On Monday, August 26th, Jacob and I headed out to the Fred P. Lossing Observatory (FLO) in Almonte. The land is owned by the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area, but they let RASC Ottawa put an observatory there in slightly darker skies than we have in Ottawa. There is a gate with a lock, a warming room, and a couple of buildings with larger scopes in them. If you get trained on them and pay a small fee each year, you can use the scopes. Otherwise, as just RASC Ottawa members, you can use the grounds to set up your own scope.
While Jacob and I wanted to do some observing, my main reason for going was another member in the club. He and his son (J1 and J2) had bought a new scope, a Celestron Powerseeker 127EQ, and were struggling to see much through it other than the basics. They had not yet managed a polar alignment, nor figured out star-hopping, and were looking for an intro night from someone in the club. My first option of a would-be mentor didn’t work out for them, so I agreed to do it myself.
My willingness to take on this extra role for someone is driven by two things. First, I know what it is like to have a new scope and struggle with the opening setup. I did that for five years. And each time I had a break-through, it was because someone helped me in person. Astronomy can be a lonely hobby at times and while links and webpages and online videos (oh my!) are helpful, they often pale in comparison to someone taking five minutes in-person to walk you through a learning curve that they mastered years ago but you would spend hours trying to figure out yourself.
Second, Jacob needs to learn some of the basic things too, and I can teach him. But since I’m a blogger, I’m often caught by a desire to turn that “learning/teaching” into a post that anyone else can read if it helps. For example, my posts about solving my alignment issues with the Celestron NexStar 8SE are among the highest hit counts I have, next to the HR posts. People have had the same issues as me, and they wind up on the site, looking for tips and tricks, or hoping for solutions to a problem they have. Which has led me to an idea for a new “guide” — the PolyWogg Guide to Astronomy.
However, unlike my HR guide which I’ve seen as a series of posts all going into a big book at some point, I’ve moved more towards a series of hand-out sheets. Simple one- and two-pagers that summarize the info concisely which someone can just download and print if they’re interested. So figuring out how to teach it to J1 and J2, and to Jacob, has led me to have to figure out how to explain it to someone else in an organized fashion — a pseudo-curriculum, if you will — and writing some quick guides to the various topics. Eventually, I’ll launch a new page on which I’ll post the various links, but for now, I was just trying to teach them three things — aligning your finder tool to your scope, learning to star hop, and aligning your scope to the sky.
The finder tools we had were a TelRad on my 8SE, a Rigel Quickfinder on Jacob’s 4SE, and a red-dot finder on the 127EQ. Except the dang red dot didn’t seem to be working at first, We just couldn’t see the dot. So I showed them on my scope. Jacob already knows how to align for the finder scope, and managed to do it mostly on his own. Later we got the red dot working too.
For navigation, I started with a planisphere, one for Jacob and one for J1 and J2. I explained how it worked, and gave them a paper copy of my guide. But the sky wasn’t dark yet, so you couldn’t see them yet. I also showed them my star map (the Orion 600 folding paper map).
Last, we did an alignment to the sky. I showed them how my 8SE aligns to the sky, and then we did a linear scales alignment for their EQ mount. Later, my buddy S showed up with his daughter M and was able to give a LOT more guidance on working an EQ mount. Whew. And J1 and J2 were able to see much more using their extra EPs that they had bought (they bought one of the Celestron kits). I think the training was helpful for them, but time will tell. They have a couple of things to still tweak to get fully going.
For Jacob, his alignment worked well, and we did a joint sky tour for the night. Considering I didn’t have the exact setup info for the observatory, i.e., the right GPS coordinates, and so I improvised them a bit, my and J’s alignments worked pretty dang well. At the end of the night, J did an awesome job helping me clean everything up together. Much better than my experience at the cottage, and I was really grateful for the combined effort. It made things go so much better.
For the night, we saw both Jupiter and Saturn, a bunch of clusters, including the Hercules Keystone and cluster, and S showed me the teapot below Saturn. When we first got there, the sky wasn’t looking great, but it turned out pretty well overall for the night. And we were gone by about 10:45 p.m. Another guy, R, who runs part of the Observatory site, was there with some friends doing a sky tour with one of the bigger scopes, and they seemed to have a good night too.
And it gave me an appreciation for how to teach certain topics that I didn’t have before…I’m calling that a win. Jacob had a good night too, but I think he was equally enamoured of the name Fred P. Lossing Observatory, or as he renamed it, the FLOSSING Observatory. So he flossed before we left…