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Star Party Animals August 7, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Photography, Science, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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II was cooling my heels in the parking lot at Bumpass Hell when I met a bunch of very nice astronomy geeks setting up.  It was new moon, so the skies should be free of annoying moonlight, except…

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well, thunderclouds off in the distance.  Undaunted, the astrogeeks set up anyway:

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Their ‘scopes varied considerably, but all (except one?) were professionally made.  We moved the car to the exit of the lot so we wouldn’t blind them with headlights leaving earlier than they would.  And lots happened, for us rookies: myself, my sainted, white-haired mother and my sister:

First off, the first visible things were Venus in the west, then Arcturus overhead, then Saturn in the south and Vega to the north (I cheated and used Google Sky to identify them except Venus and Vega.  I felt like an ubergeek because I already knew those).  Then, the ISS went overhead and I was able to make out its shape through my own binoculars.  It was visible for about thirty seconds (protip: apparently you can see the ISS just after dusk when it passes overhead, but not later, since it depends on catching the rays of the sun for visibility, so just after dusk, or nothing.  We discovered that many satellites are visible through binoculars or naked eye viewing, but you need perfect dark like a mountaintop thirty miles from the nearest town).  One of the guys set up his scope to show us Saturn.  My mother is 84 and hadn’t ever see Saturn through a scope; neat.1  He also showed us two star clusters before the aforementioned thunderclouds shut down seeing for everyone.  We left at about 10:30, and they stayed up all night talking.  I got a phone call from them at about eleven, since they had found my wallet in the parking lot, lost when I lay down to look at satellites through binoculars.

1 I had the strange pleasure of walking down Geary (I think) thirty years or so ago and a guy zoomed to a stop across the street as we waited for the light to change, leaped out of his van and set up a telescope on the sidewalk.  He had people looking through the thing as they passed by, at Saturn.  Turns out he was John Dobson, inventor of the Dobson scope and founder of San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers.  I now live two blocks from him, although I haven’t run across him yet.  He would be 98 years old now, if still alive.

PS. My wife and I ran across another guy doing this June 15th…but he wasn’t as inviting as a whole bunch of them.  Safety in numbers, I guess.

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