I had a guy come visit from IL this weekend. He's a sweet boy and VERY new to kink, and we had a good time Friday night and during the day on Saturday. He was supposed to stay Saturday night, but...
Instead I attended my first star party last night, in Delevan with the Women Thinking Freely group from Chicago. I heard about it on skepchick and the ticket price was $75 so I definitely couldn't go. BUT I posted my disappointment about my lack of funds in the comments, and Saturday morning one of the women in charge of it emailed me and said they had a scholarship ticket available and since no women had asked for it (it's a women's group after all) I could have it if I still wanted to go.
I told Cody (the guy visiting) "Oh darn, I would have liked to do that but we'll have fun anyway" and he told me I should go and he'd head home early. Actually, he kind of pressured me about it, and I responded to the email and said I'd love to go and I'd get there a little late (around 7).
So I left town at close to 6pm after seeing Cody off and checking in on Peter's dogs who I was watching for the weekend. Then I drove to Delevan using the GPS on my brand new Android phone (which is fucking awesome). It only took an hour (Yes, I speed a little) and the sky was mostly cloudy as I drove. I know non-astronomers probably don't think about this a whole lot, but clouds are the mortal enemy of stargazers. No telescope, knowledge, or experience will let a person on the ground see the stars through a cloud.
So I got to the little camping area we were going to be at. The party had actually started at 3pm and everyone had dinner already but I'd eaten so I just had a beer and chatted with people for awhile. Almost everyone there was from Chicago, and the women outnumbered the men which is really different from how most science nerd things go, and I liked it this way. I'm way more socially comfortable with women than guys anyway. I got to FINALLY meet Dr. Pamela Gay after listening to her AstronomyCast for about 2 years now.
Dr. Gay is a skeptic, a professional astronomer, and a professor at Southern Illinois University (near St Louis). She is an extraordinary teacher, and is enthusiastic about teaching amateurs and enthusiasts. She really focuses on citizen science projects, such as Galaxy Zoo. She was ultra friendly to me and to everyone else there and patiently and clearly answered a question that's been buzzing around my head for awhile now (about how temperature in matter movement and temperature in infrared light are related).
About a half hour after I arrived we piled into cars (a nice woman from the group drove me) and we drove about 20 more minutes to the Yerkes Observatory which is property of the University of Chicago, but is located in Delevan because it's got nice clear dark skies. The Observatory isn't really doing research anymore, but it's a valuable outreach and educational tool, so yay!
The best part was this - as we drove to the observatory the skies completely cleared up. Not a single cloud was left behind after that 20 minute drive. It was beautifully cloudless, dark, and amazing. Everyone kept commenting all night on how lucky we were - this was IDEAL stargazing weather!
We started out in the big field in front of the building. It never occurred to me that it would make sense for an Observatory to have a big empty field in front of it, but this was a really good layout. The guy who was doing our tour took us out into the field and talked us through some of the basics of stargazing (averted vision, how to find the north star, the difference between consolations and asterisms, finding the Milky Way) and then also helped point out some things that were brand new to me, like how to find the Andromeda Galaxy and the star Arcturus.
Then we went inside the observatory and got a tour. We talked about the sizes of various telescopes compared to the ones there, and about the difference between reflective and refractive telescopes. Then they took us to see the big 40 inch refractor telescope that was built in the late 19th century. It has an AMAZING 73 foot diameter elevator floor. I didn't really know anything about observatories before this tour, and the elevator floors are a wonderful idea but totally new to me. This one was huge and has lasted a long time. The telescope is huge. The dome is huge. I was completely in awe. This is a telescope Einstein has posed for pictures in front of. It's a telescope REAL amazing discoveries were made on. Very cool.
Then we walked through the observatory looking at what is left of their book collection (University of Chicago has moved most of it elsewhere) and some other older research areas. Then we went to the 24 inch telescope dome, which is MUCH newer than the 40 inch (though I didn't catch when it was put in). But since only a small group can go in at a time (elevator floors have limits) I was in the group that waited outside for about a half hour and chatted with Dr. Gay. This was SUPER useful to me because I have had that question about temperature bumping around my head for awhile and she answered it for me during this time and that was fantastic! Other questions were asked too, and we had a good discussion about using metaphors to describe the expansion of the universe (balloons vs. raisin bread etc).
Then we got to go into the new dome with the modern 24 inch scope. It has a finicky elevator floor, but a nice smoothly rolling dome and a big 24 inch diameter telescope. They showed us 3 objects through the telescope: M13, Andromeda Galaxy (now the furthest away thing I have ever seen with my own eyes), and Jupiter. The 4 major moons were SUPER bright and unbelievably easy to see and recognize. I'd not seen them before myself, so this was pretty cool. Also, some of the banding on Jupiter was visible quite obviously. All of the objects we saw were awesome!
THEN we headed back to the campground. It was only 11pm when we got there and the sky was still perfectly clear and beautiful! We sat around a campfire, chatted about all kinds of stuff. I met a ton of amazing people and a few seemed surprised to hear that anyone had come from Madison which amused me because Madison is only an hour away! Delevan is nearly the half way point between Madison and Chicago if you take a direct route. Also my blog came up a few times and it turns out that a few people had actually seen it (which is part of why I will be updating more often in the near future).
Also, my status as a transman came up pretty soon after we got back (it's not like I hide it) and Dr. Gay told a very funny story about her first interaction with a transman. It was totally appropriate and polite, but quite funny and made me like her even more.
Then we all sat around the fire eating some munchies and drinking mulled wine (although I was not drinking due to having to drive home soon) and chatting about astronomy and skepticism. We talked about the geocentrists for awhile, and about women in sciences and how they differ from men and differ from other women. Another very cool astronomy teacher there named Matt (didn't catch his last name sorry!) showed some of us how to make starfinders with a kit he'd brought and I made mine (yay arts and crafts!) and I'm sure I'll get tons of use out of it since I lost my last one at Twisted Tryst in June. Dr. Gay also showed us how to use them properly, which will help me a lot because I was doing it wrong with my last one! Also around the first while the more experienced astronomy folks and Dr. Gay and Matt showed us some neat new stuff on the sky we saw a nice bright meteor which just sort of seemed to top off the awesome night for me.
We sat around the fire until Orion had risen pretty high in the sky, talking, and learning to how spot new objects. At 2 am I started saying my goodbyes to very cool fokls, and thanked the event organizers for welcoming me and thanked Dr. Gay and Matt for being fantastic teachers. Finally, I turned my phone back on, set my GPS, and headed home. I let Peter's dogs out and changed over my laundry, and crashed into my bed at just before 4am.
I skipped a night of play and sex with a new sweet guy for a star party. And I don't regret it one bit. He's a nice boy and I think he'll be coming back, but my opportunity for this party was a one time thing and I'm REALLY glad I did it.