Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Man in the Moon

Observatory at Edison College
On the second Friday night of each month, the observatory at the Edison College campus in Punta Gorda opens its doors to visitors who want to view the sky through their 16" telescope.   Last night was a beautiful clear evening so Jay and I decided to go check it out with our friend Paul.  We arrived at a little more than an hour after sunset and found a small group (probably 15 people or so) gathered on the main floor of the observatory.  A gentleman whom I assume is a professor there was giving an overview of the universe before we headed to the telescopes.  In addition to the big telescope, they had three telescopes set up outside on the terrace.  We went back and forth between the venues, viewing primarily the moon and Jupiter. 

Looking at the moon was cool.  You could see craters within craters.  The professor explained that because there is no gravity on the moon, anything that touches the moon's surface (even a speck of dust) will create a crater.  No wonder it looks like Swiss cheese!  Viewing Jupiter (which is often mistaken for the North Star because it is so bright--that would be a navigational disaster!) was a bit less exciting.  You could see a couple of its moons and sort of make out one of its bands, but it didn't knock my socks off.

The most interesting part of the evening was listening to Jay and Paul talk about astronomy and looking at the sky with Jay's iPad (using the Star Walk app, which was quite cool).  The guy who was helping out on the terrace had a laser pointer that he was using to help the spectators visualize the constellations.  Using Star Walk, you didn't have to rely on your imagination--the designer has already drawn them in.  (I know--it is sort of like being spoon fed, but why not take advantage of emerging technologies?)  Paul impressed me by remembering the mnenomic for the planets "Man Very Early Made Jars Stand Up Nearly Perpendicular" (Mars, Venus, Earth, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Pluto, which I understand recently lost its status as a planet.)   I took an astronomy class at U-Mass when I was in college (thinking it would be a gut class--wrong once again!) and remember pretty much nothing other than being cold on the nights we went star gazing and having a mild crush on Nick, the professor.   

In general, the evening confirmed that astronomy is not my thing.  Jay and I went to an observatory when we were on our honeymoon in Maui and my reaction was more or less the same.  Last night, like the night in Maui, I was more focused on when we were going to have dinner than contemplating the universe.  Still, it's a fun thing to have access to and yet another interesting thing to do in Punta Gorda.  As always, the sky's the limit! 

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