Carp Star Party – good attendance, poor sky

The RASC star party at Carp Library went ahead last night.  About 15 scopes, including quite a few people who were at their first star party, and several who were literally using their new scope for the first time.    Several OAFs among the scopes.  I recall 6 of us — maybe more that I didn’t notice. I would guess about 100 non-scope visitors including, again, many people for their first time.

One nice event — a couple were there with a newly-bought scope, and got help assembling it. The scope was actually a gift for a friend, who they had invited to join them at the star party and presented with the scope as a surprise.

Scopes arriving and setting up.

Scopes arriving and setting up.

Unfortunately, the sky wasn’t as cooperative.

The evening started well — just around Sunset Jupiter was spectacular in the South, with fair seeing.  Everyone had a good look.  Saturn rose through a low layer of cloud in the western horizon and many people had their first look at Saturn, with the appropriate “ooohs” and “aaahs”.  The view wasn’t very good, as it was low and in the soup.

However, there was a nasty dark bank of clouds in the West which eventually covered more than half the sky.  By 11:00 I had succeeded in showing only two DSOs to visitors – M3 and M13 through sucker holes, and neither of those lasted very long. I gave up at 11:00 and packed.  By the time I was leaving — 11:30ish — I think the few remaining scopes were having more success, as the clouds cleared somewhat.

See you at the next one.

RASC – Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

The OAFs group is not affiliated with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) – we are not an official sub-group or sub-committee of any kind.

However, most (possibly all) OAFs are members of RASC Ottawa Centre, and we

  • Recommend membership for anyone interested in Astronomy;
  • Attend RASC meetings;
  • Get together for dinner before RASC meetings;
  • Provide telescope support for RASC star parties, in addition to the less-formal events we organize ourselves.

Because we are generally in attendance at RASC star parties, we provide this link to the RASC Star Party Schedule, and the following feed from their Facebook page:

3 weeks ago
rasc.ca

Here is your guide to November night skies. http://rasc.ca/news/sky-month-november-2017

LIKE
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WOW
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ANGRY
3 weeks ago
rasc.ca

Here is your guide to November night skies. http://rasc.ca/news/sky-month-november-2017

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LOVE
HAHA
WOW
SAD
ANGRY
1 month ago

The 1% lit moon and Da Vinci glow along with the planet Venus to the upper right.

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LOVE
HAHA
WOW
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ANGRY

 

When do OAFs do Astronomy Events?

Unfortunately, Astronomy has to be done when the sky is clear and when interesting things are visible. We can predict when interesting things are visible, but the weather is always a surprise. So it’s pretty much impossible to give reliable schedules very far in advance.

For Chapters Sidewalk Astronomy events, we try to gather around a 1st-quarter moon or some interesting event like an eclipse, we watch the local Cleak Sky Chart carefully, and use the Yahoo OAFs group to decide, at the last moment, whether we’re going or not.

For more formal events, such as star parties at the Carp Library, we schedule tentative dates around the phase of the moon (moonless nights are better) and, again, make “go/no-go” calls at the last moment on our Yahoo group.

You can keep track of what’s happening by following us on Twitter.

Moon

Astronomy events are also scheduled around the phase of the moon.

  • For sidewalk astronomy, we like a moon around first quarter. This makes the moon visible, with interesting shadows, in early- and mid- evening when people are around. Newcomers to the eyepiece love to look at the moon.
  • We have also discovered that sidewalk astronomy works well during a full moon. This isn’t supposed to be the case — Astronomers typically hate the full moon (because it is so bright that it masks other objects, and because the full moon itself is less interesting to look at than a partial moon, because of the lack of shadows). But we’ve found that our visitors at sidewalk sessions enjoy looking at the full moon through a low-power telescope, and we occasionally hold “full moon sidewalk sessions” too.
  • For deep space star parties, the moon is not invited — it is too bright and it washes out dimmer objects. So we prefer nights of a new moon, or at least well past first quarter so moonrise is late.

