Observatory Reports

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  • 13 Apr 2014 2:58 PM | Anonymous member
    Saturday April 12, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    Eagle Eye Observatory
    James Hall
    Guests: 50

    It was a fun evening of outreach. I would guess about 60% cloud cover on arrival, but the weather was nice and I knew we had a good cloudy night presentation prepared just in case the sky clouded over.

    I was pleased to have David Ault come out again with me. The guests often enjoy looking at his many astrophotos and meeting the guy that took them is icing on the cake for many guests.

    Observatory grounds were good with just some minor trash that was easily picked up. Red lights on, scopes up. Internet working. Apple TV and Large Display working well with iPad. We initially had an issue with sound not working on the TV, but after rebooting everything all was fine. David manned the Harlan for Jupiter while I put the Forrest scope on the moon.

    Later several boy scout troops started to arrive and I went through several app and video presentations on the planets, moons, exoplanets, and how telescopes work. Standing room only for a while. We were able to show guests the big dipper, Sirius, Jupiter and it's moons, Mars, and of course our own moon.

    Best moment of the night was when this excited young girl nearly jumped out of her skin at the chance to answer the question "What happened to Pluto?" She was very detailed and enthusiastic. I could tell she was extremely excited to be there. So of course to prove her right, I showed all the guests the short video of why Pluto is no longer a planet.

    We met lots of great people from the campgrounds and resort. Some guests evern showed up after 10 p.m. They were the lucky few that were able to see Mars when it poked through the clouds. All guests had left by around 11:00 p.m. which is when we secured the observatory.

    All in all, everyone seemed to have a good time even with all the clouds. We made great use of the large display, iPad, and the laptop when there were periods of massive cloud cover. Then alternated with Q&A sessions and AAS history, Future Star Party dates, and other great places for stargazing in Texas. I highly recommend similar strategies when there is a chance of cloudy night during an outreach program. I want to expand our technical outreach capabilities and look into a $35 Chromecast device or something similar for connecting wirelessly to the display for Android tablets as an alternative to iPad. I've not tried it yet myself, but I've heard it works well.

    Until next time.. Clear Skies..

    - James Hall
  • 08 Apr 2014 4:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Saturday, March 29 2014

    COE Monthly Public Star Party     

    Joyce Lynch


    Guests: 100+                                              

    There was a discouraging amount of cloud cover as the Sun was going down, but then the sky overhead mostly cleared while some clouds remained on the horizon.  Things were a bit fuzzy at times, and it wasn't a great evening for Messier marathoners, but visitors did get to observe various objects in the sky, including Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, Mars, and more.  There were over 100 people who signed in, but there were many others already on the field well before the scheduled beginning time.  Some of them were members who introduced themselves at the welcome table, but many were presumably guests.  There were probably well over 150 people on the field in total.  This was the second consecutive public star party with enough clear sky for some good observing, after several months of clouds, and that made for some happy members and visitors.


  • 06 Apr 2014 1:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Friday April 4, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    Darin Koch
    Guests: 18

    Building, grounds, lights, equipment, internet, (aside from rotted table(s), frayed roof rope) all good. The weather forecast was not favorable for the entire night, yet we were able to glimpse the waxing crescent Moon and Jupiter through the layer of thin clouds that later thickened and then thinned out to almost nil. I had 4 visitors and a very good group of a dozen girl scouts and their chaperones and they were very excited to get to see Jupiter and some craters on the moon.

    The big screen came in very handy to show them animations of colliding galaxies, star sizes, planets at the moon distance and discussing astronomical terms of an AU, light year, and Parsec measurements and why Pluto was demoted as a planet. Everyone enjoyed their visit despite the thin clouds. They left around 9:45p and no one else came after that. All in all, a quiet evening.

    Left at 11:30p Temp 53º
  • 23 Mar 2014 9:19 PM | Anonymous member
    Saturday March 22, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    Eagle Eye Observatory
    James Hall
    Guests: 45

    It was a great Saturday.  I had just come from having a great deal of fun with family and friends at the Sherwood Forrest Fair.  Now I was looking forward to meeting new people at the observatory and showing them a good time as well.

    The weather was nice and warm when I checked in at the resort.  However there was about 85% to 100% cloud coverage with chances of rain towards the west and the south.  I started with just half roof open, but eventually opened both roofs of the observatory once I felt the radar app I was using showed the rain moving away from us.

