Portsmouth Middle School
Friday, November 18, 2011
I’ve been thinking that the Skyscrapers official name should have a subtitle that says, “Have telescopes, will travel.” That’s exactly what we do from time to time when we are asked to provide star parties for very large groups of people.
One of the most distant venues we have visited on a fairly regular basis is the Portsmouth Middle School. This year the weather and seeing conditions were perfect. Bob Forgiel, Jack Szelka, Jim Hendrickson, Jim Brenek, Jim Crawford, Alex Bergemann and yours truly brought our telescopes to share the beauty of the heavens with the students and their families.
From Pascoag it’s a long drive to Portsmouth. But this year I picked up Alex and his telescope, so his company made the ride not seem quite as long. We arrived at dusk with plenty of time to set up our equipment on a grassy knoll before the students arrived. Though we had a few security lights on the outside of the school to contend with, at least this year they managed to keep the huge parking lot light towers off.
The area where we set up commands a good view of the sky. Though light pollution is prevalent, the sky was really not that bad. I kept my vintage Criterion RV-6 trained on Jupiter throughout the session. With a newly acquired battery pack to run the telescope’s drive motor I was able to keep Jupiter centered under medium power, and this was just manually aligning the scope to the pole visually.
Jupiter was fantastic. Just as some of the first guests were arriving, Europa was edging closer and closer to Jupiter’s disk. It was great to watch Jupiter and Europa seem to touch around 7:27 p.m. and begin to merge. It looked like a tiny bump on Jupiter’s limb. Then Europa disappeared as it began a transit across Jupiter’s disk. About an hour later Europa’s shadow could be seen on Jupiter’s cloud tops as it also began to transit as well. The seeing was incredibly steady, allowing anyone who looked through the scope to easily see the primary belts and zones.
Alex had set up about 15-20 feet away from me. His Meade 6-inch ETX Starlight telescope was aligning as the crowd started to arrive. Students and parents alike were amazed at the functionality of the telescope and of Alex’s knowledge and use of it. I often heard him tell his audience that he was the youngest member of Skyscrapers. Throughout the evening Alex always had a good number of people waiting their turn to observe what Alex had acquired. At one point he turned to me and said, “The line never ends!” With the aid of his computerized scope Alex showed them the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Pleiades (M45) and the Dumbbell Nebula (M27). Alex is a great Skyscrapers ambassador.
The other Skyscrapers members were scattered around the grassy knoll, each of them providing wonderful views of various objects. These public outreach programs are events which the Skyscrapers organization and its volunteers excel at.
We are rewarded not only with the knowledge that we have enlightened many students and their families on the wonders of the universe, but Skyscrapers have also received generous donations for the efforts of all our volunteers.
Please consider joining us in the future and we’ll add your name to the “have telescope, will travel” list.
David A. Huestis