Astronomical League - Outreach Club Project

Thanks to the urging of Terry Mann, I decided it was probably time to sit down and compile just a small sampling of the astronomy outreach that I do each year. In a sense, this is an important endeavor - not because I desire recognition for what I do - but because reaching the general public truly is part of the reason why we do what we do. For all of the thousands and thousands of souls that I have interactively presented astronomy to over the years, I thank you. Giving to you has enriched my own astronomy experience far greater than any award could ever hope to achieve.

This one is for you...

January 11, 2006 - At Nationwide...

Comments: A trip to the capitol city of Columbus? Yeah. For anyone who has ever driven in Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Richmond, Pittsburg, Cincinnatti, Raleigh, Ann Arbor, Nashville, Indiapolis, or any other major city, you know the scene. You darn near need a global positioning device just to navigate a hospital! After I had taken care of business, it was my great honor to visit with my good friend Keith (a.k.a. "Bubba") at the Nationwide Building a give a visit with their astronomy club.

I arrived with no problems and he gratefully met me in the lobby. You would think that after all the airports and campus areas that I've been to, that I would be used to BIG places, but I'm still awfully shy when it comes new situations. Nervous? Yep. But I really love this guy and within minutes he had made me feel comfortable and we headed for the conference room. Of course, being me, I had forgotten part of what I wanted to bring with me and all of what I wanted to say, but once you turn that little key in my back labeled "astronomy"?

I'm off and running...

So what was my "lecture" about? Observing. Not just what to look for in the sky and when... But really observing. How to take the time to really look at all the mystery and magic that astronomy can give you. How to make the most out of what you are doing... And how to share the love with others. At the beginning of the program, one of their members had demonstrated with with a tape measure a new way of looking at the size of the solar system and I thoroughly applaud him. They are off and rolling! The concept is there...

As I would speak, I would look at all the different folks there and watch their reactions. Nothing fascinates me more than those who are eager - or willing to laugh! As always, I know I'm doing a good job when folks laugh out loud or lean forward in their seats. The point is not me, or what I can do, or what I have done... But can I for one moment ignite a spark in someone else? If I can, then the greatest reward in the world is knowing they felt that spark and will perhaps remember how to recapture it.

Did I stumble? Yes. From time to time I would become aware of where I was at, or that there were people listening on a teleconference and my internal circuits would shut right down. But right there beside me was a fellow who has spent many a happy hour with me in the dark, and a couple of words from him would be all it would take to ignite my own spark again. But for heavens sake, Bubba, don't get me going or we'll be here all day! ;)

Once again, it was my honor to visit with the good folks at Nationwide and I hope in some small way that my visit encourages them to not only to observe, but to enjoy what they are doing and reach out towards the public. They are the "stars" of the show...

And may they all shine on!

Speaking of shine, guess who came out to play tonight? Ah, you know it. Selene... What a wonderful way to end the day...

Let's hope you were watching, too.

Location: Nationwide Investments Corp. - Columbus, OH
Attendance: 16
Time: 90 minute

March 18, 2006 - At Malabar Farm...

Comments: It had been a very long time indeed since I had joined my friends at AFY for an observing night at Malabar Farm. It is also our first scheduled public program of the year year and just as with WRO - I was thinking twice about going. The temperatures are going to get down in the low 20s and all I can remember is how horribly my head hurt for 6 days after the last time I tried to tempt fate. So... I decided I'd let fate decide. I checked accuweather. Not bad. I checked to see if everything was still packed together to take the Celestron NexStar 102. Yep. Even my duffel bag still held all the right ingredients. I plugged my battery pack in. An hour later it gave me a "full charge" light. I found my thermos. I had clean clothes. I ain't feeling bad. In other words?

No exuses.

Heading out, I arrived just before the sky had gone totally dark. It had been since I visited Black Forest since I'd used the 102 and I was sure hoping I'd remember how to put it all together. It was clear back in them days that I first knew something was going wrong with me and six months later - here I am ready to try again. Bundling myself up, I started assembling equipment and was pleased that my hands remembered the routine. By now, my friends had began to drift over to talk and it was simply great to see Keith, Greg, Curt, Robert, Stuart and Al again. Apparently they still have faith that I remember how to do it!

And Stuart is just a whistle away...

Once assembled, I was ready to align. I smiled when I had a hard time remembering how to take out the Pennsylvania location, but managed. Using my cellphone, I checked the time, set things up, and away we go.

And I'm off by ten million miles.

Laughing, Stuart comes over to give me a hand. For some odd reason, my PowerTank totally lost its charge within minutes, so he gave me the cord to hook it to my car. Once there, away it purred and Stu went to realign it for me. As I watched him put the numbers in the keypad, it struck me! Like a total idiot, I had entered the time as military time and the telescope was responding to my erroneous commands. No wonder! At least Stu always makes me laugh and not long afterwards I was up and purring like a kitten - with notes and maps ready.

I worked my way steadily through all the NGC and Messier objects in Orion - then on to Monoceros, Canis Major and Puppis. For at least two or more hours I had a totally grand time hopping from object to object, making my notes and pleased as punch to be using this fine little scope again. It's a really surprising performer!

