January’s Second Friday Star Party: If you build it, they will freeze.

Final Report: 8:38pm

So my toes are about defrosted, after ten minutes on the tiles near the wood stove. Our January Second Friday Star Party was a smashing success! Well, 7 people came out, compared to about 120 in November. But know what? They were the 7 most hardy, indefatigable and bravest Genevans out there. Nothing like 12′ fahrenheit to separate the truly curious from those with just a passing notion. I’m kidding–or half kidding. The folks that came out have my admiration. I’m hard core; if it’s clear, I feel like I should be out there, looking up. Standing vigil as the universe holds the candles. These folks stood with me, tonight!

It was a nice time. The group was small enough that I could describe each object to everyone before people started gazing through the telescope, instead of having to repeat certain bits of information over and over. We started with Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons and prominent cloud band. Then we flipped over to the southeast and scrutinized Orion’s sword, the home of the Great Orion Nebula. Check out Jeremy Perez’s wonderful page of sketches of this nebula. Sketches more realistically show the view through a telescope as opposed to a photograph.

Then we took a quick peak at the Pleiades, which by the way I always have to misspell first and then check it in the automatic dictionary. This cluster of 7 or so naked eye stars reveals itself as a much more populous gathering of sapphires in a telescope, or even a pair of binoculars.

Next stop was the Double Cluster between Cassiopeia (another spell check there), and then finally we took a peak at Polaris, the north star. What’s so special about Polaris? Well, other than the fact that it lies so close to the Earth’s northern rotational axis that it barely appears to move as the earth spins around, it’s also a multiple star system. And a very pretty one. With my 6″ telescope the secondary star is a bit faint, but with the 10″ it’s much brighter and a lovely blue color. Many stars in the universe are multiple stars, as I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog.

Remember that early scene in Star Wars, as Luke is watching multiple suns set over the desert of Tatoine? Well, astronomers weren’t really sure if planets could exist in multiple star systems until just a few days ago, when a team announced they indeed found a planet in a double-star system.

Finally I temporarily blinded everyone by showing them the moon in all its cratered, ridged, mountainous glory. Then my feet started to get cold, and we called it a night.

Thanks again to Sarah Meyer at the Finger Lakes Institute who brought hot cider…it helped!

UPDATE: 6:13pm: Setting up!

I’m heading over to the park now to set up. So if you’re reading this, put on your down parka and pack boots and come on over to Washington Park. Should be decent views of the 1st quarter moon and Jupiter. While it lasts!

UPDATE: 5:52PM: I’m suiting up!

I’m getting on my warm clothes, as of right now there’s seems to be a pretty clear sky. Again, if you can see clear skies at 6:30 in Geneva, then I’ll be there. Of course, it could cloud over in five minutes. I need a sedative!

UPDATE 5:15pm: Still waiting, Still Seeing!

Right now the clouds are gathering. I’m not optimistic. The situation we have right now in the sky presents an opportunity to teach the non-astronomy community a little tidbit of astronomer’s jargon. The word is: Suckerhole. This is a small, fast moving gap in the clouds that “suckers” an astronomer into pointing his telescope at it in the hopes of catching a view of…well, something. That’s the biggest problem with these sirens–it’s very hard to navigate the sky only seeing in a tiny (and moving) portion of it. So an astronomer has to quickly get their bearings, aim their scopes and get it right the first time, and then hurry up and look, focus, look…and well, only a few of us are so skillful. Tonight looks like it might have some suckerholes, at best.

If something radically changes in the next hour and it becomes crystal clear, I’ll still head over with my scope. But if we’ve got more of the same, and you go out and you see suckerholes, well, don’t let them take you.

Original Post:

Weather.gov shows it “mostly cloudy”. The Clear Sky Clock for the historic Smith Observatory shows (as of writing this at 1:35pm) a big dark blue patch in the evening. That means clear. It’s a regular US/Canada hockey match, and today I’m rooting for the Maple Leaves.

I’ll update this throughout the afternoon. As of right now, we’re in “Wait and See” mode. The basic rule remains the same, however: if it’s clear at 6pm, then come on down, we’ve got ourselves a star party. If it’s anything less than totally clear, then check the blog.

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