Bright Planets

For deep space star parties (such as events at the Carp Library), only the phase of the moon matters. For  sidewalk astronomy at Chapters, we also depend on the location of the bright planets.

The light pollution in the Chapters parking lot is so bad that it is impossible to see anything except the moon and the bright planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mars), so we prefer holding Sidewalk sessions when there is at least one bright planet, plus the moon, visible. In the present years, this means late winter to late autumn are good times (since either Saturn or Jupiter are visible), but in late autumn and early winter, we have fewer sessions, since there are no good planets to show.

 

Sidewalk Astronomy Tips

What is a Sidewalk Session?

A Sidewalk Astronomy Session is the same as a Star Party but not at a dark site. The same guidelines and etiquette apply. The major differences are the level of light pollution, and that the visitors usually didn’t plan on attending. Some people don’t know what to make of us and figure we must be selling something. Often the more adventurous folks are the young ones who ask us “what the heck are we doing”. The ones that stop to look through our scopes often stop and chat. Often kids will drag their folks over to see. If people don’t say “Oh Wow!” when they look through the eyepiece, we know we need to adjust our scopes. Sometimes we politely invite / encourage the passers-by who look curious to stop and have a look. Lots of interesting discussions arise. We really enjoy chatting with people about anything to do with astronomy. Sometimes, people will rush home and drag their family members back to look though our scopes. We find the enthusiasm infectious.

  • See our Star Party Etiquette page to get an idea of what to do. In general, the same guidelines apply about touching equipment, but there is no need to dark-adapt or worry about flashlights.. Then come back here to get an idea of what you will see from the sidewalk.
  • Check this to get an idea about the origins of sidewalk astronomy.
  • Richard’s nice  article on how sidewalk fits into astronomy public outreach.

When do OAFs Hold Sidewalk sessions

We’re limited by the weather, so it’s hard to predict. Check our Current events listing or our Twitter Feed to see if we’ve scheduled a date. in general, we like to hold sidewalk sessions when you can see the moon in the west in the evening.

What you can see from the sidewalk

Sidewalk astronomy sessions are held in places most convenient to the public, especially high foot traffic areas like malls or movie theaters. The light pollution will be very significant, sometimes you have to look hard just to find more than a handful of stars. But some objects can be seen and seen quite clearly. We hold our sessions in front of the Chapters in the Centrum in Kanata. Please have a look at our General Observing Tips page to help you get the most out of what you can see.

We hope to see you there!

The Moon

To someone who has never seen the moon though a scope, it sounds like a boring object. Everyone’s seen it with their own eyes. But seeing the wealth of impact craters, ejecta blankets, rays, mountains, rilles, and lava flows in a telescope is a dramatic experience.

Generally it is the moon that drives our sidewalk astronomy session schedule. We try to get out somewhere between the first and last quarter phases of the moon, but not the full moon. Why? Because at this time the sun’s light is at an angle to the moon and the craters and other features cast shadows and can be easily picked out and you really get an idea of the rough topography of the moon and a feel for the depth of some of the craters. During a full moon the light from the sun is straight on, there are virtually no shadows and the moon looks like a big smooth marble with no relief at all.

We always see the same side of the moon. It seems to never rotate. It does wobble some though, so we can see about 59% of the surface from earth over the course of a year. The reason is that the moon rotates once for each trip around the earth (so it points the same face toward us), but the orbit is elliptical and so the moon’s rotation and it’s revolution are not perfectly synched (so we see it wobble a bit).

Links

Saturn

The undisputed showpiece of the night sky. No one ever gets tired of looking at Saturn and its rings for the shear beauty of the planet. “Seeing Saturn for the first time” is the most popular story amateur astronomers tell about how they got hooked on astronomy. Often several of Saturn’s moons are visible too. The rings wobble with respect to earth over a 15 year period. Some years they are virtually edge on so it is hard to see, other years they are spread out wide and magnificent.

When Galileo was studying Saturn, they went edge on and he thought that the rings had somehow vanished so he gave up studying the planet for a while. Telescopes are a bit better these days, he would drool.

