Rick Scott views the moon through his new homemade 10" Lurie-Houghton telescope. Photo by Joe Orman.
As darkness was falling Saturday, I found myself driving down the dirt road south of Arizona City toward the All-Arizona site and wondering -- would anyone else be there? The rain of the previous few days would keep away the casual observers, and although the weather was clearing, this muddy road might be enough to scare off the rest. Upon arriving at the mostly-dry field, I found that I was part of a group of about 10 others who had successfully navigated past the mud holes. Instead of the hundred-or-so scopes that fill the field at a typical All-Arizona, there was only my 6" Newtonian, Rick Scott's 10" Lurie-Houghton, a 3 1/2" Questar, a 10" Meade LX-200 SCT, and an 8" Celestron SCT. Ray Farnsworth, the land-owner, came out and chatted with everyone; he is a friendly fellow who made it clear that we were more than welcome. Ray deserves a big thanks for letting us hold All-Arizona on this excellent site each fall, and also the Messier Marathon each spring.
The few clouds along the horizon soon dissipated, and we were treated to a very clear evening with good seeing. We all witnessed the dramatic sight of the crescent moon setting behind distant hills, then turned our attention to Saturn and Jupiter rising in the east. I don't remember ever seeing such fine detail in Jupiter's bands! Other treasures the night sky revealed to us were the Merope Nebula in the Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy, the double star Albireo, the Veil & Network Nebulae, the Lagoon Nebula (M8), the red star v Aquila, Neptune and its moon Triton, the ET Cluster (NGC457), the Double Cluster in Perseus, and the globular cluster M13.
During the night we spotted several satellites, and a random meteor here and there. But as the evening wore on, it became obvious we were ill-prepared to fight the dew forming on our optics. Most packed up and drove back to the city, leaving only Rick Scott and my family to spend the night.
For my Newtonian telescope, the dew was not much of a problem. I just warmed the eyepiece in my hand for a few minutes between views! But eventually I tired of looking through the scope, so I just leaned my head back and simply enjoyed looking at such a fine, dark sky. Most memorable was the crystalline arrangement of bright planets and stars in the east. Around 11 o'clock, I made my first conscious effort to pick out the Gegenschein, the faint glow which appears directly opposite the sun. I was successful; I could see a faint but noticeable oval patch high in the sky, stretching perhaps 10 or 15 degrees along the ecliptic.
By then, a few small clouds started to move in. I had had enough of the cold and damp anyway, so I turned in for the night. The next morning, I arose before dawn and enjoyed the solitude of the site as the eastern horizon brightened and the stars faded. Then, finally, I watched the first rays of sunlight glint off the domes on Kitt Peak to the south. It was time to go home.
As it turned out, many of those who chose not to come to Arizona City had their own star parties all over the state. I guess you could say that this is one All-Arizona that really took place all over Arizona!