Tales From Under the Starry Sky

HAA Tales From Under The Starry Sky – Part 6

It’s been a while since we had a story from a member, and I was particularly thrilled when this tale arrived in my inbox.  It’s a great story and so worth reading.  

Sue MacLachlan has been a great asset to the club, working behind the scenes in recent years to oversee some club events like the Christmas social (big success!).  Recently you have come to know her as the mastermind behind our Zoom meetings.  Next time you’re online at one of our meetings be sure to say hi to her.

Now here’s her story… 

“My First Total Solar Eclipse!

Like many members of the HAA I have been fascinated by the night sky since I was a child. There are a few star gazing events that stand out for me: the dark velvet black skies in Banff National Park, my first guided star tour and finding that first object in our telescope. But there is one that memory that stands out above all the rest, the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017.

As beginner amateur astronomers my husband Doug and I knew about solar eclipses but we really weren’t that interested in them until we attended a lecture at Starfest one summer. The presenter opened up our eyes to the beauty and wonder of a total solar eclipse. So, we thought, maybe, we would go on a camping trip to the U.S. and take in the solar eclipse at the same time. Needless to say, we were quite naive at the time when it came to solar eclipses.

A little more than two years before the 2017 eclipse, the Bluewater Astronomical Society, a club from Owen Sound, where we are also members, asked if people were interested in travelling to Nebraska to see the solar eclipse. We figured that since we didn’t know much about solar eclipses it would be a good idea to join a group so we signed up.

The summer of 2017 arrived. Doug and I had planned a 5 week circle tour through the U.S. ending at the Grand Island KOA in Nebraska. There we would join up with our friends from the Bluewater club. All was going well, until the night we hit New Mexico. I suffered an eye injury which forced us to come back to Canada in the middle of the trip. My eye doctor prescribed a course of treatment and I asked with trepidation if I might be OK to go to Nebraska to see the eclipse. I was told “you could sit on the couch at  ome and follow the treatment or you could sit in the front seat of the car and follow the treatment, take your pick.” So, we packed up the car, again, and headed out for the Grand Island KOA in Nebraska.

We arrived 3 days before the solar eclipse. It was a great campground with pretty good amenities. You could order pizza to be delivered to your campsite and pick up a couple of beers to go with it right from the camp store!

As the weekend unfolded, the camp filled to the brim with amateur astronomers from all over the U.S. and Canada. The air was full of excitement as everyone prepared for the event.

The day before the eclipse was spent discussing the most recent weather reports. When I say most recent I mean people were checking every half hour (or less) to see if there were any changes. All day the forecast called for light cloud. There hadn’t been a cloud in the sky for days and now the forecast for eclipse day called for light cloud. Some people in the campground decided to leave that day and travel further west in hopes of clearer skies. Our group made the decision to stay and no matter what happened we would have had a good time anyway.

On the day of the eclipse I was up early and, yes, there were the light clouds. The morning was hot and the light clouds persisted. Everyone was busy setting up and checking their equipment over and over again. The air throughout the whole campground crackled with the nervous energy of expectation. Near the time of first contact, one of our friends started a countdown and a hush fell over our group. All were focussed on the sun and were waiting in anticipation. Then suddenly you heard shouts of “I see it!’ or “I got it!” as first contact was made.

As the time ticked towards totality we kept a careful eye on the equipment and the clouds in the sky. There was some light cloud but it didn’t really hinder the view at all. When the moon had sufficiently covered the sun to create a crescent, people used colanders and signs made with small punched holes to reveal hundreds of small images of the crescent sun. We took lots pictures of the crescents. While the crescents were amazing, the best was yet to come.

As totality neared a hush fell over the whole park. Once again the countdown was called out and you could feel the air rippling with excitement. Then a shout “I see the Diamond ring!” Another person shouted, “Baileys Beads!” Then the call came, “Filters off!” Totality had arrived!

The birds stopped singing. The sky darkened. Sunset appeared on the horizon everywhere, 360 degrees around us and the air which had been so hot started to cool. Then someone saw a star and the rush was on to identify it.