I walked around for awhile visiting with my friends and looking through their scopes. Stuart has an awesome binoviewer and Greg a new eyepiece in the AFY's new 6". Robert had our new 12.5" dob out and aiming at a variety of objects. Although I'm feeling a little cold, I'm also feeling very fine and although the sky could have been better, it's just great to be out with my friends!

Along about that time I decided I'd go back and start through my Hydra studies. And what's the first thing I do? Yep. Caught that cord and tripped off my power supply. No problem. I plugged everything back in and was tickled that I remembered how to align everything on my own again. This time so well that every object was right dead in the middle of the eyepiece! Since the telescope had decided to use Capella as an alignment star, I figured I'd do a fast walk through Auriga while I was there. By the sixth object? I'd done it again!! Pulled my own plug....

Me and my big feet.

Well, I thought about setting things back up again, but by now I had been at if for about four hours and was noticing that my core temperature had really dropped. Don't get me wrong - I'm a person that is extremely tolerant of cold and I didn't feel cold - but when your core temperature drops? Yep. There's that fear of being in pain again.

The public had long gone and Curt was packing up. I guess that's enough for me as well and it didn't take long before everything was packed back as perfectly as it came. I talked to my friends for awhile longer as the phat Moon and bright Jupiter began to rise above the trees and the clouds softly sneaked back. I've got pages and pages of study notes here - more than 50 objects - and it was just wonderful to be out and feeling like myself again.

Time to head west...

Location: Malabar Farms State Park
Attendance: 12
Time: 2 hours

March 4, 2006 - Warren Rupp Observatory - Opening Night!

Comments: What, me stay home on our opening night of 2006? Wild horses couldn't keep me away... (but they did try. ;)

Although I was not the most timely of souls, I did make it not horribly late. I honestly tried to be there by 7:00, but things just don't always work they way they should and I was grateful that I had at least gotten there before the bulk of our guests arrived for the evening.

How good it is to see my friends again! I definately needed a round of hugs, and it started with Dave, and made it's way to John B., John N., Terry, Joe, Keith and Bruce. It's good to see his girlfried here as well and it's not long before I discovered Heidi in the dark. All my friends are here! And so are some very special guests...

These are the wonderful young folks from Case Western Reserve College and they are here to study astronomy for the evening. My hat is off to these great young adults, not only were they smart and well mannered, but what great fun it was to have them here! It was also my great pleasure to make the acquaintance of several new members and re-welcome our guests from Nationwide Astronomy Club as well. It looks like it's going to be one fine night!

Although there was plenty of "moon shine" to go around, Bruce had the 31" aligned and fine. First item up was the incomparable "Eskimo Nebula" and it was very worth climbing the lift to have a look. On the ground, both Johns have telescopes going and I know my grin had to light up the dark as I listened to them "do their thing". At the other end of the observation platform, Terry and Heidi are also "shooting stars", and I am so proud of Terry's wonderful galaxy cluster maps! Center stage is Keith and his breathtaking binoculars - you would have to take a moment to look through them to understand just how fine the view really is!

I sure know one fine bunch of people.

Did I horse around? Yeah. A little bit. I knew better than to try and move anything around, but someone had kindly set up the SVD8 for me and it was great to use it again. Bruce had cleaned and aligned the optics as well as performed some minor repairs. While I will admit that most of Orion's optics are very good, I am sorry to say that their telescopes simply fall apart under a lot of use. I am very proud of the changes that Bruce has made and everything is tight and right on the scope again - and what an awesome view.

Both Keiths and I take turns aiming at a few odd things and split off to also enjoy the celestial scenery in the other telescopes as well. I know that object after object turned up in "Big Blue", but Saturn and the M81 are the only other two I feel like braving the steps for tonight. But ya' know what? It feels really good to be out. It's good medicine for a weary soul.

I tremendously enjoyed everyone's company and after about three hours I knew that it was time for me to stop. My brain would have loved to have stayed on, but my body says no-no. I stop to thank our guests and our club members once again for making our opening night...


Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 26
Time: 2 hours

April 8, 2006 - Scouts at the Observatory...

Comments: Yep. I'm early. That's not a bad thing because I have a lot of equipment to set up and I'm not always the fastest soul on the block. Unfortunately, I had trouble with the door lock and just minutes behind me came John N. to the rescue! While he circumvented what we needed to do to get in (which thankfully wasn't stuffing the vice-president of the astronomical league through a window - as is my way) I drove round up the Hill and into the observing area to set up.

We've got scouts!

The boys were already out and curious about the Observatory - camped behind it in the area known as the "Fire Ring". They are polite and curious as we begin opening things up for the evening, and once I have the NexStar 102 ready to go and hooked to the television, I go down to talk to Sean about some repair work the the Clubhouse while John allows them a look inside the Dome.

It's not long until I am back and have CeCelia and the camera crew ready to go to film and interview for a local Mansfield television station. Many more people are arriving and it's time to give these good folks a show! I love working with people and as you can see, I am playing to a packed house. What a pleasure to have 52 guests! We laugh, we talk, we learn, we interact... and we wait for dark.

