It was the cloud cover that let everyone down last night out at Sleaford Observatory. My friends and I also had an invite to join another friend for a rib night back in the city so we decided to leave before the slide show presentation. While I never got to look through any telescopes, I did come out of there a little more learned. These are things I didn’t know that I didn’t know:
1. Astronomers hate white light because it kills night vision. Is that why towers always have red blinking lights? I knew it was noticeable but I didn’t think it served an additional purpose beyond warning pilots a tower is there. One of the women suggested that if we ever come out again to see some cool things on a clear night, we should bring a flashlight covered with red nail polish or cellophane. We didn’t even remember to pack a flashlight, and it was hella dark out there without one. There was just enough light to see the astronomy horde lurching through the field like zombies unsure of where to step. Nobody else thought of flashlights either.
2. If you’re watching at the right time when a satellite passes by, you’ll see the sun reflect off it and it will flash in the night sky. It’s called an iridium flare. It is also possible to track the path of a satellite and predict these events, which is why we all knew to look up at 17:46 and get a few seconds worth of “Ooh! Shiny!” out of it. Amaze your friends or convert followers to your new religion. (“That flash is god’s message to you, my people, that I’m your new savior! All praise 1minion!”)
3. There are different types of telescopes. There’s the Galilean version, which you can make yourself if you have the right stuff. There’s also a Newtonian version that uses mirrors instead of concave and convex lenses. These can also be home made if you like insane challenges. There’s also a Keplerian style, which is based on the Galilean but with improved bells and whistles.
4. I’ve noticed this before – on hazy nights when the atmosphere is just so, street lights (and headlights and yardlights) seem to shine a beacon right up into the sky. Even 65 Km away from the city we could see dozens of them. One of the guys said that had to do with diffraction, but now I don’t remember what else he said about it. I’m assuming it has to do with the design of the light source because it doesn’t happen with all of them.
5. I think I misunderstood a fellow over there who was talking about Canada’s space telescope. I thought he said we were about to launch a little one, but a bit of hunting turned up the 6th year anniversary of the one we have already. It’s called MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of STars) and is nicknamed the “Humble” because it’s only the size of a suitcase. It’s designed for long term work on specific projects regarding a single star or planet rather than photograph gorgeous space art like the Hubble does.
6. Any Canadians who attend a Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Galileo inspired event this weekend to celebrate The International Year of Astronomy will be given the opportunity to fill out an online form with a secret code (available only to attendees) and all the names collected are going to be added to a disc that will go up with NEOSsat, in 2010. I’m sure having our names up there is not so aliens know who we are, but more like a time capsule nobody can open again until it hits dirt. Pretty nifty.
So, while I never got my telescope chance last night, it wasn’t a complete waste of time. And, since I now know that I know someone who knows people in the astronomy club, we may get a chance to tag along some night and try them out when there isn’t such a crowd.