Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Stargazing Event in Aspen – My Telescope, Saturn and Me

Aspen Event - Aspen Science Center Fun
Aspen Event - Aspen Science Center Fun (Photo credit: richpalpine)
Ok, it wasn’t really just Saturn, my telescope and me. I was actually among a few hundred other people, a couple of other planets and gazillions of stars; and it wasn’t really MY telescope, but I did get to operate it at the recent Stargazing event in Aspen near the sundeck on Aspen Mountain,

The event, co-hosted by the  Aspen Ideas Festival  and the Aspen Science Center, provided great science-oriented entertainment on the top of Aspen Mountain. It featured ice cream made using liquid nitrogen, several other interesting science demonstrations, tales of the stars from Spellbinders storytellers and a surprise guest appearance by retired astronaut and gun control advocate, Mark Kelly. The activities were capped off by amazing star gazing of the Colorado night sky.

The evening started off with a fabulous evening gondola ride up Aspen Mountain. As the crowd of children and adults waited to board the gondola  giddy, youthful excitement for this exciting event in Aspen filled the air – oh, and the kids were pretty jazzed about it as well.

Once on top, at the Sundeck, attendees enjoyed ice cream made with liquid nitrogen while observing demonstrations of the element’s effect on other objects such as tennis balls, balloons, and coins (it’s amazing how brittle a penny gets when it’s cooled way down)!

Mark Kelly discussed his space shuttle experiences, how dark space really is, how hot re-entry gets and how kids might get to do cool things like he did by studying hard in science and math and listening to their teachers (and parents - lots of applause there). Then, the Spellbinders were ready to weave their tales of stellar lore.

A Few More (Blurry) Photos of the Aspen Science Center Stargazing Event in Aspen

Aspen Event - Science Liquid Nitrogen Fun

Aspen Event - Aspen Science Center Demonstration

Event in Aspen - Aspen Science Center Demonstration

Event in Aspen - Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream

I couldn’t stay for the stories because I had to find and set up my borrowed telescope (thank you Steve from the Aspen Science Center for hauling it up the hill). I soon found myself in the midst of several other telescopes - some were very elaborate (and expensive) compared to my older, simpler device, and at first I was a little disoriented because of being up on the mountain instead of in my yard where I had been practicing. I soon, however, found Venus, the big dipper, Arcturus, Spica and then, magnificent Saturn.

Despite the fact that I had indeed found what many consider the major planetary celebrity of our solar system, most people waited in line to see it with the uber-telescopes of my neighbors. I did get a few viewers here and there who didn’t want to wait in line, or who just couldn’t get enough of Saturn. The majority of the time, though, it felt like it was just Saturn, the telescope and me.

When people did use my setup, they were just as enthralled with the view of the original ringed planet as they were when doing so with the big telescopes - thank you Jackie and the Aspen Science Center for letting me be involved and for providing the telescope! Several visitors mentioned how Saturn didn’t even look “real” to them – I think the very same thing every time I see it myself.

After I had taken down my gear, as I was on my way to the gondola for the ride down and still feeling a little bit of telescope envy, I got to see a globular cluster with another volunteer’s rig – what a treat!

I was hoping to get to see the Ring Nebula as well, but that will have to wait for another day – I mean, night. And, now that I’ve met a few local astronomers, including Frank Nadell of Three Rivers Astronomy Club who helped me learn how to operate my borrowed telescope, the next time I go to a stargazing event in Aspen I don’t think it will be just my telescope, Saturn and me.

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