Friday, November 5, a small group of Bartlesville Astronomical Society members attended the Astronomy Club of Tulsa Members Observing Night at their observatory near Mounds, OK. We arrived shortly after sunset, parked near the end of the large open observing field and walked to the observatory at the other end. John Land, Treasurer of ACT, was a great host, giving us a complete tour of the observatory and spending a lot of time throughout the evening helping us use the 14" Meade RCX400 scope in the dome. He also presented a very interesting, "under the stars" constellation tour to us and some new ACT members. All of the ACT members attending were friendly and helpful. They seem to be particularly attentive to new members and visitors.
The ACT observatory is a fairly large and impressive facility. The ground floor includes a roomy classroom/warmup room, bathroom and storage area. A coffee pot and microwave are available in the warmup room, along with additional equipment of all types, teaching and demonstration materials, and a few tables and chairs. This is a great place for observers to take a break, warm up and get something to eat or drink while comparing notes with each other. At the back of the warmup room is a door that leads to a nice bathroom on one side and a spiral stair on the other side that winds around and up to the second floor observatory dome.
At 22 feet across, the dome is quite roomy and can accommodate a fairly large number of people. At the center is the club's 14" Meade SCT. The scope is large and impressive, mounted on a sturdy alt/az mount attached to a massive pier. Although the metal dome impedes the scope's acquisition of GPS signals, once that has been accomplished, the fully Go To scope was ready for action and quickly acquired all the targets we tried during the night. To rotate the dome, a large electric motor drives a chain, that in turn, drives two rubber tires pressed against the base of the dome. Unfortunately, the night we were there the dome was a bit balky about rotating. The motor tried its best, but apparently due to under-inflated tires, a fair amount of muscle power (sometimes up to six people) was required to encourage the dome slit to the necessary position.
Our first target was Jupiter. The image in the RCX400 was bright and clear, and the northern equatorial band was prominent and obvious, with at least one small white storm embedded in it. Next we moved on to Uranus, a small greenish blue dot not far from Jupiter. We also observed the Andromeda Galaxy and it's satellite galaxies M32 and M110, several challenging double stars and the Pleiades. With a wide angle eyepiece, the Pleiades presented a beautiful field of bright stars with some hint of the nebulosity around the stars, often seen in photographs.
On the observing field adjacent to the observatory, there were perhaps eight or ten different groups of observers set up, with instruments ranging from normal sized binoculars to several different dobsonians to a ginormous pair of binoculars (basically twin 6" refractors). At one end of the field, Brad Young had leaned back into what appeared to be a reclining chair, timing satellite appearances. Brad is one of an elite group of amateur astronomers who keep track of classified satellites, including the Air Force's top secret X37B "mini shuttle".
In the dark it was difficult to see what some of the equipment was, but it was clear from the light hearted voices heard across the field, that everyone, including the visiting BAS members, was enjoying the observing and the camaraderie. We look forward to future opportunities to observe with members of the ACT.