Astronomy Day 2008

Astronomy Day fell later than usual this year.   It was Mother’s Day weekend.  It was also warmer.  But the biggest obstacle to another successful Astronomy Day was to be the clouds.

Because of the uncertainty of the weather, and the price of gasoline, out of town volunteers were excused from their commitments.  Astronomy Day has always been a “rain or shine” event.  So, dismal skies not withstanding, we celebrated Astronomy Day 2008 on Saturday, May 10, at the W.A. Gayle Planetarium  in Oak Park in Montgomery for the eleventh consecutive year.  Planetarium director, Rick Evans, worked with us again to bring astronomy to the people. 

Rick had appeared as a guest on the interview segment of the 12:00 news on WSFA , channel 12, on April, 21, to promote Astronomy Day.  He followed up on his excellent presentation, by having a promo aired on Alabama Public Radio's WTSU-89.9 (Troy and Montgomery) as well as sister stations, WRWA-88.7, and WTJB-91.7, following "Star Date", Mon - Fri 2:57PM; Sat 11:55AM (underwritten by the planetarium).   Ray Kunert and I had set up the 12.5-inch Dobsonian in the planetarium lobby in hopes of stimulating some interest with the planetarium visitors, prior to our event. We also had excellent promotion for the event by Rich Thomas, at WSFA, channel 12.  We were assured of having a good turn out, regardless of the sky conditions.

Ray was ready at 3:00PM for solar viewing, indulging those who insisted on looking at cloud bottoms in the light of H-alpha through the telescope.  By 4:00, we began to get a few breaks in the clouds – enough to have glimpses of the totally bland solar surface, completely devoid of sunspots or prominences, and very soft image of the cloud filtered five-day old Moon.

We brought the AAS’s 12.5-inch Dobsonian out of the planetarium lobby for its debut in its reconfigured design to allow time for the primary mirror to reach thermal equilibrium. 

At 6:00, Rick welcomed the visitors into the auditorium for the presentations and door-prize drawings.   In a very thoughtful gesture by Rick, all of the  mothers were given carnations. 

It was at this time that Rick  had pizzas and cold drinks delivered for the AAS volunteers. 

At 7:00, Rick gave  a "Tour of the Night Sky" in the planetarium, giving the guests a preview of what they would see when they see when they stepped outside. 

At sunset, right on cue, the clouds began to dissipate, the shadows grew crisper, the sky bluer, and by the time the  estimated crowd of over 100 visitors exited the auditorium at 8:00 they were treated to a cloud-free sky, for telescopic viewing of binary stars, the planet Saturn, its rings and moons, and the mountains and craters of the five-day-old Moon. 

Thanks to the following who volunteered their time and telescopes:

  • Ray Kunert; AAS PST solar scope  and AASs 12.5-inch Dobsonian ; Wetumpka 
  • Raul San Miguel & family;  Orion XT8; Fort Rucker 
  • Russell Whigham; C-11 SCT; Montgomery 
  • Kent Priest; 12 inch Orion Dob.; Millbrook
  • Jim McLaughlin; 8-inch Meade LX200,SCT; Montgomery. 
  • Sam McLaughlin and friend Michael Moussalli,  AAS 8-inch Dobsonian; Montgomery
And special thanks to Rick Evans, who, year after year, seems to out-do himself to make our joint venture a big success.  Thank you, Rick!