On Friday night, the Amateur Astronomers Association, one of the local New York City astronomy groups, had an observing session nearby, at Carl Schurz Park, which is on the East River in the upper 80s. Well, nearby is a relative term, as it’s a half mile away, which is a little bit far when you’re carrying 25 pounds of telescope and gear over your shoulder. But I decided, what the hell, let’s go!
This observing session is also referred to in the astronomical community as outreach. That means that we are literally reaching out to the public to see if they want to look through our scopes, as in, “Hey you! Want to see Jupiter?” Although the calendar said spring, it was a cold night, in the mid-40s, and not too many people were out and about.
You might recall from my March 30, 2015 post that I described Carl Schurz park as being not the greatest place to observe. And it still isn’t, with a walkway that was well-lit with bright yellow sodium lamps. But it could be described as an “Other than that, how as the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” type of situation: the sky was clear, and we had good views of the east, north, and directly overhead. The views to the south and west, although blocked by the tall residential buildings, weren’t awful, although they weren’t that good, either.
But Venus is certainly high enough now so that it can be easily seen in the west well after sunset. And we were only showing people the highlights of the sky anyway: the moon, Jupiter, Venus, and the Beehive Cluster, so they weren’t much effected by the insane ground lighting at all.
By we, I mean there were two other people with telescopes there as well. Me, I just decided to show up with my scope and see what was what. With the exception of NEAF, I hadn’t ever been to a public observing session like this, and NEAF doesn’t count because everyone there is an amateur astronomer as opposed to just being “a member of the general public.” Also there were two bonafide AAA members: Bruce, who had travelled all the way down from Washington Heights; and Jason, who had travelled from the same place I did to get to the park. Believe it or not, Jason actually lives directly across the street from me.
Jason and I had previously met online six months ago at Astronomy Forum, an astronomy board where people ask and answer questions, and post about all things astronomical. After I posted some questions about the NexStar 127SLT, we corresponded and discovered that he lived in the apartment building right across the street, and he came over to my building’s roof to show me his scope, which, by no coincidence, happened to be the exact scope I was interested in, the very same NexStar 127SLT. It was very nice of him to come by; we put the scope through its paces, I immediately fell in love – with the scope, not him – and I bought the scope a few days later.
(Unfortunately, although the people who post on the Astronomy Forum board are knowledgeable and helpful, the admins who run the board tend quite a bit toward the fascistic side. They brook absolutely no differences from officially stated opinion in regard to what you’re allowed to post. I refuse to live under a fascist regime, told them so in no uncertain terms, and resigned my membership. Instead, I post on Cloudy Nights.)
Interestingly, Bruce was using a Celestron 8 on a big heavy equatorial mount from the late 90s that was owned by the AAA. Apparently, a AAA member had passed away and left the scope to the Association, and Bruce had custody of it. It even had a plaque on it noting that he had left it to them. Pretty nice. Because the scope ate batteries for breakfast, going through a whole set every time he took it out, he used it manually – unguided – to show people things. Jason has the same NexStar 127 he showed me in October, but since then he had gotten a good deal on a surveyor’s mount and remounted it onto that.
Venus is still gibbous, and very bright. It is difficult even to focus on her because she’s so bright. Of course, there isn’t anything much to see except that she is gibbous, as the cloud tops show no detail. Jupiter was very high in the sky, with the Great Red Spot transiting at 8:05pm, while it was still twilight out. It was difficult to see, even with the M&SG filter, but the gap in the south equatorial band was there.
Of interest, though, was not only that all four moons were out, but that Callisto and Ganymede were practically on top of each other all night. So, as each person took a look through and counted the moons at three, I would tell them to look closer and count again. And there was much oohing and aahing.
I showed the Beehive Cluster, M44, to a group of about a half dozen kids coming down the walkway. It looks great in my ST-80, with that nice wide field of view. One of them just yanked the telescope up to her eye, so I don’t think she quite understood what the concept of a telescope was all about. Gotta remember to tell people “Hands off!”
But of course, the showstopper, as always, is the moon. It was just gorgeous, as usual, one day before first quarter. A small amount of earthshine was just visible, and so it was fun explaining that to people when I pointed out that they could see the entire sphere if they looked for it.
All in all, we had about two dozen people come by over two hours, including a couple of people who came out specifically for the show, as opposed to just walking by. That was fun! Gotta spread the gospel of astronomy!