Adventures on My First Science Convention: Day One

Gottlieb Planetarium at Union Station
Gottlieb Planetarium at Union Station

Since the late 80s, I have attended many conventions, all across the country.  All of those conventions had one thing in common with the convention I’m attending this weekend in Kansas City:  Science.  Well, that’s not entirely true, those other conventions also included stars, but I’ll let that rest for a moment and wait for the shoe to drop.

Yep.  I frequently attended science fiction conventions, mostly of the Star Trek flavor, but more recently of a more eclectic variety, culminating in a trip to Atlanta last fall to attend one of the largest in the country called Dragon*Con.  I won’t be repeating the experience this fall.  In fact, I could have attended the local science fiction convention, ConQuest, hosted annually over Memorial Day Weekend by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society.  But none of the guests of honor intrigued me, so I decided to embark on a harder challenge.

I registered early to attend the Mid-States Region of the Astronomical Leage (MSRAL) Convention and get a fix of hard science.  I am a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC), which in turn is a member of the Astronomical League.

The convention started Friday evening at six o’clock with the Star-B-Que, catered by Jack Stack, at Union Station, followed by a program at the Gottlieb Planetarium.

Friday, of course, was a work day for me.  Normally, I can make it home to Lansing by 5:25 p.m., after dropping off all my vanpool riders.  Fortunately, one of my riders left early for a weekend trip, and it just happened to be the person whose home is fifteen minutes off my direct route home.  So, I managed to make it back to Lansing by 5:10, giving me enough time to change clothes, put some gas in the car, and fly back to midtown Kansas City.  I made it to I-670 and within sight of my goal by five ’til six.  Then all traffic became a parking lot and I began to panic.  I exited I-670 midway across the bottoms and took a slight detour around Kemper Arena, approaching Union Station from the west-southwest.  I could not believe the amount of traffic!  Something was going on, because streets were barricaded and people were flocking to the midtown and/or Crown Center area in droves.  I wanted to scream!   I finally wound myself through the mess, using an old shortcut I knew from my days of working next to Union Station (in the Two Pershing Square building) and arrived only ten minutes late.

I picked up my registration packet and got in line for the barbecue.  I sat at a table and met some new astronomers and reacquainted myself with some ASKC club members.  Seven o’clock arrived quicker than I thought it would, and we all migrated to the planetarium for several very interesting programs presented by Jack Dunn of the Mueller Planetarium in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He awed us with parts of several shows, including a moon tour via the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Jupiter via Science on a Sphere projection and a beautiful one created by Kagaya (a Japanese artist) called A Starry Tale.  He closed the evening with a teaser trailer on the seventh planet, by popular request.

Cloudy Sunset from Union Station
Cloudy Sunset from Union Station

Announcements and updates followed and the disappointing news that neither Powell nor the Warko observatories would be opened up this evening, thanks to the clouds (see photo of sunset from Union Station at the left).  So, I found myself heading west towards the sunset and home much earlier than I anticipated.

Today will be full of sessions and workshops.  I can’t decide whether to take my laptop with me or not, as suggested during the announcements last night.  It’s heavy and bulky and I’d have to worry about it and lug it around with me all day.  I think I’ll forgo the hassle and rely on pen and paper and my Nook Color tablet for notes and research.

My only disappointment today will be not entering in the astrophotagraphy contest.  I did not review the MSRAL Convention website well enough in advance to obtain quality prints of a few of my best photos from the last few months.  The photos I would have entered are shown below (click images for larger versions).

Three Planets and a Baby MoonFrom my Mercury hunt in February 2012

EarthglowNewMoonVenusAndWesternHorizon01Earthglow Moon and Venus in May 2012

Partial Solar EclipseSolar Eclipse in May 2012

IMGP2052Lunar Eclipse in December 2011

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