Thursday, September 27, 2012

Astronomy at the Beach (Paul's email).

This was an email sent out by Paul Walkowski (who was present both on Friday and on Saturday)....

Well the crowds have gone home, my scope is drying out from dew in the basement, the adrenalin rush is subsiding, all of the bills are getting paid, and the number of emails and text messages surrounding GLAAC are down to a few per day. (GLAAC is the organization that runs the Astronomy at the Beach event). The GLAAC organizers and I would like to thank all the Lowbrows for coming out and supporting our activities. We could not have done it without you. Many brought scopes and cameras, some brought families, and all brought good will. By my estimate we had between 35 and 45 telescopes. The welcome table greeters used hand clickers to count those who visited the tables: 500 on a wet and rainy Friday night and 1400 on a cold and breezy Saturday night. There were several different cub scout groups, a girl scout troop, a brownie troop, and a home schooler group. I noted a large number of kids under 6 years old who stood in line to look through the scopes, smothered us with “pleases” and “thank yous”, and were a joy to work with. All were well behaved, fully supervised, and none of them got PB&J on my EPs! There were a fair number of families with strollers as well but they pretty much disappeared by 9pm. The other group that was extremely well represented was the over 60 crowd. I noticed that as a group they lingered in front of the EP’s longer, and asked more questions than the younger folks did. The college class that showed up in other years with lists of objects to observe did not come, or at least they did not show up at my wood scope this year.

We hoped to post the list of door prize winners by now but that list is still being collected. For the first time in 16 years I won a door prize at GLAAC, a 2-in, 32mm, fully multicoated erfle EP made by Antares and donated by Meridian Telescopes. I am very pleased to have this EP as it combines with my new (well. new to me anyway) Televue Genesis scope to give a whopping big 5 degree FOV. I had to hold the hand rails on the sides of the EP to keep from falling in! Please visit their web site,, they carry entry and medium priced optics and lots of other observing equipment and are located in Mt Clements, MI. The reviews of the Canadian made Antares EPs on Cloudy Nights all seem to be over the top.

I attended astronaut Dr Andrew Feustel’s Saturday afternoon presentation and enjoyed it thoroughly. He is one of the US’s most accomplished space walkers spending over 20 hours working directly on the Hubble and another 20 plus hours completing the International Space Station. Please consider that the only thing that separated him from certain death in the vacuum of space was 3/32-in of rubber coated fabric, a helmet, a bunch of very temperature sensitive Viton O-rings, and a zipper. He explained that every space walking astronaut including himself had a moment of ultimate vertigo when they first walked in space and their hands and arms absolutely locked up in a death grip on the hand rails. You have to convince your body that you too are traveling 17,500 mph in orbit just like the shuttle, and you will not immediately fall 250 miles to your death. And after a few minutes your heart stops racing, your field of vision opens up again, and body starts to listen. Space walks are fraught with danger, sharp sheet metal edges, points on fasteners, and the pointy soldered ends of electrical components sticking up from printed circuit boards all conspire to puncture and tear your suit. They practice for years moving slowly, and yet in space there is no resistance to motion. He noted that you want to work fast, especially when you start to fall behind the timeline, and at one point he pushed himself off the Hubble way too fast and missed the shuttle’s hand rails that he thought were in easy reach. He explained that he did in fact catch the last possible hand rail with the tips of 2 fingers. He was tethered to the shuttle, but did not want to go the end of his 75 yards of cable only to be snapped back and go tumbling out of control to smack into some other part of the shuttle. He had many other training and space experiences that he shared with us, and I was so awe struck that I forgot to ask him if he ever viewed the stars form space in his free time. If you were not there, you missed a very humble and down to earth guy talking about working and playing hard for a living in one of the best jobs that I can imagine.

