Monday, May 21, 2007

20070520 - 1st International Sidewalk Astronomers Night in NYC

Session name: 20070520.1500

Sunday was a tossed salad weather day. Early on it was partly cloudy with blue skies, quite a change from yesterday's weather of completely overcast skies with rain at times. ISAN was canceled for rain in NYC. Today, however, seemed to be a day of redemption. I braved the clouds and forecasts with the Tak102 nearby Turtle Pond Observatory (TPO) at the south end of the lawn.

Despite the gloomy darkness and threatening clouds, many people stopped to ask what was special today. I relayed to them the efforts of Donna Smith trying to mobilize a thousand amateur astronomers around the world to the street to share the night sky through our optics with the public on Saturday, 19 May. Since yesterday was a no-go, I was giving today a shot to show off the solar system. Through out the day from 3:00 to about 9:30, I would say a hundred or so folks stopped by. Early in the session not all had a chance to see anything but still stuck around asking questions.

I arrived mid afternoon wanting to share sights of the Sun. Sunspot 956 was clearly evident. Often times we had for the clouds to yield to the Sun. Actually, I think the clouds help the pedestrian grasp what they are looking at. For many, I inform them that the entire white disk they see is the Sun. With a black field of view, it is very easy for one to miss the fact that sun is not the little black dots on the white circle, rather the entire white circle is the Sun & the little black dots are a grouping of sunspots. (magnification ~ 26x; field of view ~ 2°). With the clouds passing before the Sun it provides something familiar the observer can relate to. Also, I suggest that folks look through the viewing window to see safely observe the Sun with no magnification. once again seeing a round disk and clouds passing over now become a familiar, known sight that when they look in the eyepiece, an equivalent to Eureka! moment occurs. I can't help but a grow a smile when this occurs.

Within an hour after I arrived black clouds advanced from the west. In a short amount of time it began to rain. Grabbed my daughter's pink Hello Kitty picnic blanket and wrapped the scope. I found shelter nearby at the Delacorte Theatre where many others stood beneath a large overhang. There I met Bruce & his son, a lab man at a local college, where I received a lesson in general optics and microscopes while waiting out the rain. When returning to TPO, Bruce carried my tripod. Thank you, sir!

On this second toss, Venus and the crescent Moon were the objects of our desire. Tom came with his Fujinon 16x70mm which were homed on Venus. I bounced back and forth between the two, though mostly on the crescent.
The wet sidewalks and shallow puddles from the rain dried rather quickly. The lawn before us was now empty, people returned slowly but fewer in number.
Ben would arrive about this time and he concentrated on Mercury. He pointed it out above the western treetops to the assembling crowd where it was a difficult naked eye object but rather easy in the bins.

Venus exhibited a phase very close to what is shown above. This photo of Venus was snapped through a Tele Vue Ranger & a 20mm Plossl eyepiece. Clearly the slight gibbous hump is evident as Venus is nearing its last quarter phase. In the field I pu;; out the Palm to show Ian's Venus montage that shows phase and size over time as she orbits the Sun inside of Earth's orbit.

This was one of the larger groups that came through, maybe a dozen young adults in one group with a few other unrelated couples. The guy with the black backpack, hand to his pocket mentioned that one of his RSS feeds (the name escapes me) mentioned that sidewalk astronomers were taking to the streets. His gal at the eyepiece was about to observe Saturn and Titan. Many were thrilled with seeing the ringed planet amazed that one could see it so recognizable, so clear.

This is an illustration snipped from Starry Night Pro, showing the arrangements of the 4 moons. To the keen eye, three other moons could be seen. For the Tak in the park, 4 moons is par for the course, and occasionally Iapetus, a fifth moon when circumstances are right.

I am glad that I made it out to share with teh public and hope that the others in the City were able to get to the street. Two AAA observers, Bruce & Rik, were planning to setup by the American Museum of Natural History while Derek was to be headed downtown to Union Square. Rich was setting up with others in Brooklyn. I'll be checking the gomsa board to see if any reports are posted.