When planning an event for an astronomical event or simply a deep sky party, it’s tough enough generating the interest to get people to go. It’s another thing when these five annoyances don’t hinder the event.
Here are the Top 5 Astronomical Annoyances!
5. The Moon
Unless you are planning on viewing the moon as part of the astronomy experience, chances are you will plan an event on a night when the moon is not prominent in the sky.
When the moon is more prominent, it washes out the fainter features of the sky. Deep sky objects and meteor showers become shells of their true selves. Having a bright moon in the sky defeats the purpose of going out to a dark location, as you won’t get that much of a difference compared to the cities.
That pretty much limits you to 7-10 days during the month for opportunities to get away from the cities and observe from a dark location.
4. Bad Weather
Bad weather will ruin any night it chooses to, regardless of what’s in the sky. I cannot tell you how many celestial events I myself have missed because of bad weather in my location.
The weather can be clear one minute, but then the clouds quickly roll in and block your view of the sky. High winds can prevent your telescope from stabilizing, making them useless. Wind can also kick up dust that gets onto your optics, and spikes in humidity can cause dew to build up on your telescopes.
Oh, and don’t forget about temperature! If it’s too hot or too cold, it ruins the experience for those unprepared, and thus the viewing parties can get cut short. I once had a small group of people arrive to a lunar eclipse party in January while wearing shorts and sandals.- Needless to say, they didn’t last very long in the cold and only took a few looks through our telescopes before leaving.
3. Inconvenient Times
One big reason why people don’t join people like me for viewing parties or notable celestial events is because Astronomy itself is inconvenient with everyone’s schedules! Big celestial events often occur on nights during hours when people are asleep and don’t want to be bothered.
The thought of losing valuable sleep, or having their children stay up late for a meteor shower or a lunar eclipse on a school night just isn’t something that most people are willing to do.
One huge example was the 2017 Great American Eclipse. Because it was on a Monday when teachers and students were beginning their school year, (unless they were kept home) they had to miss out on viewing the eclipse if their school wasn’t doing an event of their own. I personally knew a lot of teachers who were bummed they couldn’t travel because of their school year beginning.
2. Telescope Set Up
If you own a big telescope, the annoyances of set up just comes with the territory.
The larger the telescope, the longer it takes to assemble and set up, and equally just as long to disassemble to take it down and store it. Equatorial mounted scopes take longer because there are things with polar alignment that need to be done so the telescope can properly track.
Even computerized go-to telescopes require you to take time to calibrate it with the sky according to the date and location for proper locating and precise tracking.
Larger telescopes also need a lot of trunk space to be transported, and if you own a small car, that could mean your trunk is too small to fit everything. But it can be done!
1. Light Pollution
People in Los Angeles ask me all the time how to see a meteor shower, a particular comet, or even just view the Milky Way in general. My answer always is (as I point my arms north and east), “You need to go three hours that way to see it, it’s too bright here!”
Light Pollution is unfortunately the biggest enemy of astronomy. Besides affecting many ecosystems and wasting energy, light pollution makes a dark sky filled with stars and deep sky objects a rare treat. For me, someone based in Greater Los Angeles, that means driving 1-2 hours towards locations deep in the mountains or deserts to glimpse the Milky Way in the sky. I need to drive longer than 2 hours to get to true dark sites with little to no light pollution.
“I don’t want to waste the gas!” “Can’t you pick a location that’s closer!?” “But the kids have school, I don’t want them up late!” The bottom line is for most people, the location is too far away and too late at night to drive there and back.
The fact that I have been able to get groups to the dark skies over Joshua Tree National Park at least once a year does mean a lot to yours truly. But as the person with that passion, there’s always that desire to go out there more, and of course, bring more people!