With the coming of the Summer comes one of the hardest parts about studying astronomy - waiting on the Sun to set! But, you'll never believe how happy we all are that even though it is bitterly cold and windy - we have clear skies for the night. I set the Celestron on the Moon and turn on the television. As always, I am totally blown away by what the video camera can see and how easy it is to point to the screen and show what features to look for.

But, dark does eventually come and with it a chance to visit with John N. and Joe inside with the big scope and with Dave, John B. and myself outside with smaller scopes. So many wonderful things for us to look at! Even with all the moonshine that night, the skies were wonderfully clear and views of Saturn, double stars, clusters and bright nebula remained very, very good.

As you can see, there were lots of very happy faces present at Warren Rupp Observatory that night. Every had an opportunity to look at both the Moon and Saturn through the big telescope and a chance to learn things they didn't know - even though some of them knew quite a bit more than I expected! Everyone got a NASA souveignir and were treated well. It's nights like these that make it all seem worthwhile and we deeply appreciate the local television coverage and hope that more people will come and visit the Observatory.

By now the cold is beginning to bite big time. I so appreciate Dave helping me get my equipment put back in my car, because my right hand and arm is really feeling it. We gather in the Clubhouse to laugh and talk for awhile before leaving and I doubt I am the only one to drive home with a smile on my face! (although i am probably the only one accompanied by a bag of my secret vice - taco bell. ;)

When I am back, it is to see Jupiter rising. While I've given all I've got to give tonight, it doesn't stop me for standing out under this beautiful canopy of distant suns...

And thinking of you.

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 46
Time: 2 hours

May 6, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Astronomy Day"...

Comments: Ah, yes! A section in my life which could also very well be titled "The Day That Everything Happened At Once". After I came in at dawn from watching the Aquarids, I was limping pretty bad so I decided to just take one of those happy pills the doc hands my way to dull pain and it dulled it all right. It dulled me right back to sleep until noon! While I'm sure I probably needed the rest, I also have many, many things that need to be done today and it's time to brew a pot of coffee and get the party started!

First off? Edits. Being a writer is not a walk in the park and before I can even think about loading the dishwasher or having some lunch I've got manuscript to conquer. Of course, being "on-line" also means that I have other responsiblities and with Astronomy Day being today, I doubled check the AstroLeague website and noted that half our activites weren't displaying. (&^#%!!! What I did not need this afternoon was internal problems in an international website on one of the biggest days of the year! But, hey... That's why I volunteer my time and it didn't take long to get the full site back up and running again.

Time for this morning's reports? Uh uh. Right now I really need to create some handout materials for our own Astronomy Day activities at Warren Rupp Observatory. Some nice Moon maps... some all sky charts... some monthly observing tips... And my printer running out of ink. OK, then! This day looks like it's going to be great! I'm 25 miles from the nearest store and even further from a copy machine! What's that? Wing it? Darn right, wing it. I've got stickers, bookmarks, cards... I can do this.

vvvvrrrrmmmmm.... pssssssssssst!

And I look up to see a brand new Peterbuilt pull into my driveway and this long-haired, goateed, rock star lookin' young man jump out of the cab. Terry! Hot dang.. my oldest son and followed by the youngest! He'd dropped by to show off his new truck and I'm very proud of him. Although you might think that I'd be the type to want sons who have college degrees, I'm hear to tell you that I am very proud of any young man who has such a wonderful work ethic. I've seen a lot of "degrees" working at McDonald's... And a fellow who can afford a rig like that by pulling the hours and the miles it takes to do it deserves a hug!

Or two... ;)

Once we'd visited, my time was up and I gathered everything up quickly, showered and headed for the Observatory. Stopping only to talk to Sean, my jaw hit the ground when I saw the ClubHouse. Two work ethics in one day! If anyone ever dares to tell me about these worthless, long haired, rock and roll listening hippies not pulling their own weight, I will very strongly give you an attitude adjustment! Drum-beating, rock and roll loving, full time working Sean has totally stripped the ClubHouse down to bare in his "spare time" and will have all the repairs and remodels done in three weeks!!

Ashamed of myself for feeling like I was overworked, I quickly gave our monthly statements and meeting to the RAS members in attendance and we got things rolling for Astronomy Day. By dusk the folks were a'comin' in, the Chernobyl Kids Charity scope was ready and we've got mostly cloudy skies! No matter. We all had a very wonderful time and a total of 62 guests and members in attendance. Even Dan had made it back on his feet again! Scopes were aimed at the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter and bright objects through the clouds. People laughed, people talked, people had a very good time! It was great to see Bruce, Greg, Terry, and Mike and Joe back in action and to watch people using the different scopes we had set out. After all, half the fun is in the discovery!

In the big scope, M3 was superior - but one of the highlights for me was to have time to really kick back with Jupiter. I had picked up the Great Red Spot in the 6" and the 31" slammed it out. Funny that no one else had noticed! I also knew where GRS Jr. was positioned but unfortunately the sky was very unstable and it would have required a lot more time at the eyepiece to confirm it.

