Zoom-ing across the skies

Last night, I spent most of an hour after sunset with a local Girl Scout Troop. Via video conference for the Westchester Amateur Astronomers.

I thought I’d write it down in case it helps others who are trying to do remote astronomy.

Me, with the 8-inch dob, getting ready for our Girl Scout zoom conference.

They enjoyed it and were thankful for some directions as to where to look in the sky. We had a 3/4 full Moon which gave us a great, very bright, starting point. A quarter turn to the right and we were looking at Venus. As twilight faded, Venus stood out more and more, amazing our guests. They spotted stars as they ‘came out’. Castor and Pollux in Gemini were noted early, since they were between the Moon and Venus. Some with a good western horizon saw a red star, likely Aldebaran. (Taurus and Orion were blocked by trees at my house.) I pointed out Leo would become visible, jumping over the Moon, by the time they finished their campfire after our star party.

Advanced planning helped. The Troop Leader acquired copies of the National Geographic guide to the stars. They got a hold of small binoculars. I sent the latest skymap.com map for May. I had my eight-inch Orion Dobsonian telescope out. I took some photos of the Moon and of Venus before we started. I took them on my Android Tablet at the eyepiece and they came out pretty well. I wasn’t able to show the view through the scope live on the video call, so I pointed my iPhone at the photos on the tablet and the Scouts were able to see them. (They are included, below.) The brightness was too great to see details when I held the iPhone to the eyepiece during the call. I’ve taken photos at the eyepiece with my iPhone before, so I know the phone can do it, but when the video call was using the camera on the iPhone, the Moon overwhelmed the details and Venus was lost in the twilit sky.

I talked about how to get started with bright objects, like the Moon and Venus. Then, the light and dark areas on the Moon and how and when they came to be. Why Venus was a crescent. Where Polaris, the North Star, would be. How the Milky Way wouldn’t be seen, even in darkness, because it was on the horizon tonight. Our Galaxy was spread around us like two paper plates taped together and we are on the outer part of that disk looking sideways across the Galaxy. And tonight, looking upward, we are looking out of the top of the Galaxy into intergalactic space.

Here’s the photos of Venus and the Moon. Android Tablet held up to eyepiece. 2-inch eyepiece at 40x in the 200mm dobsonian reflector. I’ve cropped the Venus view to show the crescent better.

Good luck with virtual star parties!

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