    Observatory grounds were good with just some minor trash that was easily picked up.  Red lights on, scopes up.  Internet working.  Apple TV and Large Display working well with iPad.  I've been working with Darin on finding good replacement ropes and pulleys for the roofs.  I think Darin ended up finding the best solution through his sources at a sail boat shop.  Eventually we will get all of those replaced.

    With impending bad weather, I figured it would mostly be a cloudy night presentation.  But I was hoping we would get a few holes in the clouds to see Jupiter.  The moon was not going to be up, so Jupiter was going to be our best bet.  A few couples from the resort arrived just before sunset and so I gave them a tour and explained AAS history and outreach programs.

    Later several boy scout troops started to arrive at sunset and I went through several app and video presentations on the planets, moons, exoplanets, and Hubble discoveries.  Many were excited about finding out so much about the universe, especially about all the exoplanets and how many we have discovered. There was a great deal of fun astronomy questions from the entire crowd.  Mostly around how stars are formed and what events we had coming up.  I was even able to pull up the AAS web page on the large display to show them our calendar of events.  

    Best moment of the night was when Jupiter suddenly showed up through a hole in the clouds and we raced to get as many people to see it as possible.  Many of the children were very excited.  I would say maybe 20 people got to see it.  But it didn't last long which made many people vowed to check our calendar of events and try to make other star parties that we are doing.  Everyone seemed to have a good time even with all the clouds.  Having that large display for apps and videos in the observatory has really been helpful for cloudy nights.

    Some guests showed up as late as 10:30, but all guests had left by 11:00 p.m.  Even with the large amount of cloud cover I still considered it a successful night of outreach due to the level of interest people showed in coming back soon.  I secured the observatory and headed out back to Austin.

    p.s. I ended up dodging several deer and cats on the way back.  Be careful if driving at night down RR 2341
    - James Hall
  • 22 Mar 2014 2:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Friday Mar 21, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    Darin Koch
    Guests: 40

    Building, grounds, lights, equipment, internet, (aside from rotted table(s), frayed roof rope) all good. I am currently researching and planning rope and pulley replacement in the coming weeks from the Sailboat shop as Eric Ebner’s choice of original equipment installed back in April 2001. But next Saturday is a work party beginning about noon for table top replacement to those tables that are in need, along with cleaning the Forrest and Harlan mirrors. I didn’t get a chance to clean up the SW steel cabinet from mouse dwelling. The rodent was seen again tonight by a guest running from the Forrest pier footing to the SW steel cabinet. This too will need to get cleaned on Saturday also. I’ve got cleaning supplies. Come on out to help if you can.

    I arrived just after sunset and the skies were fair and beginning to improve. Guests began trickling in and many stayed on avg about 40 min. I showed several videos and Starry Night demos. The skies improved greatly to a completely clear sky all night. No Moon, excellent seeing and transparency. Jupiter was very sharp and Red Spot appeared after 9pm I suppose. M42 showed crisp and sharp Trapezium E and F stars and very steady. It was supposed to be partly cloudy turning mostly cloudy from earlier forecasts. The clouds finally came in well after the last guests left around 11:30p as I was doing inspection on some tables in the East field.

    I must mention we had a very nice bright bollide meteor at 8:42p (or was it 9:42p?) racing across the south sky about max 30º up going east to west for at least 70º of sky. It broke apart into 4 pcs about 20º low in the SW. It lasted about 5 seconds and I was able to shine my green laser to point it out to those who didn’t know what direction to look. Did anyone see that?

    I’ll make mention that one of the guests upon entering the observatory said, “I know who made that,” pointing at the Harlan Smith telescope. And standing right next to her was husband Tom Robichaux! What a pleasant surprise! I showed him the changes made to the tube he built back in 1999-2000, of the tube rotation mechanism. So he got to run the Harlan a bit for the guests and he really enjoyed it, while I tended the Forrest scope.

    Along with Jupiter and M42, we viewed Rigel A and B, M82 (supernova still visible), M3, M51, and Mars at 13” dia. As Mars got higher, the polar cap became clearly visible along with dark surface markings. We did see about 3 more meteors after the very bright one above. Could there be some meteor shower that has a name?

