A Stellar Surprise

by Jessica on June 15, 2011

George Oberservatory

I have a dirty little traveler’s secret.  I am not very good at reading maps.  Something about the spatial relationships just makes my eyes cross and my brain go fuzzy.  Generally, I combat this deficiency by just not reading maps.  I suppose this is why I was born into the great era of GPS and Smartphones, otherwise I would be a goner.

Nearing our last few days of vacation, we were once again moving to another city.  We were almost sixty miles from Houston when our GPS directed us off the highway towards our campsite.  “I thought we were staying in Houston.  Did you look at a map,” my sweet, trusting husband implored.    I tried to explain my thought process, but my only real defense was that I had googled ‘camping’ and ‘Houston’ and chose the first site on the list.  Never use “but the internet said so” as any kind of convincing argument.

I jumped on the Smartphone to try to find some redemption in the face of my lack of map reading, as my sweet husband muttered indiscernibly.  “It looks like they have an observatory inside the park,” I offered as an apologetic incentive, but by then, we had already arrived and were checking in.

Gary arrived back the car with our assignment and a noticeably better attitude about my park choice.  “Good news, the observatory is open tonight.”  The three hour nap that the kids had taken on the trip had made for a blissful drive, but left us worried about how we would entertain them after dark.    Now we had a plan.

We arrived at the George Observatory just as the sun was setting, following a path that was marked with a scale model of the planets.  We purchased tickets for the 10:00 observatory slot.  Tickets were $5 and were available for purchase beginning at 5:00 pm.  Later time slots were reserved for campers, as other visitors needed to leave the park before 10:00 pm.

While we waited for our time slot, we were able to freely use the two smaller observatory telescopes and the telescopes provided by volunteers.  We checked out the moon from a variety of magnifications and angles, as we waited for the light to disappear from the sky.   The kids were thrilled with the views of the moon, and thankfully followed the instructions not to touch any of the expensive equipment.

As a part of the pre-show entertainment, our tickets included a show inside the inflatable planetarium.   Our viewing seemed doomed from the start, as the operator could not find right equipment for the scheduled movie.  The new equipment caused a power shortage, which deflated the planetarium and required a quick evacuation so we were not caught inside.  Once the planetarium was re-inflated and the proper equipment was located, we all enjoyed the movie as we waited for our turn inside the observatory.

Due to the delay of our planetarium show, we were the fortunate last group inside the main observatory.  Our group only included our family and another couple, which gave us the freedom to explore for longer and look at multiple sites.   Stepping inside the observatory was full sensory experience.  The dome was bathed in red light to protect our night vision and the fans and machinery filled the spaces with a dull roar.  In front of us was the telescope, so big that it looked like a movie prop from ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.’

We viewed the moon from a variety of different lenses, as the operators moved the platform up and down to accommodate the height of the children.   Because we were the last group, the operators switched the view so that we could also have a view of Saturn.   Every detail was visible through the giant lens.  We could see the yellowish striped planet and the banded concentric rings of varying shades.  It looked just like the pictures in a book, but we were actually looking at the planet.   One billion miles away and yet right before our eyes.  Amazing!

As a footnote, Brazos Bend State Park has been unanimously chosen as our favorite state park to date, both for the Observatory experience and the fantastic facilities.  How’s that for dumb luck fantastic planning?

{ 2 comments }

susan June 15, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I am following you from the blog hop, you have a great site. Would you like to follow me back? Susan’s Family
thank you :)

Ali June 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm

thanks for stopping by!!! I am following you back! :)

Have a great one!

Ali @ n.c. baby blog

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