Dark Sky observing tonight at McDowell Mtn. Park

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    FHAC
    FHAC
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    This evening several of us will be setting up telescopes at McDowell Mtn. Regional Park for general observing.   The location will be the “Competitive Track”, the first left after passing the gatehouse. (Entrance to the park is about 4 miles north of Fountain Hills on the way to Rio Verde.  The normal park entry charge of $6 charge may be payable if you enter during park hours, however the park remains open after dark.)

    Some of us will also attempt to see and photograph as many of the “Messier Objects” as possible over the course of the night (or as long as we can stay awake and warm!)  For those of you who are not familiar with Charles Messier’s famous list, he was a French astronomer and comet hunter who lived from 1730 to 1817.  While he did end up discovering 13 comets, he is more famous for his list of objects which at first glance looked like they might be comets (i.e. fuzzy or indistinct) but which did not move across the sky as comets do.   So his list basically enumerated the objects not to waste your time looking at if your goal was to discover new comets.

    Today we understand that the objects in his list were examples of the various ways in which stars either come into being, live or die (some spectacularly!).  Out of the 100+ objects on the list, Wikipedia reports that the entries are now known to be star clusters (55), galaxies (39), planetary nebulae (5), and other types of nebulae (7).  For example, the first object on his list, M1 or the Crab Nebula, is now known to represent the remnants of a supernova explosion recorded by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054.

    Why tonight?  At this time of year, the position of the Earth in its orbit allows an observer who is willing to stay up until sunrise the opportunity to see most or all of the objects on Messier’s list in a single night.  Amateurs have taken to calling this a “Messier Marathon” and the Saturday night nearest new moon in March is a popular time to have these events.

    If you plan to set up a telescope, we’ll begin setting up about 5:30. The entrance is on the left across from the sign that says “Horse Staging Area” just past the gatehouse.

    Note:  If you come after dark, please park out on the main road and walk the short distance in to the observing area.  (Look for the read headlamps).   We’d like to keep car headlights away from the observers as they will be working with dark-adapted vision.  Also please shield your flashlights and keep them pointed down.  If you can cover them with red cellophane or “taillight repair tape” please do so, it will help everyone keep their night vision intact.

    You are also welcome to join us if you just want to hang out  and observe the constellations or look through our telescopes when we come to a particularly beautiful Messier object.  A pair of binoculars and a reclining chair will also afford you many enjoyable views.  Don’t forget to dress warmly (think ski trip), as sitting still and observing the sky doesn’t generate much body heat.  A thermos of hot chocolate might also be a welcome companion.

    Hope to see you there!

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