I spent 20 minutes talking to an amateur astronomer who came from the N. Chicago area to see GLAAC. The Chicago clubs have Astrofest for amateurs, but no public star party so he wanted to see what we were doing and how we did it. He was very pleased with the public oriented program we put on and impressed with Andrew Feustel’s humble, somewhat playful, but professional stage presence. He imagined that at a public star party kids would be running around unattended and that scope could become compromised, but never saw any of that. He complimented you all on your patience with the public, their questions, and your willingness to put your equipment on the line for the public. I explained that many clubs, the Lowbrows included, put on several star parties per month and were used to working with the public. He was disappointed that University Optics, Riders Hobby, and others were not represented among the vendors, because he was used to a good vendor turnout at Astrofest. He understood that our skies were not pristine from an amateur astronomer point of view but noted how well we served the public, how well attended it was, and how close we were to all the major Detroit suburbs on the map. He was not sure that such a place existed anywhere south of Madison, WI where he normally observes, and he doubted that the public would commute as far as he did form a star party. He also chided me about the lack of any big scopes at the star party, probably the largest we had was a 16 inch, while they had several Yard Scopes. I explained that we were at a disadvantage this year with Lowbrows and other at competing star parties all around the country: Oki –Tex, Nebraska, Black Forest, and Northern Michigan, but truly there are only a few very large scope among GLAACs combined membership. I told him about the 10,000 people we had a few years ago when Mars made its real “closest approach”; we had 100 telescopes and were still overwhelmed. He shook his head and said he couldn’t even imagine that many people coming to an astronomy event.

Here a few unsolicited GLAAC visitor messages received by Shannon from Facebook:

1) From Wendy L. (who also posted the pic of her son with Drew):
Our family would like to extend our deepest appreciation and most sincere gratitude to the Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs. To say that we had an absolutely marvelous time would be an understatement of galactic proportions. All of the individuals from the astronomy clubs involved could not have been more gracious, hospitable, friendly, outgoing, kind, and generous. To allow attendees to use tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of precision astronomical equipment shows an amazing faith and confidence in the ability of the public to exercise proper behavior. By all appearances, as a result of the fantastic time that our beloved son, Karol, experienced because of your efforts on his behalf, the GLAAC has created an addict. He now has an astronomy addiction for which there appears to be no cure. Any parent understands the joy of seeing one's child absolutely delighted and excited about learning, racing from telescope to telescope and marveling at his first experience with gazing at the wonders of the night sky. We will always be most grateful to the wonderful members of GLAAC who made it all possible (even though we now have to contend with our son who is intent on repeating the "make a comet" demonstration for his elementary school class because "it was really cool"). Dr. A. J. (Drew) Feustel could not have been more delightful. What a truly incredible individual, and one of Metropolitan Detroit's finest sons. His highly entertaining and educational presentation made those in attendance feel as though it is they who had walked in space six times, flown aboard the Space Shuttle, and lived aboard the International Space Station. Although Dr. Feustel is obviously an exceptionally intelligent individual, he was able to easily speak to, not down to, everyone that he met. It would be difficult to find a more friendly, outgoing, personable individual than Dr. Feustel. The word "charismatic" must have been invented to describe his personality. Forget Superman, Spiderman, and The Hulk. Our young (future astronaut) son now has a new super hero and cherishes the photograph that Dr. Feustel graciously posed for with him. NASA made an excellent decision in choosing Dr. Feustel for the astronaut corps. He is a modest, unassuming, highly intelligent individual cut from the same cloth as our cherished Neil Armstrong. We were delighted to have had the opportunity to meet and learn from Dr. Feustel who definitely possesses "The Right Stuff". Once again, thank you so very much GLAAC for the absolutely marvelous "Astronomy On The Beach" event. We hope to see you again soon!

From Kelly S.
2) This evenings events were outstanding! Thank you for putting the effort forth to bring us Astronomy at the Beach! The demonstrations, the 3D movie, the first-hand account of NASA astronaut Andrew Feustal's journey's in to space, and the beautiful images of space through the lens of the many telescopes available to us all. Thank you !

From Jeff B.
3) Awesome event! Traveled from Illinois to visit your event. Great planning
and participation by your local clubs and colleges. We plan on attending next year!

4) Here is a blog post from a U of M student

And in answer to the question you have all been waiting for, no child tried to ride my wooden scope this year.


  1. The WAS had their 22" there, and had active lines the entire night. ;)

  2. I've been a member of the Warren Astronomical Society for a little over a year now, and this was my first Kensington event - I really enjoyed it. I was also helping man the 22 inch Dob, and you were right! The line was continuous. Makes me happy! :)