Monday, July 5, 2010

Observing in New Buffalo, Michigan with Chicago Astronomer Patrick

I have a couple of older stories that I have not had a chance to post yet, but I want to get this one up before I worry about those older stories.

I wasn’t online much last week, but luckily I checked what’s been going on with the Chicago Astronomers Sunday night. I had a message from Patrick that he was going to be in Union Pier, Michigan for the holiday weekend, just across the state line. We met at Oink’s ice cream shop in New Buffalo Monday night, and then drove down to the beach to share some planetary viewing with people coming and going from the beach.

It was cool to finally meet Patrick, but the session was a little weird for both of us, I think. Our orientations were off, mostly because of the Lake. We’re both used to being on Lake Michigan beaches, but Patrick’s on the other side in Chicago, and I’m at the southern tip, so being along the southeastern shore wasn’t doing either of us any favors.

Things started off well, though, with a lot of curious people stopping to see Venus, Saturn, and a few even saw Mars. We were first set up on a boardwalk along the beach, but vibrations from people walking by were causing some problems for my Dobsonian. A little later I had to change my location to avoid losing Saturn behind a lighthouse, and put the Dob down in the sand to kill the vibrations, but I can still feel sand in the works when I move in alt/az. I think the optics avoided sand, though.

As the crowd thinned out and the sky got darker, Patrick suggested we move over to the nearly empty parking lot after an ISS pass at 11:24 Michigan time. (The time change was throwing me off. I drove a mere 40 minutes from home, and lost an hour. I hate that.) We had an interesting situation on our hands. The transparency of the sky was terrible, but with the planets moving lower in the sky, we didn’t have much choice to hunt down faint fuzzies. We even found a few. As I lay on the pavement looking up to find my celestial bearings, I noticed the Northern Crown for the first time. The overall light pollution of the area wasn’t bad, but several bright lights around the parking lot really hampered our efforts. Even M57, the Ring Nebula, high overhead proved to be a tricky target.

For a couple of guys who usually have pictures to post with our observation stories, not a picture was taken that night. The batteries in my camera were dead, but I forgot to charge them while I was driving. It would have been a great night for pictures. We stayed out until about 12:30 AM Chicago time, and as I was leaving I noticed Jupiter was already fairly high. (Again, my orientation was off, and although I was looking for it, I wasn’t looking in the right place. I think it was too low to be seen where we were set up, or surely we would have noticed it. The Moon was also just coming into sight, so I viewed them once I was home. I tried for some more deep sky observing, but the transparency was even worse than earlier, and it just wasn’t happening. I stayed out until clouds moved in, just as morning twilight was washing out stars. How nice of them to wait for me.

For a clear night with lots of stars, we didn’t have a great deal of success, but as one lady told Patrick, her view of Saturn really made her night worthwhile, and it was cool to hang out with an astronomer of comparable skill, who also enjoys sharing views with the public. I am thankful for the invitation, and hopefully we’ll get together for more astronomy soon.

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