Thursday, March 29, 2012

San Diego Science Festival - 3/24/12 - PETCO Park

By Craig Weatherwax

The day broke cloudy and gray, an inauspicious beginning to a day when OPT wanted to share viewing the sun with the 27,000 people who would attend the 4th annual San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering held at PetCo Park. We were already committed to the event so we hitched up our pants and soldiered on!

The Booth:

Penny and her “ah” team…Tanya, Rayna, Theresa, and Diana did a fantastic job of decorating the “double wide” booth and “womaning” the booth all day. We had solar beads and do it yourself sun dials (as you can tell, solar was the theme for OPT), to give away to the attendees of the festival.  They helped make and gave away over 1300 solar bead bracelets….(I’m sure they must have had dreams/nightmares of them that night) and a like number of sun dials, to the delight of the crowd. They were tireless in their enthusiasm for the event. I can’t thank them enough.

The Solar Observing:

Captains Doug McFarland and Paul Cooper and their motley crew Ralph, Rod and myself, set up the solar scopes in hopes the sky would cooperate. We had a Coronado PST and a Lunt double stack 60 dedicated solar scopes on a iOptron Mini tower Pro, a Celestron 102mm with a 1000 Oaks white light filter and an Orion 80mm Refractor with a Coronado 40mm h-alpha filter on an Orion Atlas mount, and an 80mm Orion refractor with a 1000 Oaks white light filter and another Orion 80mm scope with a Coronado 40mm h-alpha filter on a Meade LXD55 mount. All the mounts were computer robotic and worked flawlessly all day, except when kids failed to heed our advice of “please don’t touch the telescope, just look through it”. Fortunately this didn’t happen too often.

Well, the sky cleared up enough to give us a view of the sun, but initially there was too much cloud cover to see any prominences. We were treated to a fairly rare solar event, at least in San Diego, a solar halo It was very cool!

Things were going great until the sun got eclipsed by one of the high-rises downtown about 2PM. Undaunted, we grabbed the scopes and mounts and hiked up to the top of a hill at the “park at the park “ at PETCO Park. Set them up again, and 20 minutes later we were viewing again. We were rewarded for our move by the sky clearing and the ability to see some solar activity…sun spots through the white light filters and solar prominences through the H-Alpha scopes….it was very exciting and quite the crowd pleaser! With the 6 scopes and the 5 guys manning them, I figure we were able to accommodate 10 people per minute, so in the almost 7 hours of viewing we were able to share our closest star with over 4000 people!

When 5PM finally arrived 10 very exhausted OPT employees broke down the booth and hand carried all the booth paraphernalia and solar observing equipment to the waiting vans.

Was it worth it? You bet!

Check out more photos from the event on our Facebook page.

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