This summer, the Sidewalk Astronomers were invited to attend
the five-day star party at Mount Kobau in British Columbia. It's
event like the Table.Mountainetar party in Washington, and it falls on the same Weekend. The invitation came early from
Craig Mc Caw of Vancouver, B.C. That allowed us time to arrange for some public service
programs on the way up and back; so we went. Up
in the Northland they
have a problem which we don't have to face here, it doesn't stay dark very long in the summer. They cannot schedule
star parties for June because it may not get dark at all, and even in August they
get only four hours of darkness at Mount Kobau, and they
as a prized possesion. No lights are allowed between 10:30 and 4:00 except dim red flashlights. All cars which are to be driven
In the dark must be parked far away. The problem is not very different for Washington,
and that's why the three-day star party at Table
Mountain and the five-day
star party at Mount Kobau fall on the same weekend. That was unfortunate for us. We'd like to have gone to both
On receipt of the invitation, we arranged for a one-night stand with an eighteen incher
and a little sun telescope in Ashland, Oregon,
then for ten nights at
Crater Lake National Park, also in Oregon, then for four nights in Seattle, Washington for the Astronomical League
Convention, followed by a two-week tour of the British Columbia provincial parks on
the way to Mount Kobau. All went acording to schedule,
and we stopped
on the way back for a program at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Seattle, and for one more talk in Ashland.
With a crew of two, we
left for Ashland on the last day of June with the 18 incher on board, and an 11 incher, a small sun telescope
and what we thought was a box of slides for the slide shows. But when we came to give
the slide show in Ashland, we found that the slide box
was empty. The
slides were still in San Francisco where we had been trying to repair a projector to take on this trip. So we borrowed
some slides, and a tray, and went on with the program before an unexpectedly enthusiastic
audience. I wish we had known then that we
would stop there on our way
back so that all those people could have known.
Next morning, before we could start for Crater Lake, we had to have the starter replaced in the van;
so we arrived at the Lake rather
late in the afternoon. But we managed,
somehow, to get the telescopes set up and gave a slide show with our borrowed slides. We stayed there
for the first ten nights of July with some rain and one snow storm, on the Fourth of July. Gerard Pardeilhan,
and two companions, brought the
24 incher up from Berkeley (and our slides)
on the 3rd. But that night it rained, then it froze, then it snowed till four in the afternoon.
On the evening of the Fourth we set up the telescopes for a very small audience. Some of the visitors
had gone to watch the fireworks at
Diamond Lake, and some were intimidated
by the cold and snow. But on the night of the 5th we had 110 at the slide show and more than that
at the telescopes, and the skies were very favorable. Hank Tanski, the chief naturalist, had the bright
lights turned off at the concessions
building, and we could see the spiral
arms of ML181 through The Little One (the 18 incher), and NGC 4565, which we call Bernice's Hairclip,
spread most of the way across the eyepiece field in the Twentyfour. About seven and a half million light-years
from us, M-81 is the spiral
companion of a Seyfert galaxy, M-82. Seyferts
are much like quasars. Their radiation is-characterized by bright speCtral lines. The light
from ordinary galaxies, like our-own, is mostly star light, whereas quasar light is the radiation from
a hot gas in-a good vacuum, like
the light of a mercury vapor lamp. M-82
is more like that. NGC 4565 is the beautiful edge-on spiral in Coma Berenices (Bernice's Hair).
The disc is very dusty; so it takee a fairly large teleecope and very dark skies to see it well. It was
partly through studying this galaxy
that the astronomers realized that
galaxies have "coronas" (unseen matter, more massive than the visible galaxy, and spread out beyond the
galaxy's observable boundary).
