DART – NASA crashes into an astroid! On purpose! When growing up, if I could pick a topic for a report, I most always did the report on space. I have always loved learning about planets and the universe. (Not sci-fi, though!) Being newly deaf, I have faced many frustrating and disappointing times when I want to learn so much but without captions or interpreter, I am left in the dark. So, I emailed Lowell Observatory, here in Flagstaff, AZ and wrote: “I am deaf and love astronomy. The event on Sept 26 where the earth ‘strikes back’, is this something I can watch with my eyes and not need to hear anything? Would I be able to be close enough to see what is going on since I wouldn’t be able to hear what people are saying?” The next day I got a reply from Madison, content marketing specialist: “Hi Charla. Thanks for reaching out! We will be more than happy to make accommodations for you at the event. If you’d like, we can reserve a space for you in our Astrolab to ensure that you can view the DART impact with closed captioning. Please let me know if there’s anything else we can do to help you enjoy this landmark event!” I responded and then bought our tickets. This was definitely a reason for us to stay longer in Flagstaff.
Today we drove to Lowell Observatory at 2:30. As we pulled in, there were a lot of vehicles in the parking lot but a few spaces left. I wasn’t sure how many people would come to this event. We walked in to the visitor center and checked in at the front desk. Kevin told the man that we had heard from Madison that we had reserved seats. He chuckled with a sly grin and said, “She is my girlfriend.” Sweet. Then he said something to a lady named Sarah and she signed to me in American Sign Language! She said she took ASL in high school and Kevin remarked to her how she must have kept up with it because she was very good.
She walked us up the hill to Giovale Open Deck Observatory, past some big telescopes and into a room. There were 2 rows of chairs and she had saved us the front middle seats. So thankful!
As we sat down in front of the big screen TV, it was on NASA TV and the countdown was 54 minutes. I was fully able to see and read all the captions and NASA did a great job with the captions. Full immersion into what was happening was provided for me and I couldn’t have been more thrilled at this event. Lowell Observatory was showing the event in all corners of the complex plus the auditorium. It was nice to make it so a lot of people could watch. Soon we had people standing at the back of the room and at the large, open doors the side. My heart was pounding so hard with excitement! It was thrilling to watch the “target locked”, “NAV has full control”, and all systems good. We all clapped when the astroid was hit. I loved watching the interviews with people before and after and just reading about all the time, planning, work, and what is next. Incredible.
We watched for some minutes more afterwards and then went outside to get dinner.
They had a few food trucks there and we had Frito pie. It was a bit spicy, made my nose run, but very good. The weather was perfect and we ate outside at a table.
While in line, Kevin heard the couple behind us talking about Nick Moskovitz, and how he was going to give a talk at 6:30. Right before impact, Nick was ON NASA TV showing and talking about Lowell Observatory telescope and how it was used to find and map and help plan the entire DART program.
As we walked to the auditorium, Sarah came up and signed to me that she had our seats saved for us at the front. So sweet and accommodating! We didn’t expect that. Kevin did the interpreting and did a great job. Oh, we so enjoyed listening to Nick!
*2003, twenty years ago, when first started working on DART
*Lowell Observatory telescope, at 8000 ft, took more than 1/2 of the pictures for the entire project
*If the astroid was 40 BBL beer-making tank, DART was size of a pint
*At the last second, he got permission to show us on screen a picture from a telescope of DART hitting the astroid and the debris coming off it! (Even the next day, it isn’t online!) What an amazing privilege.
Next was Theodore someone who talked is post-doctorate. He talked so fast that Kevin could hardly interpret anything he said. He just talked about big holes and impacts. He did say that he and Nick are flying to Chile to the telescope and starting Wednesday will be collecting data and watching. They really are two of the few people able to do this. I feel such a privilege to be there and listen/see them. One of my most favorite lifetime events. The talks went until about 8:00 and then we were invited outside. We saw a sign that said No White Light. This is dark sky area and only red lights around and available to use from the front desk. We decided to go back to the telescopes we saw earlier. It was so dark!
Along one sidewalk we saw they had painted glow in the dark stars along it. That made me giggle out loud and tell Kevin that I am going to add that to our home base. Not kidding! HAHA At the top of the hill, back at the telescopes, we were able to see Saturn and then in another one a star cluster. Wow! As we walked back down we stopped at a museum.
PLUTO, where was it discovered….?
We learned that an important part of the success of Lowell Observatory has been the ability to build and fix telescopes, cameras, and other instruments. Percival Lowell used his knowledge of mathematics and celestial mechanics to “deduce that Uranus was perturbed not by Neptune along, but also by an as-yet discovered ninth planet.” Math and photographic efforts were needed to search for this planet. Mathematics figured out where the possible location was and the area was photographed. Unfortunately, telescopes then just weren’t strong enough to capture what was needed. As Lowell was working on this project, he was very secretive about it. Just a few people were involved and they were on need-to-know. He wanted to announce “a discovery, not a search.” After Lowell died, the search was put on hold for a decade. In April 1927 a new thirteen-inch photographic instrument, knows as an astrograph was built. Clyde Tombaugh was hired at Flagstaff in 1929 to start a systematic search using the area in the sky were Lowell had said the planet would be. PLUTO was discovered on February 18,1930 from photographic plates. The announcement to the world of the new planet was made on March 13, 1930 – that would have been Prevail Lowell’s 75th birthday.
Now, if you follow me around, you will know that I don’t like darkness. It is hard for me to see – plus, I am deaf! I have to be vigilant and make sure no one is following me, all that, for safety. I completely understand Dark Sky Cities and light pollution and all that but I get concerned about safety, both of walking and what a bad person might do. Every time we go somewhere at night, I always, I call it conversation but Kevin informed me yesterday it is complaining, as he laughed! I get on my soapbox about how it isn’t safe to have no lights in a parking lot or at intersections, etc. Well, at the Star Store, I saw a shirt I just had to have! It says, “First International Dark Sky City, Flagstaff, Arizona, Lowell Observatory.” Kevin and I just laughed and laughed and I said it need it because it goes against my “conversations”. HAHAHA He bought it for me and said I have wear it whenever we are out at night. 🙂 This event and being here AT the Lowell Observatory has been a true highlight for me and one of my most favorite events ever. Glad we stuck around Flagstaff for this. 🙂
NOTE: Frito Pie is just Frito chips in the bottom of a bowl and topped with chili and the fixings you like. 🙂