Sunday, July 18, 2010

Impromptu Saturday Night Street Astro in Valpo, July 17, 2010

I had a long day Friday, and hadn’t really planned on doing anything Saturday except writing for my blog. I went out though early in the evening, and saw there was a festival in downtown Valpo. I couldn’t resist the opportunity with so many people out, so I went home to load up my Dobsonian (the go-to was already in the trunk from Friday night).

I got there just as the festival was winding down, snagged a spot near the sidewalk on the west side of the courthouse, and set up. There was a Moon bounce ride across the sidewalk from me, so there were plenty of kids and parents around, and the Moon was a cooperative target for the early goers. I had more people see the Moon in my first few minutes than I usually get in a night.


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Once everybody cleared out, though, I moved down to my usual spot at the corner of Lincolnway. I had a few more people come by, but it was slow enough that I had plenty of time to try to tweak the collimation in the go-to (the secondary mirror came loose again Friday night). It was good enough for lunar viewing, but just barely. I don’t think it would have handled high magnification, but I didn’t have any complaints, and quite a few compliments throughout the night.

I was going to lose the Moon over the bank building, so I moved over to the front of the courthouse, and once again had a crowd. A music company had a piano placed on the sidewalk, and a crowd had gathered while somebody played. The kids couldn’t help but notice my telescopes, and were gathered around them right away, and parents weren’t far behind. It was almost dark by now, but with Venus behind trees, and Saturn and Mars much fainter than earlier in the year, they didn’t become visible until that crowd started to dwindle. A few came back to see Saturn, though. I was getting ready to move back to my original spot of the night when a couple came by. They have given both Saturn and the Moon quick looks when Saturn disappeared behind a tree, so off we went down the sidewalk to the west side of the courthouse, where I had started the night.


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Two Vietnam veterans stopped by and shared their experiences with each other.

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Venus over Lincolnway


We were rewarded by an unobstructed view of three planets and the Moon. They were checking out the planets while I searched for Mercury with binoculars, just barely catching the faint inner planet. I handed the binoculars off to Doug, and told him where to look. He caught sight of it too, briefly, but by the time his girlfriend tried looking, cloud cover was moving in from the west, and obliterated it. I really wanted to show off Mercury to them in the Dob, especially when Paula walked up during the search. She had seen the Moon early in the evening, and said she would be back to see Saturn.

My last good encounter of the night was a couple of families walking to their cars, parked just down from my spot. Everybody got nice looks, and had some good questions for me, but Eve and her young son Brecken were highly enthusiastic, hanging around the longest. Eve had asked about meteor showers, and it led to a discussion of the chaotic collisions in early in our solar system’s history. I described the craters on the Moon as explosive at impact, and a little while later Brecken asked if meteors hitting the Earth was bad. I told him yes, big meteors are very bad, but tried to reassure him that it might be a very long time before a really big meteor hits our planet again. I also pointed out that because of all the craters he’d seen on the Moon are from asteroids and meteors that can no longer hit Earth, we are much safer than when Earth was young. I really hope that eased his mind. It also taught me to choose my words more carefully around young children.


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My 3 planet group.

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Eve & Brecken.


After Eve and Brecken left, there were a few more passersby, but being off Lincolnway, pedestrian traffic near me was dying out. There wasn’t much point heading back to the corner though, because Venus would be the only real attraction, and I think it had been obscured by that point anyway. A haze was beginning to veil the Moon, too, so I took it as my cue to pack up. As I was driving away I had some thoughts running through my head. I’ve been reading about Sidewalk Universe Guy’s Saturn Observing Challenge, and I’d like to adapt that to a Lunar Observing Challenge, since I try to do most of my events while the Moon is out. Too many times my sidewalk astronomy is a spur of the moment thing, and while it’s enjoyable for me and my visitors, I think I miss too many opportunities to connect with people, to really get them involved. I’ve been thinking about handing out flyers to raise awareness of light pollution, too, but I’m not sure if that might get me in trouble with solicitation ordinances. I need to think about these ideas, and hopefully be better prepared the next time I hit the street with the scopes.

1 comment:

  1. Hey nice event out on the street! Sounds like things are starting to fall into place for you.

    Oh do indeed do a observing challenge with the moon. If gently "pushed" your visitors will be amazed as to what they can discover for themselves.

    Have a handy moon atlas, laptop/web page, or printout oriented to your scopes view and let them loose. Both visitors and presenter will have a blast!

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