Ocean Institute Star Party at the Lazy W. Ranch

Article by Kevin Kawai 

August has certainly been a busy month for the Celestron-on-the-go team. The first weekend of August saw at least 4 separate star parties and trade show events which took place all around the same time! One of the many events scheduled included the Ocean Institute Star Party held on August 7, 2010 at the Lazy W Ranch, a United Methodist Church Camp, located east of San Juan Capistrano, California, in the Cleveland National Forest. The Ocean Institute is well known nationally for its hands-on approach for students and adults to learn more about marine sciences, environmental education and maritime history. According to its website, more than 110,000 K-12 students and 6,000 teachers annually participate in the Institute's 61 award-winning, immersion style programs and recently, a stargazing program has been added to its list of events.

Art Director/Senior Graphics Designer, Scott Rivedal and I, drove up to the Lazy W Ranch and along the way, we noticed how desolate the road and scenery was becoming. We instantly started thinking of the dark skies that we'd be encountering that night! Once we arrived at the ranch, we met up with Ocean Institute's Kristel Arnott and Rudy Serna, along other staff members, local amateur astronomers and JPL Scientist, Dr. Ron Bunning. Guests began arriving a short time later and were directed to the mess hall to listen in on Dr. Bunning's talk on "what's in the sky tonight?" Dr. Bunning also presented images taken from JPL's WISE spacecraft. Meanwhile, all of the star party volunteers began setting up their telescopes (of all different makes and models) at the "Fire Safe" area. Scott and I brought along a CPC 800 and a NexStar 6SE and found a nice flat area on the bottom of a "dirt bowl" to set up.

As dusk approached, the nearby hills began taking on a colorful reddish color and a sense of chill was in the air (literally). A staff member yelled out "oh wow, everyone come here and check this out" and we all ran over to see what was going on. It turned out that a huge, hairy tarantula had left its burrow and was scurrying along the grounds near our star party observing site. I've heard of other folks encountering deer, moose, skunks or opossums on rural stargazing trips but never a tarantula. Mark this as a first for us! After taking a few photos of our unexpected "friend," the large arachnid was on its way, and we had a lot of stories to share with everyone later.

The evening started out with a clear sky with the "parade of planets" - Venus, Mars and Saturn forming somewhat of a triangle in the western sky and with no Moon out. I quickly aligned our CPC 800 and NexStar 6SE and also shared alignment tips with Rudy, who recently began using his older NexStar 8 GPS again. Scott brought out his DSLR camera and began taking wide angle Milky Way astrophotos. From our location, the sky was relatively dark with the Milky Way easily visible streaming from the Sagittarius/Scorpius region through Cygnus and beyond. Dr. Bunning's presentation had just concluded and guests began arriving to the observing field. Each telescope pointed at various targets and knowledgeable telescope operators described the views. Guests viewed planets, various double stars, open and globular star clusters, planetary and emission nebulaes. Guests were really "wowed" by the crisp views of the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and the Great Hercules Cluster (M13). As the night progressed, low level clouds suddenly appeared and began creeping over the hillside and marched down into our area. Yes, it was a bit disappointing but at least everyone had the opportunity to see some of the best celestial objects of the summer sky before there was nothing left to be seen.

Celestron would like to say "thank you" to both Kristel and Rudy of the Ocean Institute for inviting Celestron to take part in your stargazing event. We look forward to participating again at a future program, and who knows what mysterious two, four, six or eight legged creatures we'll run into next time! Ah, the joys of being at summer camp - there's nothing quite like it!

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