I can get you in touch with the owner...

Speaking of Paul Lind (trying out the binoculars above), I loved his t-shirt, so include it here. Along with the "ascent of man", the last view shows the modern man using a telescope... I love it!

Saving one of the best talks for last, former SAC president Tom Polakis talked about some of his recent projects, which included some sunsets over Lake Michigan on a recent trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, his home state. While those were spectacular enough, he worked through some atmospheric models that output the shape of the sun, given its altitude. At right the chart at the right edge shows the sun's actual position relative to the horizon shown in blue, and the atmosphere's effect on both the refracted position and flattened shape. With the sun appearing to sit on the horizon, the actual position of the sun is completely below the horizon as shown. The scale of both axes is in arc-minutes, with the sun being about 30 arc-minutes (a half degree) in diameter. He also had some great images of Venus as it moved through inferior conjunction recently, about 8 degrees from the sun. These Venus crescents were imaged by combining thousands of images to get the best results. Many of his planetary images are quite breathtaking and can be seen posted on his Pbase site, along with his many other adventures. He closed out his talk with some telescopic images of the International Space Station passing overhead - quite spectacular and again, can be found on his Pbase site.

The meeting ended promptly at 10pm (where it was still in excess of 100F outside!) and most of the members went off to a nearby restaurant to continue the socializing. While only a few miles away, it was in the wrong direction for us, and we headed back to Tucson, getting home right at midnight. A tiring drive, but a lot of fun - we'll certainly be doing it again when our schedules allow!

No comments: