Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Clouds Slightly Hamper Public Observing at Conway Observatory

Last Friday, May 6, Calumet Astronomical Society was hosting it's monthly public open house at Conway Observatory. The forecast all week had been decent, but of course when showtime came around, it started getting iffy. The sky was clouding up as Hillary and I were on our way to the observatory. We got there very early, let ourselves in, and I called for advice as to how I should update the CAS hotline that night. After updating the hotline, I planned to work on picture editing and writing without the distraction of the internet, but the sky was calling out to me. We went outside.

Conditions were good for sundogs, and we'd seen one while I was driving. I was expecting more, and wasn't let down.


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Hillary shot this sundog while I was driving. Better ones awaited us once we arrived at Conway Observatory.


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Sundogs are caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere refracting sunlight. The ice crystals are arranged so that the light is refracted by 22 degrees, so sundogs are always found 22 degrees from the Sun. With the Sun about an hour before setting, I had no real good reason to be looking almost straight up, but I looked there anyway, and saw another sort of refraction, something I'd never seen before.


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This might have been the coolest thing I have ever seen in the sky! A circumzenithal arc!


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Once that weird refraction dissipated, I saw a cloud moving in the direction the refraction had appeared. I told Hillary to keep an eye on that spot, because we might see it again. I was right!


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With the Sun setting, the clouds were thickening, and the session started looking doubtful. Other members started arriving, opening the roof and setting up telescopes despite the conditions.


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Hillary and CAS member Jim, who we sat talking to while watching the clouds roll in at sunset.


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Our only look at the Moon early, getting swallowed by clouds almost as soon as it became visible.


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Hillary, CAS member Craig, and a reporter from the Post-Tribune in the observatory control room just after opening the roof.


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Craig removing the dust cover from the 16" Meade LX200 observatory telescope. We joked with Craig to roll back the clouds when he opened the roofed, but he failed.


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Looking down from the observing deck at my car and telescopes on the observing pad.


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Jim setting up his telescope. We were planning on handling the observing down on the pad while Craig worked the 16" LX200.


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A view of the new Hunter Astrophoto Lab, the newest addition at what is now called the Calumet Astronomy Center, which includes CAS facilities Conway and Hunter, and the nearby Purdue University Calumet NiRO research observatory. The Hunter Astrophoto Lab building is now completed, and the telescope and operating system should be installed this week.


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Hillary.


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Me.


It was slow at first, but we had a few families show up for the open house on this mostly cloudy night. A few weeks ago I had bought the DVD of "Hubble IMAX," and was watching it in the basement media center to kill time. When visitors arrived to cloudy skies, I told them they could stay and watch the movie, and we would monitor sky conditions for any possible viewing. The Hubble movie was a hit, but when two of the younger girls started dozing off, their parents decided it was time to go. Walking out of the media center, I immediately noticed a sucker hole over the Moon! I was at my Dob in a flash, inviting everybody over for a quick look. As we were showing the Moon, another sucker hole opened up over Saturn, and Jim slewed to it as fast as he could. Just like that the skies were opening up for us, rewarding those who stayed to watch the Hubble movie with celestial delights.

Our targets were few, but Luna, Saturn, and a few bright Messier galaxies were worth the wait for those who stayed. As the visitors left, the rest of the CAS members were closing the observatory. I wasn't going to give up on a clearing sky so quickly, however, and asked them to leave the roof open. I wanted to stay as long as it was clear.

The clear skies didn't last long, however. As I was looking through a star atlas for possible targets, the clouds began marching in again. I had to settle for a quick view of Saturn with the big scope before closing the observatory for the night.

Although we were mostly clouded out, the public open house was deemed a success since our March and April events were totally clouded out. The brief viewing pleased our few guests, and I think they are all eager to return with better weather. Due to other commitments, I won't be able to work another CAS public open house until October, but I hope they have great sessions the rest of the summer, and can't wait for some of our private society observing nights.

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