It was hard to keep up with the energy of the four instructors for the first StarHoppers Astronomy for Adults weekend! Of course, some of that was exascerbated by having gone with 4 of our friends and having way too much fun dishing, laughing, eating and drinking. The field station, with its 4+ houses, conference center, dark skies, and endless open space was definitely a great choice for the weekend. Here are the festive bunch of the 15 participants: Marc, Joe, David M, David H, me and Danny.
Our casita (I aimed the camera wrong).
A former co-workers from the Lodestar Astronomy Center, Karen Keese and Judy Stanley hosted this intensive workshop for us newbies. I can certainly say we learned an immense amount in two days, in spite of most of us being middle-aged with fried brain cells. We have an enormous amount of handouts and catalogs to go through at our leisure.
Karen, setting up the nightlights out to the outdoor star-viewing area.
Friday night started with a lecture on (of course) beginner's astronomy, introductions of the other two co-instructors Barry and Lisa, discussion on how to use binoculars for first attempts at star viewing. The night skies outside were disappointingly cloudy, but there were a few breaks here and there to look at things in the western sky.
Saturday started with a light breakfast in our 6-person house (each of us had separate bedrooms and we actually had a master suite!). All of us gathered at 9am for a talk about the nature preserve, then 3 carloads of us loaded up for a 3 hour drive/tour of the SNWP. The land varied a LOT over the area we covered, from grama grasslands, to juniper/pinon highlands. A highlight was a walk down a mini-canyon created by a natural spring (Cibola Springs)and rain runoff over thousands of years.
One the way back, a herd of antelope was sprinting along the grasslands near us, but as a driver, I couldn't snap a pic.
We regrouped at the conference center (a largish room in a building of labs and such) for a light lunch. Marc and Joe ended up sleeping the whole afternoon, so missed the great sessions in the afternoon, ending with a demo on how to put together and break down telescopes. We learned a LOT in a very short period of time, since it was geared to adults, and not the normal 6 to 12 year olds classes often have.
I had made a tofu lasagna for the meal. Along with that, the boys put together a salad, sauteed veggies, a lot of wine, dessert. Somehow, we wobbled back to the conference center patio for the evening hands-on with the telescopes.
The fifteen of us were a keen lot, that was for sure. Barry, one of the sub-instructors, was the most enthusiatic amateur astronomer, and although all the instructors were excellent in 1 on 1 handling of us newbies, he was the most animated, very Clark Baker-like in his enthusiasm. Danny did REALLY well, finding some Messier objects from the Sky Map without any help, using the Orion 8" telescope.
By 10:30, most of the students start faded, including me, but Danny kept on until nearly 11. The instructors were keen to stay all night. Danny was a star (pun intended) for picking out M13 in near record time! I was able to see some of the globby places (like the Beehive) with my naked eye. Karen had done a fabulous time pointing out dozens of formations and asterisms with a powerful green-light laser.
We had more yakking and drinks back in the house, then faded off to sleep again.
Sunday morning was a major feast of a brunch, with waffles and fruit, mimosas, coffee, yogurt and fruit, eggs and bacon. I'm sure I put on five pounds this weekend from all the feasting. We packed up all our belongings, carted them down the hill to our cars, then gathered in the conference center for the last session. This one was mostly a written-evaluation of the weekend (it was very good!), and a lot of great doorprizes for all of us.
We all said our goodbyes, pleased with the experience. The drive back was short and sweet, only being 45 minutes. Another lovely spring day (with requisite breezes, of course).