Star Party - Photos

UPDATE: I'm pleased to announce that we've raised $490 during our Star Party for the various charities. Thank you to everyone who attended!

What an awesome event with more than 170 people! Everyone had fun despite the early arrival of the fog. A huge thank you to all those that helped make this possible including the Quinan & District Volunteer Fire Department, East Coast Paddle Company, the Kespu'kwitk Métis Council, Linda for putting together live music, our guest speaker John Read, and all our volunteers. We hope to do it all again next year!

Yoga and Humanity under the Stars

 Indoor lecture session -  *red light preserves night vision*

Indoor lecture session -  *red light preserves night vision*

  Snack time! Amanda Doucette - the culinary artiste extraordinaire - at centre.

Snack time! Amanda Doucette - the culinary artiste extraordinaire - at centre.

  At the Telescope! Blankets were provided as the dampness and chill intruded.

At the Telescope! Blankets were provided as the dampness and chill intruded.

  Tim with one of the "moon lights" from the onservatory store. They're pretty cool and people are taking them home to enjoy the lunar detail.

Tim with one of the "moon lights" from the onservatory store. They're pretty cool and people are taking them home to enjoy the lunar detail.

Last weekend, under rather inconsistent skies, a group of yoga practitioners gathered in the Night Owl camping area of the Deep Sky Eye complex. Under the guidance of Kate Giglio, from Super Nova Power Yoga, these seven individuals placed their mats on the good earth and spent an hour or so in the calm of summer dusk.  The Quinan River sang quietly to itself and crickets drowsily accompanied the water's music. Human breath joined with the wind and the evergreen incense in a blend of absolute peace.

Because I am not a yogi, I chose not to intrude into their space. Instead, since the observatory area was set up for a reception and sky session, I cheerfully hung out there. With Amanda's delectable munchies and the group's enthusiastic chatter, this break unfolded in happy harmony. I hadn't seen Kate for awhile and was glad to touch base with her, and get an update on her puppy's current medical situation. He'd experienced some earlier distress that meant a vet call; fortunately, it proved to be easily treated and the dear fellow (dog, not vet) went home to recover.

The usual observation routine was changed to accommodate both the overcast and the group, who spent time gazing through the large telescope and enjoying an informative lecture given by Tim. There was no outdoor skywatching because the mist had closed in. We could see Mars, glowering balefully through haze, and Jupiter flirted briefly with us - but not much else showed up. Still, no one seemed to mind. 

Speaking of "mind", since yoga embrace mindfulness and awareness of both self and cosmos, it's appropriate to point out that both stargazing and yogic exercising can lead to a state of expanded consciousness. One original meaning of yoga was "to join", as with a yoke, the root word. When we practise specific forms of movement or meditation, we reach both inside ourselves and outside our own bodies. I did pursue basic Tai Chi and found this to be true for that context. When I stare upward, and the galaxies wheel through the vast universe, I feel somehow connected to this inconceivably distant light. During a "sky tour" session, as I retell old myths and legends associated with various star formations - from Cassiopeia to the Summer Triangle – I sense a connectedness with the ancient people who once stood as I do now. They must have released part of themselves to the cosmos, imagining flight to or among the deities they believed to inhabit it. They probably identified with the jealous betrayal of Callisto by Juno (Ursa Major), the warriors' rivalry of Mars (Ares) with Antares, or the swan's flight (Cygnus) by which a transformed Orpheus plays his immortal lyre (Lyra) until the world ends. 

Yoga, from my understanding, disciplines the mind as well as unleashing its potential. We cannot progress without the former.  Randomness becomes chaos.  Entropy nudges thermal energy – stars or body heat – into fragmentation and disorder. We need a sense of wholeness, both above and within. Our bodies are microcosmic. Sagan has called us "star stuff" and indeed, we are exactly this. Molecular dust clouds form the Great Rift running through the Milky Way, and from this dust come new stars. Apparent randomness moves toward predictability. Entropy is a quality as opposed to a process, although it causes processes to occur. Can it be reversed? It's linked to time, but our concept of time is linear and moves in one direction: past to present. But what if time can be reversed? Would the character of entropy then change? Would it initiate, instead of destruction,  the steps toward unity and creation?

