The nights are longer, and colder, but yesterday (October 5th) was International Astronomy Day so we set up for a night at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. It’s not quite as good as Carp as we can’t turn the parking lot lights up, but we set up a little farther away on the grass (I had thought we would setup on the pavement as we did one other time, but we were all on the grass and a clear patch of gravel). I was initially worried about dew, but had no issues for the night.
One of the best parts of events at CASM is I don’t have to be the event marshal. 🙂 I just go and observe. I helped out on the social media side for announcements and promotion, but that was all. Chris in our group is the lead for liaison with the Museum and did solar observing during the day. But at noon, he had to make the call for GO/NO GO, and I emailed him with my views for what they were worth, but I was glad it was him making the call and not me. At noon, the forecasts showed clear for early in the night, but I was doubtful after 9:30. If we had been going for Carp, earlier in the year with later setup, I would have said NO GO, but there was a promising window. The problem with those windows is they can expand and be great, or collapse and miss everything.
At 6:15 when I was heading out, it looked like the window would close. All the way from my place to the museum, it was getting cloudier and cloudier. Sigh. When I got there, there were about 10-12 scopes set up, and crowds were starting to form. I gave it another 20 minutes and was undecided if it was worth it. But ultimately I was worried about the crowds. Lineups were starting to be 15 deep at the scopes! While there were still pockets to see through the clouds, and we could see the moon, Saturn and Jupiter, there was also an open gap coming towards us that looked promising for viewing to be decent for awhile. Okay, I would set up.
10 minutes later I was done, turned around, and I already had 15 people in line waiting! Holy snooker doodles! The night was INTENSE. In the end, there were 18 scopes overall, and somewhere between 500 and 750 people. The parking lot was jammed. Even with the clouds up there — did nobody LOOK UP before they came? Or perhaps part of it was the fact I posted the GO messages and noted earlier would be better than later as the clouds could roll in at 9:30 (which as an aside, was DEAD ON for timing!). Whatever. But at some points, the lines were as many as 30 deep for scopes, with 400-500 people wandering around. People were WAITING for parking spots to open. Craziness.
And we were ONLY able to show the Moon consistently, with Jupiter and Saturn playing peekaboo with the clouds. Near the end of the night, I kept my scope going the longest, hoping for the moon to reappear. It did a bit, but only the hard cores were still there to see it. One guy came right at the end, and was so excited just to see ONE STAR low on the Eastern horizon. He wanted to know which it was, but there was no way to know, it was just one star in an opening in the sky, and not terribly impressive either! Yet he was happy to see SOMETHING. Earlier in the night, one woman was REALLY confused. She was looking at the moon, and looking in the EP, looking at the moon, and looking in the EP. And they didn’t match. Because my scope does a horizontal flip of the image PLUS I had the diagonal rotated for lower height viewing out the side. So it was flipped AND rotated. So while the moon was looking like it had a vertical terminator line, the moon in the EP had a horizontal terminator line. It was totally throwing off my perspective too for identifying which craters were which!
On my way home, I saw the moon peek out a few more times, but we didn’t miss anything by packing up. I felt bad as a couple of people arrived around 10:00 when we were done, so when I got a chance, I tweeted an update to say the clouds had rolled in.
A fun night, and with the crowds, another “different” experience than the normal experience at Carp where I have maybe 6-7 people waiting at most. I’m glad I set up, even if in part I was guilted into it that the lines were so long and I wasn’t sharing the observing load.
Chris also does a different role than me when he’s marshaling — he doesn’t set up a scope, he just wanders around and talks to people. He mentioned that one of the guys who had messaged the page on FB was asking about accessibility in terms of seeing through the scopes. He mentioned that he couldn’t look through an eyepiece, but that isn’t always accurate. What they often mean is that they can’t stand up to do it. So I had mentioned that if scopes are set up lower, or a Dobsonian style, wheelchairs often can get closer to the scope than with a standard large tripod like mine. Or sometimes people have cams setup to broadcast to a tablet for people to look at, but that is often hit or miss. I also mentioned that if people mention they’re coming, we can remind people to set up lower. But he said he wouldn’t be coming, so I didn’t fuss about it. And he showed up with more severe impairment than I expected. Oops. I thought it might have been a disaster with the lines and the scopes we had, but Chris said another member was just setting up, so set it lower for him, did the config to make it more accessible, and the guy got to see the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter, so went away super happy. Awesome!
As an aside, I also found the crowds more grateful last night. Or at least more effusive. Numerous times I had people commenting how awesome it was for us amateur volunteers to come out and share this, and it was all free. I suspect the difference was because the crowds at CASM often were first-timers (looking through a scope), unlike the Carp crowds that are often repeat visitors. It’s not a big deal, I just noticed how many times people were not only asking and commenting on it, but then doing longer thank yous than normal before heading to the next scope.
A bit intense for a 2 hour viewing, but it was a blast for the night.