Cherry Valley, California
June 15, 2017 was going to be a special night for two reasons.
One, Saturn was going to be at opposition, meaning both Earth and Saturn would be fully aligned, and that Saturn would be at its closest to us. Usually those are the best days to view Saturn through a telescope.
Two, I had been asked by a hockey client who knew my passion for Astronomy to do something for her son’s Boy Scout group. It turns out for a lot of Boy Scout organizations, Astronomy is one of their badges.
I picked June 15 to be that night because of Saturn. I knew that they would be amazed by their view of Saturn, plus I had just bought my new 8-inch scope, and was eager to show it off.
In the days leading up, the parent was happy to show me the things the boys needed to know to earn those badges. Not only did they need to know the North Star and how to find it for navigation purposes, but I was surprised they needed to learn:
- all the planets and other objects in our solar system like comets, asteroids, and meteors.
- The life cycle of stars (Red Giants, White Dwarfs, Black Holes).
- Galaxies and the grand scale of the Universe
- Learn how a telescope works and the differences between refractors and reflectors.
To cover the subject and all the topics, I opted for a presentation to be projected on a big screen during evening twilight, figuring it’ll keep the boys engaged before the evening climaxed with telescope viewing.
The venue was the Bow Hunters Club in Cherry Valley, CA, as one of the members had access to it. As this was for a group of people living in the San Bernardino, Redlands, Highland,and Beaumont area, we wanted a venue that was close enough for the comfort of everyone yet dark enough to see key stars.
Here is how the night went.
Because of my the screen first projecting my astronomy based desktop wallpapers, the questions started to be asked even before I started the bulk of the presentation!
One parent asked me “why is Saturn so special with its rings” and my quick response was “God liked it so he put a ring on it!” To the laughs of the audience.
Despite all of the knowledge I was supposed to cram, I always plan on making the presentations as short as possible, but the plethora of comments and questions kept prolonging how long it went. Sure, there were those who were engaged, but right up front there were kids who instead just played in the dirt, giving me the “who cares!? just show us the telescope already!” type of vibe. I could tell after 30 minutes even a few adults were getting bored.
Thankfully, the end of the presentation was timed perfectly, as it was finally dark by the time I was done, and stars were just coming out.
“Now the fun begins,” I said.
Now it was time to show constellations, and most didn’t quite understand how they made such shapes or pictures until I showed them through the Stellarium app on my phone.
And at last but not least, it was time to view Jupiter and Saturn through the telescope.
Despite my motor drive being turned on and working properly, the objects kept drifting away, and I later figured out that when I set up my scope during the day, I didn’t get it properly aligned to the North pole because my compass app ended up being way off….
It was a minor inconvenience, but it should not have happened if I was supposed to present myself as an experienced telescope user.
Thankfully, all the reactions to seeing Jupiter and Saturn through the scope were overwhelmingly positive, with many saying “it looks fake!”
Those who stuck around after the core of the group left not only saw me realign my scope with Polaris, they saw views of several bright stars, some doubles, and even a nebula!
By the time we were done, the site proved to be a better dark sky site than I thought. my light pollution app told me the location was an “orange zone” meaning “borderline okay.” When the summer Milky Way had risen high enough, it was actually visible. It wasn’t anything like “oh my god that Milky Way looks amazing” but more like “oh hey, I can see it.
In all, a superb experience with a great group of parents and kids! The experience felt just as much for the adults as it was with the kids. Hopefully out of that group there’s one kid who will take this experience and go further with it.
While the group got to learn basic astronomy, I learned a couple things on how to make the presentation go shorter and make the kids feel more engaged rather than just me talking, so the next time I get the chance to do something like this, I’ll be way better than before!
All I know is I already saw interested parents looking up telescopes online, and showing interest in going out to the desert!