Sam Houston State University’s Bucket List Astronomy Tour Class of non-science majors has spent the past three weeks witnessing amazing astronomical phenomena, learning more about the night sky, and blogging about their experiences. Their trip finally came to a conclusion last week, and astronomy professor C. Renee James has some concluding thoughts to share of the group’s journey.
The 10 students of Sam Houston State’s Bucket List Astronomy Tour (BLAsT) class began their journey in Flagstaff, Arizona, to witness the annular solar eclipse. // all photos by C. Renee James
Sadly, the Bucket List Astronomy Tour Class drew to a close Friday, June 8. It was a bittersweet day. We were happy to be heading home with lots of checkmarks on our lifetime bucket lists, but sad to be leaving a country we'd grown to love. Having had fairly miserable viewing weather throughout most of the Australian portion of the trip (our only clear nights were bright Moon nights!), we were delighted to be able — FINALLY — to see the Milky Way and Large Magellanic Cloud in all their glory from none other than the window of the airplane on the ride home. We took turns looking out the window while covering our heads with the United Airlines blanket, no doubt drawing curious looks from our fellow travelers who really just wanted to be asleep. But how could we sleep when the last view of the southern sky was showing itself so gloriously? The Southern Cross was crystal clear. Scorpius and Sagittarius were sweeping high in the sky. No, this was no time to sleep. It was part of what we came for.
Our group has its own language now. It's hard to spend three solid weeks with folks and not pick up on everyone's individual idiosyncrasies. We sang things together, ended each other's sentences. We all understood what was so funny about a shower being in the bathroom. The echo chamber of the Sydney Observatory dome nearly brought us to hysterics ("I can hear you in my mind"). We found out what music everyone likes (and dislikes). Ditto for food. We found out that a strange band of non-science majors can contribute to a project involving a global network of observers. We found that koalas are really insanely cute, and that kangaroos will steal your ice cream cone and hop away. We discovered a rattlesnake while watching an annular eclipse, adopted a chicken, and bid a sad farewell to Squishy the crawdad.
The BLAsT Class became sort of a family after three weeks traveling together. They ended their trip in Sydney, Australia, after the transit of Venus.
Adena consistently found the Southern Cross first every clear evening in Australia, and had the nagging tendency to stick her head out the window at highway speeds. Samantha and Dr. Miller sang songs from "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog," and when they weren't doing that, they joined with Nicholas to watch Dr. Who. Ernesto will now know never to question how people can get motion sickness. Nicholas found out he's a heck of a class photographer, and he shot some amazing pictures of both eclipses and the southern sky. Brittany, who could raise one eyebrow, forever kept us from entering restaurants that were also bars (she turned the Australian legal age of 18 the day we left). Megan photographed Captain, the sock monkey, at every iconic site we visited, and gleefully pointed out horses and cacti. Kevin was the first to spot a kangaroo — in a sandwich ("It's in my pouch now ... mmmmm"). Mallory talked to her dad on an imaginary phone. Laura had a permanent appendage of headphones, and she enjoyed torturing Brittany with Justin Bieber songs (OK, we all did). Eric brought a strange cornucopia of art supplies, some of which actually were indispensable (like the painter's tape that helped us with our Rube Goldberg solar filtering system for the Galileoscopes). And I'm scared to think what everyone remembers about me, so I'll just leave that one out.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures. Certainly it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we thank the editors of Astronomy magazine for allowing us to share it with the world.