I wish Stephen Hawking were here to further debate these questions. He was, after all, the authority on temporal processes and concepts. Even wrote a "brief history" of the whole idea. I miss him. As my husband was dying of ALS, we watched the wonderful movie, The Theory of Everything, which starred Eddie Redmayne as Hawking. We pondered huge questions of mortality, infinity, hope against despair - and our own place in all of this enormous, unknowable lemniscate. We came to no conclusions. Perhaps there are none for ordinary mortals to reach. David departed into the cosmos a month later - back to the stars whence he had come. 

Being an artist, and not a physical scientist, I have no idea what much of this highly technical information actually means. I can read about it, translate it according to my own understanding, relate it to my personal experience - but I'm incapable of viewing it knowledgably. It is, literally, beyond me. All I can do is celebrate the night, the inexorable turn of our galaxy, the pivot of constellations and star clusters around Polaris. The ecliptic determines where the planets can move, from our earthly perspective. We each possess our own ecliptic as well, which prescribes our individual path through the world. Can the practice of yoga assist us in discovering where that ecliptic is located, how we can move along it? I don't know that either. Kate could probably tell me and perhaps she'll comment to this blog post.

At any rate, the evening was a beautiful experience – personally and collectively. I could judge this by the eagerness of the participants, there laughter, the joy in their eyes. When they left, I paused to assemble my own thoughts and drove slowly home. Cats were on the road as always, stepping cautiously along the shoulder, gleam-eyed like embers. I always take care so I won't end their lives. The same goes for the clumsy porcupines, the raccoon family clustered on the centre line, the ash-coloured fox loping past me on my own road. They matter to me. We are connected, and while I look upward, they cannot, so I must do it for them.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day                                                                                                                                                                   I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;                                                                                                                                         While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,                                                                                                                                                  I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

 W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree

  My favourite photo from this yoga and stargazing night ...

My favourite photo from this yoga and stargazing night ...

Streaks and Trails across the Sky

  Tim presents his video lecture session "al fresca" on a mild night.

Tim presents his video lecture session "al fresca" on a mild night.

The past week or so has seen a battle between fog and meteors. Some nights were simply too hazy for good viewing, while others featured brilliant and very active skies. On Sunday, August 5, we were treated to an early display of meteors from the Perseids and an ongoing show by the Aquariids, in totally different directions. They were zipping overhead like crazy! The visitors sat in the sky circle and stared up in awe. Tim's usual sky tour was punctuated by exclamations and gasps as each new meteor streaked overhead.

On Friday night, after an unsettled week of rather poor visibility, conditions repeated those of the previous Sunday. Because the size of the group was 22 people, Tim set up his video screen on the outside of the observatory and everyone gathered in a semicircle to watch and listen. As darkness intensified, the Milky Way rose and the meteors began to arrive. We were closer to the Perseids peak, so this was anticipated, although there are no guarantees. While predawn viewing is normally best for many of these events, we found that after 10 PM was a very productive time for action above us. Several of these meteors left long, smoking trails. I gave the guided sky tour to half of this group, while the other half went up to the dome, and then they switched places. Once more,  the tour was interrupted by exclamations as each new meteor shot across the heavens. I missed some that the audience could see behind me. But that was okay; they were experiencing a rare treat and many had never seen such clear skies for meteor-watching. None of us expected this number to appear!

Fast-forward to Sunday, August 12. This was the Perseid shower's peak night and it did not disappoint. A smaller group enjoyed  the performance, which was at its best around 10:30 or so – before some mistiness drifted in. As midnight approached, much of the clarity was gone, but by then everyone was in the dome and the telescope could find plenty to see.

These meteor showers often seem to coincide with bright moonlight, so it was a pleasure to have no moon interference with these. I remember last year's Perseid peak: it rained. Might have been a decent affair but we missed it. Not so this time! 

