Forty-five minutes west of Minneapolis lies a little oasis for the social intellectual. Quite a distance for most city-dwellers but a visit to the Eagle Lake Observatory is well worth the effort. As you travel further and further away from Minneapolis, the stress of the week fades away with each passing corn field. The sun starts to set with a soft crimson glow and suddenly you feel a warm fondness for our hometown star. The sun gives a final wink as it dips below the horizon while the stars of neighboring galaxies take center stage.
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Star Party -- Noun: A gathering of astronomers from every age, background, and experience sharing their love of astronomy and telescopes with the general public. Less formally: An incredible chance for people of all walks of life to experience the joy of staring at Saturn through the telescope of someone that knows what all those shiny knobs are.
The Minnesota Astronomical Society (MAS) presents Star Parties every other Saturday from March until November. As a strongly educational community, the MAS hosts several additional outreach events throughout the year as a way to encourage and develop a community of astronomers. The family-friendly Camping with the Stars weekend is one of their more popular outreach events clocking in at seven presentations, two viewings of the night sky, two scrumptious meals, two drawings for prizes, and as the title suggests, two nights of camping at the base of the observatory. Armed with a tent, camera, and gummi bears, this scholar was ready to party with celestial objects!
The Eagle Lake Observatory boasts a gorgeous refracting telescope in their Sylvia A. Casby Observatory. An 8″ Takahashi Mewlon 300 Dall-Kirkham and a SV102 refractor sit atop an Astro Physics 3600 GTO mount, under a 12.5 foot Ash-Dome. Along with this impressive piece of equipment, MAS members and attendees brought their personal telescopes to share with the campers. I lost count of the available telescopes to gaze through but was able to sneak a peek through virtually all of them!
The highlight of the weekend was viewing the moon through a fellow member’s telescope. Generously describing what we were viewing and helping to adjust to my horrible I-read-in-the-dark-for-years vision, the view was incredible. At first quarter phase, the moon’s craters and features were incredibly prominent. Other objects included the globular cluster M13, the double star Albiero, and of course everyone’s favorite, Saturn.
When our hometown star was up and proclaiming its dominance over its celestial neighbors, campers headed indoors for presentations provided by MAS members, local professors, teachers, and Mad Scientists. We learned how telescopes are awesome and historically fascinating. We got a sneak peek at the designs for the new planetarium at the Bell Museum of Natural History opening in 2018. A quick measurement of the decibels created by children’s delighted squeals demonstrated how much they loved the presentation by Mad Scientist, Colin Kilbane. Cloud bubbles, chemical reactions, rocket launchers, and flaming money. What’s not to love?
The Minnesota Astronomical Society is one of the friendliest, helpful, knowledgeable, and inclusive communities I have ever encountered. Their knack for outreach and drive to educate the community was so impressive that this scholar has since purchased an annual membership. Each of their events is a joy to experience and it is therefore highly encouraged that you make that relaxing drive westward away from the city lights.
Join the MAS on Sunday, September 27th for a viewing of the total lunar eclipse at 7:00 PM at the Eagle Lake Observatory in Norwood Young America. The eclipse will begin at 8:09 PM. More information about the event and parking can be found here.