We saw first light!
Today was a whirlwind of activity, with more than 40 students actively engaged at the observatory from shortly after noon ’till well after 10 pm. I juggled management of a half dozen projects, all perfectly executed by the students and two of our ambassadors-teachers.
Today we got the drive motors mounted and the cables attached to the base after thorough testing of all possible directions the telescope moves. One student group built the cap for the telescope tube from the high density, shipping crate foam while another painted the shipping crate that now serves as our workbench on wheels.
We even took a break to make a pinhole camera with hope to indirectly observe the surface of the sun. It didn’t work so well, but it inspired interest to build a solar observatory. That will be our first research project, once the internet is up and running.
A group of a dozen students dove into the vast array of books and science journals shipped with the telescope, asking wonderful questions about the content they were learning while another wrote a series of questions on the white board, which I answered for the large assembly.
“What is the Moon?
“How does one select a new telescope?”
“Does looking through a telescope have any positive or negative affects on the viewer?”
And then an entire array of questions about life on other planets, where humans and robots have explored, and where we hope to go in the future. It was thrilling!
Dusk came quickly, 6 pm before anyone was ready. We were still setting the cover to the RA gear box and I had to run back to my lodge to get fresh batteries for my headlamp. Power was out but the telescope ran perfectly from the charged car battery.
The students ran down the hill from the school to the observatory, passing me as I returned to a gorgeous crescent Moon and Jupiter overhead. We adjusted the position of the secondary mirror to enable focus, aligned the spotting scope, primary telescope, and in a few minutes had a crystal clear image of the Moon.
When I exclaimed, “I’ve got it! Our first view with our telescope!” the entire assembly erupted in cheers and clapping, then preceded to nearly knock me over as they formed a telescope viewing mob. Over the course of the next hour, everyone was able to see the Moon twice. Then we set out sight (literally) on Jupiter. Again, everyone had a chance to view just before the clouds set in.
I was able to grab a photo with my cell phone of the Moon, but not Jupiter as the clouds set in too quickly. Our next goal is to get the CCD camera configured and ready to capture photos.
The only bad news is that the RA motor, when in Guide mode (tracking) appears to be set for the Northern hemisphere and is running the wrong direction. I reached out to the engineer in England who built it for us, asking if we can reconfigure on site. Stay tuned!