I can think of few happier ways to spend an evening than staring at the universe. At the end of the night, I didn’t want to leave! This is an event I would go out of my way to do over and over again. The weather was ideal – a moonless, clear sky, with temps in the 40s. The altitude up on Mount Locke is just shy of 7,000 ft.
|Visitor's Center from above|
After relieving the irresistibly gift shop of much of its inventory, I attended the twilight program in the visitor center auditorium.
Shannon, a staff astronomer, entertained us for an hour explaining how our solar system moves about. He did a great job of illustrating why we see certain constellations at certain times of the year.By then it was dark and we moved out to the amphitheater for the star party. The amphitheater is dimly lit with low red lights that allow one’s eyes to accommodate to the darkness. The presenter spent some time pointing with a laser at some, shall we say, high points.
The first was the International Space Station! As if on cue, it came into view in the southwest sky and we were able to track it for a while until it disappeared from view. The ISS orbits the earth every 90 minutes and what you see is actually the sun reflecting off the ISS.
Amazing in any case, but especially when you consider that the Wright Brothers first got off the ground just over 100 years ago!Next the presenter talked about some of the many constellations on view and pointed out the objects we would see in the 5 awaiting telescopes. I’ve never seen such a rich field of stars! Even the stars on the horizon were plainly visible.
The 5 telescope stations, manned by knowledgeable staff and volunteers, revealed the following sights. I’ll try to use web photos that faithfully reproduce what I saw.
|Jupiter and 4 of its Moons. The ones that got Galileo into so much trouble.|
|Double clusters in Perseus|
My favorite was the Orion Nebulae located close to the middle star in Orion’s sword . I returned to the 18” telescope several times to see the “star nursery” with a pocket in the middle of the gas that contained 4 very young stars. It was magnificent.
Later, I was chatting with Shannon and mentioned how thrilling it was to see the Orion Nebulae. He surprised me by abruptly swinging his 22” telescope around to give me a wide-field view! I saw the Nebula again, only this time enlarged even further and with a richer deeper backdrop. A thrill ran through me, it was so beautiful.
Shannon remarked that he’s not easily impressed, but this particularly sight always did that for him. I was so grateful he gave me another look at that amazing sight.Later, as I reluctantly walked back to the GDB to leave, I heard a singular sound in the quiet night. I listened for it again. There it was! Coyotes barking and howling from within the surrounding hills and canyons. I listened for a long time.
What a sound!What a night!
Here are some photos I took on the previous day’s self-guided tour of the Observatory.
|The Hobby-Ebberly Telescope - largest mirror in the world at 3-stories tall. It uses spectroscopy to tells us about the distance, age, and fate of stars.|
|The 107" telescope.|
|Great views on the drive up, up, up.|
|Oh, the places we'll go!|