    Left at 12:45a temp 65º
  • 17 Mar 2014 8:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Saturday, February 22, 2014
    COE Monthly Public Star Party
    Joyce Lynch, Outreach Chair
    Guests:  75

    We finally had a decent night for a public star party.  As members were arriving, we weren't sure how good it would be, but as the sky darkened, the clouds disappeared.  About 75 visitors, including a Camp Fire group, were able to observe until the end time of 9:30, when coincidentally the sky became completely cloudy (although it cleared up again soon after that).  There was a brief pass of the ISS.  These members were there:  Mark Johnston, Terry Phillips, David Ault, Tara Heine, Mike Krzywonski, Dawn Davies, Brian Lippincott, Alan Carruth, and Jim and Joyce Lynch.  (Sorry if I left anyone out--it's hard to see in the dark!) 
  • 15 Mar 2014 1:41 PM | Anonymous member

    Friday March 14, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    James Hall
    Guests: 100

    This was by far the best star party that I've ever done.  The people that came out tonight were so deeply engaged in the everything that was presented.  I arrived around 6:30 p.m. Temp was nice 72 degrees, sky was mostly clear.  I stopped by the resort to check in and the staff there was in such great spirits that it really helped make my day.  

    I could tell the resort was full so I knew it would be a busy night of entertaining large amounts of guests.  I quickly headed out to the observatory.  The observatory grounds were good, internet working.  Red lights on. Scopes up.   It was pretty much 100% cloud cover as guests started to arrive.  But I still had hope, I know I've seen sky conditions turn around before.  A nice guy named Jonathan showed up early and we talked about what type of scope to get his son.  He also sounds like he is very interested in astrophotography.  So I gave him tips on what I've learned as well as how to join AAS.

    As the sun went down, guests of all ages started to fill the observatory.  I explained how telescopes worked and AAS history and monthly star parties.  Then I went into the possible viewing we would have of the moon and Jupiter.  After answering some brief questions, I quickly switched to the large display and began explaining about the current mission to Pluto.  They loved the video that explained "Is Pluto a Planet?"  Switching to "Sky Guide" app was one of the biggest hits.  Some of the children would point it at different parts of the milky way while the adults enjoyed looking at it on the large display.

    Then the first amazing thing happened to me.  It was like I just got flash mobbed from a packed observatory full of guests.  They all just started smiling and singing happy birthday to James.  I think someone at the resort must have tipped them off, but I was so caught off guard that all I could do was smile back and be determined to give these people the best cloudy night presentation I could.  A young boy named Justin said it was his birthday today too.  We both thought it was awesome that we shared the same day.

    Suddenly, someone pointed up and said "whats that bright star coming through the clouds?"  It was Jupiter!  I quickly aligned the Harlan on it and got the line of people going.  Guests that were once worried the sky was going to block their view were suddenly all lined up speaking all those wonderful "Wow!" moments as they took turns looking through the eyepiece. 

    The moon (not wanting to be outdone by all the attention Jupiter was getting) suddenly made it's appearance as well.  So I swung the Forrest scope on it as guests lined up to look at the craters.  It was nice to have 2 full lines going with such a large crowd.

    Best moment of the night is when the last group of children were about to leave the observatory.  The mother was taking him towards the observatory door when he suddenly bolted for me and gave me a huge hug around my legs.  It was a great way for me to end the night knowing that everyone had such a great time.

    Several guests planned to return again soon.  Especially once Saturn comes out.

    All in all another wonderful night of astronomy outreach.  :)

    - James Hall
  • 08 Mar 2014 4:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Friday Mar 7, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    Darin Koch
    Guests: 35

    Building, grounds, lights, equipment, internet, (aside from rotted table(s), frayed roof rope) all good. I arrived after sunset and the skies did show the Moon and Jupiter and several stars, but high thin cirrus clouds ruled most of the night. It was supposed to be mostly cloudy from earlier forecasts. Did anyone see the incredible moon-dog around the Moon? It was very bright and prominent and guests couldn’t get over it. I’m not sure how rare this occurrence is, but wikipedia said it’s caused by hexagonal crystals high in the atmosphere refracting mostly near or a full moon light, thus causing the 22º ring round the Moon.

    We looked at Jupiter and the 45% 1st qtr Moon and the seeing was pretty good. Jupiter’s moon Io was transiting with its shadow and it eventually exited and was a real treat for guests. At times we couldn’t show them M42 due to the clouds, but later it cleared up rather nicely to show some later guests M51. A great meteor flew directly over from E to W, very bright, with a trail and what a sight!

