AAS Member Event at Telescope Flat
June 24, 2006

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The Amador Astronomical Society held a star party for members and guests at Telescope Flat on Saturday, June 24th starting an hour and a half before the 8:30 PM sunset. Despite the trailing edge of a thunder storm on the eastern slope of the Sierras, the site's 360 degree dark sky viewing enabled participants to see some great objects starting with Jupiter just after sun down. AAS Astronomers Phil, Barbara (photographer), Joran and Erik Kreiss had the entire sky to themselves and made the most of it. A great show!

The storm, shown in this 7 PM satellite image may have intimidated some astronomers, but proved to be no match for these intrepid AAS members.
Arrival at 7:15 PM. Looking north to the road and parking. Note the car has been turned around and is parked with the headlights facing out to the east and the main road. Telescopes are usually placed to the west and south of this landmark tree. Photo taken by Joran.
A view to the East at Telescope Flat as Erik (sitting) and Joran take a break after helping to set up the telescope. Barbara has set up a laptop with a new planetarium program to test. Taken 8:10 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 1 second exposure.
Phil has a perfect spot for the nights viewing with an 8 inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope pointed at the Southern sky. Taken 8:15 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 1 second exposure.
Looking toward the south-west. After dark, you can barely see city lights in this direction. Notice the cloud cover. Taken 7:35 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 1/101 second.
Sundown and nearly ready to go. Phil makes a choice of lenses. Taken 8:16 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 1/2 second exposure.
Looking south for a hole in the cloud cover and a view of the night sky. Taken 8:18 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 1/2 second exposure.
Joran spots Jupiter. Viewing would be surprisingly good with the Meade telescope. Taken 8:19 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 1/5 second exposure.
Viewing Jupiter and its moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto with the telescope, we also tried out Stellarium, a free software program developed for small planetariums. Note the image of Jupiter on the laptop screen to the lower left. We were fortunate in that the software, working in real-time, let us know that the Great Red Spot was visible. Taken 8:30 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 1 second exposure.
This next composite image is an attempt to try and show something that astronomy magazines and web sites never show. Do you really see those big colorful bold jazzy Hubble-style images through a typical amateur telescope? Not without a lot of fancy cameras, filters, and Photoshop work. However, all the awe, wonder and mystery is still there. The left hand image is what the NASA Cassini space craft saw of Jupiter, which strikes us as more realistic. To the right, (and usually smaller), is what you would likely see in your telescope. All of us were thrilled to see the Great Spot at about 10:30 PM. Hint: be patient, it came in and out with the changing atmospheric conditions.
We looked at Saturn and its moon Titan, the M4 Cluster through a hole in the clouds, Scorpius, and were excited to view southern constellations only seen this time of year: the top third of Lupus and Centaurus including the stars Gamma, Delta, and Beta Lupi, and Kappa, Eta, Theta, and Iota Centauri. Stellarium helped with the ID, and showed us that we were seeing down to -43° in declination! This image is from Uranometria* by Johann Bayer, published in 1603. Because of the clouds, we spent some time zooming in on planets, nebulas, galaxies and clusters in Stellarium. The software uses NASA, JPL and Grasslands Observatory images to great effect.
Last, we took a look at the city of Modesto, a dim glow far off in the south west, seen here to the left over the long table. Finally, tired astronomers packed up. Notice the red light being used. Taken by Joran at 10:46 PM, existing light, Canon G5 digital. 15 seconds with a regular flashlight used as filler.

* The full title of the book is: Uranometria, omnium asterismorum continens schemata, nova methodo delineata, aereis laminis expressa.