Astronomers are a determined bunch—especially the amateurs. In pursuit of dark, starry skies–and possibly the best view ever of the Whirlpool Galaxy–they drive for miles to escape city lights. They endure cold, hunger, and the occasional wild animal as they try to bag another deep sky object. Fervently hoping and praying that the clouds or dew will hold off for just one more hour, they scan the night sky with telescope, binoculars, and cameras.
Fortunately, the scene wasn’t quite so grim or dramatic at the first annual CosmoQuest Yuri’s Night MeetUp at Annie’s Frozen Custard in Edwardsville, Illinois, USA. On the other hand, it wasn’t perfect. The skies had been marvelously clear for three days in a row—virtually guaranteeing cloudy skies the night of the big event. The previous week’s weather had been unusually yet pleasantly warm—perfect for sampling the fine array of frozen custard to be found at Annie’s; but the weather, too, had changed. So, with a chill in the air and very little blue sky to be seen, activity tables and telescopes began to appear in the parking lot. The River Bend Astronomy Club (RBAC)–our own Local Group–provided a supply of NASA’s Night Sky Network activities that are especially important when faced with cloudy skies; and volunteers from the club and from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) brought telescopes, binoculars, cameras, and laptops.
Even before it was dark, families began to arrive. RBAC members Mike Veith and Greg Bates were ready. Children and parents were excited to look through the telescopes and binoculars, even if they were only viewing the stoplight at the end of the street; and Andrew Stratmann, a junior at Edwardsville High School, and Joe Rhea of Astrosphere, did an amazing job of keeping visitors engaged with different solar system activities. SIUE professors Tom Foster, Pamela Gay, and Jack Glassman kept the astronomy conversations going. As darkness increased, so did the clouds. Yet, no one was leaving. Finally, it happened. A light appeared through a thin spot in the clouds—Venus! A buzz went through the crowd and all telescopes turned to the southwest. So nice to have a bright planet in the sky on these occasions!
As people observed the softly-glowing crescent Venus, discussed the pros and cons of various telescopes, sorted Earth rocks from meteorites, and in general had a fabulous custard-filled evening, it was wonderful to see connections being made and a community growing. Children and adults learned a little bit more about their solar system neighbors, a teacher discovered more ways to bring astronomy into her classroom, parents made contact with a local university’s faculty and staff, and everyone shared their fascination with the night sky.
So, although we had to endure city lights, a definite chill in the air, and some very stubborn clouds, at least there was no hunger (I can personally recommend the Tortoise Sundae) and no wild animals—just a few well behaved dogs. A BIG thanks to all the volunteers and visitors who made the evening a success. Thank you, Annie’s; thank you, Venus; and thank you, Yuri!
Mark your calendars and join us for next year’s party!