We were at the Mojave National Preserve November 4th and 5th for our semi-annual star party that helps promote support for the Preserve. This year Subaru sponsored the event. The “official” scheduled event day was Saturday the 5th, but we got there a day early so we could enjoy the scenery and night sky before the crowds arrived. What a great place to get away from it all and help support a worthy cause.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and setup camp in the equestrian area of the Black Canyon Group Campground. Being the only ones there, we were rewarded with beautiful landscapes and complete quiet.
Later, a fellow astronomer, Gary, arrived and we shared dinner with him. Gary and I were going to setup our telescopes for some viewing (me) and astrophotography (Gary), but we ended up talking and enjoying adult beverages instead.
Alexandra, Felicia and I looked for scorpions, later that night, using UV flashlights while walking the dogs. Surprisingly, we didn’t see any. Maybe they were in their holes trying to keep warm since it was fairly chilly outside. UV light makes them glow an eerie green at night. Here is a picture of one from a trip we took to Anza Borrego State Park a week before our Mojave star party:
After a good, hearty breakfast Saturday morning, Gary, Alexandra and I hiked out into the open desert area that surrounds the campground. We explored the geology along the base of nearby mountains and enjoyed taking a close look at native plant life.
Occasionally, a group of locals would stroll by and stare at us.
A little after noon, people started to arrive, a lot of people. We’ve done a number of these events and this was by far the best attended. The tent area filled up and RV’s lined up in the equestrian area where we were. I’ve never seen anyone in the equestrian area before. People also slept in cars and truck beds that were parked around the road in the group campground area. There were well over a hundred people by the time everyone got there.
Some notable attendees included: Dennis Shramm, retired National Park district Superintendent from Seattle; NPCA president and staff from Washington DC; a NPCA film crew from Chicago; a couple dozen inner city kids and advisors from the Bresee Foundation, Outward Bound Adventures and the Imperial Valley Desert Museum.
Next to the large concrete slab, where we setup telescopes, is a large covered picnic area. Around sundown, the Mojave Conservancy representatives gave a presentation that explained the purpose of the Conservancy and solicited support, both monetary and as a volunteer. It’s a very worthy cause that anyone can contribute to. Here’s a link if you are interested: http://www.mojavepreserve.org/news/2016/11/7/promoting-the-preserve
After the presentation there was a group potluck dinner. If someone went away hungry, it was their own fault! There was lots and lots of great food and beverages. One of the highlights of the potluck, as always, was the contribution by Viola and Art Basulto. They have been regulars at the star parties since before I became a participant. I believe someone told me they own a restaurant, but I don’t know the name or where it’s located. Viola loves to cook and every time they attend, she goes all out. This year she made New Mexico style carne guisados (beef stew), beans, fry bread and homemade red and green sauce. The chillies she used in the dishes were from New Mexico, the chili capital of America. She cooks all afternoon in huge pots and the smell is wonderful. It’s almost worth showing up just for her food alone.
Telescope viewing began around sundown. This year I believe we had 8 telescopes, large and small, setup for public viewing. All of the telescopes were a part of our loose knit group, Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers, except for one independent next to me. Anyone can bring a telescope to this event.
Viewing was very good Saturday night allowing the Milky Way to be clearly seen overhead. Besides various nebulas (including the famous Orion Nebula), galaxies and star clusters, people were treated to views of Saturn, Venus, Mars, Uranus, Neptune and, of course, the Moon. One telescope was setup with filters that allowed people to look at the Sun before nightfall.
One of our founding members, Jane Houston-Jones, does a monthly “What’s Up” podcast that discusses things and events to look for in the night sky for that month. She is an outreach specialist at Jet Propulsion Laboratories. You can check out her November 2016 podcast here if you are interested:
A number of shooting stars (meteors) raced across the sky throughout the night. One was particularly large, bright and colorful. Its long tail glowed green, red, orange, blue and white as it burned up in the atmosphere. As a side note, if a shooting star burns up without hitting the ground, it’s called a meteor, but if some of it survives and hits the ground, it’s called a meteorite. More than 90 percent of meteorites are made of rock, while the remainder consists wholly or partly of iron and nickel.
In addition to telescopes, there were several people taking photographs of the night sky. Here are some examples taken by Star Party visitors Juan Carlos Camarena and Eric Staudenmaier:
Like I said, we do this event 2 times a year and everyone is invited. You get to camp for free at the Black Canyon Group Campground, you can participate in a potluck dinner that is lots of fun (highly recommended) and you get to see and learn about some amazing objects in the night sky. The next star party will probably be scheduled in April or May of 2017 so periodically check the Preserve’s webpage for updates. Hopefully we will see some of you in the spring!