Astronomy Day 2002

On Saturday, April 20, the W.A. Gayle Planetarium and the Auburn Astronomical Society teamed up for the fifth consecutive year to celebrate National Astronomy Day in central Alabama.  The weather was good and observing with the telescopes was enjoyed by a crowd estimated at over 400 by planetarium director, Rick Evans.   Two shows were needed in the planetarium to accommodate the largest crowd we've had since our annual joint venture began back in 1998.  Thanks, as always, to Rick for the publicity generated to attract such a turn-out. 

Special thanks also, to the following AAS members, who volunteered their time, hardware, and expertise, to share the beauty of the night sky with the Astronomy Day visitors:

First row: Russell Whigham, Alan Cook, William Baugh, Gail Smitherman, Alan Akin
Second row:  Joyce and Rhon Jenkins, Marvin Smitherman, Diane and Jim Locke, John Clifton, Eddie Kirkland
  • William Baugh; 120mm f/5 refractor
  • Eddie Kirkland, 16" f/4.5 Midnight Telescopes Dobsonian
  • John Clifton; Meade 203SC/LXD500
  • Alan Akin; Orion Short tube 80mm f/5 refractor
  • Rhon and Joyce Jenkins; 18-inch Starmaster Dobsonian
  • Alan Cook and Susie Jensen; 10-inch Meade SCT, LX50, 20X80 binoculars
  • Russell Whigham; Celestron C-11, Criterion RV-6
  • Gail  and Marvin Smitherman; Orion StarMax 127 Mak-Cassegrain
  • Jim and Diane Locke 8-inch Celestar Celestron SCT
AAS member, Mark Brown was serving double duty helping Rick with the day's activities and AAS friend, David Wayne Key was there, representing the Alex City delegation.  This is the first year that Ricky Wood and Scott Thompson were not able to attend.  I'm sure they missed being there as much as we missed having them. John Williams, another Astronomy Day regular, had to cancel as well.  We're hoping they can be back with us next year.

(Above)  William Baugh gives a sneak preview of the Moon as the crisp Spring shadows lengthen.

(Right) Alan Akin shares in the pleasure of a young man's first look through a "real telescope".

AAS members began arriving at about 4:00 to set up their telescopes on the lawn in front of the planetarium. 

By 5:00 the visitors had already begun to assemble around the telescopes. Gail Smitherman had her scope equipped with a solar filter and wowed the early arrivals with an impressive display of sunspots. 

The evening officially began at 6:00 PM in the auditorium.  Following an introduction by Rick Evans, AAS president, Dr. Rhon Jenkins, used a Power Point presentation to introduce the visitors to the Auburn Astronomical Society.

It was at this time that Rick called Rhon, Mark Brown, and your editor to the front of the auditorium and presented each of us with a Planisphere Watch, as a token of his 

appreciation to us for our contributions to the day's event.  A big "Thank You" back to Rick and the rest of the planetarium staff -- not only for the watches -- but for all of the time and energy that goes into each year's highly successful joint venture. 

At 6:30, we began the Tour of Telescopes.  Each telescope owner who wished to participate, talked for a few minutes about their

telescope -- the advantages of the optical and mount designs, what accessories they chose and why, etc, followed by taking questions from the group. With the large diversity of telescopes represented by our members, the visitors left with a much better understanding of the astronomical hardware.  Next, to reinforce this introduction to telescopes, we went back inside for "More Than Meets the Eye", a planetarium program which illustrates what you can expect to see using a variety of different telescopes and binoculars.  This was followed by "Tour of the Night Sky".  The Spitz Space Transit Planetarium projector in the auditorium was set to display the stars as seen from Montgomery, Alabama on April 20th. A brief tour of the night sky was conducted to point out the constellations.  At 7:45 Door Prizes Tickets were drawn. Among the prizes were:
Orion Telescopes and Binoculars (1) Deluxe Medium Aluminum Accessory Case
(1) Star Target Planisphere
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (30) Deep Space 1 "Incredible Ions" posters
Firefly Books LTD (2) Astronomy Books:  Nightwatch (3rd Ed) by Terence Dickinson and Splendors of the Universe by Terence Dickinson and Jack Newton
Auburn Astronomical Society (1) One Year Free Membership
Kalmbach Publishing Co (1) Complimentary One-Year Subscription  to Astronomy magazine.
Promotional educational information "How to Start Right in Astronomy" pamphlets. (Sky Publishing
"Space Place" collectible card games, variety of decals, (Jet Propulsion Laboratory  ) 

The recipient of the complimentary Auburn Astronomical Society membership was Althea Katrina Jones, of Montgomery.  On her drawing entry form, she wrote: 

"I'm glad I came. I haven't been to the planetarium since I was a kid. I left work early to attend." 
Congratulations and welcome to the group, Althea! 

Following the door prize drawings, Astronomy Day visitors returned outside to a darkened sky to begin viewing through the telescopes provided by the Auburn Astronomical Society.  We viewed the first quarter Moon and a cluster of the naked-eye the planets  Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus.

As is the case each year, we were able to assist bewildered telescope owners with their personal telescope assembly and set-up woes.  We also met Wayne Baker, of Clanton, who is seeking help with a light pollution problem, and Dale Harrison, of Auburn, with whom we recently established a correspondence.

Rhon Jenkins; 18-inch Starmaster Dobsonian


Eddie Kirkland, 16" f/4.5 Midnight Telescopes Dobsonian

Gail Smitherman; Orion StarMax 127 Mak-Cassegrain

William Baugh; 120mm f/5 refractor

Alan Cook; 10-inch Meade SCT, LX50

John Clifton; Meade 203SC/LXD500

Alan Akin; Orion Short tube 80mm f/5 refractor