Falling Stars: Observing, imaging, and shopping at the 2010 Winter Star Party

Posted by Mike Reynolds
on Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We finally had a good night of observing at the Winter Star Party (WSP) Thursday night. Winds were calm, and the seeing was good. Telescopes and observers were in overdrive to make up for the un-Keys-like weather this week. The WSP seems to get one or two nights of poor weather each year. But this year has been the opposite: one or two nights of fair to decent weather and the rest … well at least it’s not snowing!

Observers started with some of the nearly overhead objects like the Orion Nebula (M42) and the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). If it sounds funny for me to say M42 is nearly overhead, then consider the latitude of the WSP site in West Summerland Key: 24° north.

From those objects, many attendees began exploring the delights of the celestial southern hemisphere. The Southern Cross is easily visible. And there are numerous deep-sky objects to explore that many northern observers never get the opportunity to see.

Mars, shining bright nearly overhead at sunset, was another target for many telescopes. I know it’s not a great opposition this year and that Mars is not as big as the Full Moon to the naked eye. I would like a nickel for each of those e-mails I have received! But early in the evening, the seeing was so good that observers could push their scopes to high magnifications.

A fair amount of imaging also took place Thursday evening. I have been working on an article for Astronomy, so I looked forward to an evening (and morning) of imaging.

But around 12:30 a.m. Friday morning, the clouds came in, mostly in thin layers but occasionally thicker. That was the end of my imaging run for this WSP. On Friday night, a strong line of thunderstorms came through, bringing heavy rain, lightning, and wind. But at least it was not snow!

I enjoy wandering around in the vendor area. I can see — and price — a number of telescopes, accessories, and other astronomically themed goodies. Over the years, I have bought many astronomical ties from Bob and Lisa Summerfield and Astronomy to Go. I always enjoy seeing the latest from AstroGizmos — Jeffrey Goldstein is fun to catch up with. And this year there was some spectacular astronomical art created by Tim Malles from the Tim Malles Art Studio. The 2010 WSP logo for shirts, caps, and the like is Tim’s artwork. I appreciate his originality, especially because I don’t have that same level of talent. His work and that of others is a reminder of the creativity and interpretation of the universe around us. Plus, they make for great presents!

Over the years, it seemed that I had to have one telescope for every type of object I observed. Or that’s the way it looked to my wife, Debbie. As I have become more “seasoned,” I have gone in the opposite direction, only keeping the telescopes that I often use. There is one exception: the telescopes of Normand Fullum! First, understand that Normand is a master telescope optician; he grinds, polishes, and corrects his own mirrors. But it is the rest of his creations that draw multiple looks, even from seasoned stargazers. Normand’s telescopes with apertures up to 16 inches are spectacular wooden masterpieces — truly a throwback to the era of ornate telescopes. I had previously purchased a 6-inch open-truss Dobsonian from Normand with my wife’s blessings. But I reasoned we have two children, Aimee and Jeremy, and I should have two Normand Fullum Telescopes to pass on as family heirlooms.

If someone at WSP wanted to make his or her own telescope, Dan Joyce from Chicago provided the opportunity. He has been setting up mirror-grinding workshops each year. It is always good to see Dan encouraging people to “push some glass.”

As the Winter Olympics open in Vancouver, it’s time for the closing ceremonies at the Winter Star Party. This means door prizes, and lots of them! The end of WSP also recognizes those whose extraordinary efforts help make an event like this an annual success. It is also an opportunity to highlight some of the best in the world who represent our hobby through outreach. In 2004, Scott Roberts’ Astronomy Outreach organization presented the first AstroOscars. This year’s AstroOscars went to Dean Ketelsen, the organizer for the Grand Canyon Star Party; Baraket Observatory in Israel for their tremendous outreach efforts with students; and the legendary John Dobson, inventor of the Dobsonian mount.

Alas, it’s time to head home. The weather wasn’t as good as in past years. But the friendships are just as rich, and the talks and workshops were great. And the WSP staff, from director Tim Khan to all who make this event such a great success, can be proud of another successful Winter Star Party. Sound like fun? Then maybe I’ll see you next year, January 31 through February 5, 2011.

Previous: 2010 Winter Star Party, Wednesday recap, by Mike Reynolds, contributing editor

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