The night of Saturday, July 27th was our attempt at our monthly star party in Carp, suitable for public stargazing. The forecast at mid-day was pretty iffy, but I crowd-sourced some other views, and we said “GO!” hoping for the best. What we got was considerably below “best”.
At 9:00 p.m., we were about 70% clouded out to the North and West. To the South, we had some windows between a few clouds, enough for Saturn to put in an appearance. Oddly, it showed up before Jupiter just because Jupiter was playing hide-and-seek still. A new member needed help setting up a Dobsonian, and I got him going just in time for Saturn to appear and for him to try it. He nailed it first try and by all accounts, seemed pretty happy overall for the night.
I was surprised — sure, we called a “GO” for the night, but generally, most people who are coming look up and change their minds if the weather is lousy. Not last night — we had almost 150 people for the night! I was really surprised. A lot of newcomers, some who had never looked through a scope before, and even if they had, many had never seen Saturn before. So from their perspective, the night was a hit. For the experienced astronomer, not so much.
Saturn and Jupiter went in and out for the night. A friend hosting an event about 30 minutes north of us across the river in Quebec was completely socked-in and had to close up shop. A couple of times we had NOTHING going on, just waiting for things to come back out. You know the weather is bad when you set up on Arcturus and people are impressed to see that.
For me, though, the highlight of the night was meeting a young woman named Izabella. About 16, I think, and interested in the stars. She had dragged her mother out and had never looked through a scope before. She was very interested in the stars, even if I couldn’t show her Vega (it was practically at the zenith, which is a poor position on my SCT to hit without becoming a contortionist or having perfect alignment). Even as we got close, it suddenly clouded in and I could see nothing. Sigh. However, we hung out for over an hour, and I let her try working the scope to find Arcturus and Mizar, which she did well.
Earlier in the night, when I was setting out to go, I did a dance with my son as to whether he wanted to come. He could only stay for about 90 minutes if he went, and there was no guarantee there would be breaks in the clouds enough to see. In the end, he would have seen SOME stuff, but not worth it to have gone, so I’m glad he stayed home. I want his first real star party to have LOTS of targets for him to see. We may try again on Friday. Fingers crossed.