A Hazy Fall Fun-draiser at the Beach

My father used to say, “Rich or poor, it’s good to have money, son.”  It is the same for nonprofits, too.  Finding sources of funding is always a challenge.  But the AAA has one thing other types of nonprofits don’t have—the Universe at our fingertips!  In most cases we share it for free, but occasionally we are requested to provide telescopes and guides to show the cosmos to private groups or individuals, and in those cases our Association charges a fee.

Figure 1 The venue, looking out over L.I. Sound. The haze from the West Coast forest fires is evident above the low-lying clounds. Stanley Fertig and the club manager are watching as I set up to view Alberio. Photo by Faissal Halim; processed by Bart Fried.

It’s a good source of revenue and fortunately we have members who graciously donate their time, expertise, and telescopes so that AAA may benefit.  Such was the case on the 16th of September when Stanley Fertig, Faissal Halim, and I trekked to Stamford, CT, to show the planets and Albireo to a small group of business professionals.  The venue was the Woodway Beach Club with its excellent horizon looking out over Long Island Sound, and our clients were a group of well-heeled business professionals.

After booking the event, the first try scheduled for the 10th was clouded out, but the forecast for the backup date of the 16th was excellent…or so it seemed until it became evident that the East Coast’s transparent Fall air was being hazed over by aerosols in the upper atmosphere, the result of the major forest fires 3,000 miles away in California and the Northwest states.  But, a decision was made to “Go” for the evening; we crossed our fingers that at least the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn would be visible.  When we arrived it was already dark and there were tons of lights along the driveway and around the clubhouse.  Those were turned off for us.  We were pleased to see that “Juniper” and “Satan” were easily visible and the Summer Triangle was bright to behold, overhead.

Figure 2 One of AAA’s loaner telescopes, used by Stanley Fertig. His first foray with a Dobsonian reflector was a resounding success. Jupiter and Saturn are visible. Photo by Faissal Halim; processed by Bart Fried

Scheduled to start at 9pm, our guests were running almost 45 minutes late, but the expected 30 or so participants had already dwindled to 12-15 folks, managed easily by the three of us.

Stanley, who has been an astronomer since Galileo’s time, oddly, had never used a Dobsonian.  For him to try, I brought along an 8-inch Sky Quest club loaner which he mastered like a duck in water.   It’s a low-tech telescope, but gives pretty good images.  Faissal set up a small catadioptric reflector that he brought, and I set up an antique Brashear refractor.  While Stanley and Faissal showed the gas giants to the group, I locked in on the gorgeous double star Albireo.  All the guests were having a  thoroughly enjoyable time, but for them the evening was winding down.  t that point we had a very pleasant surprise: we learned that their guest speaker from their dinner was former astronaut and now engineering professor Dr. Mike Massimino.

Figure 3 Bart Fried, viewing Albireo with his 4-1/2″ Brashear refractor, an antique brass telescope made in 1903. Photo by Faissal Halim; processed by Bart Fried

After he finished his Q&A session, he ambled over to our telescopes and spent some time observing with us.  I had previously heard Mike talk when he introduced the screening of the movie Ad Astra, when I mentioned it to him, he chuckled and said that he fell asleep during the movie.  Apparently, he lost interest when the space-monkeys started killing the astronauts.  Go figure!  We also found it interesting that although Dr. Massimino was a NASA veteran of the STS-125 and STS-109 shuttle missions, he was not especially knowledgeable in astronomy.  Of course we enjoyed showing him the sky along with the others.

It was fun evening and profitable for AAA.  While making money is not our priority, any time we can combine our educational mission and our love for astronomy with some fundraising, everyone benefits.  A special thank you goes to our volunteers who graciously donated their time to allow it all to happen.

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