Over the weekend we hosted a stargazing program at the Shooting Star Golf Club at Teton Village. What was expected to be a routine stargazing program for a large group nearly had a disastrous impact on our equipment.
Sam got underway running an indoor program to kickoff the night for the 60 or so people in attendance for stargazing just as I had come back in from putting on the final touches at the viewing area nearby. The indoor program was expected to take roughly 45 minutes or so to get people excited for the night sky as it got dark enough to view deep space objects. The crowd seemed generally receptive to the program, with plenty of Q&A, and after about an hour, we all headed outside to the driving range to see in person much of what they had just learned.
Sam and I both began aligning the two different scopes we had out and soon had people looking at the half-moon up close. By this time however, the temperature was beginning to drop a little too much to be comfortable for some people, despite the blankets we had out. After a quick glimpse of the moon, some chose to end the night there.
For those who stayed, we had a great look at Saturn next, but with the low expected to be in the mid-30s overnight, the night air was quickly approaching its target, which was too much for most people. Though blown away by seeing Saturn, the majority of people had left after seeing it. At this point, Sam and I both got our scopes aligned to the Ring Nebula which fascinated the people that were still out, but not even that was enough to entice people to stay out longer.
As the last people made their way from the driving range, we began our routine of systematically taking down the scopes and gear that was out. Sam began unplugging his scope while I began turning off the iPads that we use to let people browse the night sky digitally when they’re not looking through a scope. We were making our usual slow progress when a very unsettling sound brought our attention to the hole across the path: two sprinklers had just automatically turned on. "Uh-oh" was about all that was muttered before we ran to the most expensive gear out there to begin breaking it down. Even just a quick pass from one sprinkler would be enough to cause significant damage to our most expensive gear. We had no clue where the sprinklers were or how many were expected to go off, all we knew is we needed to get everything safe immediately. I was taking down our 20" scope, our pride and joy, faster than I ever had, knowing we were now engaged in a race against the automatic sprinkler system. There were two Shooting Star staffers with us as well, one helping to move things to safety, another frantically making calls asking why the sprinklers were on.
Of course we weren’t sure if the sprinklers at the driving range would even turn on, but seeing them across the path was enough warning. But then, on the driving range just a few dozen yards away, two sprinklers came on, just out of reach of us. They were coming, and all we knew was that our time was limited. By now I had the 20" mostly broken down and I wheeled it to safety to the path where there was a large dry section. On my way back, a sprinkler began spouting practically right where the 20" was. I immediately became soaked as I scrambled to get things out of the way: iPads; telescope gear; a battery for the scope that was still out on a table. In my own rushed pace I lost track of what the others were doing, but a few minutes later, all of us regrouped and were dripping with water from saving what we could in a safe(r) spot.
Appearing to be out of harm’s way, we evaluated what got wet and what was kept safe, and aside from one telescope battery, the things that got wet were simply chairs, tables, and blankets. Fortunately, our instincts helped us keep everything simply couldn’t get wet safe, and we were back up and running the next night after letting everything dry out in the sun. Earlier in the night Sam had remarked how much earlier it was than he was expecting to finish. That definitely worked in our favor that night.