Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stunning Timelapse of Galactic Center passing over a Texas Star Party

OK, no pithy titles or clever sayings here - this video from William Castleman is truly gorgeous.

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.

I'm glad that folks are still throwing star parties.

For those of you that have never been to one, they are at once highly geeky events akin to Star Trek conventions, enormous opportunities for learning and shared wonder, excuses to stand out in a field and drink beer/whiskey/hot chocolate, and wonderful chances to really understand what this universe is all about and how to observe and appreciate it.

When I was growing up in the 70's (1970's, smart ass) in northern Minnesota, the opportunity to have star parties were pretty plentiful - no light pollution (because who the hell would live up there) coupled with being basically equidistant between the equator and the north pole (think access to Aurora Borealis) and - lets face it - there being little else to do, led to 1-2 of these things a month. 20-30 people with the latest in telescopes, cameras, night vision gear, and beer (usually Hamm's) resulted in dozens of amazing experiences. Including non-astronomical experiences, such as the time that Dabs - my dad - nearly decked my high school astronomy teacher because he didn't quite get the concept of a grown man going out to a frozen field in the middle of the night with 20 highschoolers. (Thanks for not backing down, Dale!)

By the time I left that town when I was 18, I had seen eclipses (lunar and solar), meteor showers, transits, and more aurora displays then I can comfortably tell you about here. I learned how to photograph on night plates, constructed reflector telescopes (including spending a year grinding the primary mirror by hand), help fund-raise for a planetarium, and - later - helped run the projector at that planetarium.

Looking at this video from Monsieur Castleman brings back a lot of memories - as well as making me green with envy that I didn't grow up in an era of high definition digital video and GPS-based telescopes. Growing up in the waning years of photographic negatives, all of my equipment was extremely analog and required patience - instant gratification was out of the question, as you had to wait until at least the next day to process the photos or video...uh, film. It was only after I went to college later in that decade, I was able to construct a then-new charged-couple device (CCD) as project for an astronomy class. It was extremely expensive to build, and was a whopping 100x100 pixels, each able to hold 64 shades of gray - but it was a start. (Alright, Castleman, you got me there - but do you know how to process a photographic glass plate in a darkroom? Hah! No. No you don't!)

Even more important than the amazing view of the Milky Way rising in that video, however, is what you see along the horizon: people. Dozens of them milling about, their red flashlights (LED based, of course) coming on and off, configuring their laptops and calibrating their GPS-ized telescopes, checking exposure times, and drinking beer (probably Lone Star, not Hamms, since the video is from Texas). Star parties are still going on and are still popular, which means people and kids are still learning...which...gives me hope.

...well, at the very least it makes me feel better about the coming robot apocalypse.