Log, Jul 25, 2003

77 people. Egads! Gadzooks! And other such exclamations of joy and surprise. At least for a night Mother Nature relented and sent us a wonderful evening. Ay least an 8 or a 9 on the overly calibrated and hyper precise seeing scale. No moon, dark cloudless skies, and wonderful transparency from dusk to dawn, although we didn't stay quite that late. The air was balmy and still. (Unfortunately, warm still nights also mean liberal doses of DEET lotions, sprays and gooey sticks were needed to ward off nasty bugs). If Old Man Technology hadn't been a bit crotchety it would have been a perfect night. The scope refused to stay in a alignment, and with big crowds I couldn't do much. Later whatever I did simply made things worse. I am scheduling an off-Friday work night for several of the technical cognoscenti as soon as we get another clear evening. We'll get it worked out. In addition, the dome rotator was jumping its track in place after place. I could only move the dome at the end with the aid of a huge screw driver (which looks like something out of a medieval knights in armor movie. Enough of the annoyances and back to the finest night we have had in a year and a half (at least!).

The line of visitors went from the dome out into the parking lot. This was wonderful to see, but I only wish it didn't mean long waits. A group of telescopes out in the parking area were set up and I hope that while I was inside lots of visitors were able to get views from something other than our 16" scope.

While the sky darkened I trooped everyone outside. What a treat! Two brilliant large satellites passed southeast to north west up along the Milky way and from west to east almost overhead. One of the crowd clued us into yet a greater sight, the huge and brilliant ISS (International Space Station) which moved out of the west moving in a slightly east of northerly direction. It seemed that satellites were just as happy to see us as we them.

Kids abounded - which is one of my principal joys. Kids are willing to do things which it takes silly adults a bit of time to adjust to doing. When I plied my well worn trick of placing my index and middle fingers on the pointer stars of the Big Dipper, kids correctly straightened their arms while modest adults barely extended theirs at all. After a bellowing roar from someone up front (was that me?) we soon everyone from two on up pointing correctly at the Dipper. One, two, three, four and five steps over to Polaris. Art explained about true north. I asked everyone to stretch out arms (this time no one hung back), turn due north and asked about the directions. Dead ahead was north. The right arm pointed east, the left west. Rumpwards was south. I pointed out the constellation of "the Girl" which is at least one valid translation of "Virgo" albeit "Puella" would have been a bit closer.

Inside I roared out a rendition of my newest song - explaining the trials and tribulations of learning Russian. [The Observatory was closed the last two weeks because yours truly was taking a boat trip along many waterways from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.] I relented enough after the first two verses fearing that extended exposure to my basso ridiculous voice might cause permanent auditory nerve damage.

Our first object was M4 (Messier 4). It fairly twinkled with thousands of bright jewel like stars. Many exclamations of delight delighted me to hear (as best I can). It is approximately 7200 light years (about 42 quadrillion miles) away in the constellation Scorpio, near the bright star Antares. I must have repeated the explanation of what this globular cluster was, its approximate age (among the oldest objects in the Milky Way), its distance and how many stars could be seen at least eight times as people finally managed to get within ear shot of my stentorian voice.

This managed to reduce the lines somewhat, giving us time to move onto the Lagoon Nebula [M8] which was a jumping off point for explanations about the birth of stars, the transmutations of hydrogen into helium and from there everything up to iron. I ended with my paraphrase of Hamlet's line "We are such things as dreams [stars] are made of".

Stall, stall, stall until Mars finally cleared the trees that mark our southern boundary. [Cutting down more than diseased trees would be vandalism in a Nature Preserve and a Town Park.] Although only a few people remained until near 11 PM, we were an enthusiastic crowd. Wide angle eyepieces were traded for longer focal length high magnifications. Mars was a bit unstable early but improved as it climbed ever higher. Everyone saw the South Polar Cap (upside down in our eyepiece). Most people could see Zen Lacus and Moab with a little coaching. Similarly people saw the wedge like area (sometimes described a "sling shot") composed of Mare Serpentatis and Mare Sebaeus. Syrtis Major (the handle of the sling shot) was visible early but drifted around the edge of Mars over the next two hours. It was replaced by Mare Erythreaum (sort of a very large pebble just leaving the slingshot).

I tried various filters. Against all my expectations the deep red and deep orange filters worked best. Deep blue was a great disappointment. Light blue was useless. Yellow was OK, but not as good as its longer wavelength cousins. Our variable polarizing filters had spotty results but I think I will try it again when I have an eyepiece in place which can utilize it. I had to hold it by hand because our 19mm is designed for small 1.25" filters, not the larger 2" Moon polarizers.

Hank (who had been outside with his huge 20" dobs) hurried in and asked where Deimos and Phobos were located. Sure enough he had spotted the brighter moonlet Phobos. Soon both large telescopes were catching glimpses and sometimes steady images of one or another moonlets. Deimos quickly moved closer to Mars and was lost while Phobos coming around back of Mars could be just spotted above (inverted) the South Polar Cap. Hank seemed to have the best luck last night. I got some decent glimpses of both, but Ernie seemed to have poor to no luck.

Finally we started to fold up our telescopes and went home. As I left the park, I could see Andromeda high in the north east followed by the Pleiades. Yes folks, we had stayed late enough to catch the Winter constellations rising in the middle of Summer.


I'm very pleased indeed to announce that Frosty Drew Observatory has been honored for a second year running with Rhode Island Monthly's "Best of Rhode Island" award. What makes this so pleasing is that the award is the result of votes cast not by the magazine's editors but by people who subscribe to the magazine - our Rhode Islanders who know the state best. Our category has changed from Best Free Anything to Best Inexpensive Friday Night Event. We did make a few polite remarks last year saying something to the effect that we really weren't "free" since we encourage at least modest donations. Many of you will see our name in the August issue of the magazine.

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jul 25, 2003
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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