Monday, July 23, 2007

Family Stargazing

This past Saturday, the Steingruebls packed up the car and headed for the public star party being held at Coyote Lake Park. Well, really I packed up the car since I know how to fit all of the stuff in there while leaving enough room for passengers. Andy and I both had some trepidation about trying something that could lead to all three of us being tired and grumpy the next day, but we did it anyway.

There was a bad wreck on the 101 on the way down, so we spent an extra 25 minutes or so in the car. But the weather was beautiful. Warm, clear, pretty much perfect for a night under the stars.

When we arrived, Andy took Elise off to finish her dinner while I set up the equipment and Elise's little pup tent. Again, the tent ended up providing a lot of entertainment but not much in the way of actual rest. Elise is happiest sleeping in her carseat at these things.

We did a lot of running around and burning off excess energy before it got dark. Greg, a guy I met at my first star party, was there with his whole family, and Elise and his 5 year old son Joey got along very well.

Once it got dark, I pointed the scope at Jupiter and took Elise to visit the other astronomers while Andy did some stargazing of his own. Elise had a great time talking to my friend Bill ("Who is your friend, Bill?"), and he was happy to be able to show her the impressive view through his telescope. Next, we moved on to Dennis, who offered to show Elise "the man in the moon." She was suitably impressed, having figured out how to look through the eyepiece with one eye. I think that the bright moon was enough to get her focused on looking into the eyepiece, so it turned out to be a good move.

Finally, we visited Joe who was pointed at Alberio. Joe told Elise it was a double star called Alberio, and she was excited about that. She didn't seem to get that it would be two stars in the eyepiece until she looked and then after a startled exclamation, "What's ya ozzer staw cowed, Doe?" ("What's the other star called, Joe?") I nearly hit the pavement. Who is this kid, anyway? Joe was a little startled by that one from such a little person, but recovered well. After that, Elise wanted to go see things through our telescope.

For Elise, the night was effectively over. We tried telling stories and singing songs in the tent, but that wasn't very successful. Finally, she asked to be put in her carseat and tucked in. Andy and I got her all tucked in and she conked out, staying asleep until we got home about 3 hours later. Yay for Elise!

Once Elise was settled, I showed Andy a few of the things I was proud to be able to find. I also got wildly frustrated looking for the Andromeda galexy because I think I'm constitutionally unable to follow the instructions given in Turn Left at Orion. Ah well. A neighboring astronomer helped me through figuring it out and we saw it. I then went looking for Uranus and had to give up. Luckily, Michael with the giant telescope with the expensive star-finding doodads "found" it so we at least had a view.

The thing that really got us was just how bright the moon was from a darker site. It messes up your night vision when it's that bright! Luckily, it went down around 11:30, and it was kind of fun to watch the shadow travel across the parking lot as the moon went down behind the hill.

I haven't seen that many people at a star party before-it was fun! And, the publicity at the nearby campground must have worked, because there were a lot of nice people who came to take advantage of all the cool optics in their temporary backyard.

It's not likely that we'll be doing a lot of family stargazing events, but it sure was fun this time!

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