Chowchilla Fair 2005


For those interested in how I came out with my 20 inch Obsession at the Chowchilla Fair, I thought I’d provide you with this update.


This was not my initiation to this type of activity. I’ve been showing family and friends the “stars” for almost 50 years now. Plus I taught astronomy at NMSU-Carlsbad using a Celestron NexStar 11 GPS, and we took it out twice a week. This taught me that for group activities, there’s nothing like GoTo capability and tracking. I’ve also held a few one-telescope star parties as a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. However, this was my first venture (other than showing my family and a few friends) with my new Obsession and the general public.


The Fair started Wednesday and went through Sunday evening, but I only attended Friday and Saturday from 7 to 11:30. Sundown was at 8:10, so I had plenty of time to unload, setup and collimate before looking for alignment stars. I have the ServoCAT/Argo Navis with the Powerboard and Stalk, which eliminates the need to worry the wiring and keeps the public from getting their legs tangled up in them. The one wire leading into the telescope is the power cable that enters through one of the Powerboard feet. I sat my 12 volt power station on the ground by my car about fifteen feet from the telescope, stuck down the power cord with duct tape, and forgot it. This worked much better than I had expected. Not even once did I have a problem with anyone interfering with any of the telescope equipment, with one possible exception as I’ll describe below. I also have the wireless Handpad, so I could peer into the eyepiece and center the object in the field of view when necessary, which wasn’t often. My Obsession aligns and tracks dead on, and I believe it would track dead center forever if no one touched it. Truly amazing. Much better than my experience with the NexStar 11, I might add.


My steel five-step Cotterman ladder was also amazing. Adults and children of all ages climbed it, sometimes to the top without difficulty. Not once did anyone come close to losing their balance or having some other type of accident. The handrails make all the difference. I have another aluminum ladder (from Costco)without handrails for my personal observing, but I have to admit that when putting up the UTA, I love standing on the top step of the Cotterman and steadying myself against the top rails while I center the poles in the braces. But this is a luxury ladder and not a necessity.


I was stationed just inside the Fairgrounds front gate. I would imagine 80% of fairgoers saw my setup either entering or exiting. I was on a large cement courtyard with more than enough room. Just to the south was an auditorium where the painting competition was being held. To the east, I had a vender display where they sold spa’s and swimming pools. One of them gave me a hand getting the large base unit out of the back of my Honda CR-V. To the southeast, and just a little further away, was a heavy metal rock band. Though at first I was horrified, I later came to rather enjoy having them “serenade” us. The loud music seemed to inexplicably sink into the background. Plus, they brought a lot of teenagers and aging rockers through my area. To the north was the cyclone fence, the main gate and row upon row of lights. To the west was a large courtyard and display building, and beyond this were the rides, Ferris Wheel, etc. My biggest surprise was that my green laser pointer, which is such a magnificent asset on even a bad viewing evening, wasn’t visible at all. So much so that I had to shine it on the ground to make sure the batteries weren’t dead.


I had a constant line of viewers with one or two rather surrealistic lulls that lasted maybe 30 seconds where I was totally alone. I estimate something over 400 people total had a look through the Obsession. The typical response was “Wow!” I had a couple of three-year-olds who couldn’t be taught how to look into an eyepiece. I’ve had this problem before, and have not as yet found an approached to showing them that works; however, I was actually impressed that almost all of my viewers needed no coaching. Everyone locked on immediately. Must have been the eyepieces (see next paragraph). I did have a couple of teenagers ask me (seriously) if I was going to shoot something out of the cannon later that evening. This is not a response I’ve had before. Of course, I was at a county fair and not a star party.  I also had four viewers who were so overwhelmed by what they saw that they accused me of using a picture inside the tube. Most viewers were just simply blown away. “Wow! Wow! This isn’t possible,” they’d say. “Are you sure that’s Jupiter? This is just so incredible!” “That is really Saturn? It’s so amazing!” Some had never looked through a telescope before, but those who had were even more impressed.


For eyepieces, I used both the Tele Vue 35mm panoptic and the 22mm Nagler. I’m really partial to the 35, but the image was better sized in the 22. Still, I plan on selling the 35 (anyone interested?) soon because I’m purchasing the Tele Vue Nagler 31. Early in the evening, I kept it on Saturn, but later on I turned it on Jupiter. Occasionally I’d turn it on the Moon to listen to the exclamations. Everyone wants to walk on the Moon. I never made it to the nebulas or galaxies as I’d tentatively planned. It would have required a lot more explanation, and with the crowd I was drawing, I thought better of it. Plus I wasn’t convinced these dimmer objects would be very impressive with the bad lighting conditions.


Several times someone (usually a child) would ignore the “Do Not Touch” sign just to the right of the eyepiece and grab hold. Several times I had to re-center. I only had one incident. Quite suddenly the Argo Navis dropped the alignment and quit tracking. The red light on the ServoCAT box was blinking and when I looked at the Argo it read “FIX ALT REF”. I had everyone step back; I set vertical, did a two-star alignment and was ready to go in a couple of minutes. I believe someone turned off the Argo without me noticing, but I’m not absolutely sure. Anyone ever have an Argo spontaneously drop alignment? I had a lot of teenagers look at the Argo as if they’d sure like to get their hands on it. Otherwise both nights went incredibly well, and both evenings certainly lived up to all my expectations.


I did it all for free, and I just hope that somewhere in the multitude that bothered to take a look was a young boy or girl who will consider astronomy as a profession, or at least become an amateur astronomer because of what they saw that one night at the county fair in the middle of farm country. But even if that doesn’t happen, many of the adults, some of them getting along in years, were so pleased to have at last seen something they never imagined they’d see. They told me so.


One last comment. Since I’ve added the Power Board and Stalk, my alignments have been incredibly accurate. The lateral bumpers on each side of the rocker box seem to have made a major difference in the stability of the alignment and tracking. When I align, I get all zeroes even on the first star (I’ve been using either Pollux or Castor and Spica). I didn’t expect that degree of accuracy.


© 2005 David Sheppard. All rights reserved. Site created by David Sheppard.