Along about midnight, only us hardcores were left. We, the brave, the few, the stupid... were diligently waiting for any type of hole to appear in the clouds to have a look at 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann C. As the clouds began to thin in the right area, maps were anxiously passed about and the arduous work of tyring to pick Kappa Lyrae out of the murk began. Inside the dome it had risen high enough to put the 31" on it and Joe had his big binoculars and SkyWindow set its way. Terry had his 12.5", Mike his 10", Greg was manning the SVD8, and I was calling out coordinates to Bruce. I think Joe nailed it first in the binoculars and somewhere between the Moon and clouds it was nothing more than a soft hazy patch with no nucleus. The SVD8 brought in a little more coma structure and a bit of tail...

But the 31" laid it bare.

As soon as Bruce said he had it, I was in there.... And confused! Yes, yes. I started barking out orders like how many arc minutes does this eyepiece reveal in the 31" and what magnitude are the two fields stars... But mostly I was stone blown away by the detail in the coma. There's opposing tails! My first and most immediate thought is what the heck has happened to the nucleus? From what was once a very stellar point is now just a prick of brightness. As soon as Bruce gets me the information I need, I find I am correct in my assessment of a 15 arc second ion tail - and probably more had the skies, position, and less moonlight been available. But what really got me was the nucleus! I've been chasing comets for a long time and in just a matter of days 73/P Schwassmann-Wachmann's nucleus has dropped by a minimum of four magnitudes. I don't care what sky conditions are... A stellar point is a stellar point and the core has dimmed dramatically.

And in my silly excitement, I've kinda' forgotten to share the eyepiece, eh?

I know 73/P has a track record of making huge jumps, but it's really been quite exciting to see such rapid changes. I was also deeply gratified when Bruce also confirmed that movement can be detected while watching for extended periods. This is really a dandy comet and to make the drop in the nucleus from between 5-6 to 9-10 in four days makes it very unique indeed!

It's not long until we're all pack up and ready to go. There was a lot of teasing laughter about the unpredictable weather and how we all knew as soons as we left that the skies would clear. Funny thing I noticed after I made it back and got out of the car...

The stars were everywhere!

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 62
Time: 2 hours

June 30, 2006 - At The Observatory: Church Camp...

Comments: Yeah. I've been around, folks. Still stargazing, but doing mostly sitting on the stepladder and watching the Moon, the Great Red spot and the little shadows on Jupiter. It's been a bad week and pain is my constant companion. Believe it or not, it makes me feel terrible when I can't keep up my observing reports or even e.mail correspondence... And I'm scared of the day when I can't bounce back again.

As you well know, I love the Observatory and the Hidden Hollow campgrounds. Nothing on Earth makes me happier than to give a herd of young folks an opportunity that they may never have again in their lives, so it's mighty hard for me to say "No" to three nights of programs. Thanks to the strength of Joe, Greg and Kamin tonight looks like our best shot at being able to give these young folks a view.

And boy... Did we have a crowd!

Young folks of all ages through the teens were present and ready to be taken on an adventure to the Moon and Jupiter. They filled the doorway, they filled the sidewalks, they filled the camp! Everyone was full of questions and we were there to answer them as well as provide an opportunity to see through a telescope.

With a full audience of 150, it's is all we can do to take them in waves. And that is how they seem to come - in tidal waves. ;) But, luck would have it that the skies were clear and the opportunity was there. How can you refuse such a wonderful bunch of young minds?

Although the hour kept growing later and later, they seemed to keep pouring in. Joe and I chased the Moon until it had long set, and Greg chased Jupiter until it got to the point the 31" could no longer watch it with safety for the lift passengers. Greg reaimed at the M4, I traded Joe off at the door and went out to use the 10" to aim at some deep sky delights in Scorpius and Saggitarius. Finally, long after the old day had ended and the new began, the last of the happy campers had seen and it was time to pack it up.

Elated, but with my left arm on fire, I began putting things away.... and the unthinkable happened. The telescope I had been using got away from me. I managed to stop it before really bad damage happened, but I was sick to see I had dented one of the outer tube rings and I know it lost its collimation. Sick at heart, I called Joe and Greg to help me right it and Sean pitched in as well. I couldn't feel any worse if you had ripped my own heart out and I would have given anything to have stopped it.

After having been assured that it was nothing that couldn't be fixed, I quit feeling like all I wanted to do was cry and head home. John and Bruce? If you read this, you will never know how sorry I am. By the time I had made Lexington, I was in trouble even driving. I thank my family so much for taking care of me and seeing that I made it safely in, changed, and given the proper drugs and ice to recover. It was hours until the pain receeded enough to sleep and I become even more depressed because I know I won't be able to make it to McKinley Museum's Observatory the next day... and very likely not even Public Night.

My apologies to you all when my body fails. My mind wants so much to go on... But there are times when I cannot not even type. I hate myself... And if I have to give up using a telescope because I can't handle it anymore?

Then... I don't know what will become of me.

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 150
Time: 3 hours

July 25, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"... Chasing Comet 177/P 2006 M3 (Barnard 2)...

Comments: Well, is it going to be cloudy or clear for our program tonight? When I arrived, both Robert and John already had the dome open and ready to go. First order of business? Extreme pride in being able to give John his globular cluster award and to have the opportunity to sit and review both Robert and Carl's observing notes and sketches for their award as well. Not long after, Greg joins us - then Joe. And what a pleasure it is to give Joe his award as well! I know how much hard work it is to log entries and do sketches. Just one look at these on-line reports are absolutely nothing compared to the boxes of notebooks and stacks of paper from my own observations!

