Archive for star party

30 Nights of StarPeace in NZ

Posted in News & Events with tags , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by astronomymike

New Zealand was one of the last countries in the world this year to hold its StarPeace event, and what a night we had!!!

Members of the Levin Stargazers, Sharing Space and StarWalker set up 2 telescopes, cameras and a webcast laptop right in the heart of the busiest downtown area of our capital city, Wellington, and wowed the crowds with spectacular views of Saturn. It was an utterly incredible night, and one I will personally never forget. There’s nothing like a crowd to draw a bigger crowd, and we had a constant stream of people lining up to have a look and, by the end of the night, around 500 people had stopped for a chat and a view of what is undoubtedly the public’s favorite planet.

The reactions and comments from people were priceless, and are the main reason why we keep doing what we are doing. The comments ranged from the simple “Wow!” to “Oh my God! Are you serious?!!!” and many other, sometimes expletive-laden, reactions. I lost count of the number of people who thought we were tricking them by sticking a photo in the eyepiece! Some couldn’t believe that we would just bring our scopes into town for people to look through for FREE!!! But every one of them was very grateful that we did, and I even had one man comment that “this alone made my trip into the city worthwhile!”. One of the nearby cafe’s even brought us out free drinks of hot chocolate for our efforts, which was very much appreciated!

We were kept busy on the telescopes all night, but did manage to get a few words in with China and Sri Lanka (Thilina!!!) via webcast. When the lines of people waiting started to get smaller, in true John Dobson style we would just call people over as they were passing by, and every one of them left with a smile on their face.

Many thanks to Paul Moss, Maria Heidemann (the StarWalker team) and Ray for the photos, webcast and video (see below). The other members of our team included Mike White (me), Mike Stapel and Ron Fisher. Looking forward to our next guerilla astronomy mission!

Advertisements

Levin Stargazers & Foxton Beach Astro Society (NZ) Kick Off GAM 2010

Posted in News & Events with tags , , , , on April 11, 2010 by astronomymike

Sometimes the weather gods smile upon you, and last night was one of those evenings when they are not just smiling but grinning from ear to ear! What a fantastic night to kick off GAM for Levin Stargazers and Foxton Beach Astronomical Society, who combined forces to host our first GAM event, the “Telescope Hunt”. Admittedly, not as exciting as the name may suggest, but the idea was for the public to “hunt out” their old telescopes and bring them along for some pointers on how to use them and how to find good stuff in the sky to point them at, with a star party to follow.

As it turned out, only one family in Levin must have a telescope they don’t know how to use! In the picture below, you can just see the tripod leg and me showing them how to set it up.

Assembling a small telescope

Assembling a small telescope

However, about 20 members of the public joined us and the green laser pointers from our club members were soon flashing around the sky as we showed them where some of the best stuff was hiding. The young boy on the left in the photo above (it was his telescope I was assembling) even had a turn with my laser pointer and happily showed his sister and others the Southern Cross (Crux) and how to find the south celestial pole (SCP) after I had showed him only once!

Show me the Southern Cross young man

Show me the Southern Cross young man

Following the laser show we had a number of telescopes set up and showed many spectacular objects in our sky – the globular clusters 47 Tucanae and Omega Centauri, Eta Carina nebula, Great Orion nebula (of course!), Mars and Saturn to name a few. The seeing was so steady that even at 240x, Saturn was as steady as a rock and looked spectacular in the eyepiece, much to the delight of many! Here’s a selection of images from the event, and we look forward to our really big event on April 23, the “Worlds’ Largest Star Party II”, a follow-on from last years 100HA event where we had around 1000 people looking through telescopes in about 3 hours!

 Homemade dobsonian

Homemade dobsonian

Members setting up

Members setting up

Setting up a newtonian

Setting up a newtonian

Talking with the public

Talking with the public

Sharing a moment of fun

Sharing a moment of fun

The youngsters love it

The youngsters love it

Young girl lining up the next target

Young girl lining up the next target

Paul lines the refractor up

Paul lines the refractor up

Global Astronomy Month is coming!

Posted in News & Events with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2010 by astronomymike
Global Astronomy Month logo

Global Astronomy Month logo

It’s nearly here people! April is Global Astronomy Month and it’s rolling around faster than you can say “Global Astronomy Month”!

Amateur astronomers, societies and groups worldwide are hard at work to bring some exciting astronomy events to a place near you, and the Astronomers Without Borders global team have been busy preparing global events that anyone from around the world can participate in, even some that you can do from home without a telescope! It’s going to be an action-packed month, but how can you be a part of all the excitement?

Firstly, keep an eye on your local newspapers and one ear on the radio for announcements on events that are being organised in your area. If you see or hear nothing, contact an astronomy club or group in your area to find out what they are doing for Global Astronomy Month. Secondly, you can search for events in your area on the Find Events webpage or check out what the Astronomers Without Borders team have prepared for you on the Global Programs webpage.

