Clear Skies for the Equinox

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Fall weather for the Equinox Star Party on Sept 25 at Lake Geneva’s Library Park was near perfect.

The air was warm and a steady lake breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay. The sky was free of clouds and, although urban glare over Geneva Lake blotted out some of the stars, the moon, Jupiter and Saturn were clearly visible in the night sky.

The party, sponsored by GLAS Education, Williams Bay, was scheduled for 8 to 10 p.m., but curious passersby on the lake path stopped to ask what was up with all the telescopes. For those in the know, the autumnal equinox occurred three days earlier on Sept. 22.

But Kate Meredith, president and director of GLAS Education, with beach-ball sized earth, gave a live-action demonstration of what the equinox means. “There are two times a year when we get equal hours of daylight and darkness no matter where you are on the earth,” Kate said. Those are the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.

The equinoxes are transitions from winter to spring (vernal) and from summer to fall (autumnal).

The earth is tilted 23.5 degrees and it always tilts the same way as it revolves around the sun, Kate said, demonstrating with the model earth. When the earth tilts toward the sun, the hemisphere nearest the sun is in summer. The hemisphere away from the sun is in winter.

But during the equinoxes, the hemispheres are not tilting toward or away from the sun.

And day and night are of equal length.

It wouldn’t be a Star Party without telescopes and five of them were set up in the park.

Walter Trentadue of Broadhead set up his homemade six-inch Newtonian reflector right on the edge of the lake path with a clear view of Saturn and Jupiter.

Barbara and Vince Napoli of Chicago were among the early arrivers. “We were just taking a fun walk and this was something great to come across,” Barbara said.

“You should do this more often,” added Vince.

Using Walt’s telescope, the Napolis viewed Jupiter.

But Saturn and its rings was the crowd favorite. Youngsters bragged about how many rings they saw. Some saw four. Some saw seven or even eight.

By request, Walt re-aimed and refocused his telescope on either of the gas giants.

It’s a test of eyesight, said Walt. Those with sharper eyes saw more rings.

Actually, Saturn has thousands of rings, he said. No one claimed to see that many.

 “I want to see more,” said an excited Anakin Bouhl, 5, of Lake Geneva, who was at the star party with parents, John Bouhl and Jessica Kosmatka. Asked which planet he viewed, Anakin said he wasn’t sure. “The one with the rings,” he said.

GLAS Education’s next star party will be 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, 3270 Mitchell Park Drive, Brookfield.