There is simply something special for me about coming to the Winter Star Party (WSP). I don’t know if it’s the Florida Keys, the weather, incredible (when clear) skies with a terrific southern horizon, or the comradery. It’s probably a combination of all of the above; the WSP always seems to recharge my batteries. My wife Debbie and I always put it on our calendars and make a point of being here. We’ve been coming to the Keys since 1970 … observing the Delta Aquarids meteor shower and an occasional grazing occultation or comet.
Even though the WSP had not yet started, the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour Monday morning was like the opening ceremony. From about 400 miles away from the Kennedy Space Center, we easily could see Endeavour’s fiery lift off, even through thin haze at the horizon. Once the solid-rocket-booster separation had occurred, Endeavour looked like a star jetting off to the east as its three main engines burned brightly. This is the first time I’ve seen a shuttle launch from such a distance; usually I cover launches for Astronomy from the Kennedy Space Center press site 3 miles from the launch or from our home in Jacksonville Beach, about 95 miles away.
When we arrived at the WSP site on West Summerland Key, many of the participants had already set up telescopes and tents. Most of the vendors had also set up and were open for business. I try hard to keep my wallet in my pocket (more about my lack of success in that department later in the week). I do enjoy checking out all of the astronomical goodies.
Telescopes of all types, mounts, and makes cover the observing field. If you really want to do an “eyeball-on” comparison, this is the place.
The 2010 WSP opened with a talk by my good friend and WSP founder, Tippy D’Auria. Tippy’s talks are always delightful and provide listeners with insight — and some (a lot!) of that Tippy humor.
Monday night and Tuesday morning provided some opportunities for observing; more of a tease for me since I am doing test astrophotography for Astronomy magazine. I am researching the new 21+ megapixel 35mm full-frame-chip digital SLRs for astrophotography and comparing them to the 6- to 9-megapixel models. So far I am impressed … but I need some pristine skies to confirm my observations. More to follow here and in a future article!