Annual Picnic at Parmentiers

Small crowd at the annual astronomy club picnic Tuesday night. P9026915Maybe 20 this year, compared to 40 or 50 last year when the sun was shining. We’re betting it was the weather.

The picnic started at 6:30, and we were lucky enough to dodge the rain that had been predicted for picnic time and into the night. It was muggy, sticky and just generally unpleasant out there today.

However, despite the humidity hovering in the mid 90’s, we still had a great time.

Wayne cooked up all the burgers and dogs, and everyone bought a treat to share.
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Amy and I left around 8:30, when Dick was setting up to show some amazing weather videos that Tony took at the Nebraska star party.

We already saw them when we were at the Minnesota star party. Plus, it was getting late on a work night, and we’re pretty whimpy. Yawn!

Lynn

 

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Perseids 2014

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Everyone brought reclining chairs to catch a few Perseids after sunset.

Last Wednesday evening, the local Astronomical Society club that Amy and I belong to held its annual Perseids Party and Picnic at Parmentier’s Observatory.

About 35 club members attended and brought spouses, kids, dogs, and plenty of dishes to pass. The weather was perfect for our annual get together at the foot of the dome.

The hobby of astronomy can be a solitary obsession that often finds one alone in the stillness of the night with only mosquitoes and crickets for company. But it’s the social events like the picnic that bring us together as friends, and remind us of our common passion for the wonder that endlessly drifts overhead.

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The picnic started at 7 p.m. with enough food to feed a small army of star gazers.

If you’re going it alone, good for you. But if there are clubs in your area, don’t miss out on the opportunities to observe with others, attend star parties, volunteer at public outreach events, go to swap meets and picnics, and hang out with the gang for public observing and the Messier Marathon. Having friends that share your excitement and your enthusiasm makes the hobby of amateur astronomy all that much more satisfying.

Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.

 

Lynn

 

A Simple Observing Tool

LittleDipperAs you all know, I’m quite the minimalist when it comes to observing gadgets. I have my trusty observing duffel bag stocked with the basics. I’ve often said that if it doesn’t fit in the bag, I don’t bring it. The basics (to me) are: batteries, rubber bands, red flashlight, star charts, binoculars, towel, pencils, hand and toe warmers, green laser pointer and last but not least, the clipboard.

The clipboard is a key piece of equipment! On it are several important observing tools that help with every session. I have some blank paper and some preprinted observing forms.  Evaluating the conditions of the night sky, namely the ‘seeing’ and the ‘transparency’, is an important part of the night, but it took me awhile to keep them straight! So included on the clipboard is my favorite cheat sheet, the Seeing Conditions chart. (See our Links and Resources page)

Seeing has to do with the condition of the atmosphere itself. Humidity can make the images dance and twinkle, or sometimes they’ll alternately blur and clear. Assigning a number to the current seeing conditions is made easier by the descriptions on the chart. Keep in mind a perfect 10 for seeing conditions is rare! I think the best seeing conditions I’ve seen is a 6 or 7!

Transparency has to do with the limiting magnitude of naked eye objects. In other words, what is the dimmest star you can see with an unaided eye? This can be different from person to person, for example, my night vision not a good as Lynn’s.  The Little Dipper is a good constellation to use, as it has a large range magnitudes contained within it.

As you can see, it ranges from magnitude 2 which is Polaris, to magnitude 6.7. Most people can see down to around magnitude 6 with an unaided eye, in dark sky conditions. You’ll notice that some of the magnitude markers do not have a decimal point. This is how they are supposed to be recorded, so the decimal point is not mistaken for another star.

So- why do we take the time to make this evaluation? Well, most observing
programs require you to record these conditions with your observations. Even if
you aren’t working on an observing program, it’s good practice to make this
observation. I believe it makes me a better observer.

I hope this helps your next observing session! Feel free to print it and make it part of your observing arsenal! We use it every time we go out!

Enjoy!

Amy

Getting organized

LynnOver the years, we’ve had a number of speakers talk about how to keep your observations organized because over time, you start to accumulate a lot of them. I’ve been a club member off and on since the early 70’s, and believe me, in 40 years you can end up with a lot of sheets of paper scrawled with descriptions and drawings.

And once they’re spread all over your house, it’s impossible to lay your hands on that one asteroid observation you made at Tony’s, or the 2004 transit of Venus observation that you need to get the AL’s Planetary Transit Special Award. Sigh.

I’ve always been fairly disciplined about including dates, times, locations and sky conditions for every observation that I made over the years. I also often included descriptions of an object whether it was needed for observing program or not (although many of them are pretty lame – how many ways can you describe a globular cluster viewed through a pair of binoculars?)

After watching Amy and everyone else in the club get awards, I started thinking maybe I should start organizing my piles and boxes of observations and start applying for some of these awards myself. It was time to get my observing act together.

One snowy afternoon a few years ago, I dragged every box, folder and pile of astronomy papers I could find up into my living room and started sorting them into piles. I ended up with about eight piles – one was general club stuff, another was astronomy-related articles to keep, one pile was mystery observations that I hadn’t properly identified (bigger than I’d like it to be) and the remaining piles were related to observations, and I broke them down into AL programs – the Lunar Program, Binocular Messier, Constellation Hunter, etc. Then each pile went into a folder.

A few months later, on another snowy day, I picked up one of the folders and, after sitting down by the computer and actually recording my observations for the Universe Sampler Program, I was stunned to discover that I only needed one more observation to finish that program. A few weeks later, I picked up the Messier folder and wow! I only needed about eight more Messier’s to finish the Binocular Messier Program.

What’s made all this possible was my realization early on that it is important to keep good observational notes with all the information needed to officially record them. Date, time, location, seeing conditions, equipment used and a brief description is usually enough for most AL observing programs. And I ALWAYS (almost) forced myself to take the time first thing the next morning to review my notes from the night before to make sure that all the necessary information was written on each sheet.

So now I’m stoked. I still have some folders stacked up here that may be just a few observations away from getting a pin, and Amy’s starting to talk about the Master Observer Award. Sure, it’s going to take 400 Hershel’s to get there, but if we start chipping away at it now and keep good records, we’ll get there someday. Luckily winter is nearly here and there are plenty of snowy days ahead to work on my observation records because now, I also need to start working on submitting them!

Lynn