I stood there transfixed. I looked through our solar telescope and couldn’t see anything because I hadn’t taken the filter off, and at the time didn’t think to take the filter off, so I just stared up at the sun and the moon. Doug handed me the binoculars a couple of times and told me to look but I just handed them back to him without looking through them. I know this happened more than once because we have it on video. I was dumbstruck and awestruck. Here was a perfect demonstration of the precision and wonder of the universe.

And then it was over. The diamond ring was magnificent as the moon started to move away from the sun. Someone outside of the campground had fireworks and set them off and a great cheer went up throughout the camp and champagne was popped. The clouds had parted just enough at the right time so the beauty and wonder of a total solar eclipse was there for us to see.

After the last bit of the moon left the edge of the sun all of the Canadians in the camp gathered to have their picture taken. As we waited for the photographer, a friend from the North York Astronomical Association asked me what I thought of the eclipse. I couldn’t answer him as I had no words to describe what I had witnessed. Then I started to cry. He gave me a hug and said solar eclipses had that effect on him as well.

It was an experience I won’t soon forget. Now, we are thinking about next one in 2024!”

Sue MacLachlan


I look forward to 2024 as well, all the more so after reading about the excitement and thrill of seeing a total eclipse the way Sue and Doug did.  Thanks so much Sue, for sharing that wonderful experience! 

 If you would like to share an observing experience just email me and I will be happy to feature you in a future email.

Take care and stay safe.

Tales From Under the Starry Sky – Week 5

Here’s a great story from Alex Roman, who, as he says in his tale, has been in the club for coming on 5 years now.  Alex is an active observer and has frequented Binbrook many times, often observing with one of his teenage children who are always welcome.

I hesitated to send this story out at first, because I appear in the story, but it’s not about me, it’s really about Alex and about sharing a great hobby with others who enjoy it as much as you.

And now, here’s Alex’s story…  ___________________________________________________ 
“The year was 2015.  I like to go to McQuesten park in Hamilton for taking a walk with my dog.  One evening I saw a bunch of people with some telescopes and other weird equipment. I start talking to one of the guys, asking what are they doing.  He said to me they are part of an astronomy club and they are observing the sky.  I saw his little white telescope and I said: “I too have a telescope and I could come with my telescope in a few minutes.”  He replied: “Well, by all means, please bring your telescope and we’ll observe the sky together.”  I said ok.  Then I start laughing because I had a real telescope and my telescope was bigger than his.  

So after a few minutes, I brought my masterpiece.  I start unpacking and the guy said: “You have a beautiful Celestron C5+ telescope. You can see a lot of things with it.”  In the mean time I saw him with a huge tube on top of his “little telescope”. And I asked him what was that? And why you have 2 telescopes?  He said very politely: the “white telescope” is a german equatorial mount. THIS is my telescope. Lol. Why german? Why not french or dutch equatorial mount I thought myself?

Anyway I setup my system with a cheap $29 tripod and my (now) little scope.  I was struggling with my setup and I could hardly see anything.  Out of focus; objects were moving too fast.  I was frustrated.  The guy then asked me if it’s ok to piggyback my scope onto his telescope.  Well, after he did that I look through my C5 and looking through my eyepiece, things were not moving at all.  He told me that his mount is moving in the same way as the earth.  Yeah, ok, whatever.  At first I didn’t understand all the mambo jambo he told me.  But in the end he showed me how to take a picture of the moon with my iPhone and he was very patient with me.  That’s when I got hooked with astronomy.  Thank you big guy.

Oh, and by the way, his name is John. John Gauvreau.”  

Well, once the blushing goes away I’ll finish this email.  Thank you to Alex for sending in this lovely story.  Alex was already in the hobby and enjoying his own scope, but the story shows how he found his way to the HAA and how we found a great new member.  It happened to be me that Alex ran into that night, but it could have been any of our members and he would have had just as good an experience. 
If you would like to share an observing experience just email me and I will be happy to feature you in a future email.
Keep an eye out for the next email which will outline some upcoming club activities.

Take care and stay safe.

Tales From Under the Starry Sky – Week 4

This week we have a wonderful contribution from Michael Sheehy. 

