Cronyn Observatory Open House, Mars Curiosity Rover Landing, August 5th / 6th, 2012

Clear skies greeted visitors to the Cronyn Observatory Open House for the Mars Curiosity Rover landing, Sunday, August 5th / 6th, 10:00 p.m.—2:00 a.m. Professor Pauline Barmby coordinated the event and introduced the first speaker, graduate student Tanya Harrison, who had worked on the spacecraft cameras. Tanya made her digital slide presentation, “Going to Gale,” explaining the landing procedure and significance of Gale crater. Later in the evening, RASC London Centre President, Rick Saunders, presented the RASC London Centre’s Observer of the Year Award to Kelly Manson.

Among Astronomy faculty members and many graduate students were Professor Jan Cami and postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Phil McCausland, who set up his tripod-mounted binoculars on the roof patio. RASC London Centre was represented by 10 members, including Everett Clark, Robert Duff, Richard, Gibbens, Mike Hanes, Mike Jager, Peter Jedicke, Kelly Manson, Dave McCarter, Mike Roffey & Rick Saunders. On hand was coffee, drinks, popcorn, cookies and Mars bars, some of which were contributed by RASC London Centre members.

Throughout the evening more people arrived and some left early. Bob Duff counted 65 people in the lecture room, dome and roof patio, with 7 more arrivals bringing the count to 72. However, Everett Clark noted that some people had left and that that the total was likely 90 or more people. Dave McCarter counted 96 people in the dome, roof patio and lecture room and estimated that the total was over 100 people, if students, RASC London Centre members and the public are all included.

While Curiosity was making its final approach to Mars, visitors had the opportunity to do some star gazing upstairs in the dome and roof patio. The 25.4cm refractor was directed towards Saturn and later the waning gibbous Moon, as it rose in the eastern sky around midnight. They made fine sights through the 28mm Meade Super Wide Angle (157X) and later, the Tele Vue 18mm Radian (244X) eyepieces.

RASC London Centre members Everett Clark, Kelly Manson and Bob Duff set up the London Centre’s 25.4cm Dobsonian and the Observatory’s Meade 8-inch (203mm) LX3 Schmidt-Cassegrain on the roof patio. Kelly installed his binocular viewer in the Schmidt-Cassegrain and showed people the rising Moon. He later replaced his binocular viewer with the telescope’s diagonal and 12.5mm Ortho eyepiece (160X). The best view of the Moon was with 26mm Plossl (77X) eyepiece.

Bob Duff showed the visitors the moon, M13, M57, Epsilon Lyrae and Vega in the 25.4cm Dobsonian, using the 17mm Nagler (67X) and 6mm Ortho (190.5X) eyepieces. The Ring Nebula (M57) showed a considerable improvement in contrast with the Orion Narrow Band Nebula Filter (67X).

A live video link to NASA by computer enabled visitors to share in the breathtaking descent of the Mars Curiosity Rover through the planet’s atmosphere to the final touchdown in Gale crater shortly before 1:30 p.m. Confirmation of the successful landing was received with the first thumbnail images of the surface of Mars and the rover’s shadow, arriving at light-speed 13 minutes after touchdown.

The Observatory was closed down around 2:00 a.m. after an extraordinary evening highlighted by the successful landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover in Gale crater.

Bob Duff
Higher Education Liaison
RASC London Centre