Fundraiser at Paynes Prairie a super night for stargazing
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
The stars shined Saturday night on Paynes Prairie, and it’s a good thing, too, because hundreds of people came out to see them.
The annual stargazing fundraiser for the Friends of Paynes Prairie would have gone on even had the clouds stayed. After all, s’mores toasted on a roaring fire and hayrides to a cowboy camp are plenty fun.
But peering through a powerful telescope to see nebulas and galaxies and planets made the event better.
“The boys are intensely interested in this, and we wanted to give them the chance to see through the telescopes,” said Cymande Rogers of her 3½-year-old twins, Giles and Moss. “They loved it. And the first question was, ‘can we get a telescope?’ ”
And the answer?
“We’ll talk about it,” Rogers said.
The event is held in the Hickory Ranch portion of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park off County Road 234. The Friends of Paynes Prairie is a support group for the park.
The s’mores, hayrides and live music were centered in one pasture. A short distance away in an adjoining pasture, members of the Alachua Astronomy Club set up telescopes trained to different features of the universe.
While the sky was cloudy much of the day, as the last of the light faded Saturday evening, the clouds in the northern sky lifted. There was the 2-day-old waxing moon, a mere sliver, with Mercury below.
Gradually, the entire sky was cleared, to the delight of stargazers.
Club president Andy Howell said the biggest telescope brought by a club member was capable of bringing galaxies to those who put an eye to its viewfinder.
With the telescope fixed on Jupiter, the planet’s striped surface and several of its moons were clearly visible.
Light pollution can make stellar viewing less than stellar, but Howell said Hickory Ranch is a good location for scoping out the sky.
“We’re mostly outside the Gainesville light dome, so sights like this are really great for what we call deep sky observing, because the sky is darker and we can see fainter objects,” Howell said. “In fact, we’re hoping to take a look at the Andromeda galaxy tonight and a bunch of other galaxies.”
Among those eyeing the sky was Bob Krzewinski, who lives in Michigan and is visiting the Gainesville area.
“We have astronomy events up in Michigan that are always fun and a great introduction to astronomy for a lot of people,” he said. “I get to go (telescope) from one to another at this site.”
Meanwhile, Gainesville’s Jeannene and Mike Mironack are regulars. They are astronomy amateurs but have enough interest to have several helpful apps on their phones and tablets.
“We come almost every year. We love it,” Jeannene Mironack said.