It was, indeed, an excellent night for first light on the repaired facility. At 3 yesterday afternoon, I was doubting we would be able to see anything, by 4 the sky was just lovely. New England is always amazing in the weather department.
Arriving a little early to see how I might help out, I found George already pacing the area, anxious to see the event go down as planned. Alan, John W. and Pete showed soon after, the dome was unlocked and other club members and a student volunteer arrived and started setting up/helping with the dome, and the event began to shape up. The shutter on the dome is still a bit of a problem, but I have found the section of the shutter that sticks, and can tweak it from a ladder as it opens, and that proved to be the trick, and we had the dome ready to observe in short order.
Taking a page from my mentor's (Mark G) playbook, I made sure to check Heavens Above before leaving home, and so we were able to observe a -8 Iridium flash
as the opening act of the evening. Since it nearly collided with Polaris, it was easy to watch for, and spectacular to see. Since this day was officially the second World Astronomy Day for 2007, it only seemed fitting to have a great Iridium flash to match the one during the Astronomy Day in Barrington.
We had the club scopes set up in a straggling gaggle to the south of the dome, and the crowd began arriving before sunset. Since my official target (M27, the Dumbbell) was going to be invisible until well after dark, I set up on Albireo to get my tracking data set up, and let about 20 people see Albireo. We tend to forget sometimes that many people have no idea about run-of-the-mill targets like Albireo, and everyone seemed quite happy to observe this star system.
Greg Stone and I were doing a tag-team effort to show folks the same target by eye and electronically enhanced, and when Greg announced that he could see the Dumbbell, I moved to it and was surprised to see it quite well despite some lingering twilight. Immediately I found a problem caused by the few but very intense streetlights at the entrance to the campus: using a narrowband filter to enhance the Dumbbell was impossibe, since the mirror finish of the filter was picking up the light behind me and reflecting it INSIDE the eyepieced, causing a new constellation of amber-colored stars to surround M27 like a halo, and ruin the image. So I was reduced to showing everyone a nebula without a filter, but the sky was transparent enough to handle that, and a number of observers commented very favorably on the idea of seeing the same target in two different ways on Greg's screen and my eyepiece.
I probably had about 40 to 50 folks take a turn on my scope, with several repeat observers who were going back and forth to Greg's scope and mine. So that tells me that they were getting the idea of comparing and contrasting the two ways of seeing, and were coming back for more. As Tom mentioned, the questions were of a very high caliber - even from the kids that were there! It was a very pleasant crowd the entire evening.
I overheard several people commenting on the 'impressive' telescope/dome setup, so I think that the value of this instrument as an outreach resource was clearly demonstrated. There is just something so awe-inspiring about entering a dome with all of its red lights inside, and seeing this enormous telescope sitting high on a pier, just waiting to show you a fabulous target. So I believe that the general public was very impressed by the setup.
We were all packed out by about 11, and a small contingent of us kept up the tradition of DD after a meeting (that WAS a club meeting, remember...) and we talked until nearly midnight. The universal consensus of the group was that it had been a very pleasant experience for our first cooperative effort with the university.