August 29, 2003 at 16:30 pm | Leave a Comment
Last year we took our vacation in New Mexico. Along with hiking around Chaco Canyon, we decided to attend the Enchanted Skies Star Party, held each year in Socorro (about 70 miles south of Albuquerque). This is one of the most laid-back amateur astronomy get-togethers in the U.S. I almost hate to give it more publicity because I don’t want to see it become a huge thronging mass of people — but my more noble side wins out because I think it’s a great opportunity for folks to travel to a dark-sky site, hear some great talks, and see some great skies!
I’ve been to ESSP four or five times now and each time is a great experience. Twice I was offered the opportunity to give a science lecture, and the other times I just went for the sheer joy of it all. The lectures are all given at the New Mexico Tech campus and range from “getting started” type talks to presentations from astronomers about the latest in “Big Science.” The stargazing part of the party is divided up between the campus observatory and a ranch area about 20 miles out of town. In both cases, the skies are wonderful and the stargazing is a lot of fun.
The Saturday night barbecue and sing-along under the stars is a big hit. Last year we stayed out until about midnight before heading back to the hotel, but many folks lingered on until the very wee hours, sucking in that big, dark, wonderful sky. If you’re looking for something to do that’s different, gets you to someplace you haven’t been before, and want some sublime memories of scenery and dark sky, this is the star party for you. I just got a mailing from the organizers and it looks like this year’s meeting will be as great as 2002′s was! Check it out!
August 28, 2003 at 14:20 pm | Leave a Comment
In an earlier entry I alluded to the fruit loops who come out of the woodwork whenever there’s an astronomy-related event that could be exploited for some sort of new-agey gain. Today on CNN I read that sooth-sayers around the world are claiming Mars’s influence on Earth means something bad will happen in America very soon. As the teen-agers like to say, “Wull duh… ”
Chances are with a prediction that broad, when tomorrow’s news from the U.S. comes on the TV, these mystic gurus will throw their hands up in glee and say, “See, I told you so… ” (with the unspoken line being: “now give me your money or your soul (or both)”). Well, you have to laugh — these folks have found a lovely way to get followers (and presumably money and fame and sex and whatever else it is they want) by exploiting naturally occurring events in the sky. It’s lovely work, but is it quite honest? Good question. Think about it the next time you’re out there looking at the stars…
August 25, 2003 at 19:54 pm | Leave a Comment
If you haven’t gone out to see Mars yet — and the weather is clear in your area — get outside sometime after 10:30 or 11 the next few nights and look! It’s great! It’s that reddish point of light high in the southern sky (for northern hemisphere viewers). We went viewing it over at Oak Ridge Observatory on Saturday night — saw it through a 61″ telescope, a 6.5″ scope, and a 16″ scope — but it’s just as enchanting to look at through the naked eye and your imagination to take you to the ruddy surface of the Red Planet. Go!!!
August 25, 2003 at 19:50 pm | Leave a Comment
What WERE they Thinking?
A long time ago — in the dark ages — amateur astronomy was pretty much thought to be a male domain. The telescope magazines used to show pictures of telescopes with pretty girls standing next to them. Sort of like the geek’s equivalent to the hot car with the half-nekkid babe draped over the hood — sort of like this one I found over at Scope Reviews.com.
Pretty stupid when you think about it — that attitude that some dish was going to go out stargazing lugging that light bucket around all dolled up in heels and a dress. So, things have changed today, right? Well, sure. There’s change and then there’s change. We see a lot more women at star parties (and a lot more females in Big Astronomy). A lot of them have some pretty cool scopes. The astronomy ads are likely to show just the scopes these days, without the need for eye candy. So that’s all cool.
But there are still some strange attitudes out there about women doing astronomy. I like to read sci.astro.amateur on Usenet — and most of the folks on there are as nice and welcoming as you’d ever imagine. But occasionally there’ll be some discussion about how to get “the wife” to allow more eyepiece purchases, or “what do I do if my wife isn’t interested in astronomy?” which then lead to some strange, sexist commentary in the replies. One memorable exchange a few years ago had a guy wondering out loud in a message about building his wife a telescope and painting it pink so she’d get more interested in the hobby. Reminded me of those silly pink-handled tool sets that come out every year in time for Mother’s Day. These folks never figure out that making something pink doesn’t make it any more useful for a woman than it would be for a man.
Sometimes when I read these message I think of a bunch of little boys in a treehouse somewhere, arguing about how to keep the “gurls” out.
So, what do they think women astronomers worry about when we’re out stargazing? Getting our eye shadow on the viewfinder? Color-coordinating our shoes with our battery-operated socks? Whether or not a 6″ Dob or a 8″ newtonian will make her hips look too big?
Tell you a secret: we’re astronomers. We like to look at things through the scope when the spirit moves us — just like the guys do. We buy eyepieces. We polish our mirrors. We swear at the damned tracking motor when it doesn’t track right. We bitch about the seeing and whine about the mosquitos and no-see-ums just like the big boys. And when everything comes together on a perfect evening, we’re moved by the beauty we see in the skies.
So, let’s hear it for skygazers and let’s forget about whether they’re XX or XY. Besides, lugging around a huge telescope is bound to make your ass feel tired before it feels big…
August 7, 2003 at 14:32 pm | Leave a Comment
We’ve been looking at a lot of cloud bottoms lately. Today they’re about to drop water on us, and I’m hoping they’ll clear up before tonight so I can look at Mars. But what do you do when you’re rained out and still want to enjoy some astronomy?
I like to read astronomy books. There is a stack of them in my office, waiting to be read. Things with titles like “Handbook of Infrared Astronomy” because I always wanted to understand how IR folks do their thing. There’s also Deep-Sky Wonders” — a book I edited for Sky Publishing, back when I was a books and products editor. Actually amateur observer Steve O’Meara was the first editor on the book, which is a compilation of the best and coolest columns by long-time Sky & Telescope columnist Walter Scott Houston. It came across my desk for final editing and fact checking and I spent many months poring over the words before they went to press. Then for about a year I couldn’t bear to look at the book because I was too close to it. Now, more recently though, I’ve been taking it down off the shelf and reading about starhopping from the Big Dipper or galaxy hunting in Corona Borealis, or other such little goodies that are forever enshrined in the book. It’s good armchair astronomy, especially when the cloud bottoms get to be too much.
Occasionally I get off on a science fiction jag, reading back issues of Analog or Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine to pass the time. Or, if I’m really bored, there’s also Web surfing for cool astronomy pictures!
But if you’re not into reading or Web surfing is getting old, what else can you do? Some folks have the full Cosmos TV series, first broadcast on public television in the early 1980s. That’s a great one to watch, particularly if you’re faced with a string of foggy, cloudy nights. You learn a lot from Carl Sagan’s exploration of the universe in that series, and it does keep you going until the next sucker hole in the clouds opens up and welcomes you back to an evening of stargazing!
Older entries »
This blog a wholly pwnd subsidiary of Carolyn Collins Petersen, a.k.a. TheSpacewriter.
Copyright 2013, Carolyn Collins Petersen
Image of Horsehead Nebula: T.A.Rector (NOAO/AURA/NSF) and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA)
“It is by Coffee alone I set my day in motion. It is by the juice of bean that coffee acquires depth, the tongue acquires taste, the taste awakens the body. It is by Coffee alone I set my day in motion.”