Sunday, May 21, 2017

CAC Dedication!

I don't set out to only post every 3 weeks or so - it just happens to work out that way! Last night the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) threw a party! Over the last couple years the club has developed a relationship with a benefactor that funded a warm/meeting room along with a pair of ginormous telescopes! Last night was the dedication of the Reynolds-Mitchell Observatory at the TAAA's Chiricahua Astronomy Complex (CAC). Bob Reynolds has generously contributed to a large roll-off roof observatory, but the star of last night's show was dedication of a 40" telescope! The TAAA wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to attend could make it, so went to the trouble of leasing a big tour bus for hauling members on the 90 mile drive from the TTT truck stop at I-10 and Craycroft. Who could turn down a free bus trip, box dinner included, highlighted with viewing with a 40" telescope?! Not me! At left, our travelling hostess Mae makes sure we all have what we need!

I can't recall riding a big tour bus since our Senior Class Trip to Washington DC 45 years ago, so it was a fun time. Our seats were higher than the truckers in the big semis that we passed, so was a nice view of the passing scenery. Of course, some might claim there isn't much scenery in Southern Arizona except brown-colored desert, but Texas Canyon, shown at left is always amazing, especially if you don' have to pay attention driving! And, of course, once you've made it to Texas Canyon, you've already passed about a million of the signs at right - "The Thing" is a tourist destination just east of Texas Canyon, and is actually kind of a cool-kitschy stop worth a visit - especially if you need a rest room or a Dairy Queen stop! As mentioned, the TAAA also sprang for meals - boxed dinners from a local deli, with 4 choices of sandwich - pretty high living!

The trip seemed to fly by, and we got there a bit before sunset. There was quite an agenda on the night's program and after a rush to the bathroom (twin flush toilets!), the facility tour started. First up, former TAAA president and site manager John Kalas gave a guided tour of the site from the ramada. That's him at left, taken in a 4-frame mosaic taking in the sweep of members present (nearly 100 I'd guess), ramada and the new scope/warm room at right.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, I skipped the treasurer's tour of further development plans, instead staying and documenting some of my friends that I recognize from my travels up and down the Sulphur Springs Valley. From CAC, as from down to not-to-distant Whitewater Draw to the south (sandhill crane site) views of "Cochise's Head" as well as the 60-mile-distant Mount Graham topped by the LBT telescope showed up as familiar friends!

A few minutes later and it was time for more speeches! Former TAAA president Tim Hunter and owner of the Grassland Observatory reviewed the club's search for a dark-sky observing site, culminating in CAC. In the photo at left, Tim is shown at left, and Carter Smith (Chief Telescope Operator) prepares the 40" for use as John Kalas introduces our benefactor. At right, Bob Reynolds says a few words before handing off the sissors to his wife to cut the ribbon opening the warm room and telescope!

All too slowly, it got dark and the scope operators did an alignment to get the giant 40" telescope pointing and tracking and finally ready for use. The first object - a stunning view of Globular Cluster Messier 13. This view is taken with the Canon 6D with Nikon 16mm fisheye lens wide open at F.2.8. The 20 second exposure (ISO 5,000) shows stars and objects much fainter than the naked eye can see, including Omega Centauri just upper left from light dome from Douglas at right. Messier 13 can be spotted at upper left if you can make out the keystone of Hercules. At the upper edge is Jupiter, and between it and Scorpio rising at bottom center, a faint section of the zodiacal band can be seen!

A bit later and the scope was turned to Messier 82 in Ursa Major. The edge-on galaxy, 12 million light years distant displayed very nice dust lanes crossing the luminous band. In the photo at right (exposure details same as above), besides the scope, dominating the sky is the bright glow of Zodiacal light in the west - the Beehive Cluster (Messier 44) can be spotted in the midst of it! While both photos seem to show the area was brightly lit, the exposures seem to amplify the amount of ambient red light about. It certainly didn't look brightly lit to eye!

Before we knew it, 9:30 had arrived and we needed to board the bus for the return trip to Tucson. By the time we disembarked, loaded up the small amount of gear into the van and dropped off passengers, we walked into the house right at Midnight. A very special night of observing "in the can"! All I can say is that an observing trip down to CAC with the 40" is a rare treat - about to become less rare!


Astroweis said...

Love that sky! So jealous...

John Dolby said...

Awesome that the TAAA has access to dark skies! But the demographic is alarming. I saw a talk by Rod Mollise on YouTube and he mentioned that amateur astronomers are, in so many words, a dying breed, with older people far outnumbering young people at star parties and other amateur astronomy meetings. Your pictures support that idea. Maybe hands-on astronomy is simply going to skip a generation or two.

Dean said...

Hi John-
I don't disagree with you, but the reasons I think are many! Seems most kids cant take their eyes from a video screen, and they can be astronomers on-line without ever looking thru a telescope! Decades ago you couldn't pry Sky and Telescope out of my hands, but now every day there seem to be amazing images from around the world and across the solar system to amaze on those screens. Subscriptions to paper magazines are dropping, light pollution keeps city dwellers from looking at anything but solar system objects. The only place where you can see lots of kids waiting to see thru a telescope is at the Grand Canyon Star Party where perhaps nearly 40% of the crowd are student-age. Certainly lots of excitement there!

John Dolby said...

Yeah, I've thought a lot about the reasons, too. I'm not looking to blame anyone and in a lot of ways it ultimately doesn't matter whether it's lots of folks or relatively few folks looking at the stars. Heck, even if nobody is looking at the stars! Yet those reasons why numbers are dwindling are fascinating and worth exploring. One thing I was thinking about is that when you and I were growing up, our heroes, the celestial explorers, were astronauts who rocketed into space and astronomers who trekked to mountaintop observatories. We amateur astrophotographers learned how to cobble together poorly-made and often home-made equipment and how to manually guide our telescopes through hand-eye coordination, without any help from YouTubers. But ever since the Voyagers, HST, and autoguiders -- and perhaps even APOD (pictures that are better than we could ever hope to get on our own, so why bother to even try) -- the celestial explorers are those who sit in front of computers in a room downtown, watching imagery and telemetry from unmanned vehicles and remote instruments. It's been quite a few decades of kids growing up in world of "hands-off" astronomy. Just another of many reasons why 5 out of 10 cement pads at CAC are available on a moonless holiday weekend, and the other 5 are being used by old guys.