University Lowbrow Astronomers

John Ridley’s Observational Report.

by John Ridley
Printed in Reflections: September, 2002.

We just got back from vacation last night.  We went down south to Mammoth Cave and then east to the Smoky mountains, and stayed with an aunt there in Boone, NC.

The first day we stopped at the Neil Armstrong Air & Space museum.  It’s a nice little place, we arrived somewhat late and only had about 45 minutes to look around, and didn’t get to see a show.  However, they have a nice collection of suits, booster engines, etc.  They also have a little chunk of moon rock.  I thought it was kind of awesome to stand there and look at it.

That night (Thursday Aug 8) I did about 45 minutes of DSO observing using 10x50 binocs from the playground of a campground with a mercury vapor light burning about 150 feet away.

Log excerpts:

The next evening (Fri, Aug 9) we were at Big Bone Lick state park, and a couple of profs from the local university were out doing a public night at the campground.  They had a 10” LX200 and an 8” SCT of some kind, Meade I think.  They were doing the standard stuff.  I brought out my binocs and put them on M22.  When they were showing M13 (M13 would break your neck to look at on my photo tripod so I picked a lower globular cluster), and got integrated into the show so people could see what that type of object looked like in their binocs.  They were nice guys doing a good show for interested campers.

After that, we went down to Mammoth Cave and then towards Boone.  It was cloudy for a couple of days here so no astronomy activity.  The cave is pretty neat.

Luckily we went there a few years ago when I only hauled along my C8; I learned at the time that “the mountains” in this case stink for observing.  Even though they’re at 4000 feet, it’s very humid, the transparency is horrible, and the light pollution is quite bad.  This is “lucky” because it saved me from trying to bring along the 15” dob on vacation and thereby irritating Jenn for no good reason :-)

Anyway, though there was scattered cloud cover most of the peak Perseid time, I woke up at 2:15AM the morning of the 13th, laid on the hill, and watched for about a half hour.  I saw 3 Perseids in 3 or 4 minutes, the 3rd one bright and left a slight train that persisted for perhaps 5 seconds.  Then 2 over the next 15 minutes, and nothing for the next 15 minutes or so.  I went in at that point.  My center of vision was on Cygnus, which was in the center of perhaps a 40 degree circle where stars were visible; all the rest of the sky was obliterated by a light dome from the nearby college town of Boone.

So a nice little bit of astronomy got done given the limitations of light pollution and weather and equipment space.

Does anyone know of a list of campgrounds that have good sky and good (the less the better) lighting???  Maybe it’s time to create one if not.

John Ridley

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