8 January 2011 (Saturday) - Stargazing Live
I have remarked before that God laughs when we make plans. Having been planning for tonight’s “Stargazing Live” event, the club secretary’s father in law has been taken very ill in
Dorchester, and so the chap who’s been the lead player in organising the event was suddenly unavailable. It’s a great shame – Jason is so keen and enthusiastic about the club, he puts in so much effort behind the scenes, and with only a day to go, he couldn’t be there.
I volunteered to cover for him (as much as I could), and I was on his doorstep at the crack of dawn, loading all the gear into my car. It’s no secret that my knowledge of practical astronomy is rather pathetic: I’m never going to be much good at a live stargazing event. I can only identify four constellations (five if you count the Pleiades), and probably half a dozen stars. But I can get the keys to unlock and open up the hall, put out chairs, put up posters, make the tea, enthuse to the punters and generally busy about in the background whilst those who do know what they are talking about can get on with impressing the public.
With al the gear in the car I came home and went through the presentation Jason was going to give. Normally when I give a talk to the astro club I’ll have prepared the presentation months in advance, and I’ll know what I was thinking of when I made the slides. I wasn’t quite sure what Jason had in mind, but it was too late to change anything, so I familiarised myself with the slide order, then tried to video the parrot.
Having listened to her jabbering on all morning, as soon as I got out the camera, she shut up and wouldn’t say a word, even to “My Boy TM ”, who is very obviously parrot favourite. There was an entertaining ten minutes whilst “My Boy TM ” cleaned out the parrot cage. A combination of fascination and hero worship meant he couldn’t get on with the job as parrot was permanently in the way. The more he told her off, the more she got in the way.
But I was getting restless. We’d arranged to meet at the hall in Woodchurch for the astronomy event at 4pm. Bearing in mind we were going to be one man short, I decided to get there early. I’d rather have everything ready and then be wasting time in the hall knowing that all was done rather than having wasted time earlier only to be rushing later.
I opened up the hall at 3pm, and it was as well I got there early. By the time all the other helpers arrived (an hour later) I’d done very little more than opened up the halls, set out the tables & PC, and put up some posters. Normally setting up for a club meeting is rather straightforward. Today the time flew by, and before we knew it, it was 6pm, and the public were arriving. There was a good turn out of club members, but there was a lot of people who’d come along on the strength of having seen the BBC’s programmes in the week.
I have never seen the Woodchurch hall so crowded. With standing room only, we started off with a welcome to everyone. Drew gave a little chat about the size of the solar system, and then gave a quick demonstration of the night sky with the Stellarium software so that people would know what stars and things to look at outside. We then adjourned to the car park where it was dark and clear to do some practical astronomy.
With a dozen or so telescopes out, people were queuing to see things, but everyone seemed quite happy to queue. A few of us pointed out various stars and constellations to those waiting to look through telescopes, and even I managed to attract a small following.
After an hour I popped into the hall for a cup of coffee and I was amazed. For all that the outside practical astronomy session was really crowded, there were at least sixty people sitting in the hall, apparently waiting for the next part of the show to start. So I loudly announced that they had five minutes to escape, or I would give a lecture. To my surprise, those standing at the back of the hall came and sat down and looked attentive.
It turned out that our event had been more successful than we’d imagined – we’d attracted more of exactly the sort of people we’ve already got in the club: a really extreme mix of astronomers. Lots of people who like looking through telescopes. And lots of people (like me) who like sitting comfortably in the warm listening to someone telling them what can be seen through telescopes. And lots of people between the two extremes. With over sixty people outside looking through telescopes, I went inside and lectured to over sixty people about the life of stars. The talk went well, people laughed when they were supposed to, and afterwards quite a few people came up to me to ask about joining the club.
And all too soon the evening had drawn to a close. During the initial introductory session we had a head count, and then made a note of anyone turning up later. We had at least 145 people along, and we heard of lots of people who arrived, saw the packed car park and went away again. I had hoped to try out some astro-photography this evening, but time went by too fast.
I wonder how many people will come to the club meeting at the end of the month….