Mike has been in the HAA for 3 years now, joining after his retirement from a career that began with both an Engineering degree (Mechanical) and a Masters of Business from McMaster and led to senior levels in the manufacturing industry. 

You might have seen Mike observing out at Binbrook, but he has an even better observing story than many of us.  While many members from the HAA travelled to Missourri to see the total solar eclipse of 2017 only to be clouded out, Mike went his own way and enjoyed a beautiful clear sky and a spectacular eclipse from Kentucky. 

Today, Mike shares with us a story that many of us can relate to.  Here now, are his words…

“My introduction to Astronomy is plain and simple…science fiction television shows in the 1960’s.  I was only 10 years old and watched “Lost in Space”, “Star Trek”, “Time Tunnel”, “Land of the Giants”, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, etc.

Being raised in Greensville, we had no library at that time and I took advantage of my sister’s weekly trip to the Dundas Armoury (now Dundas Community Centre) where she took majorette lessons every Saturday morning.

A walk down to the Dundas Library for three Astronomy books (the maximum on any one subject) and a return three weeks later for three more.

Sometimes the subject material was very challenging.  What ten year old knows about “scientific notation” or “logarithms”?  I taught myself and certainly, high school math was so much easier years later!

I exhausted the Children’s and Adult’s holdings within a year.  On attending McMaster University, I looked at the stacks / shelves of Astronomy books (material that I could never consume in a lifetime).  I suddenly felt diminished.  I feel everyone should feel diminished once in their lives to keep us humble.

I have been blessed to have travelled this world…Asia, South America, Europe, North America; yet, where ever I am, I go out at night to look skyward for comfort.

While I realize that I may not understand the country or language that I am currently in, I do not see diamonds of stars on the black velvet of the night’s sky; I see familiar friends who have accompanied me on my journey.

That foreign sky always tells me about a ten year boy on Short Road in Greensville trying to figure out the constellations and major stars so very long ago.

Everyone please take care and please continue to smile.”

Mike Sheehy

Thank you to Mike for sharing with us today.  If you would like share a story about yourself just email me.  Anything from how you got started and inspired, to your favourite night sky sight.

Take care and stay safe.

Tales From Under the Starry Sky – Week 3

I’m running a few days late, and this edition is really from last week.  So, to make it up to you, we have not one but two short tales today.

Our first story comes from Ann Tekatch.  Ann is one of the founding members of the HAA, past Chair, current Treasurer, and has served on council continuously since year one.  And, she is a skilled and knowledgeable observer. 

And now, here’s Ann…  _________________________________________________________ 
“One of my favourite observations happened pre-HAA, at the Hamilton Centre observatory. I arrived just after sunset and Barry Sherman was looking at Jupiter through a large refractor he picked up somewhere for $200. He called me over, promising the best view of Jupiter I ever had. He was not lying! The seeing was ROCK steady as it often is at the transition between day & night and Jupiter looked like a Hubble photo! I never forgot it.”

 Ann  ______________________________________________________________  
I completely understand Ann’s enthusiasm.  Those magical moments stay with you for years.

Our second story comes from Melissa Whitman.  Melissa and her family, including husband Geoff, son Brian and daughter Maia, all joined the club just a few years ago.  I remember first meeting them at a public night and Brian’s enthusiasm was infectious.  And you may know Maia from our monthly meetings where she draws the tickets for the door prizes (having taken over from Ann’s daughter Alex!).

Melissa’s story connects to Ann’s, and then adds a great twist.  Here’s Melissa…  ______________________________________________________________  
“My first observation of Jupiter was via Barry!   But more excitedly, I observed the rotation of the earth but mistook it for the telescope moving.   When he explained what I was really seeing, I was blown away!!!!”
Melissa   _____________________________________________________________
Thank you to Ann and Melissa for sharing these moments with us (and to Barry, who is still showing the sky to people after all these years). 

If you would like to share an observing experience just email me and I will be happy to feature you in a future email.

Thank you to Ann and Melissa for sharing these moments with us (and to Barry, who is still showing the sky to people after all these years). 
If you would like to share an observing experience just email me and I will be happy to feature you in a future email.

Tales From Under the Starry Sky – Week 2

John here once again, with the second installment of our weekly story time.

