Local stargazers flock to Brighton this weekend for 2023 Astronomy at the Beach
Josh Hakala: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala. With fall arriving, it's always a good time to keep an eye out with what's happening with the stars. And if you want to talk about the stars, you want to talk to Brian Ottum. He's a Saline-based amateur astronomer, and he's joining us over the phone. Thanks for joining us on WEMU.
Brian Ottum: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Josh Hakala: So, we've got another edition of Astronomy at the Beach coming up this weekend. We'll talk about that. But it's a good time to break out those telescopes. So, what can people mark on their calendars? What do we have to look forward to out there in the sky?
Brian Ottum: Well, it is the best time in Michigan to get the telescope out because it's clear often, and it's not too cold. So, this is a great time. There's just a lot of things in the sky you can see with the moon and the planets. But, as far as special events, we have a partial solar eclipse coming on Saturday, October 14th.
Josh Hakala: I know if there's one thing you're taught about eclipses is that if you want to catch a glimpse, you're going to have to be careful and be prepared, right?
Brian Ottum: You got to have a type of filter, safety glasses, eclipse glasses or welding glasses, or if you take a telescope and project the image onto a piece of paper because we don't want to burn our eye. But it's interesting to watch the moon cover up part of the sun. So, it's like a bite out of it, like a bite of a cookie. The moon will be causing that during Saturday the 14th, and I think we're going to lose about a third of the sun that day. So, it's interesting to watch with a telescope.
Josh Hakala: Of course, with it being in Michigan, it's got to be challenging to be a stargazer with the clouds you have to work against. Can you put on your amateur meteorology hat and tell us what the conditions are looking like for this weekend and beyond?
Brian Ottum: This is the best time of year, yes. Michigan is a cloudy place compared to the rest of the country. We do suffer under these clouds, especially come November through March. It's just permaclouds, I call them. So, this is one of the clearer times of year here in August, September. So, it's a great time to get out there. And, for this weekend, most importantly, the forecast looks fantastic. It looks very good for Friday with the clouds staying away, and Saturday night looks just about perfect.
Josh Hakala: So, this is the 27th year for Astronomy at the Beach. It's up in Brighton. Can you tell us about the event, how it got started, and how it works?
Brian Ottum: Yes. Well, it started 27 years ago with just a few amateur astronomers like me just getting a telescope out at Island Lake and showing things in the sky to the public, kind of having a star party. And it has grown since. And we've had thousands of people. We had nearly 10,000 the one year when Mars was really close. And you could see the features on the surface of Mars. But usually, we average about 3000, and that's what we expect this year. But it's at Island Lake State Recreation Area, which is in Brighton, and there are wonderful hosts. And we hold it at the Kent Lake Beach, and it's actually called Island Lake Picnic Grounds if you do put it into your map on your phone. But it's a wonderful, free event, and we hope to have 50 telescopes, some of them so big that you need a stepladder to get up on to be able to reach the eyepiece.
Josh Hakala: So, what is this year's theme? I understand there's a theme every year.
Brian Ottum: Yes. In addition to the 50 telescopes lined up, we're going to have a big top tent with speakers. And the theme is getting ready for next year's solar eclipse. Next April 8th is very exciting. It is a total solar eclipse happening nearby in Ohio. And that's when the moon covers up the sun completely, and everything in the day turns dark for a few minutes. It is a life-changing experience if you've ever seen one. So, that's something that they're canceling schools for in Ohio. You've probably heard. It's a huge event. It's close by. It's once in a lifetime. You got to see it. And we're going to have speakers that tell you how to do that and how to get ready for that.
Josh Hakala: Yeah, there's a lot to how to photograph it and different things. What are some of the things that you are going to be preparing people for?
Brian Ottum: Well, first, where to go, right? Because it's in a narrow strip across the United States. So, you've got to be within that strip or, otherwise, you'll be disappointed. That's number one. Number two is how to watch the weather forecast, to know where along that strip you want to put yourself and the timing. And then, for folks who want to take pictures, how to do that and just how to just take it in and enjoy it because it is one of the most spectacular things that you will ever see.
Josh Hakala: So, this is a two-day event at the beach. What happens each day? I mean, you mentioned there are going to be some speakers. Obviously, you have amateur astronomers, but you've got some experts there as well.
Brian Ottum: Oh, yeah. Nine local astronomy clubs--amateur astronomy clubs--put on this event. So, we have a lot of wonderful amateurs bringing their enthusiasm and their telescopes and binoculars. So, it starts on Friday from 4 to 6. For people who want to come early, there's going to be some solar telescopes, so you can look safely right at the sun and see the prominences and maybe flares. But the main program starts at 7 p.m., and this is both days. It's the same schedule for Friday and Saturday. The main program starts at 7 p.m., and we're going to have how to make a comet from the Michigan Science Center with their interactive displays. Very cool--how to make a comet. And then we're going to have a talk on Friday night on the day we discovered the universe, and then talk about the eclipse and then an outside tour of the constellations with a laser. And, finally, inside the tent, a talk on meteorites and tectites. That's Friday. And Saturday is the same thing. We have how to make a comet at seven. And then our keynote speaker on Saturday night is retired meteorologist Paul Gross from Channel Four, and he's going to be telling us about the eclipse and especially the weather and how to plan for that. And so, after that, we have an explanation about eclipses and then the meteorites and the tour of the constellations. So, we go until 11:30 p.m. both nights.
Josh Hakala: What are the ranges of people that go? You mentioned, obviously, a lot of amateur astronomers. But, I mean, are there people who are showing up for the first time and learning about this, like, ranging all the way up to, you know, the top experts that you're talking about?
Brian Ottum: Yes, we have a wide audience. Like I said, we're going to have probably 3000 people. It's a lot of families. Kids are really excited about space and and science and STEM. So, we have a lot of kids. We're going to have a space object scavenger hunt where kids will get credit for all the different things they see: a planet, the moon, star clusters, and they have prizes. But anybody who's just interested in science, so we have a lot of people who come year after year. They see it on Facebook, and they come. But then, we have a lot of new folks, and, a lot of times, the kids' science teacher says, "Hey, if you go to this, we'll give you some credit for it."
Josh Hakala: So, I also understand there's going to be a pretty big guest coming for this event.
Brian Ottum: Yes. We're very excited to have NASA. NASA is coming from the Glenn Research Center. And they're bringing a big exhibit. And they're also bringing a 35-foot-tall model of their space launch system and a scale model of the Orion spacecraft. Very cool!
Josh Hakala: Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. And the 27th edition of Astronomy at the Beach is Friday and Saturday at the Island Lake Recreation Area in Brighton. Brian Ottum, thanks so much for taking some time and enjoy the show!
Brian Ottum: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Josh Hakala: This is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.
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