Sunday, August 26, 2007

Star Party

Blogger: Natasha
(Photo credit: Scare-uh Nicodemus)

Need something to do in the Tulsa area that’s fun, free, and could really impress a date? Check the Astronomy Club of Tulsa’s Web site for future star parties (hint: next one's Sept. 14, but you've gotta be a member or a guest of a member to attend). Aaron and I took our Miami, Okla. friends to the one Aug. 10, when the Perseid meteors dazzled the night sky.

After some burgers at Fuddruckers on a very busy, very light-polluted 71st St., the four of us loaded up in our gas-sipping city car and hit the turnpike toward the Mounds Observatory, about 30 minutes from South Tulsa. The climb up gravel roads past farm houses and horse farms was a nice transition from where we’d come to what we’d learn was, well, the middle of nowhere.

We arrived at the observatory at about 8, more than an hour before sunset. We expected to find one or two other stargazers there, though we knew the party was open to non-members. I have a deep appreciation for my husband’s favorite hobby, but I was pretty sure that an Astronomy Club of Tulsa event wouldn’t exactly be the party of the century. As it turned out, I, a dim-wit, know nothing about star people. By the time the sun went down, there were probably 75-100 people on the hill on which Mounds Observatory sits.

Not only was the party well-attended, but everyone there was very friendly and welcoming. The president of the ACT encouraged us to circulate, try others’ telescopes, and ask lots of questions. We did. No one laughed at my questions or scoffed at me when I didn’t know the difference between this eyepiece and that. Everyone I met was eager to inform me about the meteor shower, the summer constellations, and their telescopes. We met a lot of interesting and devoted people, and they all really knew their stuff.

Since this was our first star party, we didn’t know we’d require certain things to look as though we belonged there: you know, bug repellant, a sitting blanket, pillows, lawn chairs, snacks, and, ahem, a telescope. Aaron is an avid proponent of stargazing using binoculars. But, as strange as it seemed to us laypeople, he and his binoculars fit right in with the folks who brought scopes as tall as eight feet and worth as much as $11,000.

Once the sun set and our eyes adjusted to the dark, the sky really put on a show for us. Meteors were shooting across the sky at a rate of about one per every three minutes, and we were so far from city lights that the Milky Way was clearly discernable. The constellations disappeared for all the stars that aren’t visible from our home between Midtown and South Tulsa, and I swear that as the sky grew darker and my eyes more adjusted, I could tell the colors of the stars. Had I been lying next to my husband on dirty towels we found in the trunk, it would have been really romantic.

Here’s how we found out we really were in the middle of nowhere: when a lady tried to use the restroom in the observatory, part of the door facing fell and hit her square on the noggin. She was knocked out for awhile, so some people called 911. After about 30 minutes (good thing this woman wasn’t the victim of a star party stabbing, eh?), an ambulance showed up. Since it was past midnight and the headlights were going to ruin our hard-won dark vision, we took the opportunity to head back down the gravel road toward Tulsa. Another ambulance and two police cars passed us. We assumed a medical emergency at the observatory was a lot more interesting than another round of coffee and donuts. I wondered if the emergency workers thought the star people were weirdos, or maybe even hippies, sitting up on the hill with their gadgets and contraptions, chatting and showing each other their nebulas. I didn’t think the star people were weird at all. They can show me their nebulas any day, er, night.

This is the Ring Nebula, which I got to see through an 8-foot Dobsonian reflector telescope. It looked mostly blue and green when I saw it at the last ACT star party Aug. 10.

Though this star party occurred a few weeks ago, I figure if I put the word out now, you all will quit whining that unless you have shiny new stuff to do at the river you’ll just die of boredom and come to the next star party and rediscover the simple joy of the unadulterated night sky – and making out.


Emma said...

Ooh, that does sound kind of fun. Just wanted to let you know tomorrow night is Knit Nite at the Brookside Library, 6:30 to 8!

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