Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cosby Observatory

On Friday evenings this summer, the Cosby Observatory is open to the public till 10PM at the Orlando Science Center (777 East Princeton St.). Riding the elevator to the observatory, I felt like I was entering the bridge of the Enterprise as the glass elevator slipped above the circular ceiling panel.

A high school volunteer greeted me when I got off the elevator. Out on the balcony, a small telescope was set up. The sun was about to set and the scope was pointed directly at the sun. Special filters removed harmful radiation. All that remained was a dark round disk.

I then climbed the circular staircase to the much larger Telescope. The domes two large sliding panels had been pulled aside to expose the night sky. To find Saturn, the entire dome had to be rotated clockwise a few degrees. It was an impressive sight watching the dome groan and rotate on a track with the push of a button. The telescope usually tracks a planet automatically using high tech servos, but the tracking was down, and a volunteer had to re-center the planet each time a new visitor took a look. Parents held their children up to the eye piece and they had to stand on tip toe themselves. There was a movable staircase for shorter guests. A little girl became fascinated with what I was doing and she snuggled up to my drawing arm so much, I couldn't move my elbow. Her mom finally stepped in and said, "Give the man some room." Brian OHalloran was there with his wife and children. They claimed they had just seen me outside Downtown Theater  on the drive over to the Science Center, so they were convinced I had a clone.

Each time people climbed or descended the spiral staircase, the platform I was sitting on shook. At times the line to look through the eyepiece got quite long. I took a look after my sketch was complete. Saturn was visible with it's rings along with Pica, a distant star. I heard over and over again that Saturn looked like a sticker. Sure enough that is the impression since it looks flat since it is so far away. Carl Darden who is the observatory caretaker pointed out that the city of Orlando had a haze over it that night, and that contributed to the light pollution which hinders crystal clear sky viewing. I could see the gradient haze as the sky grew bright towards the city lights. The first time I went to the Observatory, it had rained all day and the observation doors were closed, so be sure to stop by on a clear night.