ASTRONOMY DAY 2003 Re-Cap
The weather for Astronomy Day activities presented numerous challenges. But that didn't prevent an estimated 140 people from enjoying themselves at the Onan Observatory.
There was limited observing Friday night during an extended break in the cloud cover shortly after sunset. Jupiter and Saturn (with five satellites observed) were popular, and the Moon provided nice views, including the "Straight Wall".
Saturday was cloudy for the duration of the event, with steady rain starting around 4:30. Even so, visitors enjoyed presentations on telescope making, the planet Mars, variable stars and observing techniques. A telescope mirror grinding demonstration took place all afternoon on the terrace, until rain forced a premature end of the work. Throughout the day, various members of the Beginners SIG staffed a "welcome center", greeting visitors and answering questions. Several MAS members offered advice and help with visitors' telescopes. A wide variety of equipment was on display. Other displays included a scale model of the solar system, 3-D star photographs, International Space Station and Shuttle information, and laptop-based "slide shows" highlighting MAS activities.
Visitors began departing around 9:00, and the few remaining volunteers finished cleaning up around 10:30.
Though not an "observer's" Astronomy Day, it was an enjoyable social and educational event for MAS members and visitors.
LUNAR ECLIPSE Viewing Re-Cap
Approximately 60 people joined members of the Minnesota Astronomical Society at its Onan Observatory to view the May 15, 2003 total lunar eclipse. The weather was excellent -- clear skies and temperature slowly dropping from the upper 60's to the mid-50's throughout the evening. Dew was a problem later in evening, however.
Observing began right after sunset, as soon as Jupiter began glowing overhead. Seeing (a measure of the sky's steadiness that affects the quality of a telescopic image) was unusually good. The Larson scope, often notorious for poor planetary images, showed much detail in the planet's equatorial cloud bands and four other obvious bands across its face. Thirty to forty minutes later, when attention turned to Saturn, the seeing had already deteriorated. An hour later, it had worsened even further. But even then, visitors were awed by views of the two gas giants.
The big hit of the evening was the view of the lunar eclipse through the observatory's 80mm binoculars. Visitors couldn't take their eyes off the image, returning for more peeks as the eclipse progressed. The parallelogram mount upon which the binoculars are installed operated flawlessly. (It wasn't unusual to see an adult enjoy the view, and then immediately pull the binoculars down to eye-level for a small child so they could enjoy it together.) Binocular views almost directly overhead (the Whirlpool galaxy for example) were comfortable as well.
Once totality was underway, the skies darkened to near-New Moon levels, allowing people using the Larson telescope to examine the spiral arm structure in the Whirlpool, gaze in astonishment at the stars in the globular cluster M13, and pick out the dust lane in the edge of the Sombrero galaxy.
As totality ended, attention turned more fully back to the brightening Moon through both the Larson telescope and the 80mm binoculars.
Not all activity was taking place in the observatory. There was plenty happening out on the terrace throughout the evening. A number of telescopes were in operation and there was real-time video of the Moon.
The volunteers closed the observatory and were on their way homeward by 12:30 a.m.
All in all, a wonderful, wonderful evening!
New Capability at the Observatory
New equipment purchased for the Onan Observatory is providing visitors with a marvelous option for observing.
Large binoculars with 80mm objectives (the "front" lenses of the binoculars) magnifying objects 15 times are installed on a heavy-duty "parallelogram" mount. (A parallelogram mount is a special design that allows the height of the binoculars to change without changing the view through the binoculars. The mount also allows hands-free viewing, and also viewing objects directly overhead.)
The new binoculars and mount combine to provide steady, glorious wide-field views of brighter galaxies, and star clusters. They also provide an 'handicap accessible' observing capability, working equally well for standing or seated users.
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