So awesome...

And, you know I've got to tell them about 177/P. After all, anything easy enough to be seen in big binoculars should be easy enough in a telescope, right? Hah... Last night I did it on "north/northwest of Alpha Herculis right now!" It was a lucky thing that DoDz 7 was very close and that I recognized it to call the shot on the maps. What I had seen was a huge, round diffuse patch and I wanted some confirmation! At the table, I had Uranometria laid out and as the sky darkened we began to compare maps and coordinates. Just as quickly as the light faded, and the "keystone" appeared, I had it in the binos and passed them off to Robert. Within seconds he had also spotted it and then the real fun began! Laser pointers out, I could see it in the binos and was doing my best to direct the beam onto the comet's position when the kids arrrived.

Show time!

As always, we have a fantastic time with the Hidden Hollow campers and giving our annual "Starry Nights" programs. Tonight we are once again playing to a full house and between members, counsellors and campers we had 40 of us there. The kids are wonderfully attentive and the props from the Night Sky Network are wonderfully helpful in allowing us to present fresh material. They've been having so much fun this year that once the rest of the camp kids are locked down, their counsellors have to sneak away to join us! It's really great to know that our programs are so popular and that the young folks are so anxious to visit. Their excited chatter and genuine attention is truly beyond compare...

When the last of the "thank yous" had died off and they were gone again, we were back to the comet. Once again, I could see it in binoculars and it has moved very close to the edge of the Milky Way stream. At this point, it is as diffuse and unresolvable to binoculars as the Milky Way is, but that round signature is a dead give away. Using the tools at our disposal, I take my own calcuations from the map and we try those coordiantes. No luck. John called Bruce, has him access on-line ephemersis and we find out I am less than 2 minutes in RA off on my earlier calculations. Still no comet... But I can see it! Binoculars out, others search to no avail, but it's there, daggone it. You aren't looking for something that smacks you in the head.... You're looking for a round diffuse area.

And eventually we just give up because the hour is late and we all have to work the next day.

What we didn't know then, but Joe confirmed immediately once he was able to access the internet, was that my call was on. It is there, but moving at such an incredible speed that my initial calculations and even Bruce's were off by just a matter of about 4 degrees... 4 degrees isn't much to a pair of binoculars - but it's light years to a telescope. Joe also confirmed my magnitude estimate was also within fairly close and we were both blown away by just how quickly 177/P is smoking up the sky. And John? Ah, he's got it's number now... The next time we try, the computer will take control! While my own observations and guesstimates on sky position are close?

I can't beat MegaStar. ;)

And so I happily sit with Robert and star gaze for awhile. There's a great peace and healing here, just watching the night drift by. It was really a very fun night and I hate to leave, but I gotta' get home a do a report and sketch while my memory is fresh. I guess duty calls for us all and I can only dream...

That you saw that beautiful bolide that tumbled out of Aquarius on the way home.

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 28
Time: 90 minutes

July 18, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...

Comments: Another program? You betcha'! It really is a surprising amount of fun to give outreach programs and tonight we have a great group of people to give the presentation. John N., Greg, Robert, Joe and myself have all done this so many times and done it together that we just really gel and we are ready to go!

This week, Joe has also brought along some new props which are just terrific. He had been doing some calculations with the dome size and we now have representative "planets" that are a lot of fun for the kids. Tonight I really didn't expect the skies to be clear, so I was going to focus on the Hubble Space Telescope and telescopes in general - but as the evening got darker?

The skies got clearer.

Our two winning cabins for this week came up just as the skies were getting dark. Seating the on the floor of the dome, we run through various parts of the Night Sky Network programs and (as always) I tailor what we present to the age and understanding level of the kids we get. Tonight was quite a young crowd, but they didn't have any problem grasping concepts - right down to the relative size of the distant stars compared to our own Sun, thanks to some great graphics from Robert and Greg. The program winds up with telescopes, the Hubble, and thanks to our generous grant money for A/V equipment, we are able to show an IMAX presentation of the HST.

Incredibly well-mannered, this group follows instructions perfectly and as I cut groups of 4 away from the herd, some join John at his telescope outside, others join Robert for constellation instructions with the laser pointer, and Joe, Greg and I run them through their chance to use the 31" scope like clockwork. All too soon, it is time for them to go and I am so very proud of our group of presenters. If I didn't know better, I would swear we are making this look easy!

As soon as the last of the laughter faded away in the dark, I found myself in the dome looking up at Greg on the lift. "Can you give an old woman a ride?" The answer is yes and it is at last my turn to journey away to the incredible "Ring Nebula". Greg has placed one of his own eyepieces in the scope and I am blown away all over again. You know, I look at an awful lot of objects through a wide variety of telescopes and still none will take my breath away like the view through the 31". Yes, I've used similar sized aperture housed in different scopes, but this one is the best I've ever had the opportunity to view through.