Links

Jupiter

This is the king of planets, it is the largest. Like Saturn one never tires of Jupiter. It is famous for its Great Red Spot, and its almost always visible four major moons, the Jovian moons. On good nights many astronomers love to study the bands and colourful festoons on the planet’s surface, and the Jovian moons are always moving. Many people enjoy watching the Jupiter’s moons transit across the face of the planet and watch the shadow they cast on the surface as the do so. Jupiter is never boring, there is always something different to see every time you look at it. If you watch very carefully you can seen subtle changes in 20 minutes on the planet’s surface and see the moons changing position.

The Great Red Spot is actually a huge and rather nasty storm (huge as in as in bigger than the planet earth) that has been raging since at least the 17th century.

Galileo‘s first observation of moons going around Jupiter may be the most politically controversial in history: it meant there were no crystal spheres which where part of the dogma of cosmology and religion at the time.

Links

Mars

Enigmatic Mars is our close neighbour, and sometimes it is the closest (but usually Venus is closer). It is less enigmatic now that we have had exploratory vehicles on the surface of course, but for centuries it has driven astronomers nuts (and still does). While close, it is small and bright so usually it is hard to see features. The best time to view Mars is every 26 months or so when it makes its closest approach to earth. Many astronomers prepare in advance for those events. Normally you can make out the polar ice caps and glean some hint as to surface features. On exceptional nights those features are quite visible and rewarding to see.

The highest know mountain in the solar system is on Mars. It is Olympus Mons, a volcano actually, it easily dwarfs Mount Everest here on Earth.

Links

Sol

Or the Sun as most people probably call it, is the star that the earth and the rest of the solar system orbits. During the day many astronomers are fascinated with observing the Sun. Solar eclipses have inspired and awed people throughout history. Many people forget about the Sun, but it is fascinating and beautiful to view. Visual observation of the Sun is a unique experience in astronomy in that you can see it change before your eyes (slowly, like watching clouds change shape).

With different equipment you can look into different (deeper) layers of the Sun. Sunspots and solar flares have an organic beauty that is compelling. Everyone remembers their first closeup views of Sol.

But remember all of the warnings about viewing the Sun are very serious! Never use any kind of optical device to look at the Sun unless it is made specifically for that purpose, make sure your scope is never pointed at the Sun without your solar filter in place, and make sure a passer-by can’t simply pull it off (it’s happened 🙁 ). Ever burn things with a magnifying glass and the Sun? That is why! Your blink reflex will not be fast enough to protect you. But under supervision and with the right equipment it is a completely safe and must-see experience.

When Galileo was examining the Sun, he used a candle to blacken his eyepieces and the objective of his telescope. Unbelievable!! Don’t you even think of it! Come see us, we’ll show it to you safely!

Links

Other Objects

Some of the the brighter Messier Objects can be seen dimly at sidewalks from time to time, but you need a large aperture telescope and a good night to see something more than a fuzzy blob. Most of us OAFs will think it is a big deal, but others may be less inspired. Never-the-less if an OAF happens to bring a BIG telescope you might be lucky and see a globular cluster, nebula, or on rare occasions, the core of a comet.

But in general, to get a good view of clusters, nebulae, comets, and galaxies, one needs to observe from a place away from light pollution. Fortunately, OAFs hold monthly public star parties at the Diefenbunker which is dark enough to let us see all those goodies.

What you won’t see from the sidewalk

Some things we just can’t show you:

  • The flag planted on the moon. It’s just too small and far away. This is a frequent question and we’re happy to chat about it.
  • ISS or the shuttle. In general man made satellites move too quickly for us to track with telescopes. (Telescopes are made to move very slowly.) But we can point out when you can see them with your own eyes.
  • UFOs. I can count the number of times I’ve seen them on the tentacles of my ventral gill-cover (i.e. zero).
  • Pluto. Sorry it’s too faint.
  • Galaxies. Sure they have 100 billion stars. But they’re so far away, the glare of a single streetlight blots them out. Come to our darker-sky star party to see galaxies.
  • Something that’s currently below the horizon. That can be any of the objects listed in the “What can you see” section above. The earth simply gets in the way — at least half the time.
  • (We can’t show you those things. But we can chat about them all night.)

