My Astronomy club ASTRA meets at Novins Planetarium in Ocean Count College in NJ. Due to the overwhelming number of calls to the planetarium, last Wednesday when Mars reached it's closest to Earth we had a special public starparty outside the planetarium. This is a copy of the report I posted on our discussion board about the event.
Mars Party at the Planetarium Aug 27, 2003.
First, let me give some credit where it belongs to Gloria for drumming up probably the biggest crowd ever at an ASTRA event. Good stuff Gloria, very nicely done! With exaggeration I’d say there were 10,000 people there, without exaggeration I’d estimate the crowd over 400. They were standing shoulder to shoulder watching me set up my telescope. Questions coming from every direction. I couldn’t see Rich standing only 20 feet away from me. A line started forming at my scope, I couldn’t see the end of it. A few people, when they got to my eyepiece said they were waiting 2 hrs on line. It was a real shame; I didn’t have much to show them.
Yes, if we’re going to place blame, lets blame Gene for not using his influence to make sure we had good clear skies. Any guy who wins as many prizes at star parties as he does must have some friends upstairs; maybe he could have called in a favor! As it got dark it looked promising. I was able to get my 2 star alignment done using Altair and Deneb, which were visible at dusk. I got some of the crowd warmed up showing them the beautiful double star Alberio as we waited for Mars to make it’s grand entrance above the trees. They were very impressed with the colors even though the image was really dull. Suddenly about 9:30 Gene tells me Mars was up already. I punched it in on the LX200 hand control and there it was. Just a round blip barely visible. Gene called out, “Mars is up” and it was show time. Most of the crowd was glad to see anything. But the skies deteriorated, you couldn’t see any stars in the sky at all. Mars was not visible to the naked eye. Luckily, most the people have seen Mars naked eye and understood that with a better sky it would very impressive. I’d have hated to have a crowd of 400+ blaming me for the disaapointing view especially when we all know it was Gene’s fault. Being the general public, they had the misconception that this was the only night to see Mars so close up. I explained over and over how it didn’t just zoom in and will not zoom back out tomorrow. It looked pretty much the same for the last few weeks and will continue to look great for the next 6 or 7 weeks. They were excited about the possibility or seeing Mars again at our regular Friday observing sessions outside the Planetarium. Hopefully we’ll get some good weather over the next few Fridays. I know I’ll be there if I can. I hope some others show up as well along with the regularly scheduled volunteers. If you’d like to become a regular volunteer, see Rich or Gloria at the next meeting.
Around 10:30 PM Mars vanished completely. I’d say the crowd had thinned to about 200 by then. They still waited around and a good thing to. About 20 minutes later Mars poked out from the clouds and was visible the naked eye. Now it didn’t look anywhere near as good as we’ve seen it this year, but it looked way better than it did all night. The white polar cap was visible and some dark areas on the globe. This was a real thrill for the remaining quests. There were a few who said it was worth the wait at this point. One women was very excited exclaiming, “Now that’s what I came to see!” By 11:45 the last guest was gone and we packed up. Most ASTRA members stayed until the end. When asked earlier on how long I’d be there, I promised to stay until every last person who came got to see Mars. I kept my promise, as did almost everyone else. Good show everyone!
We had a good attendance of ASTRA members and their telescopes there for the huge crowd. A few members without scopes showed up as well and their help with crowd control and questions is always appreciated. The members included President Brady, the other Rich (Fink), Paul, Gene, John, Ro, and few other I can’t remember, I was kind of busy. The telescopes included a 90MM Questar, 5” Mak, 6” Refractor, 8” LX200, 10” LX200 & 12” LX200. We had the equipment, we had the crowd, we even had Mars, unfortunately we also had the clouds. Even though, the night was still a success. No one went home completely disappointed. We answered question about telescopes and observing in general as well as promoting the Planetarium, ASTRA and the hobby of Astronomy. Interest among the guests was high with many showing a desire to dust off that old scope in the closet or maybe buy a new one. Don’t be surprised to see a few new people at the September meeting. Some people actually wrote it down when I told them when the next meeting was. In all, it was a great event that could have been spectacular had the skies been clear. I hope we can keep up this level of excitement with participation from the members and the public. Thanks again to Gloria for promoting such a great event. Lets all continue to follow her lead and try to make this the most popular hobby around. Big crowds mean big fun for all. Keep up the good work. I’ll see everyone at the South Jersey Star Party.
That’s it; BOB SAL