Yesterday was the star party and the Leonids. One was better than the other.
Star party preparation goes something like this.
Check the weather report, which insists it will be clear by mid-afternoon.
Tell Bobby and Katie we're going to the star party IF it's not cloudy and IF they're not grumpy and IF they have a good quiet time and IF they promise to behave, not whine, and fall asleep in the car when they get tired.
Pack mittens/gloves, hats, sweaters, and winter coats for the three of us.
Heft the 100-lb telescope stand into the trunk.
Wiggle the 80-lb celestron into the passenger side seat, and buckle it in.
Read about the Leonids and the SVAS' plans for the public viewing.
Florn about how I now have the choice of the probably-nearly-deserted, far-too-cold, no-bathroom-because-the-park-service-suc
ks-the-PMW private SVAS mountain spot, or the far-too-public, probably-light-polluted, more-likely-to-make-kids-whine public Leonid-viewing spot in Auburn.
Move the kids' car seats.
Tell Bobby and Katie we're going to the star party IF it's not cloudy and IF they're not grumpy and IF they have a good quiet time and IF they promise to behave, not whine, and fall asleep in the car when they get tired and IF they go back upstairs for the rest of their quiet time.
Florn about how I haven't had any time to look at star charts to decide what I'm going to see tonight.
Florn about how the early-evening autumn sky is the most boring part of the celestial sphere.
Tell Bobby and Katie we're going to the star party IF it's not cloudy and IF they're not grumpy and IF they promise to behave, not whine, and fall asleep in the car when they get tired and IF they pack some markers and pens and toys and something to do and IF they find their flashlights that are supposed to stay in the scope-stuff bag but which they always get and play with and lose every month.
Pack sodas and juices and water.
Pack the bag of starmaps and eyepieces and telescope accoutrements.
Florn about how I still don't have a DC-to-AC adapter and how they probably won't have anywhere to plug the clock drive in.
Tell Bobby and Katie we're going to the star party IF it's not cloudy and IF they're not grumpy and IF they promise to behave, not whine, and fall asleep in the car when they get tired and IF they use the toilet even if they don't feel like it and get their socks and shoes on right now.
Florn that it's November and it will be dark before we get anywhere because I was too lame to get ready earlier.
Buckle kids in car.
Drive to Burger King after realizing we passed the McDonalds and clearing it with the kids.
Realize we left the snack bag home. Encourage kids to eat all of their chicken nuggetoids and fries because there won't be anything else to eat.
Note that it's nearly overcast and the sun's setting. Florn.
Drive to the Auburn site. Watch it darken and not clear. Florn.
Talk it over with kids. Decide to go up to the private SVAS site. Drive. Note that once it's dark the kids zonk in the car even though it's only 5 PM.
Get to the site. Note that it looks completely deserted and completely overcast. Florn. Turn around without waking up kids.
Five minutes back down the hill, look out the window and see Cassiopaeia and Perseus shining clearly. Pull off for a minute and decide to keep going downhill to Auburn anyway.
Get to Auburn, where a grand total of Taurus is visible. Wake kids. Set up scope as great honking huge crowd arrives in horribly light-polluted parking lot. See Channel 3 News van pull up and recognize local reporter chick as she comes out and interviews SVAS president.
Look at Saturn and several of its moons. Let kids take turns. "It looks like Urnanus!" "Why do you say that?" "Because the rings go up and down!" "It looks like that because it's just rising, so it's sideways in the sky, Bobby. And Uranus doesn't really look like that; you can't see the rings with a telescope." "I know that. It's just is that it looks like the pictures I draw of Urnanus!" Realize I have a bit of grammar and pronunciation to work on with Bobby.
Florn that there's no AC and I have to adjust the scope every 45 seconds at low power and every sixteen nanoseconds at high power.
Point scope at random corner of Pleiades and let kids take turns.
Listen as Katie whines and whines and whines and won't say why and isn't hungry and isn't cold and isn't tired and isn't thirsty and doesn't have to go to the bathroom but is whining.
Show Saturn to a few mundanes. Appreciate their oohs and ahs.
Realize that the building that I thought was a bathroom is locked. Look around and see no other facilities.
Watch the clouds continue to tease me and show no more than an eighth of the sky at any given time.
See two bright meteors that the kids miss because they don't have the discipline to just lie and stare at the sky.
Listen to Katie whine and whine and whine.
Deal with Bobby climbing inandoutandinandoutandinandoutandinandou
tandinandout of the car windows because he can and he's bored because there's nothing to see and Katie is whining.
Tell Katie I think she doesn't get to come to star parties for a while because she doesn't behave. Realize that this is a pretty cheap threat because there won't be star parties for a few months and much of the point of star parties is that I can take both mobile kids and give Sherilyn a night with just the baby, when she can crank the music and dance to housework.
Sigh. Look at watch, showing 8:00. Sigh again. Contemplate six hours of clouds and crowds and full bladder.
Explain to kids, who agree we should go home.
Pack it in.
Break the dashboard light dimmer switch trying to find the back window defogger in the dark.
Drive home. Get kids to bed.
Flick for several hours, irritating Sherilyn.
Go out into backyard at 1 AM. Most of the sky is clear.
Have not quite a "holyshit" but a pretty good "hotdamn" time as I see about forty bolides in fifteen minutes, missing all the dim ones because the back yard has a lower limit of about magnitude 3.2.
Try to get Bobby up, carrying him into the library to watch through the window. Fail as he simply pushes out of my arms and curls up on the library bed. Sigh.
Despite everything, 'radiant' describes the feeling (and is a pretty fine pun; every single meteor I saw really did radiate from Leo's head.) Even with the whining and the clouds and the crowds and the lights and the disappointment and the whining, it's a good time with the kids -- and my first thought, watching the show, was 'hey, they really have gotten good at predicting these things! Too bad they can't do the same with terrestrial weather.'