Getting Ready

Well we’re coming up on another observing weekend. Every month when there’s little to no moon, our club ventures out to the observatory for an evening of star gazing. We have the good fortune to have a small hill in a farmer’s field to set up our scopes and gaze skyward. We have an observatory with a 30” scope that only the most experienced club members are allowed to operate.

In the spirit of ‘keeping it simple’, I usually pack my 10 x 50 Nikon binoculars, my star charts and a small duffle bag of observing necessities. I do have two telescopes, but have yet to bring them to the observatory. I don’t know why, I just really like using the binocs.

You should however, have a plan. Here’s where it gets tricky. I usually head to my computer and fire up the Stellarium software (freeware), set it for Friday night and see what’s going on that evening. I check out the constellations that are visible, look for any binocular messier objects that I haven’t seen yet and make a list of a few objects I’d like to find.

I’ll print the star chart, slide it into a protective sheet (to protect it from the dew) and put it in my binder. I also mark the maps in my Tirion Sky Atlas 2000 with some post it flags so I can find them in the dark.

Now I’m ready, I’ve got my red flashlight, spare batteries, toe warmers, hand warmers, star charts, blankets, chairs, notebook, snacks and a bunch of other little must haves for the night.

It sounds like a lot of work, but when you step out of the car and look up, the sight of the Milky Way takes your breath away and you know it’s all worth it.  It’s so beautiful that it sometimes moves me to tears.

I’ll spend the evening not only looking through my binoculars, but I wander around to all the other telescopes that club members set up for the night. I’ve found that amateur astronomers love to share the view through their scopes, at least these guys do. I’ve been able to see an amazing variety of deep sky objects that way, and I thank the generosity of this great group of people.

I don’t know what I’ll be looking for this weekend, but I do know that if the skies are clear, I’ll be looking up! Stay tuned – I’ll let you know how it goes!



Sputnik Fest 2012

This past Saturday was no ordinary Saturday. I didn’t go camping or fishing, or cut the grass, or go to the mall. No, Amy and I decided to celebrate an event that landed Manitowoc, WI, right in the middle of the Space Race in 1962.

We’re not sure if it’s the weather or the water, but people in Wisconsin are always looking for an excuse to get out and enjoy the decent weather while it lasts. When we heard about last Saturday’s Sputnik Fest 2012, we decided it was just one of those celebrations that the AstroBabes couldn’t miss.

It turns out that on September 6, 1962, a 20-pound chunk of the disintegrating Sputnik IV landed right in the middle of the intersection of Eighth and Park streets in Manitowoc, WI. For the past five years, the city has hosted a Sputnik Festival at that intersection, a festival which has twice been recognized by Reader’s Digest as one of the Top Five Funkiest Festivals in the U.S.

We watched the Ms. Space Debris Pageant to see who would reign over all that is Sputnik for the upcoming year. We saw otherwise perfectly normal people decorate themselves in aluminum foil. We marveled at the winners of the Cosmic Cake Contest and petted a few alien pets. There were lots of vendors, good food, and, of course, beer. And for the first time in our lives, Amy and I ate a barbeque chicken sandwich topped with coleslaw.

When it was all over, we were not exactly sure what the Star Wars characters or the aluminum foil hats or Star Trek collector plates had to do with Sputnik IV, the Cold War, or the race to put a man on the moon – but one thing for sure, it was definitely fun. We’ve posted some of our favorite pictures under Lynn & Amy Adventures – enjoy!


The Big Picture

Last week I attended the July meeting for the local astronomy club. Dick, one of the clubs’ long-time members, gave a talk on his experiences while earning the Astronomical League’s Local Galaxy Group & Neighborhood Introduction certificate.

As I sat there listening to his talk, I began to realize that, in all my years of studying and observing and hanging around with other amateur astronomers, I never gave much serious thought to what was just outside our galaxy. By basically ignoring the Local Group, I’m really missing the big picture.

I needed to regain that perspective – that we’re bound to these 54+ galaxies by a gravitational center, and that the Messier Marathon is more than just trying to locate fuzzy objects in the night sky.

Dick’s talk has got me curious about the Local Group, and it is research for the future. That’s one of the things that makes astronomy such a great hobby – just when I think I’ve started to figure everything out, a whole new door opens up and blows me away!


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