The braids in the structure of the shell are so incredibly clear. This is non-filtered, no "tricks" applied, straight up photons. Tonight the center of the ring has a vague, misty appearance and within 3 or 4 minutes of viewing a stability spot opened and the central star just slammed right out. I know I hollered. After all, what amateur astronomer doesn't want to see the central in the M57? When you can look directly at it with no aversion and see it plain as day, it's pretty hard not to be excited!

When Greg can peel me from the eyepiece, we go down to share the view with Joe, John and Robert. A glance at the discreet red clock on the wall tells me that I had best hit the road, because I know if we aim it at something else that I won't want to leave and I will be a total b... bear come the morning. Bidding everyone a pleasant evening, I head back out on the road again for the trip west. It has been a terrific evening, and although I should be dog-tired?

I'm too wound up to sleep...

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 28
Time: 90 minutes

July 15, 2006 - At Hoover Price Planetarium... Swimming In Stars....

Comments: Sometimes things work out - and sometimes they don't. Two weeks ago I had planned on visiting Hoover Price Planetarium at the McKinley Museum of Natural History in Canton, and unfortunately I was simply unable to make the drive. Thankfully the new drug regime has really helped and my friend Jason extended the invitaiton again for today and I am very happy to join him!

Jason is really a dynamic and great young man. We had first met through the RadioJOVE program and I was delighted to have someone fairly nearby here in Ohio who also enjoyed radio astronomy. But, like myself, Jason is much more than just that. He's also a very active member of the Akron Astronomy Club, loves to do public presentations, and is now also working at the Hoover Price Planetarium. On a personal level, we also connect very well because we share the same basic occupation as well as our love of all things astro!

We start our tour with visiting the McKinley Memorial and then it's time to head inside as Jason introduces me into exactly how a planetarium works. What a control panel! It is really a very unique experience and although I have seen many planetariums, this is my very first opportunity to have a chance to see what makes all these things work. You can't believe all the incredible amount of cameras, switches, dials, etc. goes into even the simplest of presentations!

Very soon, the audience arrives and it's time for me to kick back and enjoy the show. I hope my presence isn't making Jason nervous and it doesn't take long until he just incorporates me into the program as well. What an honour! As I look above to the high domed projection screen of space, I realize just how great the hobby of astronomy truly is and how many wonderful people that I have met through it. It's great to be able to be part of the program.

Afterwards, Jason takes me on a tour of the museum itself and it is a terrific place. For those of you in Ohio who are old enough to remember COSI back when, then you are in touch with the Canton Museum. Everything from dinosaurs through science is represented - along with a great look at yesteryear. When we are finished, invitations to the staff to visit at WRO are forthcoming and I am sure glad that he invited me out to dinner because I really don't want our visit to end.

All too soon, it's time to head back my own way. I will see Jason again in just a few weeks as he will be one of our honored guest speakers at the Hidden Hollow Star Party and I look forward to our continued friendship and cooperation between all our various public outreach efforts. I had a great time!

Location: Hoover Price Planetarium
Attendance: 12
Time: 30 minutes

July 13, 2006 - At the Luthern Church Camp...

Comments: Another program? You betcha'. Greg had lined this one up quite some time ago, but thanks to Ohio rains, flooding and tornadoes we had to cancel our Monday appearance and reschedule for tonight. As it turns out, that was a very good thing for it's one of the very few times in the past week that the skies have cooperated!

When I arrive, Greg already has a solar telescope set up and groups on interested kids taking a look at our nearest star. I had also brought along my Orion ShorTube 4.5 and the snap set up meant the kids were off and learning very quickly how to different telescopes work and what fun it was to watch them figure out why one was right side up and the other was upside down!

After everyone had a chance to view the Sun, it was time to gather them up and give a little "program". Tonight I had brought along several different props because I really hadn't rehearsed anything in particular. Sometimes that's the best because these kids were bright, fast and full of questions! At darn near the speed of light we zipped from demonstration to demonstration and my guess is that 75% were grasping each concept within seconds of seeing a physical demonstration! And oh my goodness... We even ended up discussing quantuum physics! Every time I thought we were winding up our talk?

More... More... More!

Finally, I just had to stop and say "Who wants to look at Jupiter?" They would have kept Greg and I there all night and happily discussing everything we know! Eager lines formed at the telescopes and I kept crossing my fingers that the skies would hold. As luck would have it, the skies stayed clear, but the dew point from the saturated ground and foliage didn't take long before it began to find everything. It's one of the very few times in life that I've actually seen my telescope sweat more than me.

As the thank yous echo off the woods, the youngsters leave on a night time nature hike as we pack up to go. I know Greg would have liked to have stayed on because this is truly a very dark sky site, but the old woman here really doesn't want to over do. The happy, smart children have made me feel terrific this evening!

And I like it...

Location: Luthern Church Camp
Attendance: 40 +
Time: 2 hours

July 11, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...

Comments: Hey, hey. Steadily improving here. For every little bit of rough seas you encounter, there is also smooth sailing ahead... And so I hang in there, take one day at a time, and am very appreciative of every good moment.

Tonight is the season opener for our annual "Starry Nights" program at Warren Rupp Observatory. For those of you familiar with my reports, you already know that the Observatory is located in a private park called "Hidden Hollow" and that each year the camp is innundated for six weeks with groups of young folks from all walks of life and ages. For many years it has been tradition for the RAS to provide these campers with a telescope program and the last few years have seen it evolve into a full scale science adventure that happens rain or shine. Guess what?

