My friend Chicago Astronomer Joe has been contracted by the Chicago Parks Department to provide astronomical observing throughout 2011 at various parks around the city. After some delays with details and weather, Joe said it was a solid go for Wednesday, March 16, clear or clouds. When I left Valparaiso at 5 PM Wednesday, clouds had been gathering for an hour, and I really didn’t think we’d be doing any observing. I hadn’t seen Joe since October though, and figured it would be worth the drive just to hang out.
I arrived at Warren Park on Chicago’s far north side (LONG drive for me) just before 7 PM, when the event was supposed to start, and the Sun was just setting. Joe had arrived only a few minutes ahead of me, so we both had haul out our equipment and set up. Heather, our liaison from the parks department started drumming up people from around the park and directing them over to our telescopes. With the sky still aglow in twilight and a few lingering clouds, especially to the west, the Moon was really the only target at first.
I tried to run both my 4.5 go-to Newtonian and my 6” Dobsonian by myself. Before long we had quite a crowd waiting to see Luna, and I had questions coming from all directions. I did my best to keep up, using my Moon map to try to point out features. I hadn’t been paying attention to the clouds on the western horizon, but saw that Orion’s Belt was visible. I was about to show the Orion Nebula when I noticed that Joe had his C11 pointed very low to the west. I looked and there were Mercury and Jupiter hugging the trees along Western Avenue. They wouldn’t be available long, so I pointed out the pair with Joe’s green laser pointer.
I saw Bill, and he told me I was brave for trying to run two telescopes. I thought it be much easier with the go-to tracking Luna, but I saw that kids were using the hand controller and slewing the telescope off target. I thought I would outsmart them by removing the handset, but the CPU must be inside the unit. When I unplugged the controller, the telescope no longer knew what to do, and I had to turn it off, and start all over again. Sheesh. Anyway, it no damage was done, so I can’t complain.
Skies weren’t great, the haze never really let up even though the clouds more or less cleared. Still, between three astronomers and four telescopes we covered the best showpiece targets for the night. I was busy, busy, busy, from just after 7 PM until the crowd cleared out about 8:30. I struggled a little bit from lack of observing time this winter, and hadn’t done a public star party since October. I misidentified Jupiter and Mercury, but quickly corrected myself. The bright Moon and city lights weren’t doing me any favors, either. It was good to be under the sky with my Chicago friends again, and when the crowds cleared out, we had a few minutes to catch up and talk about future observing sessions. I was worn out by the time I packed up to leave, but it was good to know that the public observing season was kicked off with a rather successful session for the Chicago Parks.
Urban astronomers gathering to kick off the public observing season with the Chicago Parks District.
Read the Chicago Astronomer account here,