University Lowbrow Astronomers

The Seventh Annual “Astronomy at the Beach.”

by Dave Snyder
Printed in Reflections: November, 2003.

The Lawn

The 7th Annual Astronomy at the Beach was held this September.  This event is held on Martindale Beach on the shore of Kent Lake.  Martindale Beach is part of Kensington Metropark.

Each year amateur astronomers from several clubs in Southeast Michigan, including the Eastern Michigan University Astronomy Club, the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club, the University Lowbrow Astronomers and the Warren Astronomical Society (among others), set up telescopes on the lawn near Kent Lake.  As many as a thousand visitors show up to look through telescopes and attend other activities.

The event took place on two evenings, Friday September 5 and Saturday September 6.  On Friday, I arrived with Charlie Nielsen.  By this point there were a number of amateurs with telescopes.  I found Al Bates (from the Ford Club) with his camera (come to think of it I don’t think I have ever seen Al without his camera).  I had brought my camera as well.  This was shortly after the Mars opposition; if we hadn’t already known that, there were a number of clues.  For one thing, people had been told to dress up as Martians.  We saw a group of girls in colorful costumes complete with antennas.  When we asked permission to take some photographs, one of them said “They want to take our pictures!”  From the way she said it, it was clear they were happy to participate.

Several Lowbrows had assembled on the east lawn.  John Causland brought his 60 centimeter telescope (he could have called it a 24 inch telescope, but then we already have a 24 inch telescope).  Mike Radwick, Gary Perrine and Mark Deprest assisted John in setting it up.  Also in attendance were (in no particular order) Paul Walkowski, Jim Forrester, John Ridley, Clayton Kessler and Milton French (no doubt I’m forgetting someone, but this is from memory, I didn’t take notes).

By the Lake

I walked to the Pavilion; the Ford Club had a table and in keeping with the Mars theme they had a green toy Martian sitting on the table, there was a sign explaining that donations to the club were welcome.  George Korody (from the Ford Club) was behind the table (he attends most of the Kensington events).  I spoke to him and then visited the concession stand.  I wanted some filters; so I walked down to the Rider’s Hobby Shop table.  Sure enough they were selling a variety of filters for sale.  I bought a set.

There were a lot of visitors.  One of the most memorable was a young girl who was interested in my telescope.  She had seen many larger telescopes, but was drawn to the small 4 inch scope.  Apparently it was one of the most kid friendly scopes.  I let her look at it for a while.  As it got dark I had a chance to take a look at Mars both through my scope as well as some other scopes.

After a few hours of observing, we were thinking of leaving.  John Causland noticed a problem.  He brought his 60 centimeter scope in a trailer, and the tail lights weren’t working.  Without working tail lights, it might be dangerous driving home.  Several of us (I, Jim Forrester, Bernard Friberg, Charlie and Peter Shefman) tried to find a Lowbrow solution to John’s problem.  Finally someone had the idea to mount a red light bulb on the rear of the trailer.  Once the bulb was supplied with power it was a reasonable substitute for a working set of tail lights (though it was a little unusual).  We all left, and John was able to get home.

I came back the next day.  Lorna Simmons had brought her Questar.  She doesn’t bring it very often, so I asked her to pose next to it.  In turn, she took a photograph of me with my scope.  I also asked Doug Warshow and Doug Scobel to pose in front of their scopes.

Doug Scobel had ground the mirror in his telescope himself.  As it happened, Doug’s wife worked at the cafeteria where I eat lunch, and she gave me regular updates on Doug’s progress while he was working on the mirror.  His goal was to get it done so he could use it for the Mars opposition.  This was the first time I had seen his scope.  [For more about Doug’s mirror read Doug Scobel. “Can You Do It?  Make your own telescope mirror, that is?” June, 2003.]

In the meantime, Clayton Kessler was busy entertaining visitors.

One of the scheduled events was Jerry Ross, an astronaut who had been on seven space shuttle missions (more than any other person).  I attended his talk:  I wasn’t the only one.  The room was crowded with people (much more than a typical Kensington talk).  Jerry spoke about the International Space Station and showed some home movies taken during his stay.  Afterwards, he answered numerous questions.  I briefly spoke with him.

After the talk was over, I spoke with George who said we had 3000 visitors on Friday and 10,000 visitors on Saturday.  3000 for Friday seemed plausible, but 10,000 on Saturday seemed like a lot.  On the other hand there were clearly more people than the night before; as I walked back to the east lawn, it was very crowded, much more than previous events.  I saw Bob Hotaling (who works for the Metropark) and asked him about this.  Based on a hand count of people visiting the trailer and some other information, they arrived at an estimate of 10,000.  Since I don’t have a better estimate, I’ll have to go along with it.

We had a chance to do more observing.  While a lot of time was spent on Mars, there were other objects to look at including Uranus.

It was a very nice event.


Dave Snyder

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