It's raining.

Only the day before, the Richland/Ashland area had been home to two confirmed tornadoes and flash flooding. Joe had called me earlier and we both decided that as long as there was no lightning danger present that we would be happy to go ahead with our program. So, despite a few closed roads here and there, we made it! Greg and Kamin, along with John N. had made it there ahead of me and gotten the dome open and ready for business. Each time I see Kamin, it seems like he grows taller and taller... And what a fine astronomy presenter he is becoming! It doesn't take long before he has me all set up with our program about black holes and I have the opportunity to talk with John.

First order of business is to present him with his honorary Messier Certificate Award and pin from the Astronomical League. I am exceptionally proud of him for logging his observations and it is truly a privelege to give him this award. He is one of the three of us who stuck diligently at it, and although it takes some time, was able to accomplish all the Messiers unguided. Way to go! I am also deeply thankful to learn that my mishap with the telescope at the last program hasn't apparently caused as much damage as I was afraid it did. I am not a telescope mechanic, and John's words that it can be fixed sure make me feel a lot better. I don't think I'm ready to handle equipment yet, but a least I don't feel so sick at heart. Not long after, Joe arrives with a new learning book for me, and I am always delighted to explore different ways of communicating the night sky to others. This is awesome!

And so we give the go ahead to send the campers our way...

As always, I give the general program that helps to understand just a little bit more about our night sky - such as the phases of the Moon, sizes, our solar system and distances. Although I am beginning to feel a lot more like myself again, I am also a bit "out of sync" for some reason and very glad for Joe's help. When we go through our routine spiel, it is time to show the young folks about the fabric of space and to teach them more about gravity and black holes. I am very appreciative of NSN's fine props, and , as you can see, so are the kids!

Although our two age groups varied widely, the are still very intelligent and quite willing to participate. Believe it or not, the older teen boys knew a surprising amount about astronomy, gravity and its effects. The most fun was watching the younger girls laugh at them as they tried to provide the "rocket fuel" to launch their craft away from the force of gravity. It is really a great deal of fun to watch them participate and to hear their laughter as they learn!

Of course, no trip to the Observatory is complete without a ride to the top of the dome in the lift to see how the telescope operates and how the observatory itself works. Thanks to John, they got a thrill! As they take turns in the lift, we answer questions about telescopy and I am delighted to see such bright minds that already understand such a great deal of what the mechanics of the great telescope are. Others ask questions and are answered, they had an opportunity to handle and meteorite... And of course, the favourite tour of the clouds via Greg, Kamin, and the green laser.

When all is said and done, it is time to head out again. Although I had been instructed on how to return (follow Greg) across where the bridge had been washed out... I totally forgot and left on my own. Although the rain was pouring down so hard it was almost impossible to see, I took it slow and easy.... And turned on a totally unfamiliar road. Lost? Not this time. I don't know what miracle kept me on the right track or making the right turns...

But I'm thankful for every little thing that comes my way.

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 28
Time: 90 minutes

July 1, 2006 - At The Observatory: Public Night...

Comments: Again, my apologies for such late reports. I know there is no one out there grading me on this... And if you are here, then you know it really is a personal diary of sorts. After 5 years of writing about my astronomy life, I could no more stop writing than I could stop my love of the stars. I know I'll never be anyone special, but perhaps there will come a time when a grandchild or great-grandchild shall wish to know more about me... Or maybe there will be a time when all I am able to do is read my own words.

Ah, hell. When that day comes, stick my IV in a beer can and a smoke in my ventilator, will you?

Even the act of typing has become difficult right now... Therefore my tardiness. But if there is any way possible I can still be a part of things? I am not going to miss it. Thanks to the good folks at Wendy's for supplying me with ice, I made it to the Observatory before everyone else for a change! I happily opened the dome and got things going for the good folks who will eventually drop by this evening. Although I can't use the scope, I can sure charge the lift and do lots of other things. Soon enough, Terry joined me... then Dave, Joe and Greg.

People began arriving and by the time it was dark Terry had set out a smaller scope and Greg had the 31" up and running. Joe had also brought his Celestron and for the very first time I got to see what a StellaCam can do. John? Holy moly! The moment I saw M3, I was howling at the Moon. If only I had known it was going to rock like that I would have brought at VHS tape with me!

All in all, we had 16 visitors over the evening. It's wonderful to see folks take an interest and although it was partly cloudy we still gave them one heck of a show. For what it's worth, I tried setting up my 4.5... And I didn't get the polar axis tightened down enough and darn near lost it, too. Thankfully I also caught it in time, and when no one was watching I just quietly put it away. I am happy with a look through the 31" and to see what Joe and Terry are aiming at.

By 10:30 or so, I had melted all the ice I had. When things are like this, I think I could lay my arm on a glacier and melt through in 2 hours. Realizing that ice is my salvation and that time is limited, I'm afraid I had to go then. Next time? I'll bring more. Until then, I wished Greg and Terry the happiest of evenings chasing the riches of Scorpius and Sagittarius.

I'll be back someday...

