Star Party Reports
Russell M. Heglund
My wife Jody and myself, Paul Below, Catherine Koehler, Dave Warman, Diane Colvin and Harry Colvin, all traveled down to Mt. Bachelor (in Oregon near Bend) to camp around the Sunrise Ski Lodge, at 6500 ft elevation. The first night, July 6, was clear, with the Milky Way glowing from horizon-to-horizon. The “Teapot” was up, and it would have been a perfect night except it was windy! A 20 to 30 mph wind blew all night …. we could point and look, but tracking with telescopes was shaky; and photography and image work was impossible. After taking a tour of the sky with Paul’s Dob, we went to bed….half frozen by wind chill. That was to be our best night! The next couple days, clouds moved in, along with some rain. However, the food was good (especially the Cajun Barbecue), and so were the programs; Stephen Edberg of NASA, gave an engrossing slide show and talk about the Cassini Mission to Saturn. David Haworth talked about Astroimaging. Richard Norton talked about meteors and meteorites. The Sunriver Nature Center people also put on their popular “Nocturnal Nature Walk,” for those interested in bats, and other things that only come out at night. The Sunriver people are the Star Party sponsors, and they do an excellent job….if only they could control the weather.
Notes From a Week at Table Mountain
Around 5:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31, Diane and I topped the ridge to the Star Party. Some of the TMSP tents and trailers had already arrived, but we found a prime spot just off the main field. The 110 mile drive, a comparatively short drive for a major Star Party, was uneventful. The final 22 miles up the mountain is paved for the first 20 miles but is steep and twisting. The final two miles of gravel was grueling wash-board, so the going was slow.
Panoramic View of the 2005 Table Mountain Star Party. Photo by Russ Vodder, TMSP Web site.
We set up the Kendrick tent for the first time, in 5–10 knots of wind. By dark I had the tripod, the LX200, and cables in place ready for a night of imaging. As it turned out my compass was right on Polaris, so initial alignment went easy, but the drift alignment turned out to be a challenge. The wind had picked up to 10–15 knots with higher gusts. Although I was able to drift align there would be no imaging the first night. Monday was clear all day and promised to remain that way at night although the wind was still strong. By dark the wind dropped a bit but it was cold and I was happy to be snug in the back section of the Kendrick tent. The temperature was a chilly 35 degrees. I returned to our trailer frequently to warm up, wake up my spouse, and report on my imaging adventures. She was not amused.
NGC 5280 in Canes Venatici has five companion galaxies, some as faint as Mag. 15, but in these dark skies they were easy targets for my MX916 camera. I soon moved on to imaging galaxy targets around NGC 6472 in Draco of which there are 13 in the cluster. Around 4:30 a.m., the sky began to brighten up, so I called it quits.
Tuesday more people arrived, some old friends that we see at almost every star party. Many faces are familiar, but I don’t know their names. The weather was warm and breezy during the day, but the temperature and the wind dropped that night and I had no trouble imaging two galaxy clusters. But the 12 companion galaxies around M106 took a long time and about six image sets.
By now my fame and imaging techniques were spreading among my Dob neighbors. It went like this: big Dob owner :“Hey, Harry, could you swing over to NGC 1325 (a.k.a. faint galaxy) and show me what’s there, I know I’m right on top of it but— “ A few minutes later the big Dob owner would appear at the door of my tent wanting a peek at the elusive object. One example was the very faint galaxy IC 1296, two arc minutes to the west of the Ring nebula, at Mag.15.1, faint with low surface brightness. It was not detectable even in a 22” Dob and it took the MX916 camera about two minutes to gather sufficient data before detection. Around 4:00 a.m. I zipped up the tent and retired to the trailer. Another good night of viewing, two in a row. On Wednesday my spouse drove back to Bainbridge Island for a BPAA board meeting and I was left to fend for myself for a couple of days. The day saw more arrivals and the main observing field became even more crowded.
About 11:00 a.m. I was talking to Frank, one of the TMSP directors, when his radio came alive announcing that due to a forest fire, entry into the star party site had been closed. Sure enough there was a large column of smoke over the ridge. About 15 minutes later it was announced that the fire was about 20 miles away and across I-90. Smoke by that time was covering most of the edge of the western horizon. I spent some time setting up my 10” Dob and then turned in for a nap around 2:30 p.m. Around 4:00 p.m. someone knocked on my trailer to tell me that the area had been hit by a strong dust devil and that several tents had been damaged. Quickly jumping out of a deep sleep I found my Kendrick tent had been spared but my 10” Dob had been turned over and was lying on its side. To my relief the mirror was OK and nothing appeared broken or bent.
I spent most of Wednesday night imaging galaxy clusters around NGC 80, 329, and 383, about 38 galaxies total. After the day’s excitement it was a calm night.
On Thursday fire-fighting planes were passing overhead most of the day. We spent the early evening looking at 30-second images of Messier objects. Later while working on a galaxy cluster near NGC 507 I noticed the sky transparency dropping, then the smell of smoke, and finally burning eyes. I gave up around 2:00 a.m., only completing one galaxy cluster. Planes continued to work on the fire most of Friday. We learned that a second fire was burning about 40 miles to the west. That evening the observing field was busy with several groups of visitors in the tent and in spite of the fire the smoke seemed to have drifted to the north. I completed imaging the final four galaxy clusters on my list and retired once again just before daybreak. There were more planes overhead on Saturday and more smoke, but it turned out to be the clearest night of the week. I spent the first part of the evening imaging Pluto and Neptune. They appeared as star-like objects and were not very interesting. Later I attempted to image Einstein’s Cross, a gravitational lensing object around galaxy CGCG 378-15. No luck with this one. The problem is likely insufficient resolution. On Sunday we packed up and drove back to Seattle. It had been the best Table Mountain in history. Six clear nights with Mag. 6 skies. Yes, the Table Mountain Star Party is crowded, and not as dark as OSP, but it is just a 3-hour drive from Seattle and this year was well worth the trip.
Editor’s Note:Next year’s TMSP runs from July 20–22. If you plan to go, register early—registration often fills by early April.