by Ed Flaspoehler, AAAA Vice-President
My participation in National Astronomy Day included a trip to Lake
Whitney State Park, about 70 miles south of Dallas, near Hillsboro/Waco, TX.
(And not that far from Crawford, TX, either, just 30 miles south of Lake Whitney! GW did NOT attend!)
I was invited down as guest lecturer for the National Astronomy Day
Star Party event organized by Thomas Williamson from North
Richland Hills, TX, a suburb of Fort Worth. He has
been doing regular public star parties at the state park for a couple of years,
and has a lot of support for the park staff.
There were about 50 people present for my lecture, which was a
45 minute slide show and discussion of the Messier objects, mostly galaxies, in
Ursa Major, Canes Venatici, Leo, and Coma Berenices. I was able to use my own
photographs of the many beautiful galaxies and other objects
in these constellations. About half of the audience
was kids, and I am pleased to say that not only was I able to keep their
attention for the entire time, but they asked a lot of good questions which I
was mostly able to answer.
Afterwards, we had a public star party and telescope viewing,
and even more people from the park came by. Thomas estimated a total of nearly 100
people attended either the telescope viewing or my presentation. And many people
attended both. One man and his son even flew in from Ft. Worth in their private
plane! The son, John, helped me during my slide show by changing the slides
while I talked from the front of the room.
M51 (NGC 5194/5195)
M3 (NGC 5272)
One of the exciting things for me was to see how interested
people were to view the galaxies and other objects that I discussed in my
presentation through a real telescope. The most popular objects to view on the telescope field were galaxy M51
and globular cluster M3, both in Canes Venatici, and the pretty double star Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major. Unfortunately, the bright moon washed out many of
the dimmer galaxies, and made even the brighter ones
somewhat difficult to find. But I was pleased to find that,
after my talk, everyone was easily able to spot the
constellations I had mentioned.
Since the moon was fairly bright, I only brought my
Celestron Short Tube 80mm f/5
spotting scope, but people were very excited to see Alcor and Mizar so clearly
through it, and were interested to see how well such a small instrument can
perform. Most people, including the kids, were able to make out the fact that
Mizar is a double within the double!
I also was able to meet several AAAA members during the event,
including Glen L. Johnson and his son, from Denton, TX. Glen
is a graphics designer at Motorola in Plano, TX. I discovered that, since I had given a lecture in this same park last summer,
several people had become AAAA members as a result of my presentation. That's
handouts that the AAAA provided, which were the
Packet of Observing Programs
from the Astronomical League we make available on the internet and through AstroMax. The packet includes the
flyers for the Binocular Messier, Binocular Deep
Sky, Double Star, Lunar, and
Urban club programs. A lot of people picked up flyers.
One of the outstanding features of the Lake Whitney
events is the opportunity either to observe or participate
in the grinding of a telescope mirror. During the Friday and
Saturday of this event, organizer Thomas Williamson again
coordinated a project to grind a mirror for a telescope to
be donated to the state park for use at public observing
sessions. Over the course of two days, they ground an
8" inch mirror, polished, and null tested it. They also
ground a 12.5" blank to #180 grit, and null tested Tom
McCommon's 12.5" mirror. Harry Bearman ground a 6"
Touring the Sky
During the observing event outside after dark, Dr. Paul
Derrick gave a tour of the sky with his star pointer, and
used the 8" scope that was worked on at the August star
party last Summer to show a wide range of deep-sky and
other objects to the nearly 100 attendees. These included
the Moon and Jupiter, the galaxies NGC 3945, NGC 4565, NGC
4631, and NGC 2362, as well as Messier objects M42-43,
M81-82, M97, M108, M109, M101, M106, M51, M64, M104, M3,
Thomas also passed out several membership forms for
the AAAA over the two day event. He says he received a
phone call from Univision in Miami. They want info for their
youth program, and he will send along some tips and
recommend the AAAA.
The Lake Whitney National Astronomy Day Star Party was a wonderful event, I met a lot of nice people, and
the AAAA out in front of the public a bit more. I am invited back again in
August. I hope to see you there!
April 28, 2001
International Astronomy Day is dedicated to taking astronomy to the people. It is
celebrated on the Saturday near the first quarter moon between
mid-April and mid-May. Check out the night sky tonight!
Entry forms for the Sky & Telescope Astronomy Day award are available by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Gary Tomlinson at the address below. Deadline for entries is June 13.
To receive your copy of the new Astronomy Day Handbook, 4th edition, revised and published by Sky and Telescope magazine, send a check made out to the Astronomical League for $3.00, $4.00 outside North America, to our new address:
Astronomy Day Headquarters,
Public Museum of Grand Rapids,
272 Pearl NW,
Grand Rapids, MI 49504 USA
(616) 456-3873 FAX