Last Tuesday we were visited by two serious astronomers, David Elmore from Longmont and Val Szwarc from Ridgway. David was scouting us for the Longmont Astronomical Society as well as continuing a project he started a few months ago that I’ll describe in a later article. Bryan Cashion, President of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society (Montrose) had to decline but will come soon. Creighton “Woody” Wood revealed himself as a serious observer as well. Three telescopes were deployed at a special viewing area near Woody’s home at Piñon Wood Ranch. It was my first experience of a star party; going from telescope to telescope, each viewing something different. Remember, I’m not an astronomer but a meteorologist - interested in most things scientific so I know a little but not like David, Val, and Woody.
It was a little chilly and there were some clouds at first but they evaporated giving us a clear sky. We knew there was a storm forecast to arrive. Val and I are former weather forecasters; Val worked with the NOAA Global Monitoring Division and once spent a winter in Antarctica as the station meteorologist.
David deployed a very sophisticated set up designed to produce a quality image of the Andromeda galaxy. He had two cameras; one at the focal point of his 8-inch Newtonian and one as an Auto-Guider. Both cameras fed images to a laptop computer. Once locked onto a guide star for reference, he activated an app that showed how good the tracking was as well as the intensity of the light from the guide star. You viewed via the laptop screen. He set the imaging camera to take 99 2-minute images throughout the night, staying with his equipment and getting up at different times to check progress until 4:30am as dawn began to light the sky. Like I said, serious; he slept in his car but was ready to throw a bag on the ground. Astronomers do it all night.
Woody will describe his really nice set up in a future article.
Val had a different kind of telescope called a Schmidt-Cassegrain, which is more compact than the Newtonian because of a different optical design. His setup that night was not as sophisticated as David’s as he needed AC power to operate his clock drive mechanism which keeps a telescope moving with the earth’s motion allowing long viewing periods You can do this manually but it’s difficult and not as smooth. We looked at the rings of Saturn and the disk of an orange Mars.
But here’s the big news; both Val and David brought special light meters that measured how dark the sky was where we were. In the morning David emailed back to his club “21.88, need I say more?”. This reading is near the limit of 22 units! We are one of the darkest places on Planet Earth, right up there with the middle of the Gobi Desert but without the camels.