Observing in the time of COVID

Original article appears in GuideStar July, 2020.

Rene Gedaly, Membership Co-chair

We amateur astronomers have it easier than most at being able to pursue our hobby during the pandemic. Ours is often a solitary endeavor. With access to the dark site, or with a dark enough backyard, we can keep on going when the weather allows. 

What of those new to the hobby though? If you’re one of them, welcome again. Quite a few of you are interested in astro-imaging, and more and more, this club is getting you covered—check out last month's novice talk. Also appreciated is all the good astro-info available “in person” at the monthly Zoom meetings: novice, general membership, and special interest group. You can also find the website library of recorded presentations to sample at leisure. 

But what about those of you who joined because you wanted to look up, wanted a guide to help you, and then got hit with the pandemic? 

TentSkies.PNGThe day after the state parks reopened, a new member and I took a trip to some of the darkest skies we have in Texas at Colorado Bend State Park, just 4.5 hours away. It’s a gorgeous park, and a good way to hedge your bets. If you come for the skies and get clouded out, you won’t be disappointed by the springs, falls and caves to explore by day. Social distancing is observed by all and masks are worn in line at the chemical toilet restrooms with sanitizer... click read more button

Our second night we set up in the parking lot of a scenic overlook. Earlier we’d asked about the Stargazing Area shown on the park map. It had been closed for some time, we were told, now gated off and used for equipment storage. What a disappointment, what a travesty! We devised a plan for ratting them out to the IDA-International Dark-Sky Association. But that evening was magical. In camp chairs with red flashlights, binoculars, and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky, we took a toNaked-Eye-Deep-sky-M6-M7-June-10_2018-ANNO.jpgur of the heavens. Maggie, a brand new star gazer and a natural, took no time at all mapping the sky overhead to the charts in her lap, turning the field guide to the correct orientation and flipping pages to the individual constellations to identify more stars.

We started at Polaris, where else? and panned the sky, west to east, along great circles north to south. Maggie took the lead to stop at things she wondered at or had heard about years before. As Scorpius continued to rise, I wondered whether I should wrap up the observing session. If I didn’t we’d surely stay all night and we had a lot of packing the next morning. Maggie turned in my direction, and flipping the pages, she landed on Scorpius unaided. This time she didn’t point out star names and Greek letters but open circles and circles with crosses. She’d noticed the Messier objects and was about to go deep sky in her first observing session. Messier 7 and Messier 6 jumped out at me naked eye. I asked if she’d like to see a Butterfly, and we observed for another half hour.

Note: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued an executive order requiring all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces. Posted 07/02/2020.

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