I helped run the doghouse for last Friday's Public Night at our local observatory, the one where I drag all the undergrads for their labs. We were SWARMED with children in the form of a boyscout troop (or is it troupe?), and tons of parents with little ones. I was completely new to this--the first, and only, Public Night I've been to before, it was so cloudy we didn't even bother to open the domes, and I spent the whole two hours listening to stories from the other astronomers. So suddenly I was confronted with hordes of people. I could (barely) operate the two doghouse telescopes, and I hadn't the slightest idea how to find something fun to look at in the sky.
The sky did not behave. Clouds all up in the crown and dome during our half hour of set up. We fended off childrens and parents for a bit as we tried to get something from the fringes of the sky in the west. While we were busy, the sky cleared in the center, so GV did the Pleiades in the 6" and the entertaining. I fumbled with the automated 10" and suddenly my instrumentationalist instinct kicked in and I got it working. Bam, two stars to calibrate, and the next thing I know it's slewing to H and Kai Perseus. But no matter where we looked, the clouds knew. They'd cover things up in a dozen minutes. I switched the 10" back and forth from the Pleiades to H and Kai Perseus and even the Orion Nebula (GORGEOUSLY clear for a few minutes--we could see DUST clouds. from the earth. with our eyes and that telescope. I can scarcely believe it!).
We alternatively pleased and placated the kids. My instrumentationalist instincts kicked in when GV was gone and I had to reset the 6" to the Pleiades and I found them with ease. The kids loved H and Kai Perseus (all those thousands of tiny stars), enjoyed the Greek myths GV told, and were thoroughly fascinated by the wind up mechanism for the 6"'s tracking.
Now I'm back to work, finding that I have, oh, 5 days to study for the biggest exam in my life this far (only beat by the same thing next year that runs for TWO days instead). I am terrified that I don't know enough. Last semester's courses are not instinctual for me, the way instrumentation and radio astronomy are. I needed to work, and I'm shorted a week of the time I planned to do that work in.
On the plus side, when those are done I can pay my bills, arrange my labs, and take a breather.