Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Seeing Stars

The first night my husband arrived in Arizona, he was freaked out by the brilliance of the Milky Way. We came here from Chicago; a narrow corridor aiming out across Lake Michigan was the only piece of comparatively unlit sky where we could get a decent look at the stars and planets. Believe it or not, my first sight of Saturn's rings was inside the city of Chicago!

This is all by way of saying that astronomy was high on the list of reasons that brought us out to these parts. Get a ridge between yourself and Prescott and the seeing can be impressive. Not suprising that we have an active astronomy club here. The recent exhibit at the new, improved library is just one of their activities that range from star parties to telescope making to educational meetings at the library. The last of the spring star parties will be held this weekend at Watson Lake; check the web site above for further info.

There are several private observatories in the Prescott region; I know of one in Hootenany Holler, another up in the Mountain Club area, and photographer/blogger Edward Registrato operates two, one in Dewey and the other in Peoria. When we first moved to the highlands, one of the country's pre-eminent grinders of astronomical glass lived and worked here; we also met a chap who was making interesting refractors back in the aught-80s.

Our most exciting discovery when we settled down on the other side of the Prietas was a comet, a new one that didn't get mentioned in the papers for several days. Our two most discouraging discoveries were 1) the desert dew problem and 2) the chill you can get at night in mid-summer, radiating all your heat into outer space (temp., slightly above absolute zero, which is why long underwear and an umbrella are recommended for long observing sessions -- even in the hottest weather!)

In passing: there's a permanent outer space display on the ceiling at the Booknook over on Gurley Street (above). Marilyn, the proprietor, is an active amateur astronomer and also specializes in astronomical titles.


Avus said...

In this overcrowded and over lighted island we never get to properly see the all the stars - just the very brightest ones. I can remember, as a boy, seeing those vast oceans of twinkling light. What modern children miss!
"And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars"
(Banjo Paterson, Autralia's poet on Australia)

Granny J said...

I remember being fascinated by the stars (and planets) when I was a kid out west. Too bad that nobody every thought of using binoculars for the heavens back then, at least in my family.

Anonymous said...

The night sky is amazing when one lives in an area where they can view it. The city is not the place.

Granny J said...

No, Steve, though we were surprised that we could see as much as we did in that narrow corridor looking east over the lake. Our biggest astronomical event was the evening we were out walking, south on Broadway, as I recall it, and we saw an immense fireball coming right above the street, headed directly at us. I don't recall it passing overhead; we looked in the Trib the next day, but there was no mention.

Kathleen Ewing said...

Granny J,
If you want to see a genuine observatory in our backyard, trek up Robinson Drive to the top of the hill. It looks like a miniature Mt. Palomar!

Granny J said...

Government Canyon -- that's a totally new one to me. Thank you for the info, Kathleen. I'd like to see it, when I can get a ride! I am reminded that my husband erected a small permanent base for a telescope up our hill. Turned out that it was located smack dab on top of one of those tiny faults that our mountains are full of.

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