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A Night At The Peace Garden

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#1 Skylook123

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Posted 15 December 2013 - 12:48 PM

I thought I'd jot down a few notes about last night's support of the Tucson Sunnyside Neighborhood Association's annual holiday event at the Peace Garden, a zone of serenity in a low income, disadvantaged area.

Lyle Johnsen is back for the season and along with Byron Skinner and me we joined Santa and took part in the Sunnyside neighborhood gathering. Because of the cold temperatures, it was not nearly as well attended as the previous events we've had there, but the quality of the show and tell did not suffer and the attendance, though sparse, was as always a great group to work with. This is of course a voluntary event, not a school assignment, so our customers want to be there and eagerly take in whatever we can provide. As always, our hosts put on a festive environment with lots of hot chocolate, wonderful luminaria on all of the walking paths, and a rolling wagon cart to help us get our equipment to the setup location and back to our vehicles.

Peace Garden is one of our toughest venues to work within, since it is a small, tightly compressed, beautifully treed area. We set up on the south border of the area so that each of us got a line of sight on some objects to view. We were able to get the usual standbys, the Moon, Venus, Albireo, The Orion Nebula, Jupiter, and some other targets for the two and a half hours we were there. Once again I set up for live video with a Mallincam PRO since a majority of the audience would be children, and the video allowed me to stay on the moon and talk and point to features like the Lunar Poodle (Sea of Serenity, Sea of Tranquility, Sea of Fecundity, and Sea of Crises that looks like a standard poodle), a barely becoming illuminated Lunar Rabbit, and, thanks to Bob Gilroy showing me one night, a really strongly visible Lady in the Moon (my wife thinks it looks more like Elvis). With children in the majority, the Lunar Poodle dominates the crater and other feature discussions, but the adults liked the Lady in the Moon as well as seeing the Apollo landing sites (I tend to stick with Apollo 11 and Apollo 17, first and last landings). I worked at f/3.1 in the big SCT to get the field of view down to enclose the majority of the moon in the 16" monitor. I also worked with several levels of filtration and shutter speed to bring out some contrasts at crater rims, and with a 70% lunar filter and a 1/3000 ALC setting, Tycho and Copernicus really jumped out although it darkened the Lunar Rabbit almost out of existence. The live video method turned out to work great, since the vast majority of the visitors were elementary school or even preschool. I recently learned that the eye to brain tight focus detail processing doesn't really develop in children until around six years of age, sometimes older, so that explains why we often have trouble with the youngest of our guests seeing what we want them to see in an eyepiece. The monitor overcomes that development detail, and it worked just fine. A third of my customers seemed to be six years of age or younger, and all were instantaneously identifying the Poodle in the screen.

Although we usually have a line of five to ten visitors on warmer nights here, the cold kept the crowd to what seemed to be 10% of my usual experience. Pity, because the Association does so much to make this a nice experience. None of the usual foot patrol anti-gang police officers were there, which was appropriate since we didn't have the usual dozens of teens present. With the sparse crowd, I took advantage of a lull and fully aligned the Atlas EQ-G and went from the Moon over to my first try ever at the Orion Nebula and it nailed it dead on. I added the wireless receiver to the camera to be able to switch over, from fast shutter speed on the bright Moon to integration on the nebula. In the cold, every battery (wireless controller, wireless receiver, laser pointer, Canon Powershot camera for crowd and venue pics, and even my red head lamp) gave up the ghost but I travel with a virtual battery supply store, so I swapped out the receiver and controller batteries and it was game on. I took off half of the focal reduction, up to f/6.3, and made on-the-fly adjustments to tweak gain, gamma, and of course switching off the shutter ALC and activating the integration time. Longer to type than to do. And M42 filled over half of the monitor, in gorgeous color. I had set the integration time at four seconds, but should have used two seconds since the Trapezium blew out the center. But the outer regions were awesome in color, so I just left it alone. Not bad for my first try with that object. So now I've done The Ring at TIMPA, and M42 last night. Almost starting to learn this system!

Much more low key than prior events at Peace Garden, and Lyle did a great Venus exposition while Byron did quite a tour of the Double Cluster, Albireo, Jupiter, and more (at least he could lift his refractor and move it around the area to get objects through holes in the tree branches) but one can't get over the great service the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association provides to its community. It is a real privilege to help them bring this wonderful environment to an economically challenged area. They are really special people. As are the visitors, whose grins and thanks were flowing constantly. Personally, I just love doing this event and I've only missed two in the last seven years.

Oh, and during a lull we were discussing some of the constellation lore, so next year they want to move off to the athletic field to the south after sunset and start of with a cultural constellation tour/sky walk. That will be a real treat to do.

Jim O'Connor
Vice President, TAAA
South Rim Coordinator, Grand Canyon Star Party
gcsp@tucsonastronomy.org

#2 skyguy88

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 01:58 PM

Jim,

I envy your version of cold. Our season in Prescott is essentially over. We scheduled one program at the local VA hospital but cancelled it when the forecast temp was below freezing at sunset. We did a school program last week but is was limited by clouds. And Lowell is another 10 plus degrees colder.

Isn't M42 awesome? If you get the timing right you can watch the image build up, showing the core stars and then growing the full nebula. Try the flame while you're in the neighborhood. M42 and M1 make a great story, capturing both ends of the evolution story.

Enjoy,

Bill

#3 Skylook123

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 02:43 PM

Great ideas, Bill. I have a lot to learn about using the full capabilities of the PRO. I didn't do a lot of things I should have because of the cold, time, and heck, it looked good as it was. I think I made the following mistakes:
1. Took off the extra 0.5X focal reduction and the lunar filter used to get the moon down to a manageable image size and contrast, but forgot to refocus on a star before jumping on M42. Being in integration mode, never could get focus right. But the nebula itself was so gorgeous I just left the stars as marbles.

2. Since the Trapezium was really blowing out the center of the nebula at 4 seconds integration time, I probably should have dropped the AGC down to 3. Either that, or the f/6.3 in the 10" was just grabbing too much light. Not what I expected at all.

3. I should have done a fix on the red/blue color settings sliders to get the image more true.

4. I should have tried the CLS-CCD filter or the UHC because of the awful light polution in the area. M57 last week at a dark site was pure black background and pinpoint stars; guess I'm still learning.

Coats? Jackets? What are those? But every battery other than the big 12V 35AH powering the scope, camera, and monitor was dead on arrival. Laser pointer, head lamp, and even the wireless receiver on the camera had zero power. But I have four spares for the wireless and did a quick changeout and magic on the monitor.

Alnitak will be next, so I can try Flame and Horesehead both. Actually, one of the most beautiful nebulas I've seen was M43, when the integration time was set to 35 seconds on M42 in another guy's MCEX2. M43 pops out like a red Triffid, gorgeous, with M42 a bright mushy glow. I want to try to move M42 out of the FOV some night and just image M43. Pretty bugger.






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