2018 28th Annual Grand Canyon Star Party
DAY Eight - No Rain, But More of the Same Overcast Coverage
Location: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, South Rim of Grand Canyon, AZ, about 340 miles north of home in Tucson, about 7000 ft. elevation
Weather: Chilly and mostly overcast. No rain, but a total cloud deck over the area. Upper 70s as a high, mid 50s when I left at 11 PM. .
Seeing and Transparency: Again I didn't set up tonight with the obscuration. If I hadn't taken the equipment down last night I might have tried observing, but I was too lazy to go through the whole process without much promise. At times the three day old moon, Venus, and Jupiter tag teamed in burning through the multiple layers. For about 30 minutes there was enough clearing to see the Big and Little Dippers, Polaris, Arcturus, but by 9:45 PM or so, the sky, once again, was closing shop for our duration at the site.
Equipment (Available but unused):
10" Meade SCT on Celestron AVX mount
MallinCam Xterminator video system on the 10", 19" QFX LCD monitor.
We had the traditional pot luck in Mather campground, but compared to prior years, volunteers have been leaving in droves as the last two nights have been challenging. We were actually able to return eight of our complimentary campsites to the Park, and they were able to immediately rent them to non-astronomers. The pot luck itself was a nice final social gathering to wrap up the week. We had some great nights, but Mother Nature, she is a fickle lady
We got to the site at around 5:45 PM to get ready for the night talk, with a small group of volunteers milling around, letting optimism rule the day and believing the weather forecasts for late afternoon clearing.
Once again, our terrific week unveiling our home universe to thousands of visitors is coming to an end. Over 100 volunteer astronomers have come from around the world to accomplish this task. The dedication of the Ranger staff and support from all the GCNP personnel, from the Superintendent on down through our coordinator, Ranger Rader Lane, on down to the Ranger Aids, makes this all possible.
Our speaker tonight was Kevin Schindler, historian at Lowell Observatory with the topic Fly Me to the Moon Through Northern Arizona, an overview of the training of the Apollo astronauts in geology and lunar operations in the area between the Grand Canyon, through Sunset Crater and Lowell Observatory and extending to Meteor Crater.
It was a great overview of the initial political motivation translated into the engineering and educational processes to make it happen. Full of anecdotal references and personal stories and actions of the astronauts and launch teams, it was quite a journey in time with an exposition of the realities of the era. This year, Kevin added recent pictures of the exploration trails for the geology teaching as comparisons to the nearly 60 year old initial photographs. He ended with a video from the era depicting the construction of a 1600 square meter of terrain exactly mimicking the planned Mare Tranquilitatis landing site. We raffled off our final Sky-Watcher 90mm Mak-Cass telescope donation, and got to watch the initiation of another new astronomer.
With the weather so unfavorable, before sunset Kevin Legore, Jim and Vicki Palmer, and others from our Phoenix contingent set up several telescopes and Kevin's meteorite display (large lighted travel cases of various types of asteroid remnants as well as a number of loose samples), and Gary Fix, from Massachusetts set up his slide show of Italian cathedrals with astronomical elements and compass lines integrated in the original construction. After the talk, around 9 PM, in lieu of a constellation tour, Ranger Marker Marshall again did her indoor skymap class.
Meanwhile, I went outdoors and saw the sucker holes opening and closing rather than the predicted sunset western clearing. There were about 8 or 10 telescopes set up, hopping around among Venus, the Moon, Jupiter, and some of the Big Dipper but unfortunately, the clear spots were on revolving axes and often just as a scope jumped on one, the clouds slammed the door. Out front of the Visitor Center, facing South, there were moments of clear opening to Scorpius and Saturn, but it didn't last long. George Barber, Dennis Young, Mike Magras, Debbie Clause, Bernie Sanders, and a few others out back tried chasing opportunities until, about 10:40 or so, a massive, very low altitude cloud layer raced in and shut the sky down. Unfortunately, we were ending with a whimper, not a bang.
For me, although I was not set up, I was able to talk to several groups and exchange campfire-like stories of how other cultures would use these conditions and the importance of seeing some of the objects at opportune time, like lunar images, positioning of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, and how some cultures' traditions made education of younger generations mandatory, with or without a cooperative skies. I think one of my highlights of the week was an elderly couple yesterday from Singapore who came up to me and thanked me for holding the event. The day before had been very nice astronomically, and the older lady said that under the bright lights of her home city she had only ever seen four stars in her life, before that night. They delayed their departure a day to get another night under the stars, but, like tonight, the sky had other plans.
Time to pack tomorrow and head back to Tucson, and hope for next year. It will be a very special year, so remember the dates: June 22 - June 29, 2019. Grand Canyon National Park will likely become a full International Dark Sky Park (including North Rim, South Rim, and Phantom Ranch down on the Colorado River), it will be the 100th Anniversary of Grand Canyon National Park, and the year of the 50th anniversary of the first Lunar Landing, Apollo 11, for which the geological training took place in northern Arizona.
I am, as always, stunned at the spectacular efforts by the core group of rangers with Rader Lane leading the pack, my great friend Marker Marshall returning from Joshua Tree National Park to help out, Ty Korlovitz filling in for Rader when necessary, and a cast of half a dozen or more other Rangers and Ranger Aides. Bless them all! And our three returning grandchildren, Karina, Stephen, and Andrew, who were invaluable in supporting the Rangers, and Susan and me, all week. Another year, another great experience.
South Rim Coordinator
Grand Canyon Star Party