Monday, November 12, 2012


steve came home for another visit at the end of october, primarily so we could enjoy our second homeschool family camping adventure, this time at sugarloaf ridge.

the main draw of this location was one evening of exclusive, private access to docents and three telescopes at the robert ferguson observatory (rfo).

i wasn't sure at first if either of the kids would be interested in the presentation that the docents prepared for our visit.  i was pleased to see that both of them wanted to come - and diana was so enthralled that she asked to see part of the presentation again after it was over, just so she could try to get a better grasp of what she had seen.  she still couldn't, really.  it reminded her of the conceptualization of the cosmic calendar, which i introduced to her via cosmos a short time ago.

the part that astonished us into repetitions of "oh. my. goodness!" and "no WAY!" was the planet - sun size comparison within our solar system, and then the sun - other star size comparison.

the docent who went through it again suggested we look it up on google, which i promptly did.  this is so worth a look, again and again and again.  as i was conducting my search, i came across this video which presents it in a slightly different way.

afterwards, we got to use the telescopes!  there were docents at each one, preparing the viewfinder for each person, patiently explaining where we should put our hands to focus the image, and informing us what we would be seeing.

the moon was nearly full that weekend, but it did not significantly affect our ability to see some beautiful images.

i saw craters on the moon.  clear, well-defined, humongous craters.  i saw one called tycho, named after tycho brahe, whom every member in our family knows about (if you haven't listened to galileo and the stargazers by jim weiss, you really need to.  it's simply awesome!).  i think i saw copernicus, too, and another one the name of which escapes me.  nothing was as impressive, though, as seeing tycho and hearing the surprised joy in the docent's voice when he said, "yes, yes it is named after tycho brahe!"

at a second telescope, i got a real sense of just how quickly the earth spins without me feeling a thing.  the viewer was focused on M13, the hercules globular cluster, and right before my eyes, i saw the bright star cluster moving across my field of vision.  it was almost unreal.

i was surprised that diana knew the answer to the question, "what does the M stand for in M13?"  she recalled having read a little about charles messier, the french astronomer who catalogued so many deep sky clusters.  the docent was able to give us greater insight into the man and the role of astronomers at the time.

the third telescope was controlled by a computer.  with the images projected on a large screen, we could make specific requests of what to examine.  how incredible it was to see the rings of uranus!

to top off a fantastic evening of stargazing, i went back to the first telescope and saw jupiter!  the full, rich color that i see in photographs.  and...four of its moons!  the galilean moons of io, europa, ganymede, and callisto!

i was rendered speechless.  i felt chills.  it was mind-boggling.

it was so worth the trip!