Displays of this nature serve as reminders of just how much is "up there", and where it comes from. The meteors are remnants and particles from various bodies, normally comet fragments in an elliptical orbit through which the earth passes each year.  The Perseids are shed from comet Swift-Tuttle. The Aquariids – and there are two groups of these, one north and one south – come from breakups of Marsden and Kracht sungrazing comets, which are quite young and closely approach the sun. Each fragment is tiny, often the size of pea gravel. Its vivid flare comes from friction as it enters the atmosphere. Larger pieces can fall to the surface and sometimes cause damage, although this is uncommon. A few explode as they fall, and these are called bolides or fireballs. They're pretty impressive! After I returned home and continued skywatching, I spotted one such bolide as it burst into light above my trees. I was able to catch a part of it with my camera – sheer luck. Astrophotographers set long exposures in the direction of the radiant point, from which each meteor shower originates, and hope for the best. We take our shots over, and over, and over. Many do time-lapse exposures that continue all night, automatically. Tim set up a couple of these during two different nights. I had to be content with manually doing 30-second images.

In the end, our response to this month's Meteor Week was very positive. Many years tend to be less than stellar (no pun) where meteors are concerned. Anxiously, people watch and wait, and wait, and wait - only to see a couple brief fizzles and a lot of empty sky. But not so in 2018!

There are other meteor showers to come. The Old Farmer's Almanac always includes a Canadian list of these, as do astronomy websites such as EarthSky.  Our next ones will be the Draconids in October around the 7th through 9th, and again, there won't be moonlight to interfere.  So if you missed the Perseids, mark your October calendars for the next show.  It's free and it's often unforgettable.  


Below - a selection of meteor shots!

 

  Bolide falling behind trees at my home near Tusket, a 20-minute drive from Deep Sky Eye

Bolide falling behind trees at my home near Tusket, a 20-minute drive from Deep Sky Eye

  The International Space Station (ISS) passing over the dome at center top, with a Delta Aquariid meteor at right, and Mars at left. Taken August 5, 2018

The International Space Station (ISS) passing over the dome at center top, with a Delta Aquariid meteor at right, and Mars at left. Taken August 5, 2018

  Delta Aquariid meteor taken at Deep Sky Eye site, with Mars at left    

Delta Aquariid meteor taken at Deep Sky Eye site, with Mars at left

 

Moon and Mars Madness

FB moon pano eds.jpg

While Luna swells and brightens the night with her pale magic, Mars the Warrior marches past the earth and glares red-amber as he goes. This lesser god currently outshines the mighty Jupiter himself. The quiet, familiar moon keeps moving through cycles as predictable as the sea's tides, which depend on that same moon to pull them around the earth. But our skies are full of planets this month – Venus sets early, Jupiter follows, Saturn proceeds across the arch and then Mars follows. For those with access to a powerful telescope, even the tiny speck of Mercury can be detected if its location is known. The general viewer won't be able to see it, however.

Not so with Mars. He's anything but elusive! The Red Planet, hanging so huge and brilliant in our July nights, has reached the peak of its opposition to the sun. It's also closer to us than it has been for 15 years and is at its nearest approach in a 2-year orbital cycle as well. Back in 2003, it was the closest it has been in around 60,000 years. "Mars Attack!" indeed, but nothing like the movie. This time around, it's almost but not quite at its 2003 distance. As far as planets are concerned, the War God is in our front yard. 

So we have Moon and Mars together on stage. These are two partners in a cosmic dance,  because they happen to be present in the same time frame, both very bright. Yet they never interact with each other. Mars is a passerby at the edge of the scene. Luna is engaged in a crowd-rousing waltz with Terra and this will continue until long after we are dust. We can appreciate her radiant presence and celebrate it through all the seasons. Every culture has its own name for each full moon. The Mi'kmaw Moon name for this one is Peskewiku’s, Birds Shedding Feathers. Indeed, with mating season finished and the young well on their way to independence, the adult birds begin their moult. Breeding plumage is replaced by newer growth. Even the riot of song from avian throats has given way to more sedate calls. Summer has reached its height and with it, the lunar cycle waxes toward the full on July 27th.

