Always Prepare Early
By Ray Kaville
Location: Long Wharf Park near Veterans Monument, New Haven, CT
Time: 8:00pm August 13, 2016 Conditions: Terrible
Temp & Environ: Hot and Humid, Serious storms visibly approaching from the W and SW.
Event: New Haven Land Trust request for ASNH to show the night sky
So, after rapidly collecting some books and maps I jump into the hastily packed car and head out to New Haven. The good news is the Long Wharf exit is now mid-way down Sargeant Drive. It was a small jump from there to the I95 underpass and I made it in onto the field in plenty of time. Actually I flew down I-91 at about 85 and rolled over the curb onto the playing field at 7:59. Slid up next to Donna and Mike who were next to Cheryl and Greg and a couple of other folks I did not know.
As usual I misjudged the timing and although all was ready to hit the road, I had not done any lunar study prior to the event. Although this is not normally a big deal I had not planned for the extremely brisk breezes (aka winds) that were pummeling the shore area.
The distant glow of a glare bomb farm across the bay was enhanced by an intense skyglow from Jordan’s furniture to our rear and the regularly peppered 60′ high twin super glare bombs lining Long Wharf Drive. Our luck was with us. We had a double of our very own right behind us providing plenty of illumination for our group to set up. So set up we did to the cacaphony of sirens on the interstate and groups of rice burning motorcycles as they raced by us (some with two guys rolling on a single wheel).
We started with a small crowd of maybe 15 or so people. All were excited and had lots of questions as I set up my rig for viewing. Once done we were all ready to attack the small list astronomical objects. First up, the Moon.
By now we had about 50 people milling around and apparently everyone in our group had selected the Moon as their target. Made sense since it was still light out and the only other thing visible was Mars. Gradually Saturn showed its face, then Antares. I brought out my favorite moon map to make sure I could identify all the tasty visible lunar objects on this 10 day moon and along the terminator at 38°. This should make it easy to id everything. Unfortunately no manner of weight or rigging could prevent the winds from blowing this map away like a giant sail. Relocating the map to the back of my car took care of the wind, but of course this moon map uses delicate little characters and delicate little lines for accuracy. You guessed it, all red. (What were they thinking!?) So with my red lights, both dim and bright, we had invisible lines and numbers making it quite difficult to get a fix on our beautiful targets.
What ended up being Copernicus, Tycho and Kepler remained unnamed objects that I should have known all about. Note to self, do some lunar observing from time to time and do your homework -early. Still, aside from one pretty young girl with a French <?> accent everyone was pretty pleased about the general information I was able to muster. That particular young lady was with a bunch of other “accented” young people and she was very disappointed that I couldn’t name all the surface features on the moon.lol, oh well, you get what you pay for.
The views of the Moon were very nice with lots of surface detail within the craters and along the terminator, as were the views of Saturn. Saturn early on was exceptional with easy splitting of the rings by Cassini and a number of the largest moons popping in. Visible surface markings grew more distinct as it got darker, and thrilled several of our guests, including one young man whose mother explained he has a “thing” for Saturn. Saturn’s recent opposition on June 2, 2016 probably had a lot to do with the excellent views. We had between 4 and 5 moons under these conditions, where I’m used to seeing maybe 2 or so.
Mars was so bright it showed a lot of blooming in the eyepiece. Not sure what to attribute that to, but there was a ton of growing moisture in the air and a lot of varying levels of overcast and winds. As we approached 9:15pm or so the clouds started rolling in. We all swung back to the moon which was bright enough to burn through. Visibility reduced to some quick sucker holes and then it was gone. By about 20 after it was totally socked in, and thank goodness Donna was paying attention because we had two massive storm cells heading straight for us from Stratford. We all started breaking down as we tried to explain to our guests (who numbered about 150 or more by now) that we had to get going. It was difficult to get things done as the enthusiastic crowd was ooohing and applauding the huge bolts of lightning running from zenith to the ground as the massive clouds approached our position. The ice cream truck who had intruded into our area was smart enough to be the first one to hightail it out, soon to be followed by other vehicles that drove in later, and then ourselves. Some of our guests, not so much, even with repeated warnings about the dangers of lightning.
Finished packing, I headed for the front seat and I made one last effort to impress the remaining folks by saying, “HEY! I just want to remind you. You are the highest objects in this area.” With a smile and a nod to them. As they finally began to absorb this I jumped into the car, put it in gear, and waited for the masses of people to complete their exodus across our exit path.
Overall not a bad way to spend a Saturday night. We had fun and the visitors and officials did as well.
Clear Skies, Keep looking up!
What’s Up Tonight?
Ray Kaville recommends this website as a handy tool for finding observing targets. Just enter your location and the date, plus what types of objects you want to observe (ranging from planets to galaxies). You can filter them for naked eye, binoculars, or telescope, and choose different degrees of difficulty: