On October 13, the San Jose Astronomical Association was out in force, at Henry Coe State Park. When I joined the SJAA, in the mid-90’s, there were two places the club went. Coe, and Fremont Peak. In the past decade, the club’s presence has dwindled, down to a few people, unannounced, occasionally going to these places.
Last night was a special occasion. SJAA member Teuro Utsumi had proposed an idea he had, as a club activity - a Half Messier Marathon. Teruo realized there were many new SJAA members who were inexperienced, and might enjoy a doable project (the full Marathon is daunting, a half though is much more “realistic” for most people) in a group setting, with some experienced observers to help, at a darker site. All in all, a good twenty five or more of us piled into the overflow lot at Coe, recreating the fun atmosphere we used to enjoy there every month.
It worked wonderfully. Although the skies were muted by Coe standards, the fun was anything but. Before sunset, we had a pot-luck BBQ. It proved to be the perfect ice-breaker for people to chat and make some new friends. As Teruo talked to us about how the marathon would work, the sun dipped out of sight behind him and the coast range mountains silhouetted stark black against the deep blue sky, with gold/orange rays spreading up and over us. Vega popped out overhead, and we we off to a great start. Temps were pleasant, there was the slightest of breeze. Conditions seemed great.
The newcomers to “dark skies” (meaning, away from Houge Park or their own backyards) had scopes ranging from 72mm to 12.5”. One was a goto. I had my 18”, but barely got to use it, as I had volunteered to help others star hop to the targets, or to identify them.
A funny thing happened to me. I’d get called over to “confirm” things like M23, M18, this glob or that... and the fact is, I hadn’t looked at the Messiers in such a long time, I didn’t recognize them! The only way I could confirm many of them was by looking at a chart (in this case, mostly on people’s phones or iPads), and seeing where their scope was pointed. I suppose there’s some newbie left in me too.
While the transparency was down quite a bit... there was a lot of moisture in the atmosphere exacerbating San Jose’s light dome, and probably some high thin cloud moving through, it was fine for catching the Messiers. People got a taste of what deep sky objects can look like, they learned that it is a short pleasant drive to a dark(er) site, they made new friends, and found success and enjoyment using their telescopes.
The mood all night was fun and festive, and I’m certain all would agree it was a great success. Kudos to Teruo for the initiative and work in putting this all together... well done!
Next spring, we should have the second half of the “Half Messier Marathon”. I hope these sorts of events will make Coe what it used to be for the SJAA - an active observing site. I’d certainly be up for monthly 3rd Q Saturdays there. I have wonderful memories from years gone by, at Coe. Time to make some new ones.
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