To honour this special combination of moon and Mars, Tim is offering sessions for viewing them - together with the other visible planets - as they appear in this rather unusual context. Further information can be found through his link on the Homepage. Having attended one of the moon sessions as an ordinary "paying customer", I can emphatically state that here is one heck of a deal - definitely worthwhile and impossible to duplicate. We're treated to a lengthy experience, both at the big telescope and outside under the wider sky. An introductory talk sets the stage for the rest of the show. Tim's breadth of knowledge is remarkable, as is his personal story. And the "star of the evening" isn't a star at all, but our nearest neighbour. Luna never fails to disappoint. I can't adequately convey the sense of awe and wonder I felt when I was able to peer through the eyepiece and zoom in on lunar features that seemed to leap up toward me, in 3D. Craters, ridges, rings within rings, ash streaks, spatters and scree. It's truly jaw-dropping. How does one assign a monetary value to such a vision? 

The photo above was taken with my modest Canon 6D, coupled with the 14" scope under Tim's direction. It gives some idea of the moon's impact on an observer, yet nothing compares to being right there, eye pressed to the glass, breath indrawn. The planets are also in attendance as supporting players. Mars, of course, is the second lead. But whereas a full moon comes back month after month, Mars in close opposition isn't your regular display.

The following links provide more detailed information on the Mars phenomenon. It ought to be an amazing week ahead! 

https://www.universetoday.com/139419/planetpalooza-all-bright-planets-visible-in-the-july-dusk-sky/

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/why-is-mars-sometimes-bright-and-sometimes-faint

 Mars is glorious and golden over the salt marsh in Amirault's Hill a few nights ago. The odd colours are caused by sodium lights nearby. 

Mars is glorious and golden over the salt marsh in Amirault's Hill a few nights ago. The odd colours are caused by sodium lights nearby. 

Stellar Narrative

It's been a rather low-key week at the observatory, thanks to unsettled skies that bring considerable cloud in the evenings, then clear much too late for visitors to enjoy many observing sessions. One night, however, offers perfection. The stars move in their courses and a small group arrives to look at them. Afterwards, Tim shows me how to image with his Televue refractor. My assignment is to process a test frame just to see how it turns out. We choose the Lagoon Nebula for this introduction to Refractor Imaging 101 and I must admit that I feel a bit out of my depth in these waters. Still, it becomes what is usually called "a learning experience". I learn that imaging demands a serious level of commitment and a considerable store of knowledge. Tim learns that stubborn old ladies don't always master a new skill on the first try, or most likely not on the tenth try either. I will think back and replay this lesson, then decide I'll probably need another go at it. Nothing is intuitive about this particular pursuit.

It well may be that I'm a landscape astrophotographer at heart, more comfortable with catching the Milky Way as it spans the night - or Orion as he strides above the evergreens when autumn begins. It's exciting for me to anticipate meteor showers and set up my camera in the hope of freezing a bright streak or two. I imagine these pea-specks, shaken off a comet's tail perhaps, drawn to their doom by gravity. They die in brilliance. Theirs is no ordinary passing.

But for now, I spend time alone with myself, since I'm not needed to assist with these few people. Even a reflected planet in a pool of still water gives me cause for an indrawn breath. Mars is rising golden, closer than it will be again for thousands of years. I take a dozen shots, praying for the right composition, the perfect blend of earth and air. Down by the Quinan River, I wander as I wait for my instruction after everyone else has left, and listen to their happy chat. Astronomy brings both awareness and celebration. The enormity of space can be a frightening thought. We shrink to less than a meteor grain. Our own trails are brief. Yet we dance like moths to light in all its manifestations. We raise our eyes to the universe and laugh, because we're here, and human, and very much attuned to our lives. And with every guest who gasps in wonder at these crystalline stars (for many never see such glory from their urban homes), I become more aware of my good fortune. I am more determined to capture something beyond the Milky Way, after all; to look above, through and beyond. 

