September 21st and 22nd was the 11th annual Astronomy at the Beach. This is a star party held each year on Kent Lake within Kensington Metropark. It’s aimed at the general public and families; while it’s not the darkest location to view from, we typically get a lot of visitors, and it’s a great way to introduce the public to astronomy.
Astronomy at the Beach is an event hosted by GLAAC, an organization made up of The Astronomy Club at Eastern Michigan University, The Ford Amateur Astronomy Club, The Seven Ponds Astronomy Club, The University Lowbrow Astronomers and The Warren Astronomical Society.
On the 21st (Friday) there were some persistent clouds that covered perhaps 10% of the sky, somewhat annoying, but it was still possible to view objects. (One visitor had asked “is that the Milky Way?” It wasn’t dark enough to see the Milky Way, she was looking at one of these persistent clouds). On the 22nd (Saturday) it was a beautiful evening, not a cloud to be seen. On both nights there was a very bright moon, not quite full, but still bright.
At 6:00 or so, on both evenings, there were telescopes near the parking lot, and other telescopes near the beach, all set up for solar viewing. (These scopes are marked with yellow balloons). The sun was rather quiet, so there wasn’t a lot to see.
Rider’s Hobby Shop, the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the Detroit Science Center and Webster Telescopes/Great Red Spot Astronomy Products each had set up tables. There also was a display from the Grosse Pointe North High School RATz Radio Astronomy Team. The Ford Club, the Warren Club and the Seven Ponds Club also had tables. As is typical, the Lowbrows and the EMU Club did not set up tables. The Detroit Science Center had brought a portable planetarium which was set up nearby.
Over the course of both evenings, there were several of astronomy talks (the same talks on Friday and Saturday).
Once it got dark, we started looking at the sky. There were a number of Lowbrows in attendance, many of whom had brought telescopes.
Charlie had brought the club Questar. Lorna had donated the Questar to the club some time ago, and Charlie has possession of it.
Jim Forrester had brought his TMB. There was a special reason Jim brought the TMB as he explained in an e-mail he sent out on Saturday....
“I have just learned of Thomas Back’s death on Sept. 13. He was an optical designer of several of the finest refracting telescopes in the world, as well as numerous eyepieces. He was as well a fine and gentle man. I feel fortunate to have met and had some long discussions with him.
All the early TMB telescopes bearing his TMB logo were personally assembled and tested by him. I am fortunate to have one of those telescopes—a TMB 105, F 6.2 SN 082.
No announcement has been made about tributes to his memory. The best I can do for the moment is to use his telescope. I’ll be out at Kensington tonight with his refractor. I hope you’ll all come and take a look.”
Clayton did not bring a scope. He said the following (in an e-mail)....
“I spent most of the evening behind the Riders counter helping John pass out “Scavenger Hunt” forms and passing out prizes to the kids that returned them. There were a LOT of kids there on Saturday—we almost ran out of stuff to give out! Lots of fun!”
We’ve done the Scavenger Hunt before. A form is passed out to kids who come to Astronomy at the Beach. The form typically has a list of things to look for (“planets”, “star clusters” and so on). The kids are supposed to view each one through a telescope, and they get a prize when they find them all.
In addition to this form, we saw a few high school students with a longer form. These forms didn’t come from us. Apparently a high school teacher had given the forms to his students, some of whom came to Kensington Metropark.
Belinda Lee & Robert Ebling had just joined the club. I first met them at the open house one week earlier. Belinda had a Questar that had belonged to her father. Both Belinda and Robert brought scopes (between Belinda and Charlie, we had two Questars for visitors to look through).
John Causland brought his 24inch, Paul brought his wood scope, Bobby G brought his PortaBall. Mike Radwick, David Tucker and Yasu also brought scopes.
Eric Webster had one of his scopes (Eric isn’t a club member, but he is on our ACNO list and is a frequent visitor at our club events).
Norb and Sharon Vance were using EMU’s Celestron. Also in attendance were Jack Brisbin, Bob Klose and me (hopefully I didn’t forget anyone).
Usually we attempt to set up a “Camp Lowbrow” so all the Lowbrows are in the same general area, but this doesn’t always happen. This year there were two “Camp Lowbrows,” one near the parking lot and one closer to the beach. There are always people with questions, many come from people who want to purchase a telescope for their children. I got a few of these questions, as I assume others did as well. The easiest way to answer this type of question is to point out different kinds of telescopes, but it is difficult to do after it’s dark.
There were long lines on Friday, and even longer lines on Saturday. Since the beginning, Astronomy at the Beach has been a two day event, and over the years, we seem to get a bigger turnout on Saturdays than we do on Fridays. The Metropark makes estimates on the number of visitors. What about 2007? I asked Bob Hotaling (who works for the Metropark); he estimated there were 1000 visitors on Friday and 3000 on Saturday. Not as big a turnout as we had for 2003 (that was the year of the big Mars opposition), but not bad.
One new thing this year: The GLAAC planners had decided to hold a raffle. Only club members who volunteered at least one night could enter. On Friday Bob McFarland asked me to photograph each of the winners and their prizes after the drawing (which would happen at 11:00 on Saturday). However on Saturday, I noticed the batteries in my camera had discharged. John Causland let me borrow some batteries which solved the problem.
Among the winners were the following Lowbrows:
That was according to an e-mail, but I happen to know that a few winners got a little something extra, such as an astronomy card game or a star pen. I was able to photograph most of the winners, but a few people escaped and a few were not present. While it might seem like a lot of Lowbrow winners, there were 7 winners from the Ford club, 6 from EMU (that’s counting Norb and Sharon twice, as members of both EMU and the Lowbrows), 4 from the Warren club and one each from Cranbrook, Longway and Seven Ponds. None of us came to Astronomy on the Beach for the raffle, but it was fun way to recognize everyone that helped out.
On Saturday afternoon there was a talk given by Robert Landis (the guest speaker from NASA) and a special dinner. I did not attend either one, though I have attended similar events in previous years. These talks typically are aimed at astronomy club members and go into more technical detail than the public talks.
If you are interested go the web site http://www.glaac.org/kensington-astronomy-at-the-beach/ . There is information about previous Astronomy at the Beach events and lots of photographs.
All photos on this page were taken by Dave Snyder or John Causland.