Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - 38

Observing Adventures

I was determined to attend a Special Viewing Night myself.
Of course, for a night of observing to truly be " special, " you
need clear skies - something that's never guaranteed. After
several tries, I realized that my chances would improve dramatically if I didn't count on just a single night, particularly
one scheduled well in advance. Since I'm not a professional
astronomer, the best way for me enjoy an extended visit and
gain access to the big scopes was to become an on-site volunteer. During peak travel periods, the observatory looks for
people able to commit to spending several weeks on Mount
Locke helping with facility tours and star parties.
Becoming an on-site volunteer isn't as simple as you might
guess, however. After a phone conversation with the volunteer coordinator, I received an application form and submitted to an extensive background check. Some six weeks later I
was approved and soon received my first volunteer request, for
a two-week stay beginning on March 8, 2020. When the date
finally arrived, I packed my bags and headed for the Davis
Mountains.
The Astronomers' Lodge at the top of Mount Locke became
my home away from home during my stay. Over the years, the
Lodge has hosted some of the world's most renowned astron-

omers, and there's almost always someone very familiar with
the telescopes in residence. I quickly got to know an engineering team that was in the process of upgrading the Robert G.
Tull Coudé spectrograph on the 107-inch telescope.
My own duties were simple by comparison. I would be
operating an 8-inch Meade LX90 telescope at the visitor's
center during star parties and helping with observatory tours
during the day. On star-party evenings, a wide variety of
scopes are set up, each aimed at a specific object. My assigned
target was the lovely Canis Major open cluster M41. (In case
of stray clouds, M35 in Gemini served as my backup cluster.)
During my visit I was able to enjoy the site's amazingly
dark skies. I could clearly see the zodiacal light and the winter
Milky Way. But what I really wanted to do was observe familiar deep-sky objects with one of the giant scopes on top of
Mount Locke.

Making Good from Bad
My big chance came on an evening when uncertainty was
in the air. As fate would have it, my time at the observatory
coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the
beginning, concern was muted, but as the days went by we
began hearing rumors that public events at the observatory

MOUNT LOCKE LUMINOSITY The sky above the telescope domes atop McDonald Observatory is lit by the winter Milky Way and airglow
in the upper atmosphere, which adds a green and red luminance to the night sky, especially near the horizon.

38

FEBRUARY 2 021 * SK Y & TELESCOPE

STEPHEN HU M MEL

Beating the Odds



Sky & Telescope - February 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - February 2021

Contents
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Cover1
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - 1
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - Contents
Sky & Telescope - February 2021 - 3
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