And therein lies the telescope's magnetism. Unlike a camera lens, it can bring me closer to something "beyond the fields we know", to borrow from Lord Dunsany. Science makes reality of magic. What the ancient philosophers could merely imagine, we can see for ourselves. What they were forced to speculate, we can prove. For them, the only lagoons were enclosed by sand or coral, cradled in the sea. For me, there's another lagoon with rosy streamers of nebulosity - the stuff of unborn stars I will never see. 

I'll close with one of my poems, which probably needs a quick explanation. In 2014, astronomers discovered the oldest known star in the universe. Its age could be quite accurately determined - dating back to only about 100 million years after the Big Bang itself. This fascinated me at the time and from that story, a poem was born - but I didn't even have access to a scope when I wrote it, so I used an imaginary reflector. Poetic licence and so on. Science is art too. There are many kinds of perception.

Still, I write in my personal language and the sky answers in another. It speaks in tongues of fire, punctuated by dust. I will continue studying this code and perhaps translate some of it. If not, I can just pretend that I know all the words. 



Caught in the Light Bucket
SM0313 - age 13.6 billion years

When this beam first began, God may have slept
between the newest universe and the last. We give
a holy name to him; we credit his hands. The Sistine
finger tempts us with fires from no fires; lands
from no lands; suns wheeling backward
unsparked, to edges where nothing matters, 
where matter is nothing.

All dross has vapoured away - time's scintillae, 
just like mine. Water and air now. I release gravity
from my arms; the scope sings, deep as rubbed glass.
We both listen to harmonics of the plasmic jar
while night brushes against us: its alto hum, 
shushing around the observatory. Sky's voice.
Then quiet.

I cant the reflector barrel, apply an eye,
as this oldest star in the cosmos waggles
its corona within my Milky Way - scooped up,
a spaceborn orphan that has since outlived every
possible parent it might have claimed. 
I have drawn it now, too, from the rift between
where it started and where it needs to go.

Brenda Levy Tate


 

 The Milky Way above the Quinan River not far from the Dome.

The Milky Way above the Quinan River not far from the Dome.

On First Looking into the Moonlight and Beyond

On this fine evening, twelve eager participants were treated to views of the waxing moon, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the wide vista of a very bright sky.  Much detail was washed out by the lunar radiance, though. The Milky Way was a vague trace. The constellations were partially visible but fragmented. Cygnus the Swan flew on shortened wings.

Still, every clear night brings its own glories.   

 Tim indicates a fireball meteor (outside the frame) with his green laser pointer.  

Tim indicates a fireball meteor (outside the frame) with his green laser pointer.  

Seeing this reduced skyscape got me thinking about seeing in general  – vision and its variances – on a symbolic as well as a literal level.  In centuries past, several powerful rulers, whose very word could determine a subject’s survival, were affected by distance-vision impairments. One wonders if this affected their responses to various events and individuals. The Tudor line comes to mind, as Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I all faced that particular challenge. I share this affliction, having spent decades battling myopia, unable to detect even the most enormous highway signs without very strong eyeglasses. I learned to navigate safely but I did miss the nuances. When my shortcoming was finally corrected by lens implants,  it was like seeing the fullness of the Milky Way for the first time. It was a revelation! It transformed the way I approached almost everything. I could see and my mirrored image showed me …  my own self.  I had become a universe with every part identifiable and named.

The metaphor can easily be translated to astronomy, I think. A telescope can be adjusted to compensate for optical shortcomings. Every view becomes an astonishment. The pallor of the moon-drenched zenith might diminish the starfield but it also means that we can see the lunar surface and this, too, is a remarkable experience. We miss the lesser lights and discover the details which former ages could never have witnessed. Craters within craters. Spatters and dust streaks and the shadows of vast, rubble-strewn maria – “seas” where no water has ever been. Ash cones. Scars beyond number. These have written a partial story of our own planet's past, long before a protective atmosphere was formed and then periodically even afterwards. We, too, have our planetary scars.  But those are a subject for another time. 

