The 2012 Winter Star Party is underway!

Posted by Mike Reynolds
on Friday, February 24, 2012

The 2012 Winter Star Party (WSP) is underway in the Florida Keys! For many of us, the WSP is an annual pilgrimage. The skies can be exquisite, talks excellent, and vendors tempting, but for many of us it is also a chance to relax for a week, renew old friendships, and make new ones. And for some it is an escape from winter (what winter this year?). On Monday, the first day of the WSP, it was a balmy 72° Fahrenheit with light winds.

Welcome to the Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys! // All photos by Mike Reynolds
I cannot describe it, but when I leave Miami and Homestead, Florida, and head south on U.S. Highway 1, it feels like the weight of the world is lifted from my shoulders. I guess it is the beauty of the Keys and the anticipation of the WSP itself.

This 28th edition of the WSP is again being held at Girl Scout Camp on what is now known as Scout Key. The Key was formally known as West Summerland Key, but has just been renamed because it is only the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that occupy the Key.

One of the great features of the WSP is the speakers each year. They bring an incredible amount of experience and knowledge to share with attendees.

The topics this year varied, with something for everyone. An informal imaging workshop kicked off the WSP talks, with suggestions and highlights from numerous experienced astroimagers and the latest and greatest in equipment. Astronomy Contributing Editor Stephen James O’Meara shared many of his observing experiences, including conversations about his study of volcanoes. Tippy D’Auria, the founder of the WSP and always a favorite, gave the WSP Welcome and then a talk about the rewards and frustrations of amateur astronomy. Many of us can absolutely appreciate Tippy’s points – especially the frustrations and challenges.

The Winter Star Party's director, Tim Khan, (right) welcomes the event's founder, Tippy D’Auria
Dr. Don Parker’s always lively talk focused on Mars, from imaging to evidence of global warming on the Red Planet. Don is acknowledged as one of the premier planetary imagers in the world today. Mike Lockwood, noted for his fine optics, discussed optical testing. Tom Field overviewed spectroscopy; he is known for his spectroscopy software tools. And Sean Walker's talk on computer image processing techniques, one of his many ongoing projects, provided attendees with a number of excellent “tried and proven” techniques.

And, finally, the theme this year is “A Tribute to the Space Shuttle Program,” so I gave a talk Wednesday on “The Politics of Space Exploration.” An interesting topic, to say the least!

Winter Star Party attendees set up their scopes for a night of observing.
One of the nice features of the WSP is the Young Astronomers’ Camp, better known as YACers. This year has seen more YACers than in the past! A variety of daytime and nighttime activities, including exploring the night skies with Bob Summerfield, are a part of the week for the YACers.

If you are an observer, and especially love deep-sky objects, the WSP should be on your bucket list! There is something about looking south and seeing Omega Centauri rise out of the ocean (yes, the southern horizon is THAT good!). One can get lost in the treasures of the night skies, as Tippy D’Auria refers to these spectacular objects.

During his evening chat with Winter Star Party attendees, Astronomy Contributing Editor Stephen James O'Meara tells everyone where to look for the young (24 hours old) Moon.

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