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 16
Time: 2 hours

August 8, 2006 - At the Observatory: "Starry Nights"...

Comments: Sorry to have been absent again. Seems I've overdone a bit and my punishment is the loss of use of my right hand. No worries, though. With proper drugs and rest?

I always bounce back.

Tonight is the last of our yearly "Starry Nights" program at the Observatory and I was very sorry to have missed our Public Night this past Saturday. Feeling much better and regaining my "grip" means I'm gonna' be there, because I've got a very special person waiting for me. Both Robert and his son Carl have completed the criterion for the globular cluster award and it about broke my heart that I couldn't drive to present it three days ago. No matter. I know Robert will be there and I am so proud of him and Carl! It pleases me to no end to present these awards and to see him working on his lunar club challenges as well.

The man has a very special place in my heart, you know. ;)

Again, we have wonderful club participation for the last program. Greg and Kamin are here, John N., Robert and Joe as well. This year has been such a pleasure because we have been well staffed and our programs have run like clockwork. And speaking of clock... Here comes the kids!

For the next 90 minutes, we streamlined them. 24 youngsters and 4 counsellors were our guests and tonight's highlight was celebration of Apollo and the Moon... and meteors! It's time for the Perseids and even though it will be "moony" I want these young folks to remember to look for all the great things we talked about. As always, the Night Sky Network props are wonderful and the kids are attentive and fun to be with. Despite nearly a Full Moon, we even had an awesome view of the Ring Nebula!

When the last of the thanks echoed off, it was time to pack it up and head out. As soon as the ClubHouse renovations are done, it's time to store away some of the great things we've used to teach this year. Thanks to the generousity of the Rupp Family, things have gone smoother than they ever have and I hope they know how very much we appreciate having the proper A/V equipment right on hand. From reaching for observing awards to giving public programs, we are alive here at Warren Rupp Observatory once again.

As Robert and I walk out to our vehicles, we stop to talk and look up at the stars. He's a lot like me, you know. We share a lot of the same passions, feelings and spirit. His aura is a tangible thing and knowing that someone else can live and laugh through pain is most encouraging. As we talk, John comes out and tells us not to go just yet because Joe has something to show us. Believe it or not, he's caught the Ring on camera! And all things considered? It ain't a bad shot.

As much as I hate to go, it's well after midnight and I know I will hate myself in the morning after the long drive and wind down time. Oddly enough, I had posed a question and gotten a response that leaves me smiling all the way home. After all, it's not hard to smile when the landscape is bathed in silver moonlight and the deer stand as still as statues in the fields. As my cheap little frozen pizza bakes happily in the oven, I sit by the window watching the Man in the Moon as I sip at a cold beer.

Life is good...

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Attendance: 28
Time: 90 minutes

September 2, 2006 - At the Observatory: Public Night...

Comments: Late on reports as usual? Yeah. This day started very, very early for me and it's a working one. It's grey. It's rainy. Thing hurt... And although I know what's going on tonight, there simply seems to be no hope of catching it, so why dwell?

After I got home, I enjoyed a two-fold treat. I am still a prisoner of the ice, so make it pleasurable ice. I can hold a pint of Ben and Jerry's instead and after a few bites I've noticed that I'm melting the entire carton. Ah, well. Put it away, grab the frozen blue and take a nap. Tonight is Public Night at the Observatory and we do have a bit more to plan for before Hidden Hollow begins.

When I arrive, I am blown away to see Dan sitting at the picnic table. How great to have him back and feeling better! Terry is here as well as Joe and Keith and it is my great honour to present Terry with his Contellation Hunter Award. He takes the art of map drawing way beyond my own mediocre skills. As I look around, I begin to notice other things, too... Like the building had been painted. Holy cow! What else? And then I go down to see the ClubHouse is nearly complete, handrails sanded and painted, window frames, cracks fixed in the mortar between the stones... And whose reponsible? Why Sean, of course! And it's equally good to see him here and congratulate him on all the very fine work.

By now a handful of folks had turned up, which wasn't unexpected. We have several scout troops that will be visiting in the months ahead and although the weather isn't cooperating tonight, I had still invited them to attend for a tour. As we wind up our own business and head to up the Dome, the most wonderful thing happened...

The skies began to clear!

It doesn't take long before a scope is set out, the dome opened up and our informal program is on a roll. Personally, I itch to look at the Moon because SMART 1 is going to impact tonight, but all we're going to be able to do is shoot through a few holes. And it's a nice shoot, thanks. Jupiter, the Moon, M13, M31, M32, Albireo, M57... These are the things that can be done on what seems like a totally wasted night. Thanks to the curiousity of the Scouts, their parents encouragement, and our own groups love of sharing, we had a terrific Public Night and we've just scored another one for the 2006 year that we didn't get shut down!

One the way back home, I kept watching the clouds. There's only a bright patch in the clouds every once in a while to remind me of Selene's presence... and a very welcome ice pack at the end of the ride to soothe my hands. Wouldn't it be something to see one of our own spacecraft impact the Moon? Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to follow along virtually, but still longed to have seen it at the eyepiece. It ended up being just a little "poof", but the really cool part?

I was around to see it!

Location: Warren Rupp Observatory
Time: 2 hours
Attendance: 11