Waterfire observing log - 20 Sep 03
Our second Mars viewing for the public went even smoother than the September 6th Waterfire viewing. Unlike 2 weeks ago, however, the area was mobbed and there were no curbside parking spaces available. I arrived 1st, just before 18:00, and as scopes arrived over the next 15 minutes we unloaded them into my pickup, which had been parked since noontime to reserve us a space. Once all scopes had arrived we loaded them about 100’ into the park to our site.
Our viewing area had been rearranged a little bit from when I had set it up in the morning. It was deeper, and it turned out to be better as we were able to bank our scopes 2 deep. Manny and Bruce brought their 10” SCTs, Ron Z brought his 8” SCT, I brought my 12”, and Bill brought his 8” Dob instead of his LX90 so that we could accommodate folks in wheelchairs. (No wheelchairs showed up this time however). Around 7pm John W and new members Dave and Paul showed up. And Jonathan showed up a bit later still.
We didn’t have as many people asking questions during setup this time around. The fires were lit off at 19:10, which was about when the Summer Triangle became visible. I did an automatic setup and was observing Neptune (2.7 billion miles distant) while everyone else worked on their setups or just waited for Mars to rise above the bank. I ran a dozen people thru the line with a pretty weak view of Neptune before Mars cleared the horizon. By 19:30 all 5 scopes were on Mars and the viewing line was moving quickly.
Since we had the extra ASSNE volunteers we were able to streamline the people flow. They changed jobs and stood in for the telescope operators so that everybody had a chance to wander around a bit, grab some food and enjoy the Waterfire.
John W. mostly served as the gatekeeper, explaining to the head of the line –
* that ASSNE was sponsoring a free viewing of Mars
* that although viewing was free, Waterfire would appreciate donations
* what surface features they could expect to view (S polar cap & volcanic belt, as shown on the handout’s map)
Paul & Jonathan mostly watched the collection jar. Dave ran my scope once we got into it pretty good, and his son (or was it Paul’s son?) spelled the telescope operators as well. This kid was really high with the excitement. We can expect him to be a regular attendee at the Rehoboth meetings.
Other than using the 31mm Nagler for finding alignment stars I operated all night using a Meade 20mm Plossel (150X). And for Mars I stayed with my #22 red filter. Mars is down about 20% from the size it was at opposition on August 27th, but we could still see features pretty well.
Most of the public got pretty excited with their viewing, and most of our volunteers were pretty psyched from the response. So much so, that few relinquished their scopes to backup people for more than a few minutes over the course of the whole night.
Once again I’d printed up around 800 cards containing viewing information as well as club contact information:
Astronomical Society of Southern New England
This is our view of Mars at 9pm, 20 Sep 03. (A map from Mars Previewer II was attached) How many features did you spot from our present distance of 39 million miles?
Visit ASSNE at www.assne.org Or better yet meet and observe with us. We gather monthly at 7pm at a dark sky site in Rehoboth. Stop by on Oct 4th, or on the 2nd Saturday of every other month. Visitors are welcome. For info call Pete at (401) 245-6679
Viewing is free. Donations to Waterfire will be accepted.
I got the club website right this time. Now if we can only access to it so that we can update the date for the next meeting…….
People were continually dropping bills into the Waterfire jar. I later learned that the “Mars jar” collected $ $524.87. That's a great haul – toward the top end of what a jar collects on the best of nights. And Waterfire needs the money.
Lines were only about 10 minutes this time around – around ½ the size from previous. I think this was because with John and others greeting the head of the line and explaining what to look for the scope operators didn’t have to do it, and we were just moving people through faster. We shut down at 23:00, but not for lack of “customers.” I’m sure that they would have kept all 5 scopes running until 01:00 if we let them.
Conclusions and lessons learned:
* Once again we were all overwhelmed by the warm and enthusiastic response from the Waterfire attendees.
* The extra ASSNE volunteers who came without scopes played a critical role in taking the load off of the scope operators. The first time we did this it was exhilarating and exhausting. This time it was just exhilarating.
* We need to reinforce the almost true line that “the views in all 5 scopes are exactly the same.” Sure the 12” may offer a slightly better view than an 8”, but we don’t want people wanting to view a second time but this time thru the 12”. Or people feeling that their view was inferior to the view that others had.
* Viewing conditions were excellent. But the fires on the river disturbed the atmosphere we were viewing through so that we all had to limit magnification to approximately 150X. Just about everyone who viewed Mars through my scope was able to identify one or more major features shown on my mini-map. When I got home to Barrington I was once again amazed at the hundreds of stars that had become visible in a 15-minute drive.
* I estimate that thanks to the extra volunteers we had a total of somewhere between 1,200 to 1,500 public viewings. That goes a long way toward ASSNE’s “to educate and inspire” objective. We should do so well at October Skies.
* Thank you Bill, Bruce, Dave, John, Jonathan, Manny, Ron, and Paul.
Technical notes: Mars Previewer II is freeware - find it at:
And for those of you who haven't discovered it yet, Cartes du Ceil
http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/index.html is another amazing piece of freeware for figuring out just what's happening in the sky.