Sunday, March 21, 2010

Back in Philly

While the rest of America was worrying about health care I was camping. Friday evening we packed ourselves, three scouts, three tents, five sleeping bags, four folding chairs, assorted back packs, day packs, etc. and my "small" telescope (a 6" dobsonian) and eyepiece case into the back of our minivan and headed off to Pine Hill scout reservation in Southwestern New Jersey.

The evening was perfect (although it got down to 37 degrees - a bit chilly). In the morning we were awakened at about 5 AM by scouts telling jokes and humming the "Jeopardy" song, for some reason. We did have to get up early, but not that early. We packed the scouts into cars, drove to the train station and rode the rails into Philly.

I know my last post about Philly probably gave a poor impression of things, but this trip was much more enjoyable. We began the trip in much the same way we ended the previous one - at the Liberty Bell. After that, however, we met Heather, our guide in period costume, who gave us a 90 minute walking tour of historic Philadelphia. It was a lot of fun, and fact filled. Did you know that the original post office run by Ben Franklin is the only one in the United States that doesn't fly the American flag? Ben refused to fly the Union Jack when Pennsylvania was still a colony, and after the revolution they continued the tradition of not flying a flag at that post office.

After our tour we ate lunch and visited the National Constitution Center. It was scout day, and the place was packed with scouts. We were wearing class A uniforms, which usually makes us quite visible in a crowd, but there many of the people were, so it actually made it hard to pick out our troop. I enjoyed the Constitution Center although I have one complaint. One exhibit has a caption "A Pro-life and a Pro-choice button" but the exhibit actually displays 2 pro-choice buttons and no pro-life button. You'd think that would be pretty obvious to whoever set up the exhibit. I'd include a photo, but they have a no photo rule for most of the exhibits, which I think is stupid. Still, it's their exhibits, so no photos.

After the Constitution Center we had a tour of Independence Hall, which was also quite cool to see. We had a rather cynical, wisecracking tour guide which was kind of interesting. After that it was back to the train and camp site. If there was one downside to the trip it was the number of apparently homeless people we saw in the city.

Back at camp we had a late supper and I set up my telescope. The first exciting thing was a very naked-eye visible pass of the International Space Station (ISS) overhead. It was magnitude -2.7! For those who aren't astrogeeks magnitude -2.7 means it was about 2.5 times brighter than the brightest star in the sky. Not only that but it was visible for over 5 minutes, slowly and silently crossing the sky. Through the telescope you could see the solar panels and major sections.

We looked at Mars and Saturn, and some star clusters and nebulae. I tried for some galaxies (the trio in Leo) but the skies were too light polluted. The observing was a hit, even though we had clouds rolling in and out and I gave up after an hour or so. We were all exhausted from the long day.

So another chilly night in a tent, and we broke camp and came home this morning.


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