Ten things to do before you die, part 2: numbers 6 through 4

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, November 6, 2006

6. Spend at least one entire night at a true-dark site.
I think Brian Skiff, astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, coined the term "true-dark" site. Such a location lies between 6,500 and 8,000 feet (2,000 and 2,500 meters) above sea level, remains relatively cloud-free for long periods, enjoys a weather pattern that produces good seeing, and mostly is unpolluted by atmospheric aerosols. In the United States, this means a trip to a mountaintop in the Desert Southwest. Period. For those of you who never have experienced such a sight, you're in for a real treat.

5. Observe the 2012 transit of Venus.
If you've seen the 2004 transit, proceed to number 4. If not, start planning now to be under a clear daytime sky June 6, 2012. Venus transits rank among the rarest of regularly occurring astronomical events. They always occur in pairs 8 years apart, but either 105.5 or 121.5 years separate the pairs. So, the 2012 transit is your one and only chance, unless you can figure out a way to live until the next one — December 11, 2117.

4. Observe through a big scope.
By "observe," I mean "view many objects during an extended time." By "big," I mean a 24-inch or larger telescope. In the observing world, nothing beats aperture — nothing. At star parties, views through big scopes are popular, so you may have to wait until quite late to have any extended time on the scope. You also will have to rely on the good graces of its owner.

Another option, offered by a few major observatories, is to rent time on a large telescope, usually as a group. For example, you can schedule such sessions on the McDonald Observatory 107-inch reflector. Many amateurs (who sign up in advance for one of the nights) view through this scope while attending the Texas Star Party. Some see the fee as expensive, but how many opportunities like this will you have?

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