On the road: Prepping for the 2013 Tucson Star Party

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Friday, February 15, 2013

These two domes on the Pima Community College East Campus house 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain reflectors. We’ll use at least one of them for the Arizona Star Party on February 16. // all photos by Michael E. Bakich
What a week it has been in Tucson. I’ve visited the site of our upcoming star party twice. The first time, last Sunday, was to just do a general checkout. I got the lay of the land, and a nice security guard let me check out the Community Room in the Pima Community College Library. That’s where we’ll be doing our talks.

The second visit, on Thursday, was to meet with Pima Community College’s representative and astronomy professor David Iadevaia. He showed us the observatory, the area he suggested the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association set up (it’s great!), where telescopes could get electricity, and even a solar system walk (to scale) that he set up 10 years ago.

On Wednesday, I hooked up with Astronomy image contributor Dean Salman. You’ve probably seen some of Dean’s excellent images of Sharpless objects that he’s sent us through the years. Dean volunteers at the San Pedro Valley Observatory, which sits just outside Benson, Arizona. Some of you may know it by its previous name, the Vega-Bray Observatory. Dean’s images all come from the telescope he’s set up there. The place is filled with them, including a 20-inch. We spent an enjoyable hour touring the various rooms and observatories. Thanks, Dean!

On Thursday night, my wife, Holley, and I, accompanied by two longtime Tucson friends, Dave and Sunni White, made the drive to the 9,157-foot-high (2,791 meters) summit of Mount Lemmon to watch another image contributor, Adam Block, present a great Valentine’s Day (OK, night) program to a group of 20 interested folks. Adam, one of the world’s foremost astroimagers, works at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter.

Adam Block autographs a print of one of his astroimages for one of the attendees of his Valentine’s Day program at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter.
His special program included observing a star (Aldebaran) during the daytime, solar Hydrogen-alpha observing, watching sunset, an informative lecture, videos, and, of course, nighttime observing through the 32-inch Schulman telescope. We viewed the Moon, Jupiter, several star clusters, the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) in Gemini, edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 891 in Andromeda, spiral M77 in Cetus, and the ultra-red carbon star R Leporis, also known as Hind’s Crimson Star. Finally, Adam pulled out some transmission diffraction gratings and had us observe the spectrum of Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris), the sky’s brightest star. I did that, but I also took the opportunity to spot Sirius B, the companion to the brilliant sun and the first white dwarf ever discovered.

And although that would have been enough, Adam had a lot more up his sleeve. Because it was Valentine’s Day, he gave each man there a red rose that we could present to our ladies. He also gave each couple a printout of one of his gorgeous images whose name was appropriate to the day — the Rosette Nebula. But beyond all that, he hosted a great supper for us: lasagna, a different pasta with red sauce for vegetarians, asparagus, salad, garlic bread, cookies, and apples … “Adam’s apples,” as he told me.

Adam hosts three or four such sessions per week, and others do one or two. If you have an opportunity to take part in one of his programs, I can’t recommend it highly enough. For more information, head to skycenter.arizona.edu, and click on “Tickets.”

To see all images from my trip and those of Editor Dave Eicher, see the Online Reader Gallery.

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