Star Party Etiquette

Etiquette for public star parties: Or what to do or avoid doing.

At public star parties, a bunch of volunteer astronomers have brought their personal telescopes for the general public to look through. They do this without payment or compensation. The principles of etiquette are basically what we need to give everyone a good astronomy experience and to protect people and equipment. We consider all this to be obvious. But some people, like us, like to state the obvious — possibly in more detail than really necessary.

What to do

Ask to look through telescopes

Volunteers are there only to show you cool things through their scopes. So don’t be put off if they are ignoring you while fussing with equipment. Scopes can take considerable time to setup and they simply may not be ready to use when you wander by. But ask to look through our scopes anyway, and please check our General Observing Tips page to help you get the most out of what you can see.

Ask questions

Some telescope volunteers will wait for you to ask about what we’re looking at — mostly to avoid haranguing you with technical and geeky details you may not be interested in. But we love talking endlessly about those details.

Dark Adapt

Star parties are held in a dark field with essentially no lighting. Give your self time to adapt to the darkness. Such adaptation takes at least 10 minutes (1/2 hour for full adaptation). People are often surprised that they can actually “see in the dark”. That’s because natural star light is actually quite bright and is easily enough light for walking on a grassy field without bumping into people — provided you are dark adapted.

If you use a flashlight, use a dim red one. Red light affects your night vision less. You can buy red lights, or red filters for standard flashlights, or you can just cover a flashlight with red cellophane. Don’t bring your bright white camping flashlight — you will prevent your eyes from dark-adapting, and will interfere with the night vision of the other visitors.

Ask to look at specific objects

Usually scope volunteers will setup on different objects and we’ll ask people to walk from scope to scope to see different things. That’s because it takes time to point a telescope to a new object and there are few things more boring than listening to our excuses as to why we haven’t found the object yet.

On the other hand, we are both willing and interested in showing things people ask for. Though we may ask you to wait until everyone has seen the current object, or to look though a different (already pointed) telescope. If you’re asking to look at difficult objects, we may well ask you to wait until later in the evening so we can show everyone the show-piece objects first. (A show-piece object is one where someone says “oh wow!” when they see it rather than “what am I looking at?”. )

Take care of your body

If you like star parties, you’ll wind up standing around unprotected for a couple of hours in a grassy field. So:

  • Dress as if it was 10 to 15 degrees colder than the forecast.
  • Wear or at least bring a wind breaker jacket, always. It may be calm at your front door, but in an open field far from home it may different.
  • Remember to drink (not alcohol) to avoid dehydration.
  • Bring a lawn chair if you’d like to rest. (Grass tends to get wet even on clear nights, so it not a nice place to sit.)
  • Bring a snack if you’re blood-sugar regulation is manual. On cold nights snacks will help keep you warm too.

Tell us what you like

If you see something you like, tell us. Many telescope volunteers live to hear the “Oh Wow!” when someone sees Saturn for the first time.

If you look through a scope and don’t see anything, say so. Most likely the scope needs adjustment and it’s not your fault.

What to avoid doing

Lights: don’t use too much

One flash of light can destroy that half-hour of dark adaptation that allows us to see the faintest galaxies. So:

  • Never shine a flashlight in someone’s face
  • No flash photography.
  • Always use the dimmest flashlight you need to just barely see obstacles on the ground. The amount of light you need will decrease as you dark-adapt.
  • Turn off your flashlight as often as possible.
  • Don’t use a white flashlight. Use a dim red one. Cover with red plastic if necessary.
  • Avoid shining your car headlights onto the observing field.

