Town to town, up and down the dial

Contributed by
Sep 15, 2008

I just got home from my trip to the state that's round at both ends and HI in the middle. I spent a quick 36 hours in Cincinnati, Ohio, giving my Bad Astronomy talk at the venerable Cincinnati Observatory.

Venerable indeed; the 11" refractor there is literally the oldest professional telescope in the country! John Quincy Adams (!) helped establish the observatory, in fact, so it's loaded with cool artifacts. In general, history isn't a passion of mine, but there's something cool about old' scopes. It's hard to imagine any other scientific instrument in any other field that can still produce good quality data after more than 100 years.

I've had the pleasure of using many old 'scopes, including the 26" Clark refractor at my alma mater, the University of Virginia. The 11" at CO was of the same kind; old but still usable, a respectable machine. And the tube is made of wood! That's a new one to me.

I was there for the annual Scope Out festival and star party. I'm not sure how many people showed up all in all, but over the day I'm sure it was several hundred. The 11" was pointed at the Sun, using a Mylar filter over the lens and a narrow-band filter over the eyepiece-- the latter lets through a tiny sliver of the spectrum centered on the red light emitted by hydrogen, so you can really see prominences and granulation in the Sun's surface (caused by vast convection cells of hot gas). That was very cool.

Later, I gave my talk -- though it was a near thing; I was feeling pretty ill there for a while. The last time I felt like this, I canceled a talk so I could enjoy the effects of either food poisoning or a norovirus (I never did figure out which). This time, on a hunch (and hoping it wasn't a repeat of the last time) I suspected sinus issues, so I took a decongestant, and in fact that was the problem. Feeling better, I did my talk, which was fun! It was outside, under a big tent, another first for me. I don't usually have to shoo insects off the projection screen -- though at least there were no cicadas, despite the buzz of them everywhere.

After that, we observed Jupiter and the Moon, which were quite beautiful. That's always a highlight for me.; star parties are among my favorite venues, because it means star gazing at night. Sadly, I was too tired to stay long, so they took me back to my hotel and I collapsed into sleep (well, eventually, actually: stupid decongestant kept me up even though I was wiped).

But really the best part of these festivals is the people. I met a lot of great folks (some pix are on Matthew Fullhart's Facebook page), from the attendees to the amateur astronomers who love astronomy and wouldn't mind talking about it at length at any time of day or not. They are tireless promoters of science and astronomy, talking to kids, teens, adults, and seniors alike, treating them all nicely and respectfully while also corraling them to the eyepiece. It's an art.

My thanks to Dean Regas at CO and everyone else who treated me so nicely, and especially whoever it was who told me to try Graeter's ice cream. Yum.

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