When the moon wanes, as it inevitably must, the fainter stars return like a revelation. Constellations once more assume full visibility. Distant objects are restored as visible components of the nightscape. And many of us discover that we prefer them to the pale blaze that drowns their presence. We see the nebulosities, the galaxies, the clouds of interstellar matter and even the dust lanes.

 Half the group waits for their turn in the dome while the others  peer through the telescope. 

Half the group waits for their turn in the dome while the others  peer through the telescope. 

Tim has spoken of visitors who have never encountered the Milky Way as we view it here. He tells about their reactions - how they sometimes step backward in awe, almost disbelieving at the sight of this new bnlliance. We take it for granted but to someone in a light-polluted city, living where nobody shuts off the electric glare for even a single night, the impact of such a vision must be powerful indeed.

With larger group sessions, half the visitors wait outside in the observing area, seated comfortably to chat and gaze. Most seem very happy to do this. They don’t mind waiting for access to the large scope because this sky is so wondrous to them – so strange in its clarity and immensity. Sometimes, they’re treated to a meteor’s fiery trail. On this particular night, the path of a satellite attracted much attention. We compared its appearance to that of a plane and discussed how one could tell the difference. This might be a small thing to folks who walk under this kind of sky without a second thought, but to those who don’t, it’s quite exciting. It is beyond their experiences back home. They have become vicarious explorers of space itself, the realm of dreamers and poets. I believe their vision has become expanded and their sight, of both mind and eye, dramatically enhanced.

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies,                                                                                                                                                              When a new planet swims into his ken …

John Keats (On First Looking into Chapman's Homer)

 Visitors' vehicles represent folks from france, florida, massachusetts, ontario and yarmouth.

Visitors' vehicles represent folks from france, florida, massachusetts, ontario and yarmouth.

Spherical Music

 Above the Trees - That's Jupiter at upper right (Brenda Tate)

Above the Trees - That's Jupiter at upper right (Brenda Tate)


The sky spread  huge and vivid as a small group of visitors wandered the grounds, then shared a heavenly viewing session, both inside the observatory and outside on the starwatch platform. I knew one of these folks – a teacher with whom I’d worked for many years – who brought three of her IB Physics students. Ironically, I had taught the father of one student! I didn’t tell her, though. One cannot appear too ancient and rust-crusted.

Another member of the party had hitchhiked across Canada, reaching the East Coast and anticipating the journey’s end in Newfoundland. She was from Germany, and she said that she’d only had to walk maybe 60 km without a ride. This, friends, is the Canadian reality. People hitchhike and they enjoy positive experiences. We’re a vibrant mosaic. We accept and appreciate the vast variety of humanity. And we welcome travelers from all over the globe. Some fall in love with our country and return to settle here. 

But tonight, everyone was focused on the larger universe. As the assembled audience spent their time with Tim, the big scope, and the vast curve of the cosmos, I roamed with my tripod and wide-angle lens. The first new bubble-dome tent was now set up. The guests took a look around inside and came away enthused at the possibilities. Later, on my own, I unzipped the flap and explored the interior. Above me, clear plastic arched with the contours of a northern midnight. I could see the Milky Way, which is at its best now and for the next three or four months. Jupiter reigned over the southern horizon. Evergreens ringed the site like a rank of guardians but didn’t intrude on the view. I stood quietly, bound by the magic of this place, this enormous bowl of worlds upon worlds. My camera remained outside as the heated space fogged the lens, but simply keeping it inside to acclimatize would have prevented this. Next time, I’ll do that with one camera and leave the other in the open air. But for now, it was enough to dream and stare.

 The Sky Bubble tent at dusk. The entire top of its dome is transparent for star viewing all night long. (Brenda Tate)

The Sky Bubble tent at dusk. The entire top of its dome is transparent for star viewing all night long. (Brenda Tate)

I imagined myself lying there, comfortable in a sleeping bag, snuggled down for sleep but unable to drift anywhere except upward. The starry vision circled my head. It closed on me. As a musician, I couldn’t help but be reminded of John Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day”, written in 1687 but applicable here as well. Oddly enough, St. Cecilia is the patron saint of the blind and of course, Tim Doucette is widely known as “the blind astronomer” (even though his night vision is far superior to mine). Everything connects.

