Sunday, April 30, 2017

2017 Astronomy Programs at Great Basin National Park

 Last night Desert Girl and I went up to the Astronomy program at Great Basin National Park. For the months of April and May, they are held at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday nights. They will be held three nights a week after Memorial Day weekend (I believe--check with the park at 775-234-7331 to be entirely sure) through Labor Day weekend.

One of the things we learned at the program was what a.m. and p.m. mean. I guess I hadn't really thought about it much. Ante meridian is Latin for before midday and post meridian is after midday. We also learned about Pope Gregory wiping out a week in October back about 852 and then the institution of the leap day so that wouldn't have to happen again. Except leap day isn't celebrated every 100 years, so it didn't happen in February 1900. But it did happen in February 2000 because every thousand years they need to put it back in. And sometimes there's a leap second, like in June 2015. Or something like that. But don't worry, the atomic clock is accurate to 1 second in 30 million years, based on the cesium atom. I think that's right. I wasn't exactly taking notes, but it was interesting.

Then it was time to line up at the telescopes and look at the night skies. There was a good turnout, as it was a clear night, and somewhat warm (above freezing, anyway). Probably about 40 people were there. It was cold enough that Desert Girl and I had on winter coats and winter boots and had two blankets and were still a bit chilled, but we were better prepared than most.

Desert Girl was a good sport while I took some photos of telescopes. One person had his own positioned near the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, which was lit up in red to preserve our night vision.  The blue line is the glow-in-the dark paint along the curb.

We could find the Big Dipper easily, with the handle arcing to the bright star Arcturus, which Ranger Steve was pointing out. Through the telescope our first object was even easier to find--the moon. With a crescent, it made for some really great shadows.

Then we lined up again to take a look at Jupiter and four moons. I was also able to see these through our binoculars (binoculars, lawn chairs, and blankets are great things to bring to an astronomy program, as well as red flashlights).

Then it was on to the M3 globular cluster. It looked like a big fuzzy spot, even though it's made up of 500,000 stars. Why fuzzy? Well, it's over 30,000 light years away! There's nothing like looking up into the heavens to help put life into perspective.

Desert Girl had seen enough at this point, so we left, but other folks stayed on, looking at more amazing things. We hope to go to more astronomy programs this year, the kids really enjoy them, and it's always great to spend more time looking up at the stars and learning more about them.

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