Some of the online global events on offer include:-

  • Living Legend Series – online live interviews with some of the most influential astronomers of our time.
  • Is Anybody Out There? – watch a planet outside our solar system dim the light of its parent star!
  • Write Your Name in the Sky! – hunt for asteroids in real time online and you might even get to name your own discovery!

If you are already an amateur astronomer or belong to an astronomy group/club and have not planned anything yet for Global Astronomy Month, it’s not too late!!! Have a look at the Program Ideas webpage and get creative! When you have decided on your events, register them online on the Register Events webpage, so everyone will know about it and people in your area can find it.

C’mon everyone, let’s be a part of something really big and very, very special!

Clear skies to all!
– Mike

Stardate 2010

Posted in News & Events with tags , , , on January 29, 2010 by astronomymike

The annual Stardate events, held in the North and South Islands of NZ during January, are probably the most popular amateur astronomy get-togethers of the year, and this year was no exception, despite the lousy weather.

I attended the Stardate North Island event, run by the Phoenix Astronomical Society, which was held at a Christian camp in the Tukituki Valley, near Havelock North in Hawkes Bay on January 14-18th. Leading up to Stardate, the Hawkes Bay had been suffering drought conditions, with little rain for the previous 2 months, but a few days out from the event, the forecast was for rain over the entire 4 days! As I drove up from just south of Foxton on the Friday, the clouds got progressively thicker and darker…not a good sign. By Dannevirke the drizzly rain had definitely set in, and when I arrived at the camp it was obvious that none of the telescopes would be coming out to play tonight!

Fortunately the organisers always ensure there are a good selection of talks and presentations to attend, and this year was no exception. On Friday night John Drummond from Gisborne gave an eye-opening presentation on the ~270m asteroid ‘Apophis’ which astronomers had earlier predicted had a reasonably high chance of hitting Earth in 2029. Fortunately, following subsequent measurements, that threat has now been downgraded and is highly unlikely to occur. However, there is a small chance that during the 2029 encounter, the asteroid may pass through a small gravitational ‘keyhole’ close to Earth that will change its trajectory and place it on a direct impact path with Earth in 2036. Given that this keyhole is only 600m wide, this is unlikely to occur, and the chances of a 2036 impact are currently set at 1 in 250,000.

Following that, John then showed a slideshow of the first and second place-getters for the 2009 RASNZ Astrophotography Section images. Some great shots there, but a little disappointing that there were no entries for some of the divisions. Hopefully there will be renewed interest in 2010.

The remainder of Friday night was taken up with a choice of a late night movie (The Moon?), talking with friends or socialising at the “Hotel Manawatu”, run by Ian Cooper from Palmerston North, which was essentially 2 gazebos tied together and a large plastic table with camp chairs, but it certainly had some late closings over the weekend!

Dawn broke on Saturday to the sound of rain again. The telescope trail (where everyone gathers around the telescopes and the owners give a brief talk about them) was naturally postponed, but the Kids Astronomy session and all the afternoon presentations went ahead as planned. The talks included DSLR Astrophotography (Cameron Jack, Wellington), Film Astrophotography (aka ‘Is Film Really Dead?’ by Ian Cooper, Palmerston North), an update on what the various spacecraft out there are up to (Edwin Rod, Wellington), and a report from Gary Sparks, Napier on the NASA International Space Camp that he and young Rhiannon McNish attended.

Saturday night’s guest speaker was Dee Friesen from Albuquerque Astronomical Society, New Mexico. Apparently he talked about northern hemisphere observing, their IYA activities and educational outreach programs. I say ‘apparently’ because I never got to see the presentation…nor Cameron Jack’s Journey to the Centre of the Almanac and John Drummond’s The Dragon That Ate The Sun that followed it, as I went for a ‘short nap’ after dinner and didn’t wake up until about 10pm! Sad but true. Rain on a tin roof has always had that effect on me.

Sunday morning’s All Star Football match was postponed/cancelled due to the rain, as was the telescope trail again. An attempt to have the Kids Astronomy session outdoors with an interactive solar system during a ‘break in the rain’ resulted in kids and adults running for cover when the biggest deluge of the weekend hit.

Sunday afternoon included sessions from John Drummond and John Burt about the construction of their respective observatories. Some very useful tips and pointers in amongst all of that, and I was particularly interested in these presentations, as I intend building my own in the next wee while.

Unfortunately I had to head home on Sunday afternoon, and missed the remainder of the talks, as well as the sunshine that came out about half an hour before I left! Apparently it cleared quite nicely later and the telescope trail went ahead, and some viewing was even had during the evening! Never mind, you can’t control Mother Nature, and I had a great time anyway. I got to meet up with friends as well as meeting people that I only knew through email or the internet before, so it wasn’t a waste of time, that’s for sure!

Clear skies!
– Mike