Saturn Gaze 2004


On  Saturday night, January 3, 2004, members and friends of the Auburn Astronomical Society, in cooperation the W. A. Gayle Planetarium, held a public Saturn Gaze.  Saturn was at a favorable opposition -- closer to the Earth than it had been for the past thirty years, and as close as it would be for the next 30 years.  This event was conceived and was brought to fruition by Mack Acheson with the encouragement and support of Rick Evans, director of the W. A. Gayle Planetarium. The event was free to the public as a Public Service of  Troy State University Montgomery. 

Channel 8 video image captured by Mack Acheson

Channel 8 video image captured by Mack Acheson

The agenda for the evening was: 
6:00 PM Doors Open
6:30 PM Telescope Clinic
7:00 PM Program (Ring World)
8:00 PM Telescopic Viewing of Saturn
The night was unseasonably warm and partly to mostly cloudy, but all of the 300+  visitors had a chance to see the ringed planet through any of the many telescopes made available to them by our volunteers and several guests who brought their own telescopes. 
Several guests who were having assembly and operational problems with their personal telescopes, brought them to the "Telescope Clinic" that opened the evening's activities. William Baugh was the "scope doctor" on the lawn outside the planetarium while Russell Whigham attended to the optical patients that had been brought inside by their owners.  Among the people who received some much need instruction was State Senator, Larry Dixon, who subsequently sent William a personal "thank you" note that he shared with us at the January meeting of the AAS.

Channel 8 video image captured by Mack Acheson

Channel 8 video image captured by Mack Acheson

Mack had rented several commercial sized urns and provided coffee and hot chocolate to the visitors once they had entered the lobby of the planetarium.  Mack had also written the media outlets in Montgomery to publicize the event.  Rick contacted Rich Thomas, meteorologist at WSFA, channel 12, who gave some valuable publicity before the event.  Rick had also sent news of the event to his Planetarium e-mail list.  Because of these efforts, we had a reporter and photographer from the Montgomery Advertiser, and a reporter and videographer from WAKA, Channel 8, the local CBS affiliate.  The interviews and video aired on the 10:00 PM news that evening.  Mack did an outstanding job of his on camera interview.  Sundayís Advertiser ran the story with photos.  Thanks, Mack!

Channel 8 video image captured by Mack Acheson

Channel 8 video image captured by Mack Acheson

The following people volunteered to have their telescopes set up outside the planetarium for the public:  Mack Acheson, William Baugh, Taylor Jernigan, Jim McLaughlin, Gail Smitherman, and Russell Whigham. 

Thanks to Mack for conceiving of and coordinating this event and to Rick Evans for making the planetarium available for the event.  Mack showed his appreciation for the help of the volunteers in this letter:

Mack showed his appreciation for the help of the volunteers in this letter:

To the members and friends of AAS, 
I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who showed up at the Saturn event! The people who showed up at the event did an incredible job with the visitors who brought their telescopes to us in hopes of being showed how to use them! We were a little overwhelm by the crowd. Mr. William Baugh set up a mini clinic out side by his telescope and made some ladies very happy when he got their telescope to work (thanks)! A young college student and his father and mother brought an old telescope to me and asked if I could get it to work. After about tem minutes I decided to give him my number and we are going to get together and fix it for him before he goes back to college. It is missing more than a few screws.

Russell I was right about Rick Evans, he has Godís ear!  The clouds parted right when Saturn came up and the crowd went to the telescopes to look at Saturn.
The coffee and cocoa went fairly quickly -- the crowed drank 260 cups of the stuff. It had to be shut down due to staffing  shortage on my part. (Man those kids can drink hot coco)! Rick did a fantastic job alerting the public. I think we have started a base that we can build on to boost our membership by getting us public attention to boost are membership.

I have to say that I was shocked by the channel 8 news crew being there. And was more shocked by them wanting to interview me. I was later informed that Mr. Rick Evans sent her my way! They made a couple of mistakes when they broadcasted at 10:00 pm. They said that Saturn is 700.000 miles away when it is over 7000.000.000 miles away! They did a wonderful job and I am going to thank them.

I put  Auburn Astromical Society applications in five spots around the Planetarium and it seems that it really worked out well. They took approx. twenty five of the applications. So I am hoping that it will boost us up some.

The green laser that I bought was a big hit with the crowd, every one asked me where Saturn was so I would take my green laser out and point to it and show them Orion's belt. I think they really just wanted to see the green laser go up to the sky! (I need more batteries for it)! I found a great place to buy a really good one. They have modified ones! 

It was allot of work, but well worth it. To see all those kids get so excided to see what they have been reading about Saturn in school and to actually see it, is a wonderful feeling!  I can't wait till we can do it again.  Thanks Gail Smitherman for driving so far to come help out. They really like talking and seeing Saturn through your telescope! 

Mackall W. Acheson III

Those who volunteered their time and telescopes, also received the following letter from Dr. Martindale, president of TSUM.  A facsimile of the letter follows: 


Office of the President 
P..O.. Drawer 4419 
Montgomery. Alabama 36103-4419 (334) 241-9537 
FAX: (334) 241-9591 

 January 12, 2004 

Mr. Russell Whigham 
518 Seminole Dr. 
Montgomery, AL 36117 

Dear Mr. Whigham: 

I wanted to take just a minute and thank you personally for your participation in the W.A. Gayle Planetarium's Saturn Gaze event. It was very generous of you to donate your time and allow the public to view the wonders of Saturn through your telescope. 

The planetarium continues to receive numerous e-mails from people who attended the event and were thoroughly impressed. You provided many people with a chance in a lifetime to view this celestial wonder. 

I greatly appreciate the time and effort you made in promoting an appreciation in the field of astronomy at Troy State University Montgomery, as well as helping the public to view first hand what many only see in textbooks. Because of your support and enthusiasm, the Saturn Gaze event was an overwhelming success. 

Again, thank you for your contribution to this worthwhile endeavor. 


Cam  Martindale

Cameron Martindale, Ed.D. 


c: Mr. Ray White, Vice President for Financial Affairs 
    Mr. Rick Evans, Director, W.A. Gayle Planetarium 




Montgomery Advertiser 
Sunday January 4, 2004