University Lowbrow Astronomers

A Bit of Great Space Adventures 2002.

by Douglas Warshow
Printed in Reflections: December, 2002.

On Sunday, October 6 was another installment of Great Space Adventures, an annual space-related open house held at the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science building at the University of Michigan’s North Campus.  The main purpose of this event is to introduce the public to various aspects of astronomy and space travel, the former being provided mainly by the University Lowbrow Astronomers.

I will only relate a small portion of the events of that day since I was outside the building for the majority of my time there.

The weather report called for fairly clear skies until about 2:00 PM so I brought my Next Star 8 and solar filter to show the Sun.  (The only other astronomical object that I could find at that time of day was Earth, but I didn’t think a telescope would be necessary to see it.)  The nearest parking lot was a bit of a walk from the site (when you have to port large equipment, anyway).  Since I knew that only a limited amount of observing time would be available, I saved some time by driving on the sidewalk to EECS, unloading my gear, then driving the car to the lot.  Thanks to Lorna Simmons, Bob Close and Dave Snyder for watching my gear as I was moving my car back to the parking lot.

Since I didn’t need a lot of the extras (such as the finder scope), the setup time was fairly short.  Despite the brevity, however, I had at least five visitors waiting to look through the scope by the time I was done.

The Sun was quite cooperative that day; even though we were at least one year beyond the maximum sunspot number period (”solar max”), there was a nice linear collection of sunspots just a little north of center.  About four other spots were near the edge.

There was another surprise:  the observing line was never very long, but it never disappeared!  Reinforcements always replaced the viewers who had left (and some of the reinforcements were people who taken a glimpse earlier in the day).  This was even the case during the guest lectures.  Perhaps we have some new potential members.

One of the biggest kicks that I got out of that session was the expressions on the faces of the kids when I explained that the smallest spot that they could see on the surface was about the size of the Earth.  That certainly put things in perspective!

Oh, a word of advice to others before attempting this yourself:  make certain that you have had breakfast beforehand.  The non-stop line prevented me from grabbing a bite until Charlie Nielsen graciously offered to take over operations for a while.  (Thanks!)

As predicted (amazing!), the clouds stared getting thick at about 2:00.  Within twenty minutes, viewing the Sun was impossible.  Nonetheless, several people still wanted to peer through the scope.  I ended up removing the filter and pointed the Next Star at the main glass pyramid atop the Media Union.  The guests were still awed at the magnification - I was actually only at 50x - and I didn’t have to worry about tracking!

Eventually, time came to pack up and leave.  I didn’t get to see much of the rest of the event, but I wouldn’t mind repeating the observing session for future Great Space Adventures:  even if I didn’t get see anything else.


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