Some of my contacts with the local Boy Scouts Tukabatchee Area Council recently requested my participation in an event they had planned for the end of August (08-30-15.) It was the very first Powder Horn course for the Council. The event was designed to present participants (older Scouts, Venturers and adult leaders) with new ideas and experiences to make Scouting even more rewarding than it already is. Among the varied courses, my friends wanted an introduction to Astronomy to round out the weekend. The course outline mentioned the inclusion of “expert consultants” outside of Scouting. Instead, they got me. I was fortunate to be able to bring along the more than capable expert, Russell Whigham.
The event was held at Camp Hobbs, located of county road 40 west of Highway 31near Pine Level above Prattville. Two sites were offered. The first being near the parking lot with two street lights on the north side. The second was just down the trail in an open area without lights and a fairly good view of the sky. The second was chosen and Russell and I drove ourselves and equipment there and set up shop. Joining us as a Scouting friend, Ginger Horton. Her husband, who could not make it to the event, sent his small telescope along with her but she didn’t know how to set it up. This was quickly done but it was used for demonstration only.
Russell brought along his trusty Celestron C11and I had my 12 inch Lightbridge. I also carried my 3 inch Celestron and 10X50 Nikon binoculars with tripod. Ginger was given the task of manning the binoculars after I set her up to view M7 in Scorpius. Russell also supplied a Planesphere for demonstration. I also had a laptop computer with Stellarium running. Older issues of Astronomy and Sky&Telescope were on a table for an offering to interested guests. Russell graciously provided a stack of AAS business cards for distribution.
The evening progressed and the afternoon clouds dissipated to reveal a fairly clear night. The participants began to arrive about 8:20. Although it was dark by then, by the number of flash lights present, I would guess we had about 30 interested guests in all. As expected on a school night, they were as advertised…older Scouts, Venturers and several adult leaders from around the region.
I began with an intro of who AAS is and what we do. I then began by beginning an overview of the night sky above them. The laser pointer was, as usual, a hit. Of the several topics the course required, one of the first was to make them aware of the major constellations and how to find Polaris, even when Ursa Major is not prominent in the sky. It seemed important for Scouts to be able to find their way in the dark. They were also introduced to some major stars including the Summer Triangle with Vega, Altair and Deneb displayed near the zenith early on. A brief attempt was made at explaining the ecliptic and after introducing Scorpius, Saturn was highlighted.
Another objective was to present any software amateur astronomers might use as an aide in our endeavors. The program I chose was Stellarium with the evening’s sky displayed. Various features were discussed and other programs were mentioned. The folks seem to like the artistic characters of the constellations available with Stellarium as well as the night mode capability. GoogleSky was also mentioned as a downloadable phone application.
With few queries from the crowd, the viewing began. Saturn shone brightly at the head of Scorpius and we had some inkling of the Milky Way above our heads. But, alas, it was not to be. This was the weekend of the full moon and Luna did not disappoint. We first saw it through the trees, rising ominously over the eastern horizon. As we manned our stations, it rose over the pines in full glory. While the participants enjoyed viewing Saturn through both scopes and M7 through mine, many were blown away with the close up views of the lunar landscapes our scopes afforded them. Many a “Wow” and “Whoa!” were heard. The only damper on the event was the humidity. All the equipment got drenched before it was all over but a good time was had by all in the end.
I had prepared Star Charts and information handouts for everyone. I included resources for telescopes and software as well as the AAS website which topped the list. Also listed were major optics retailers and manufactures (Celestron, Meade, Orion, etc.) with websites. As the evening wound down, Russell and I were surprised to be presented each of us with a wooden token from the Council and a nice coin minted for the Powder Horn event. I am sure to hear from the group again in the near future with requests for another Star Gaze. We will try for a less than full moon next time.