Launchpad Diary #3: In which we see stars

Tuesday, July 13, 12:13 am
End of the very first full day at Launchpad. We were in the classroom for nine hours today, including breaks for lunch and snacking. Each one of the three main lecturers delivered a session, and I’ve decided it’s fruitless for me to try to reproduce what they say. My notes are copious and I will be saving up the very best bits for some summary posts and lists for both my own blog and io9. So I promise more science soon, but in a more digested form.
One thing we learned today, though, is that there are five types of space exploration:
1. Ground-based observation
2. Fly by missions
3. Orbiting missions
4. In situ crafts — landers, rovers, and things that “land” in/on what’s not land
5. Human exploration
Tonight we indulged in method #5 to find dinner, in which everyone went to downtown Laramie and wandered until we found restaurants of our liking–namely a Thai place, a vegetarian cafe, and a brew pub. A further mission to the supermarket was also undertaken in the launchpad vehicle, namely a 12 passenger van that Ian Randal Strock, mild-mannered editor of SF Scope, volunteered to drive.
After that, however, Ian and I indulged in good old method #1. We took the van just a few blocks away, to a dark park, lay down in the grass, and were immediately rewarded with the sight of a meteor streaking white across a few degrees of sky.
Using an iPhone app to identify the stars and constellations (SkyVoyager), we picked out a lot of stars. The Milky Way was faint and the sky had a slight haze, but it was definitely much more than either of us is accustomed to seeing from Boston or New York. Altair, Vega, Arcturus were all quite bright, and the diamond-shape of Hercules’ club was quite apparent to us. The kite-like arrangement of Cygnus was quite near zenith, too, and Casseopeia and Scorpius were very bright. Venus, Saturn, and Mars were all quite near each other, but setting behind some trees so we didn’t much bother with them.
Then we saw another meteor, this one streaking greenish blue and skipping across the atmosphere like a stone on a pond. Google did not come up with any answers so it seems we were just lucky, as we lay there for 45 minutes or so and saw about ten. I saw one red one that really looked like it “fell” toward the eastern horizon.
“I don’t get to do this often,” Ian said.
“Let’s see, workaholic, self-employed resident of a big city,” I answered. “Yeah, me neither. Have to make a special trip.”
“To Wyoming.”
Tomorrow night, weather permitting, we’ll go on the roof with the telescopes.

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