Today’s tale comes to us from Jo Ann Salci.  Jo Ann has been a wonderful addition to the HAA, involving herself in club activities and observing.  I was smart enough to invite her on to council a couple of years back and she is now our Education Director, offering wonderful programming to groups all around the city.  She has a real gift for dealing with the public, and has enhanced the children’s programming tremendously. She represents the club admirably and, well…basically makes us look good out there!

Her story today is something that, in one form or another, we can all relate to.  A big thank you to Jo Ann for sharing this with us. 

If you would like to share your story in an upcoming week please feel free to send it in to me (chair@amateurastronomy.org).  We would all love to hear from you.  For now, enjoy this week’s story, and please stay safe.

And now, here’s Jo Ann…  __________________________________________________________  

“As a young girl in a US elementary school in the 1960s, becoming an astronomer seemed like a remote option.  That didn’t stop me from loving the night sky and being in awe of its wonders.  
My first memory is a striking one. Not only was it striking, but it was the beginning of my love of the night sky.  Somehow, my 9 year old cousin and I learned that our local science museum held Wednesday night observing sessions using the museum’s large telescope.  I don’t remember how large it really was, but they opened a large dome at the museum for this telescope.  The dome exists until this day at the top of the Buffalo Museum of Science, although I’m not sure if the telescope is still there.
So there we were, a pair of 9 year old girls, dragging our fathers (who took turns!!) to the Buffalo Museum of Science on Wednesday nights.  The first time I looked through the telescope and saw the moon, I never looked back.  That was the beginning of my love for astronomy and I had told my parents at that point that I wanted to be an astronomer.  The vivid detail of the moon’s surface was etched in my mind.  The light and dark areas, the craters, the peaks…seeing the moon with a telescope changed how I saw the moon and the night sky forever!  The moon literally “filled my eyes like a big pizza pie”, and I fell in love with Astronomy!!

   –  The 8″ refractor at the Buffalo Museum of Science

Flash forward to now…I consider myself a VERY amateur astronomer, yet I became one as I had wished for as a child.  I had taken an Astronomy 101 course at Mohawk College back in the 1990’s, and guess who the instructor was?  Our very own John Gauvreau!  So when I joined the HAA about 6 years ago, and saw a familiar face, I knew right away I was in the right place.  At that point in time I owned a cumbersome 4″ reflector telescope on a grumpy equatorial mount, purchased from a big box store.  I’ve since upgraded (as club members are great at helping me spend my money and they know who they are!).  I now own a 5″ Schmidt-Cassegrain and a 6″ Dobsonion.  I have also purchased a great set of binoculars, and have accumulated a number of filters and eyepieces. I have even enjoyed 2 Star Party outings…a definite Bucket-list item.
I credit those early days with bringing me to this point. Even though I consider myself a very amateur astronomer, I took on the role of HAA Education Director because I absolutely love sharing the joy of astronomy with others.  I just love when people look through a telescope for the first time at the moon or any other object in the sky.  Their reactions are similar to what mine was…the surprise, the awe, and the disbelief at how much there is to see on the moon and in the sky. It’s almost as though the moon is sending an invitation for us to see the rest of the night sky with that same sense of surprise and wonder. Children’s reactions are the best!  I had one child ask if I had put a picture of Saturn inside my telescope!  They couldn’t believe they were seeing the “real thing”.
Whenever you show someone an object through your telescope, try not to take it for granted.  You have no idea the impact that it will have on them.  Who knows?  You might be showing the moon, or planet, or … to a future Hamilton Amateur Astronomer!”   

   –   Jo Ann Salci

Tales From Under the Starry Sky – Week 1

During these times, as we find ourselves distanced from family and friends, we have all had to adapt to a new way of life, with some strange new customs and unfamiliar activities.  And when there are so many more pressing and troubling matters that each of us has to deal with it seems trite to focus on a mere hobby.  And yet, my time at the telescope has always been a salve for me, lifting me from daily worries and giving me a few minutes or hours of respite.  This may be a strange, new world around us, but it remains a familiar and friendly sky above us.  Our old friends are still there, and still offer the same pleasures, peace and wonder that they always have.

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