2018 28th Annual Grand Canyon Star Party
DAY ONE - Awful Wind, Huge Temperature Shift
Location: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, South Rim of Grand Canyon, AZ, about 340 miles north of home in Tucson, about 7000 ft. elevation
Weather: 88F mid-day, 85F at sunset, 49F when we quit near 11:30 PM. Perfectly clear sky. Winds at 10 MPH with constant gusts to over 30 MPH. Made for a very uncomfortable night unless one dressed like an Arctic resident.
Seeing and Transparency: Since I was doing live video, it was hard to nail down but transparency was quite clear, while seeing was greatly disturbed by the wind.
10" Meade SCT on Celestron AVX mount
Mallincam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor.
I started off on Day 0, Friday night, after our theater checkout. Theater worked perfectly, and we were done in less than an hour. I tried to set up the video system to get an early start on the the polar and stellar alignments, but had a world of trouble with dead main power supply line from the inverter, switched to straight DC but two of those cables were dead. I had a spare power block from my older Atlas EQ-G and was able to move on. Then I noticed the parking brake on the truck popped out, and it started rolling backward down our sloped observing site. It jumped a curb at the entrance and got high centered on the side foot rails, no wheels on the ground. I used AAA to get the local wrecker service, and about an hour later they got me off the curb. No damage, thankfully.
Back to the scope, the GOTOs were way off, so I gave up until tomorrow to troubleshoot. Too cold and windy to concentrate. But I was able to talk with about 35 visitors passing through the site and talk up the star party.
Day 1 I hung the banner in front of the visitor center and started to prepare my introduction for the night talk, given by Dr. Lisa Prato,tenured astronomer at Lowell Obertvatory. More later.
At the site, I started troubleshooting the setup. All the power was working, so I went to balance. Dead perfect. Needed dark sky to continue, but Interpretive Ranger Rader Lane and I need to be in the theater before sunset, so my setup would be dark until we got done at 9 PM.
I must say that the most volunteers who have ever registered with me in the past was 90, while this year over 110 signed up. Usually about 25% more just show up and register with the Rangers, and while usually we have about 35 scopes on Night 1, I think we had almost 50, with a packed audience all night.
Usually we start at 8 PM or when the 233 capacity is reached, about the same time. Tonight we opened the doors around 7:40, and were filled at 7:50 so we were off and running. Dr. Prato is a very dynamic speaker. Her primary reasearch is finding and studying close, new forming binary stars in order to examine their solar disks. Her topic was How To Make A Planet. Very exciting to present brand new data to study spectral content of the dust clouds in the new forming planetary disks to study the mechanisms of how planets are born. The audience loved the topic.
We again raffled off a telescope provided by Sky-Watcher and Kevin Legore's Focus Astronomy foundation through the Grand Canyon Association (Virtuoso 90mm Mak-Cass on a tracking mount, including two eyepieces, finderscope, solar filter and can even be used as a timelapse/panning photographic mount). It was won by a 15 year old young lady who was thrilled to start her path toward an astrophysics Nobel Prize.
I was doing the 9:30 PM Constellation Tour, so after the talk I had 25 minutes to troubleshoot. I did a quick balance check and powered up, all good. I then redid a stellar alignment with five stars, and crossed my fingers. First GOTO was to Globular Cluster M4. Dead center, and I had selected a perfect integration time with red giants within the cluster easily visible. I did the glob story for one group of about 20 visitors, turned it over to my wife Susan (former high school astronomy teacher), and made it to the constellation tour with 4 minutes to spare. I was shocked; the temperature had dropped to low 50s but feeling frigid with the wind gusts from the Northwest at over 30 MPH. Yet, 75 visitors were waiting! It's been a while since I did a good tour with a large group. I positioned ourselves so we could see the entire available ecliptic path through the visible planets (Venus, Jupiter, Saturn)and did the compare/contrast of the difference between the ecliptic and the zodiac, with the meaning of the Greek root works converting the Greek terminology of Zodiakos Kyklos, the apparent annual cycle of the sun's daytime path through living entities, and comparing to the ecliptic, the line along which eclipses occur since the Moon's orbit around the Earth is tilted only about 5 degrees.
Then I jumped into how we name astronomical items based on the International Astronomical Union's efforts in the late 1920s. This was a tremendous advance for codifying the scientific identification of objects, but I pointed out two elements that were ironic about the naming convention. By naming the planets after their Roman names, we got Mars but lost Ares, both meaning the God of War. But we lose the connection to Antares, the red giant heart of the Scorpion. Antares, for the Greek reference, is the destination of the spirits of soldiers who have died bravely in battle. Now it's just a star name, unless one checks the genesis. A second irony is the naming of stars generally in accoradance with their Arabic names except for a few special cases like Cor Caroli or Regulus. If we check the names of stars in Libra's triangle, we get Zubenesschamali (Claw North) and Zubenelgenubi (Claw South). What do claws have to do with the scales of justice? Well, with constellations getting their Greek/Latin names, there's Libra. But the Arabic traders saw those to stars as the claws of the Scorpion. The IAU declawed the Scorpion.
We spent some time on the Milky Way and the Seminole concept of the arms of the creator protecting his creation, comparing members of the Summer Triangle with some Canadian First Nations use of Cygnus, the entire Ursa Major and legends of Mizar and the deer tracks for feet and compared the Big Dipper to the Elephant of Creation, the story of Coma Berenices, and much more.
We did a lot more in the sky, comparing the known identification of the Greek references with Hindu, several Native American terminologies, and even Egyptian, North African and Sumerian visions. The audience was having their curiosities challenged, and they loved it. I finally ended my tour arounnd 9:35 to head back, but at least forty visitors wanted to stay and talk some more. So we went more into the science of the colors of stars, and more mythology of some key features.
I finally got to the scope at around 10:15 and there was M4, still in the screen. The wind jitter on the telescope was playing havoc with the purity of the image; one cycle a few dozen stars, next cycle with hundreds of thousands of white diamonds in the group. I decided to go on to The Ring nebula, only needing a few seconds of integration, and it was awesome. Sharp colors, great couple of white dwarves in the middle, a great teaching object. After a while I went over to The Dumbbell for a while, but needing to up the integration time due to lower surface brightness and the vibration was just to strong. Mike Barsotti next to me, with a MallinCam Jr. Pro, actually had a great image of M27, optimum settings on the monitor and camera giving a breathtaking view.
I went on to The Whirlpool (M51) and later The Cigar (M82) galaxies, but the wind played havoc with the color and contrasts in the images.
I finally broke things down after 11:30, visitors thrilled at our three MallinCam setups and an additional astrophotography camera on a C11, but we were all shivering and the wind stayed awful the whole night. Pizza Party tomorrow!
Edited by Skylook123, 10 June 2018 - 07:04 PM.