Cherry Valley, California
Equipment Used: Orion Sky View Pro 8 inch Equitorial Mounted Reflector
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.
In the days leading up to June 15, the parent was happy to show me what are the things the boys need 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 they also needed to know a lot more things than I expected:
- all the planets and other objects in our solar system like comets, asteroids, and meteors.
- things about the lifecycle 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.
All of that I was happy to supply.
I had just bought my new 8-inch scope, and was eager to show it off. I knew they would be amazed by their view of Saturn.
To cover the subject and all the topics, I opted for a presentation to be projected on a big screen. I figured that was the best way to keep the audience happy and engaged while waiting for it to get dark.
The venue was the Cherry Valley Bow Hunters Club in Cherry Valley, CA. One of the parents was a member of the Bow Hunters Club, and was able to get us in.
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, and dark enough to see stars without too much lights.
Here is how the night went.
Because of my laptop showing my desktop wallpapers which were all astronomy based, 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.
While there were definitely those who were engaged and leaving comments or asking questions, right up front there were kids who instead just played in the dirt. I knew Astronomy isn’t for everyone, so I did my best to ignore them; most likely their parents were still enjoying it.
We went through how big the universe actually is, before talking about the life cycle of stars, to going into things we can see in the night sky. Again, they were all topics that I had to go over according to the standards set by their Boy Scout organization.
I could tell after 30 minutes some kids and adults got bored, but it was made up for by all the great questions that did come my way, which kept prolonging how long the presentation went.
One kid asked “when are we gonna look in the telescope?” and I answered “as soon as I’m done.”
I closed with plugging in my website, so if you were at this presentation, thank you!
The end of the presentation talked about the upcoming eclipse, and when I asked how many people were making travel plans, I was disappointed when I saw none of them were raising their hands, further emphasizing staying in Southern California will result in seeing the moon only cover 67% of the Sun, leaving a feeling of getting robbed of a good show.
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.
They could see me point at stars with my green laser, and many of them were learning about the North Star and how to find it for the first time.
I was able to point out a few constellations, but they didn’t quite understand how they made such shapes or pictures until I showed them on my Stellarium app on my phone.
And at last but not least, it was time to view Jupiter and Saturn through the telescope.
Getting the scope pointed at and centering Jupiter through my eye piece was easy.
But despite my motor drive being turned on and working properly, my telescope kept having to make fine adjustments to get the object back in view.
It turns out, when I set up my scope during the day, I didn’t get it properly aligned to the North Star! My compass app ended up being way off, so My equatorial mount wasn’t even properly pointing due North.
Sure, in hindsight I could have readjusted it, but at this point, it was 9:15 pm, past the bed times of many kids, and I knew after sitting through a 50 minute presentation, the kids were getting restless and impatient, so I wasn’t thinking about it.
The controls of my clock drives were the life saver, as all we had to do when we lost it was press a button or two and we got it back.
All the reactions to seeing Jupiter and Saturn through the scope were overwhelmingly positive, with many saying “it looks fake!” To most, it was their first time actually looking at the two planets!
Those who stuck around after the core of the group left not only saw me realign my scope with Polaris (so my telescope could properly track!), they saw close up views of Antares, Vega, Albiero (a double star), Algol and Mizar, and even a hint of the Lagoon Nebula! Anything we could see under the skies of Cherry Valley.
By the time we were done, the site proved to be a better dark sky site than I thought. You see, my Dark Sky Finder app told me this was an “orange zone” meaning borderline “okay.”
The skies to the west and east were light polluted due to the lights from Los Angeles/Inland Empire and Palm Springs respectively, but they were dark in the direction of the nearby San Bernardino Mountains to the north, and dark enough in the south for the summer Milky Way to be visible once the constellations of Cygnus, Scorpius, and Sagittarius were high enough in the sky…. not like “oh my god that Milky Way is so awesome” but more like “oh hey, I clearly can see it.
In all, a superb experience with a great group of parents and kids! No issues whatsoever with any of the kids, and I think this experience was also 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.
All I know is I already saw interested parents looking up telescopes online, and showing interest in going out to the desert!