Telescopes: don’t break them

They’re expensive and are fiddly to get working, so:

  • Ask before looking through a telescope.
  • Look through telescopes without touching them.
  • Don’t use bug spray anywhere near telescopes. The fine droplets get on expensive optical surfaces and are are hell to remove.
  • If you need to re-focus, ask. The scope owner will help you. Don’t twist or turn random knobs — things usually fall off when you do that. But don’t hesitate to ask — everyone’s eyes are a little different, and chances are that adjusting the focus will help you.
  • Don’t stand in front of a telescope. Light that has traveled 30 million light years to get to us will be stopped dead by the back of someone’s head.
  • Don’t smoke near a telescope. Smoke particles can damage optics. Some of the larger telescopes use something called a nylon shroud which is flammable.
  • Don’t hold your coffee cup near the eyepiece as your looking though the scope. The eye-lens will likely fog over.
  • Don’t breath on the eyepiece. It will likely fog over and nothing may be visible in the telescope. Cleaning the fog from the eyepiece is a very delicate and sometimes difficult procedure.
  • When wearing glasses and looking though an eyepiece, avoid looking out the corner of your eye. It may cause the corner of the temple of your eyeglasses to poke into the eyepiece scratching the expensive optics. Instead, face the eyepiece square-on. Usually you can gently place your eyeglass lens flat against the rubber eyecup of the eyepiece.
  • In general think of optical surfaces, lenses, mirrors and eyepieces as if they were your eyes: it hurts if you touch them, you don’t want to get anything in or on them and they’re really hard to replace.
  • If you are looking though one of the larger telescopes that requires climbing a few steps on a ladder to look through, don’t carry objects that you can drop. Ask someone to hold them for you. The general safety rule for observing with a ladder is: never let go of the ladder.

Strangely enough many telescope volunteers will bring their very best equipment, for example their most expensive eyepieces, to a star party. (You’d think they’d bring disposable gear considering the risk of damage.) They do so because they are committed to giving the public the very best view possible.

But it does explain why some of us are so paranoid about our equipment.

People

  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol significantly reduces what you can see in dim light. Plus rowdy behavior is not conducive to wandering a dark field littered with expensive equipment. But some of us like to imbibe at the local pub after observing.
  • Note that kids can get bored. Star parties can involve delays. Telescopes take time to setup. The giant telescopes sometimes have lineups. Very young children have difficulty looking with only one eye through an eyepiece and may not see anything. Other than that, we welcome the enthusiasm of young observers.
    • Please don’t give your kids white-light flashlights (or laser pointers) to hold. They just can’t resist turning them on and shining them at people. (We can barely resist it — they can’t.)
    • Probably the biggest problem we find young children have is an almost irresistible desire to grab the eyepiece of the telescope as part of getting ready to look. (That’s what the scientists do in the cartoons.) Coach them in advance not do to this — keep hands on the handles of the step-stools, or behind their backs. It’s not that we mind having the equipment touched, it’s that grabbing the eyepiece moves the telescope and it then has to be re-aimed.
  • Arguments: People are sometimes surprised to hear that telescope volunteers have never seen a UFO — even though we live to look at the sky. Some telescope volunteers find the topic un-interesting. Arguments about such should be conducted in their proper home: the internet. 🙂

Pets

  • We love them too, but not at a star party. Leads and leashes, strangers, other pets, telescope tripod legs, all in the dark, well it could be a mess fast. Please leave Poochiekins and Bruno at home.

Carp Library

OAFs often attend and support RASC star parties at the Carp branch of the Ottawa Library (next to the famous Diefenbunker). There is a large parking lot with room for scopes and visitors, on the top of a hill with good horizons. The library turns of the exterior lighting off for the events, and the sky is about as dark as you can get while still in the easily-accessible part of Ottawa.

Here is a Google map of the observing site.

Check out the RASC Carp Star Party Schedule for more information about the Carp library site and the potential dates for the star parties.

Mill of Kintail Star Party

What is it?

A “star party” doesn’t involve evening gowns, cocktails or celebrities. It’s a bunch of people looking at the wonders of the night sky through telescopes — and it’s free.

Some people call it “star gazing”. We call it “observing” or “a star party” when we do it as a group. And it’s lots of fun.

