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February 20 Lunar Eclipse Viewing - 2008

c98290c3-a858-4fd7-95bf-99e5c450bb84 SMS(click images for larger view)

Finally!  We get lucky after months of trying to have some kind of public viewing event.  We were almost certain for about a week that this would again become one of our disappointing "Star party cancellation" events which have become expected over the last year.  Anyone else notice that most of 2007 and so far in 2008 has been pretty lousy for this hobby?
Anyway, skies were clear all day, then clouds moved in again later in the afternoon, but satellite images looked promising so we stuck with it and didn't cancel.  We planned this event just down the street from EAS president Tom's house at Highlands Park in the Renton Highlands neighborhood.  Or usual location in Bellevue didn't have a very good eastern view of the sky, and the moon was st
arting it's show as it rose above the horizon in the eastern skies.
Skies had a broken layer of clouds to the east when the moon came up, but looking westward we could tell that there was a big clearing that was slowly creeping east.  About 20 minutes into totality, the skies cleared around the moon and the dark red orb showed up clearly in the sky just below Regulus in the constellation of Leo, and to the left was a nice view of Saturn.  The moon was dark for almost an hour until the Earth's shadow moved over and let the sunlight pass again to the moon and it started to brighten just before 8pm.
Despite the questionable weather early on, we had a total of 18 people show up.  We didn't count the group in a car that arrived, circled the parking lot without lights for a few turns, and set up shop appearing to be "vendors" of some type of goods.  They weren't selling ice cream to kids, so they were chased away leaving a trail of obscenities in their wake.  They must not have been astronomers since they didn't return for a look through the scopes.
There was a total of about 4 or 5 scopes, anything from a wobbly toy scope, to a 10 inch Meade GPS scope, numerous binoculars, and many pairs of eyes directed eastward.  Tom even tried an experiment seeing if he could control the observatory scope in his backyard remotely with a laptop using Renton's city broadband wireless connection.  He got the connection working after a little fiddling around, and was just about to slew the telescope off Betelgeuse and star hop the scope over to the moon.  Even though the battery showed a couple hours left, it suddenly died in the cold.  It was considered a successful experiment since it would have worked fine in warmer temperatures or better power.
After about 9:00pm the show was pretty much over and we were all pleased that we had good luck finally and were able to sneak in a sky viewing event.  So we all headed home in the familiar brightness of the full moon again.

Rating the 2008 summer star parties: 2008 continues the trend of being a very non-astronomy friendly year. Here is a rating of the two major star parties of the summer.
  • Table Mountain - Coldest year ever. Of the three nights up there, we had clouds, more clouds, some rain, and gusty winds at 4am with fog. There was some clear skies, but those expecting the usual warm summer evening up there were suffering without their mittens. Vendors were sparse thanks to increased gas prices and fees. Dew was even a problem on the last night, but that ended when the moisture froze into ice! When the sun came out, we scurried out of the shade like a kitten seeking a warm sunbeam to curl up under. Rating - 2 out of 5 stars.
  • Deception pass - Worked out better than Table Mountain. We did get some stars between drifting clouds. Fortunately, the usual dew at Bowman Bay was minimal - all the moisture was up in the clouds this year! Tom's astro talk went well with 73 in the audience the first night and about 20 the second night. We did have a small group come down to the telescopes both nights and were able to show them a few things before clouds moved through. Sunday morning we had rain around 4am, then drying until about 11am - just in time to go home with wet tents. Rained all day long after that on the way home. Rating - 3/5 stars.

Dr. Simonyi guest speaker for EAS: Our big event on Oct. 27 was a huge success! Our "full house" lecture with Dr. Simonyi had about 97 of the 100 seats reserved (we are still counting results to see how many did make it). We had over 50 members of EAS, a group from Seattle Astro Society, and a handful of our other good friends (including Dr. Bonnie Dunbar) attending the lecture. Dr. Simonyi gave a very informal and interesting slide show for nearly 2 hours about his training at Star City and his flight to the ISS. He is planning on going a second time in March and will soon head back to Russia for training. He's experienced now, so it will be more of a refresher on spaceflight operations!
After the talk, we wanted to thank him with a gift for donating his time with our group. EAS president Tom Gwilym, offered to make up a special photograph of ISS images he's taken over the last 7 years from our 12" Meade telescope. Dr. Simonyi was very pleased and excited to receive the photo, and Tom was honored that he could share his work with someone with the "Right Stuff" who has been up there!
A HUGE thank you to EAS member Anita Eclissi for her dedication and months of hard work arranging this evening.

-- Click here to see the photo given to Dr. Simonyi.

"Our Milky Way Galaxy contains billions of stars, but the unaided, human eye can see no more than 6,000 of them"

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