Events 3

Luminous Venus, glowing stars, shooting meteors and incandescent curiosity from eager kids was the mix for the night as Starlight Observers League teamed with the Camp Fire North Texas Council.

A concentrated display through two reflectors and two compound telescopes permitted the young eyes of 25 kids to sweep the star fields of the Milky Way under cool, clear skies. We were able to introduce the Camp Fire kids to many Solar System, Milky Way and extra-galactic fare while discussing the nature of stars, planets and galaxies. An intense reflection of the Sun off of Venus drew our attention early on. The western sky was accented by the glint of our nearest planetary neighbor. Butch Crenshaw showed the glowing orb to wanting eyes in his 200mm reflector. Their curiosity was harvested by his affluent descriptions of our understanding of the hot planet. At times I heard him clarifying a remote question on the subject of aliens from an imaginative camper. This same query came to me more than once too.

The reach went even further as David “Doc” Dockery stretched their gaze outward to some nice globular clusters. The season has arrived for some nice clusters, but the best displays were still captured by Doc in Hercules and Sagittarius. A hard packed crowd congealed around Doc’s 200mm SCT for a glimpse of the Hercules cluster near the keystone. In ways only Doc could provide, the mystical nature of the legendary ancient clusters were laid to young ears. His patter captivated the kids and was a model of how to keep the fire burning in a young spirit’s heart for discovery.

The camp fire was truly burning at the table set up by Russell Horn. The only thing bigger than the eyes of those that gazed on the fantastic imagery shown on Russell’s laptop was the thrill of seeing Mars and the Sun in photographs. A cacophony of cheers emanated from the children’s mouths as each slide was presented. Occasionally, Russell would tell them there was the same view available in one of our instruments. To his credit, none would run off to see, their vision fixed on the imagery.

Many times I heard the story of how the Three Rivers Foundation 15” Obsession I was using wasn’t able to move on it’s own like Rick Harris’ telescope did. I did notice a steady throng of visitors occupying ground about Rick’s 250mm Schmidt Cassegrain. A young boy pointed out how his had a “remote” and could just point at will. The impressive Catadioptric telescope was promoting the clusters in Cassiopeia and Cygnus for the youthful viewers. Always the promoter, Rick handed out copies of the popular astronomy magazines to all that wanted them.

I was aiming to take their imagination for a ride as well. A look at “Little Smokie”, or M57 the Ring Nebula was a starter treat in the 380mm reflector. A small fellow was so impressed he got down on his haunches and line-sighted the telescope in to find where the big Dobson was pointed at. I helped him find it with a laser pointer. My next stop on the train of imaginary tracks was the Andromeda Galaxy. Even the parents got a kick from this extended object. A review of our place in the Milky Way helped to set the mood for the vast distance to our large neighboring galaxy.

Many times the group thanked us for our presentation. We were able to get an open invitation to do it again on another evening soon. Mars rose as we packed and drifted off like a carnival of magicians, leaving the spackled sky overhead as our calling cards.

-David Ryle

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Spitzer Space telescope teleconference

July 21,2005
Bolin Science Hall
Midwestern State University
Wichita Falls, Texas

Dr. Michelle Thaller and the Night Sky Network through the Astronomical Society of the Pacific presented a live teleconference about the Spitzer Space Telescope. The teleconference was hosted for Starlight Observers League members and MSU students by the Physics Department and Dr. John Rhoads.
About 25 students and SOL members were present and included a distant traveller – Larry Smith of Three Rivers Foundation for the Arts and Sciences from Crowell, Texas. Prior to the live event, I was able to pass around some preliminary photographic records made by the Spitzer infra red cameras.

The introductions from Dr. Rhoads preceeded the initial hookup to the NSN broadcast and we all settled in for a 45 minute program. Dr. Thaller was most fluent in the technical acheivements of the telescope and brought a lot of human interest to the discussion too. This gave us the feeling of how important and respected the mission of the instrument is in the scientific community. A full explanation of the capabilities and ground-breaking discoveries was presented, and my favorite part was when the mention of extra-Solar planetary systems was revealed. I also learned more about exactly what we were seeing in the images. The ability to see through the intervening interstellar dust and gas and see hidden features and large structures in our galaxy and beyond was very exciting.

A question and answer session followed the main lecture and there were some good points made. As a seasoned Astrophysicist, Dr. Thaller was able to explain some finer details of the physics of light and how it played in the scheme of things with astronomy. A new level of understanding was what I took home from this program and felt honored to be a part of the event.

-David Ryle

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