    Then as I was shutting down both telescopes, looking over contents in the Ruof Observatory roof, at 10:30p I heard the sound of gravel cracking, another SUV pulled up with a family of 5 from San Antonio, late campers and wanted to look thru the telescopes. So i put everything back on the scopes and gave them a great show of the Moon, Jupiter, M42, M51, Rigel and companion, and then all of a sudden they asked what’s that reddish looking star in the East? I said it looks a lot like Saturn, but Saturn isn’t due up until after midnight. So I aimed the Ealing at it and it was a large red-yellowish disc with no rings in my 31mm Nagler. It was Mars! At 12”, and quite low, it almost showed some features on it. So I explained to them, I’d forgotten all about Mars as it takes Earth 26 months to catch up to it again.

    I then went back to the Ruof Observatory checking on the contents, taking measurements, throwing out about 8 muddobbers nests, two hornets nests, and kinda inventorying the contents. Everything looks ok inside still, very dusty and some cobwebs.

    Left at 11:45p Temp 58º and a little windy
  • 22 Feb 2014 4:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Friday Feb 21, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    Darin Koch
    Guests: 5 

    Building, grounds, lights, equipment, internet, (aside from rotted table(s), frayed roof rope) all good. I arrived after sunset and the clouds started to roll in and opened the roof and setup both scopes on Jupiter. Wow, what a sight! I've not seen it look this good in years it seems. Could the thin layer of clouds have something to do with it? The north to overhead was mostly obscured while overhead to the south was somewhat clear. The GRS was front and center along with 3 other circular storms right next to it. Easily discerned. All 4 moons (2 on each side) showed tiny discs. The skies improved a bit but still was a very thin layer of clouds overhead. I managed to find M82 and could still see the supernova, but just barely. We saw M42 and A-F stars could be seen as sharp dots. 

    I had a father and his young 11 yr old son, then a single woman, and another twosome. Jim Sheets came down to join in. All in all, a nice pleasant evening. The wind started to pickup about 10p, so i started shutting down after browsing the internet a little to make sure no other late comers stopped by. 

    Left at 10:45p Temp 57º
  • 16 Feb 2014 11:15 AM | Anonymous member

    Saturday Feb 15, 2014
    CoE Star Party
    James Hall
    Guests: 60

    I arrived around 5:30 p.m. Temp was nice 66 degrees, sky was mostly clear.  The observatory grounds were good, internet working.  Red lights on. Scopes up.  Fellow AAS member David Ault was already setting up his astrophotography equipment.  I was impressed to learn that he would be showing guests his live imaging of a supernova.  

    Guest came and went all night.  I set both scopes on Jupiter until it was dark enough to start seeing other objects.  A few boy scout troops came down to the observatory and we explained how telescopes worked and explained the differences between the different moons of Jupiter and other objects that they would be seeing that night.  The night started out nice and dark and we could easily make out satellites as the whizzed by overhead.    

    We viewed Jupiter and it's moons, Orion nebula, and most of the popular stars (Polaris, Sirius, Rigel, Betelgeuse, etc) I did the normal sky tours and explained AAS history and monthly star parties.  Then followed up with various astronomy apps (Sky Guide and Exoplanet).  Many questions about Pluto prompted the start of our quick video on "Is Pluto a Planet?"  They also enjoyed watching a short video on Star Size comparisons and the Super Massive Black Hole in our own Milky Way.   A few guests even used the binoculars to see stars of Mizar, Alchor, and Orion Nebula.

    David Ault of course did a great  job showing guests his live imaging of the supernova as well as other amazing photos of deep sky objects that he's been able to capture.  Needless to say guests were well educated and entertained throughout the night.  He also brought his high powered eye pieces as well which really helped bring out a nice zoom onto Jupiter through the Harlan scope.

    The moon came up about 9 p.m.  It was a full moon, so we kept the moon filter on and  focused on the craters at the edges.  The moon was very well received by those couples that were enjoying the valentines weekend retreat.

    Best moment of the night was a nice meteor that several people saw as it streaked from east to west over the observatory.

    Several guests definitely planned to return near May when Saturn would be really close.  

    All guests had left by 10:20 p.m.     Clouds had started to roll in so it was a good time to go.

    We secured everything and left by 10:45 p.m.

    Temp was 55º

    All in all another wonderful night of astronomy outreach.  :)

    - James Hall
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