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Club Dark(ish) Sky Session Happens (Sort of)!

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#1 jrbarnett

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 11:05 AM

Northern California has been a rough place to be for amatuer astronomers for the last 6 months.  Though it feels like much more than 6 months.  Most of my crew in OFLI (Off Fisher Lane Irregulars - our club that includes participants from 6 states and three countries) were going bug house with lockdown way back in May.  A group of us traveled from California, northern Nevada and Colorado to meet up and pioneer socially distanced backcountry observing and camping on BLM land near Tonopah Nevada.  As a warning the gods of Earth and space sent a 6+ magnitude quake to rattle our intended observing locale we didn't greenlight our trip until the day before we set out as the main N-S highway had buckled in the quake zone.  Fortunately, unlike in the Golden State, Nevada is quick to jump on roads projects and had the highway repaired within 2 days of the quake, a project that in California would have taken months.  To follow up on their ignored threat, the powers that be hammered us will all manner of punishments, including winds gusting above 60mph, a precipitous drop from the 80s by day, 60s (F) by night to an icy overnight low of 26F.  One of our Dobs left uncovered due to the high daytime winds, windmilled so that it became aimed at Sol and the mirror cover displaced by wind blowing in the rear of the mirror box.  Its owner and I were walking to the observing field when he saw smoke coming from the scope.  Getting nearer I observed a small gout of flame from the wood on the UTA.  We got there in the nick of time.  The last great punishment of our defiance happened at night.  This was supposed to be serious black zone skies - 8k feet no unobstructed population centers at all for many miles and those within 70 miles were quite small, yet the prime south was washed out with a mysterious light dome.  Debate ensured whether it was Vegas over 200 miles away (no - I've seen the Vegas light dome from Mojave National Preserve just 40 miles away and it was smaller than this one) or something sinister.  It was something sinister.  There happened to be a military airfield used for testing prototype aircraft just 11 miles south and slightly west of us on the backside of a low hill to our south.  The facility is rarely used according to locals, yet all 4 nights of our trip it was in use, hence the light dome.  And still we had a good time and managed to get some decent star time in.

 

Fast forward to last weekend, not only has COVID persisted, the region has just come out of several months of intensive fire swarms and record heat.  Last Saturday three of us, including a brand new recruit with his first ever large-ish telescope, braved out club site on a saddle in the hills above the Lake Sonoma reservoir, and had an incredible session.  A plethora of planets led by Mars put on an all-night show.  Revisiting even old charmers on the DSO menu after so many months of being shut in or making failed attempts quashed due to smoke felt new and intrepid.  Hunting down never previously seen objects became an even bigger thrill than in normal times, almost like "stealing" the experience.  So it can be done.  We're all getting used to the new rules of contagion avoidance.  Do set up as far apart as you can, and still hear one another for conversation.  Do NOT share gear (scopes, eyepieces, etc.).  Do NOT travel together - everyone must transport themselves (tricky leaving for the new guy as it's a hard enough spot to find by day; by night it's a veritable maze of twisty canyon roads encroached by forest with few street signs).

 

With just a few precautions it can be even better than the real thing; working harder for it makes it seem more special, deliberate and frankly more of a privilege.

 

Best,

 

Jim  

 

 


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#2 Crow Haven

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 11:21 AM

At least you've been able to enjoy some good viewing. smile.gif

With Covid and being in a high-risk category, the smoke from wildfires, fog and cloudy weather at night, I haven't been away from home or able to observe from home in a year now.  I think I could qualify for a months-long flight to Mars easily. lol.gif

The sky and telescopes can wait, and as long as I can survive the pandemic, I will have other chances to observe again.


Edited by Crow Haven, 25 October 2020 - 11:22 AM.

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#3 Couder

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 12:10 PM

I agree with Crow Haven - why take chances? Braving it out doesn't sound appealing to me. If I want to look through my scope(s), I'll either set up here or go somewhere by myself. We've spent months keeping away from others, we're certainly not going to start get-togethers now.



#4 spereira

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 12:59 PM

Moving to Astronomy Clubs, Star Parties, Shows & Conferences.

 

smp



#5 cuzimthedad

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 02:15 PM

I really miss being with you guys. Thanks for keeping it together Jim!


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#6 jrbarnett

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 06:55 PM

I agree with Crow Haven - why take chances? Braving it out doesn't sound appealing to me. If I want to look through my scope(s), I'll either set up here or go somewhere by myself. We've spent months keeping away from others, we're certainly not going to start get-togethers now.

I don't see how anyone "braved" anything in this case.

 

I'd rate the "risk" we took as being on par with the risk of getting brained by a meteor in your backyard.  It's only risky if you ignore the science of contagion and are lax in doing the things you need to do to mitigate the contagion risks.  Wear masks.  Stay far apart.  Don't share equipment.  Pretty simple really.

 

A trip to the grocery store or stop at the gas station are orders of magnitude riskier than disciplined, distanced group observing, since in those cases you have a spectrum of others involved, many of whom are maskless (and witless) science-doubters, and you're trusting $8 an hour employees to be diligent on sanitizing shared facilities like shopping carts and gas pump handles.  I'd not put my life in the hands of an $8 cardio surgeon yet most do the equivalent with weekly shopping and refueling.

 

For me such observing poses risks that are so very small, really, and the psychological benefits (of being able to interact with others around a shared passion) alone are massive.  Particularly when so much of the rest of our lives these days are experienced in isolation.  Humans (even selectively social introverts like me) are social animals. 

 

Best,

 

Jim


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#7 Migwan

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 07:02 PM

If your mates have been cautiously limiting their exposures and don't have uncontrollable exposures, like having kids in school or working in an ICU, then you're gold.   

 

I would not observe with anyone who objects to protecting others by wearing a mask or by maintaining their distance.   

 

jd



#8 mogur

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Posted 28 October 2020 - 07:53 PM

I agree with Crow Haven - why take chances? Braving it out doesn't sound appealing to me. If I want to look through my scope(s), I'll either set up here or go somewhere by myself. We've spent months keeping away from others, we're certainly not going to start get-togethers now.

Just who is this "we" you speak of?




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