Probably the best seeing we had at Crater Lake was the 5th of July, after the snow
storm, and the 24 was still there. But the 24
came without its ladder
and the tallest ladder we could find was only nine feet tall; so the objects high in the sky like the Ring Nebula
and the Great Star Cluster in Hercules had to be seen through the 18. That freed the
24 for Saturn, Mars and the Dumbell. The Dumbell, like
the Ring, is a
gaseous nebulosity around an old star. When a large star, much more massive than our Sun, reaches the red giant stage, it
may lose as much as five solar masses of hydrogen and helium as steller winds. This
exposes the hot core whose steller winds come off by a
and at a much higher velocity, and catch up to only the tail end of the hydrogen'and helium and make such pretty
things as the Dumbell and the Ring. The material involved in those nebulosities is
only about a tenth of a solar mass, whereas the original
star may have
weighed as much as eight or ten times as much as our Sun.
The Twentyfour went home on the morning of the 6th, and the two of us remaining went
for a boat trip around the Lake at the invitation of
the boat crew, and
had lunch on Wizard Island. They invited us once more, a few days later, and heaped our van with food one morning while
we were away--canned fruit juice, potato chips, cookies, apples, oranges and sandwiches--dozens
of sandwiches. Many thanks! We were
badly out of food.
It was cloudy on the night of the tenth;
so we packed the van in the evening. That allowed us to get an early start next morning
for the long drive to Seattle, where we arrived just in time for the evening meeting of the Astronomical League.
We stayed there for four
nights, and Jack Marling's talks on astronhotography,
especially with filters, were very interesting. On the second night there was a star
party, and we set up the 18, but the sky was overcast and we could see only Saturn.
We had a jolly time crossing the border into
Canada. We arrived a little before our hosts from the H.R.MacMillan Flanitarium, and the
customs officer sent us several miles away to wait at the commercial gate which we approached from the Canadian side.
After going through
U.S. Customs to get back to the Canadian side, we
waited for our hosts for two hours. Then we instigated a phone call to the other gate
where they had been waiting for us. When our friends arrived, we were afraid for a while that we faced a five hundred
dollar fee for bringing
such large telescopes across the border, and
the check from the Planetarium was not acceptable at the customs office. But when the officer
came out to lo-,k at them, he decided that they were fifty cents under the value for which we would have
to nay anything, and let us go.
Our first program in Canada was at the H.R.MacMillan Planetarium in Vancouver where we tried to repeat
the talk that caused such a stir
at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
last September. It was called "Falling and Coasting Around the Sun", and it began and ended with a
blurb under the dark planetarium sky with music.
"Orbits closed and open, orbits curved and straight
but why are we weightless in orbit? and what is mass and weight?
"We move in conic sections, but why do we mcve at all?
and once we're set in motion, why do we coast and fall?"
Some of these questions are easy and some of these questions are hard, and at the
close of the planetarium program, most of the audience followed
the neighboring Gordon Southern Observatory for an hour and a half of discussion. Had the sky been clear that night we'd have
up the telescopes in a near by park, but the sky was rainy; so we
the next two weeks we ran through the British Columbia provincial parks under the auspices of the Community Astronomy Program
operates out of that planetarium. They run through the parks and
through the schools with two seventeen and a half inch telescopes and with talks
and slide shows, and we were extremely proud of them for doing that. They were with us three times, once at Golden
Ears, once on Mt. Seymour,
and, finally, at the star party on Mt. Kobau.
The weather at Mt. Kobau was better than most of the weather which had followed us through the
provincial parks. This was not a good summer for astronomy in British Columbia. Although we had a few
good nights and some passable nights,
too many nights were either rainy
or overcast and limited our operation to slide shows, discussions and an occasional glimpse, through the suntelescope,
of the almost spotless Sun. Probably our best night was our last night at Manning,
when we set up the 18 incher at the Lightening
Lakes Day Use Area after
the slide show. There we had lots of pecple on a flat parking lot under very good sky, and although Mars
never cleared the hills across the lake, we had Saturn to start with, Jupiter to end with and everything
else we could use including, I think,
a better view of the Andromeda
Galaxy and MCC 205 (its dim companion) than we had at Mount Kobau. NGC 205 spanned more than half an eyepiece
field in the 18 at 100x.