Where: The Mill of Kintail

The Mill of Kintail is a conservation area (park) near Almonte. We observe from a field just inside the front gate. Outside the front gate is a parking lot and a building. The building has clean washrooms and is *warm*.

How to get there

Map Link: Google Map

Driving Directions from Ottawa

  • Follow 417 west
  • Exit onto Highway 49, west towards town of Almonte
  • Stay on highway 49 as you drive through Almonte
  • turn right (north) onto Highway 29 (follow sign to Mill of Kintail)
  • turn left (east) onto Clayton Road (follow sign to Mill of Kintail)
  • turn right (north) onto concession 8, (follow sign to Mill of Kintail)
  • turn right into the Mill’s entrance, by the Mill of Kintail Sign. Park in the lot. Walk through the gates. Telescopes will be setup along the drive or on the grassy (or snowy) field to the right of the drive.

GPS Instructions

If you have a GPS in your vehicle the site is at latitude 45°14’38.73″N, longitude 76°15’30.73″W. Mill of Kintail is in the “attractions” list of some GPS units, as is the “R. Tait McKenzie Memorial Museum”, which is located on the grounds.

When?

The star party will be cancelled if it’s cloudy. So we cannot set a firm date until day or so before the planned date. So please check the Main Page, our email list, or our Twitter Feed for an GO/NO-GO announcment.

If we call a go, the typical timing (autumn – spring) will be:

  • 19:30 Oafs arrive. Open gate an start setting up telescopes.
  • 20:30 Oafs stop making the excuse “i’m still setting up” and public observing of Jupiter, Neptune and brighter star-clusters begins.
  • 21:30 It becomes dark enough to observe galaxies, star-forming nebulae, supernova remnants, and partially exploded stars. You know, the cool stuff.
  • 23:59 Many people are gone or leaving.
  • 01:00 Last frozen OAF leaves and locks up.

What to Bring?

OAFs will bring telescopes. The park’s gatehouse will have water, washrooms and a space to let people warm up. Vistors should:

  • Above all else, dress warmly. Dress for 10 to 15 degrees colder than the forecast. You can always take your sweater off if you are wearing too much; but if you come with too little, you’ll probably be going home early from the cold.
  • Dress for dampness. The grass will get quite wet from dew during the night, and the air is damp. You’ll want shoes and clothing that will repel the damp and keep you comfortable.
  • In the spring and summer, dress for mosquitos. We find that Thermacell type mosquito repellants work well. If you are using spray-on repellants, apply them at least 30ft from telescopes, eyepeices and and other expensive optical surfaces.
  • Consider bringing a pair of binoculars, whatever kind you may have. Many objects you’ll see though OAFs’ telescope can be found in your own binoculars, and we’ll be glad to help you. Discovering that the binoculars you have had for years will show you galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters is a special surprise and thrill.
    • If your binoculars came with any kind of accessory to allow you to mount them on a tripod, bring that, and bring your tripod. Binoculars on a tripod are an excellent telescope for a dark-sky site.
  • If you bring your own telescope, feel free to show up at 19:30. Some oafs may be able to help you set up.

Links

Sidewalk Astronomy at Chapters

Sidewalk Astronomy sessions are usually held in front of the Chapters store in the Kanata Centrum plaza, 400 Earl Grey Drive. Here is a map to the exact location.

We usually set up at, or shortly before, dark. This varies from 6:30 in winter to 8:30-9:00 in summer. We generally pack up when the flow of people stops, which is usually when Starbucks or Chapters close, about 10:30-11:00 PM.

Anyone is welcome to visit us at these events. There is no charge and we are not trying to sell you anything. You should understand that the light pollution at this location is so bad that there are really only four objects we can observe:

  • The Moon;
  • Saturn (in season);
  • Jupiter (in season); and
  • Venus (in season)

Generally we hold the events when the Moon and, ideally, one of Saturn or Jupiter are visible. We will not be able to show visitors other interesting astronomical objects from this location — the light is too bright. To see other deep-sky objects, attend one of our star parties at darker sites.

Nearest Clear Sky Chart to Kanata Chapters