Have you ever wondered whether there might be a fun and different way to enjoy amateur astronomy? Well, imagine warm ocean breezes, sparking waves, exotic scenery, great speakers, — and at night, constellations you may never have seen before! Last month I was fortunate to take part in one such experience, Sky & Telescope's Cosmic Trails cruise.
Starting in Fort Lauderdale, some of us took a exclusive tour of the Kennedy Space Center, and the next day we all set sail for the Bahamas. Our first night was the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. The sky was partly cloudy, but those of us gathered on the foredeck were treated to some nice meteors, including a spectacular fireball.
Our first stop was Half Moon Cay, a private island owned by the cruise line. Shore excursions available at our ports of call included historic tours, nature adventures, and water sports. On Half Moon Cay my husband and I spent a peaceful day strolling along the two-mile beach and nature trails.
Then on to the Caribbean! In Aruba we made a beeline for Baby Beach, where there are about 50 species of tropical fish to be admired. We went snorkeling, but the much of the little cove is so shallow that you can walk around and watch the fish. Perched on the rocks, a black-crested Royal Tern watched over us. From Aruba it was just a short hop to Curaçao, and we took a cruise-arranged trip to a private beach. There we saw living coral and a mini wall with hundreds of fish. I even swam alongside a sea turtle. The humorous and informative tour by the guide on the bus was as almost as much fun as the water.
The next leg of our voyage took us through the Panama Canal, fascinating to watch. It's a closed port, so those who wanted to explore signed up for excursions arranged by the cruise line. We continued on to Costa Rica and visited the rain forest, taking an aerial tram through the canopy. We saw tropical birds, colorful frogs, and tree sloths; and were serenaded by howler monkeys.
Cosmic Trails was planned to include a total lunar eclipse on our way back to Florida. The Moon turned an enchanting, deep-coppery color, and during totality the starry sky was stunning. It was the first eclipse of the Moon some of the attendees had ever seen.
There was plenty to do while at sea. There were activities all day, shows in the evening, many places to be pampered or relax, and more food than anyone should eat! The Cosmic Trails group could attend any or all of the 20 seminars by astronomy professionals, journalists, observers, and astrophotographers. The best part of Cosmic Trails was the camaraderie. We had our own dining area as well as Sky & Telescope cocktail parties where attendees and speakers could share their love of astronomy. And on any clear night, we'd go up on deck to enjoy the sky.
Are you sorry you missed it? Well, your next chance is coming soon. Cosmic Trails 2 sets sail on March 6, 2011. This one-week journey will take you from Fort Lauderdale to the exotic islands of Grand Turk, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and Half Moon Cay. Cosmic Trails participants can sign up for two special excursions, a unique visit to the Kennedy Space Center where you'll lunch with an astronaut, and an insider's tour of Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory, where you'll see the great 1,000-foot radio telescope. On board, an all-star cast of speakers will entertain you with seminars on telescopes, observing, astrophotography, planets in and beyond our solar system, stars, and our galaxy.
Want to know more? Click here for the full itinerary. Then get ready to set yourself on island time.