Mount Kobau stands at the western edge of th e Okanagan Valley at sixtytwo hundred
feet, over the town of Osoyoos which is situated by
a lake in the midst
of Canada's "fruit basket". We got apricots the size of small peaches, juicy and delicious. The twelve mile dirt
up the mountain starts about five miles from the town. The mountain
was selected, some twenty years ago, as the most suLtatle site in Canada
a proposed 4 meter telescope. The road was built for that but it is a very dusty trek. We had one good rain storm to squelch
but it squelched some other things as well. But one evening
we had a fabulous, long-lasting rainbow. Both arcs were very clear. And we had
lightening. But over all it was a very successful star party, and we heard a very interesting talk on what Herschel
called Planetary Nebulae.
It was given by Dr. Chris Purton of the Dominion
Radio Astrophysical Observatory. He left us with an unsolved problem. The computer said,
if I remember rightly, that ty the time the stellar core is exposed, the last of the stellar winds of the red giant
phase should have been
The Table Mountain.Star Party, in the
state of Washington, differs from the Mount Kobau event in that it is only a star party,
whekees the star party at Mount Kobau under the auspices' of the Okanagan Astronomical Society, like Stellafane or
the Riverside Telescope
Makers Meeting, includes talks.and a telencope
makers competition, and we were asked to join the judges in the competition. It
was very difficult. It's like :comparing red, moist and up. The categories are so different that comparative judging
bedomes almost impossible.
What we did was to suggest improvements and
help them rebuild before the closinghour. Then we awarded the prizes, and the
prize for superior optics could not be awarded because there was no competition. The cnly telestope in the 'competition
with a home-made
mirror was our 18 incher. With the possible exception
of one of the 20 incheks, it was the only largetelestope with home made optics.
Most of them were made by Coulter, who in 1983 donated two 13 inch Odysseys for us to take 'to India. Many thanks!
They are still there.
At Mount Kobau I had the best view of the Veil Nebula that I have had in my life. It was through Craig McCaw's 17.5
incher with a
nebulosity filter. He said it was old and he didn't know
where it came from, but it made the background sky so dark that the veil stood
out like a scarf in the wind. It reminded me of Jack Marling's picture of the North American Nebula taken from Livermore
hydrogen alpha band pass filter. The lights of Livermore were
gone. We saw many distant things from that mountain including Stephans Quintet
and the cluster of galaxies in Hercules, but that beautiful rainbow and that view of the Veil stand alone in my memory.
The Veil Nebula, like
the Crab, is the debris of a giant star exploded away by the energy released by the gravitational collapse
of its degenerate iron core, and the energy exchange is very interesting. The energy of an atomic bomb
is only a thirtieth of an ounce,
or one grain. The energy of the famous
Saint Helens explosion was one pound, or half a kilogram. The 'energy of the volcanic eruptions that
left the caldera of Crater Lake was some 'forty or fifty pounds. But the energy which the Sun radiates
away in one second is four and a
half million tons, and it's been doing
it for five billion years and will continue for another five billion. But the energy which is releaeed
by the gravitational collapse of one of these iron core stars (and it collapses in three quarters of
a second) is ten times as much
as the Sun will release in ten billion
years. Our Earth is made largely of iron and rock, and those heavy elements were scattered
through the interstellar spaces, long ago, by these violent explosions. When we look at the Veil
or the Crab we see those elements before
they have a chance to recycle
into new stars like our Sun and planets like our Earth, but if you give those clouds another ten billion years,
they'll go to school and chew gum.
We left home on the last day of June With 30 copies of AdVaita Vedanta and Modern
Science by John Dobson, and returned on the 8th of
August with none.
We lost half of them to the planetarium audience in Vancouver, several more after the talk on Cosmology at Mount Kobau,
and the last seven at the second talk in Ashland, on the way home.
It has been reprinted
and is again available for $3.50 from the
Vedanta Book Center
5423 S. Eyde Park Blvd.
It is mostly about the consequences of relativity and quantum
mechanics to our understanding of the first cause of our physics, and
is recommended for outside reading in relativity by Paul Hewitt in his college text Conceptual Physics.