         From harmony, from heavenly harmony,       
      This universal frame began:
    When nature underneath a heap
            Of jarring atoms lay,
        And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
        'Arise, ye more than dead!'
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
    In order to their stations leap,
          And Music's power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
      This universal frame began:
      From harmony to harmony
     Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

Dryden was writing in a spiritual context, describing the creation of the universe as a mighty and immortal work of music. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” seems to fit, although the poet wouldn’t have known that, as he was dead by then. But I knew it, while I listened to the silence and gazed in wonder at the “universal frame” within that celestial circle. Perhaps I have always known it. Astronomy then becomes a synesthesia of sound and movement and light.

I reflected on all these things as I took the winding road home.

 Milky Way - our home Galaxy (Brenda Tate)

Milky Way - our home Galaxy (Brenda Tate)

Learning Experience

 (Brenda Tate)

(Brenda Tate)

 Tim with his new Lunt Solar Scope (Brenda Tate)

Tim with his new Lunt Solar Scope (Brenda Tate)

 (Brenda Tate)

(Brenda Tate)

Today has proven to be quite extraordinary. Tim’s brand-new Lunt solar refractor was set up on a tracking mount, prepared for use. This specialized 60 mm instrument is solely dedicated to viewing the sun.  A solar filter, to permit safe daytime observation, was attached to general-use Celestron 9.25” SCT on its very solid base. (For whatever reason, most people refer to refractors in metric, and larger scopes in inches – go figure). Then we all waited for the sun to show us its bright face through a fairly serious overcast. A frost advisory had already been posted for overnight. This isn’t your ordinary June in southwest Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, a school bus from Digby High,  containing almost forty grade 9s, made its way to the observatory. This sort of educational outreach is such a positive outcome of developing an astronomical centre in our region! Interest in the skies and in leaning about them is best started young. It takes time to learn, and we never stop absorbing new information. These young people stand to reach from earth into the heavens if they choose to pursue that path. Interplanetary probes, manned spacecraft and highly-advanced satellite technology provide a continuing development for  the future. They offer hope for the survival of humanity as we outgrow our space on this crowded planet.

The enthusiastic and lively students eventually arrived, with their watchful and patient teacher-chaperones, one of whom I knew from my own teaching days. And the sun … did not arrive! Instead of solar observation, the students enjoyed a walk around the newly-developed campground under the sky, with explanatory talks en route. They seem impressed with the setup and the idea of bubble dome tents from which occupants could view the stars as they rested comfortably within.  These kids were interested in everything. They asked relevant questions and clearly wanted to know more about the project.

The students then proceeded toward the dome itself. Beforehand, they were treated to some draw prizes (astronomy-themed, of course) and given an opportunity to examine the two telescopes sitting in the ground viewing area. Sadly, they were unable to make use of them. Sol Invictus, right? The sun would not be conquered on this day. Still, they seemed to appreciate the observatory tour and their introduction to the massive 14-inch telescope housed under its dome. Tim provided them with detailed information about it. One lucky winner even received a complementary night-sky session as her draw prize, so it’s hoped that she will return and perhaps bring a companion to enjoy this experience. Tim and Amanda also made available an array of cupcakes in addition to the prize draws. These went fast.

 (Tim Doucette)

(Tim Doucette)

When the bus was reloaded and disappeared down the long road back to Digby, all seemed eerily silent. Part of the appeal of this special place is, in fact, this sense of peace and detachment from ordinary cares. At night, the vast bowl of heaven arches into infinity, and the stars wheel in their courses without regard for mere mortals gazing upward. In the daytime, birdsong and the river’s music accompany a different sort of hushed reflection. The energies of these teenagers proved a wonderful counterpoint and we do need both. All in all, it turned out to be a most rewarding day at Deep Sky Eye.