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Odyssey, April 2002. Editor: Kris Cerone

A Short History of a Campaign Up The Mountain

By Steve Bartlett (With Apologies to Mark Twain)

Our intrepid band of would-be stargazers gathered together on April 6 for a trip up Mount Wilson to see planets and stars and comets. The observatory there was having a star party and amateur astronomers from throughout the LA basin were invited to view the heavens from a clear, dark vantage point. So OASIS decided that it would send a group out to the mountain site.

The local NSS contingent assembled the necessary accouterments for an early spring trip to the mountains, including warm clothes (coats, hats, gloves), blankets, coffee (three thermos' full), hot tea, binoculars (five pairs), one refractor telescope with tripod, flashlights with red lens covers (4), star maps, cameras (4) with extra batteries and film, cell phones (in case of emergencies), chips, crackers, and other snacks, camp chairs (4), and various other items deemed important

Photograph of OASIS members at Mt.Wilson
Left to right: OASIS members: Tina Beychok, Bob Gounley, Diane Rhodes, Kris Cerone, Paula Delfosse, and Steve Bartlett., OASIS President. Photograph by Ashley Blair.

Weather reports the night before hadn't been favorable: rain early in the morning, clearing to partly cloudy low clouds around the area. As we looked north from our Pasadena meeting site on the evening of the sixth, we saw clouds heavily obscuring the mountains. But, since weather around the mountains can be a fickle thing and because we'd canceled a January star party because of weather, we decided to gamely set out anyway to see what the mountains held in store for us.

At 5 p.m. we started north on the Foothill freeway toward La Canada, exited the freeway, and headed up Angeles Crest Highway. (The skies still weren't looking promising.) Our cars wound the twisting route through the Angeles National Forest, gradually gaining altitude and, we hoped, clearance from the clouds.

With each turn, we found ourselves deeper and deeper in the haze and murk. Occasionally we'd see a clear region where the sun would peek through and we'd be treated to grand mountain vistas, steep cliffs, and a glorious curtain of light shafts against the clouds. Those of us driving didn't have much chance to enjoy the view: we had to concentrate on the slick road surface, the blind turns, the oncoming traffic, and the steep slopes.

Nearing the observatory, the cloud cover seemed to get thicker and thicker and then suddenly it opened up. The skies above were mostly clear and the basin looked as though it was covered with a blanket of cotton candy, with sunlight bouncing off a fluffy surface. We slowly approached the "antenna farm" that sits adjacent to the Mt. Wilson observatory: the dozens of television, radio, cell phone, and pager antennas that vie for the highest location to give them the greatest coverage area.

About six p.m., the observatory appeared ahead of us and we thought: We're finally here and we're going to get some amazing star viewing tonight. We've got Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the sky and we just might be able to see that new comet near the horizon!

Unfortunately, the "sky gods" weren't being kind to us that night: we found the Mt. Wilson gates closed to incoming traffic. An employee from the observatory came out and explained that holes in the cloud cover were only opening for about fifteen seconds at a time and that they didn't expect it to get any better. They were gently urging the star viewers at the observatory parking lot to leave before the clouds got too thick and the road became too obscured for safe driving. She told us that the observatory was planning to make the star parties a monthly event and that the next two were on May 18th and June 1st.

So, after taking a short walk around the area, shooting a few photographs, and downing some hot beverages to warm us up again, we hit the road back into town. On our second try for a star party in 2002, we found that we weren't defeated, only delayed for a few weeks.

We hope that you can join us on the mountain in May or June.