A Mammoth Marathon

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A Mammoth Marathon

April 28th - May 2, 2009 - 100 Hours of Sidewalk Astronomy Marathon, a special event commemorating International Year of Astronomy 2009 in Victoria

A personal account by Lauri Roche.

Wow! We did it! For one hundred hours (and five minutes to be exact), from 7:00pm on Tuesday, April 28th to 11:05 pm on Saturday May 2nd, members of the Royal Astronomical Society in Victoria took astronomy to the community at large and gave over two thousand locals, tourists, and school kids an educational and entertaining experience.

Our Mammoth Marathon, named for the famous mascot in the Royal British Columbia Museum, began on the sidewalk outside of the Museum right in the heart of downtown Victoria. As patrons came out from viewing the IMAX show, Cosmic Voyage (and a presentation from one of our local UVic professional astronomers), we deftly corralled them to join us to look through the telescopes at the Moon and Saturn. As expected, "oohs" and "ahhs" erupted around us as we talked to many people that evening.

As the wee hours of the night came on two ardent volunteers bundled up and took command of the tented area. We found out the following facts:

bulletVictoria closes down almost completely in this area of town after 11:30 pm on Tuesdays (and Wednesdays and Thursdays...)
bulletIt gets mighty cold out at night at the end of April in Victoria
bulletThere are no public washrooms open anywhere near the museum at those hours
bulletThe garbage pick up for the municipal bins starts at about 5 am

If you want to know any other interesting sidebars just ask Sid or David or Joe or Nelson. They have stories to tell.

Needless to say our number of public observers were rather thin that late at night, but as the new cohort of volunteers showed up early the next morning to let the overnighters go home. there were still smiles all round as Venus was rising and the Sun peeked out from behind the buildings.

Over twenty five dedicated volunteers continued the shifts all through Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Throngs of tourists from all over the world stopped by to do solar viewing, ask about International Year of Astronomy, and chat about Victoria. School kids tumbled out of buses and locals, rushing by to get to work, took a peek through the telescopes. We even saw our Lieutenant Governor, who came to the museum to open the Treasures exhibit, complete with spiffy car, bagpipes and a well-dressed retinue. We gave out lots of Astrocards and ran out of planispheres early on. We had people who came by during the day and then again at night, bringing their families and friends with them. We were blessed this whole time with fantastic weather and, from all accounts, volunteers and the public alike, the marathon was a big success.

At about the 85 hour mark, on Saturday morning, the tent was taken down at the museum site and all the activity moved to the Centre of the Universe for Astronomy Day. Unfortunately our good weather deserted us and we had some overcast, wet weather for most of the day. Undaunted, Alex Schmid set out his telescope on the deck but had to huddle under cover by the afternoon as the winds and the rains came. Lots of other activities were taking place inside, however, and, due to the organization, brains and good looks of Scott and his trusty crew, Astronomy Day was a terrific success, as well.

But, somehow the end of the Marathon was, perhaps, the most memorable. Sid Sidhu, David Lee and I had gone back in the evening to hear, James DiFrancesco, give a presentation on his adventures in Hawaii. There were a few dozen in attendance and, at the end of the talk, Sid and David set out their telescopes on the deck. There was a tremendous wind storm and the black clouds were scudding across the sky. It poured rain at one point. The branches of trees were littering the parking lot. It was freezing cold. Did this prevent Sid and David from continuing? Not one little bit. They were determined that the conditions were not going to get the better of them and they were not going to put the telescopes away until 11:00 pm to make sure the One Hundred hours were formally put in. David kept saying that he didn't think he'd ever done viewing under these extreme conditions but Sid kept telling people to come and see the moon as it peeked out occasionally from behind the clouds.

A Mammoth MarathonAnd then just about 10:30 pm the wind started whisking away the clouds from the south and the sky began clearing. First a few stars, then the moon and finally Saturn come out as clear as if there was not a cloud in the sky. By the end we had just four visitors and they were mesmerized by how great the viewing was. Sid kept saying "I told you so!" David took some great pictures of the visitors looking through the telescopes and we asked two of them their names so we could put them in the Skynews. And here is where the story makes a great ending. One of the young women was Katrina Pellatt, the daughter of our friend and member of our Society, Blaire Pellatt, who passed away this past year. Blaire had been such a passionate advocate of sidewalk astronomy and was so involved in getting our Centre and members to take Astronomy to the streets that it seemed as if, with his daughter present right at the end of our hundred hour marathon, that he was saying thanks to us for carrying on his passion.

And finally, but of greatest importance, a huge thank you is needed to Sid Sidhu for all of the organization over many months to make sure things went well (and for the cookies!), to Sherri Buttnor and Sid for getting the volunteer roster organized, to Leslie Johnson and others at the Museum who helped get power to us outside (and comfy chairs), and particularly to the many fabulous volunteers who gave their time and talents to be at the Museum site and at the Centre of the Universe for all One Hundred hours and five minutes. It was a great Mammoth Marathon. Now, who is signing up for next year�.?


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Last updated: January 29, 2014

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