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August 2010 Star Party Notes

With the Bartlesville Public Library closed, and our usual meeting room out of commission during several weeks of remodeling, our August meeting was replaced by a members-only star party.  Thanks to the efforts of David Tobola, we were able to arrange a night of dark site observing at the Boy Scouts' Camp McClintock on Saturday, August 7.  Since we reserved the "Cub Cabin" for both Friday and Saturday night, we began the week with plans to have the event on Friday, then switch at mid-week to Saturday, based on weather forecasts.  This turned out to be a good decision, since Friday night was overcast to partly cloudy.

Skies Saturday at sunset were clear, with a low band of thin clouds in the west and northwest.  This didn't interfere with observations of a nice planetary grouping low in the west, however.  Rex Murray was one of the first to get a close look at Venus's half-illuminated disk, centering it in the field of view of his Bushnell Newtonian reflector while twilight was still very bright.  As the sky darkened he noted the nearly edge on rings of Saturn, the second member of the trio. Mike Woods also enjoyed the planetary gathering, with good views of Venus, Mars and Saturn.  In addition to the edge on rings, Mike was able to observe some banding on the surface of Saturn with his Celestron C8.

Arriving early for a big assembly job, Duane Perkins brought his brand new Celestron CGE Pro 1400 EdgeHD for its first complete assembly and initial shakedown.  This 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain is a huge optical tube, attached to a massive equatorial mount on a giant tripod.  The point is, it's BIG.  Surprisingly, the assembly was mostly a one man job, with Duane really only needing help to seat the optical tube gently and securely.  After achieving "first light" with the scope, he continued to familiarize himself with it and began fine tuning the setup.  This will clearly be a serious astronomy installation when permanently mounted in Duane's planned observatory.

Steve Plank made good use of the dark site with his Meade LT-6 Go To scope, observing numerous deep sky objects.  He brought to our attention, the ButterFly Cluster, one of his favorites, which led to interesting comparisons of the cluster between several instruments.  Steve was also able to try out his new O III and UHC filters on several objects, including the Lagoon Nebula.  He commented that the views were great, the sky was dark, and speculated that the ring of low trees around the horizon may actually have helped by blocking light.  And finally, he mentioned that it would sure be nice to remove about a mile from the dusty gravel road leading from Highway 60 to Camp McClintock, but we haven't figured out how to do that yet.

Nearby, Apryl Kaylor observed with a Meade 114 EQ reflector provided by Steve.  After learning the basic operation she spent time viewing up and down the Milky Way, appreciating the endless parade of stars marching by.  To the unaided eye, the Milky Way's wedge shape, broad in Sagittarius and Scorpius near the southern horizon, narrowing through Cygnus and fading on toward the north, showed very clearly the large dark lanes of dust bisecting it, and the individual star cloud clumps that are spiral arms of our galaxy seen end on.  Apryl also took advantage of the dark skies to familiarize herself with several constellations.

As the evening progressed, the clouds low in the west slowly advanced higher.  John Grismore spent too much time with his phone trying to determine the extent of the approaching clouds (and ruining his night vision each time he looked at the screen), and too little time using his Meade Go To scope.  Nevertheless, he saw very good views of the Ring Nebula, M13, the Wild Duck Cluster, and Steve's favorite, the Butterfly Cluster.  He also saw M17, known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, for the first time, after it was brought to his attention by Arden Strycker.

Often the mention of a star party conjures up the image of a field full of telescopes pointed toward the sky.  But several club members broke the stereotype and reminded us that there's more to a star party than scopes.  David Tobola observed with 7x50 binoculars and Arden Strycker spent the evening observing with 20x70 Orion "Little Giant" binoculars.  David observed two very bright meteors (one of them possibly an early Perseid) during the evening, along with three satellites.  Arden's binoculars were on a cantilevered mount attached to a photo tripod.  He made good use of his time by working on his Astronomical League Binocular Messier Club list.  He has now viewed 24 Messiers and is nearly half done with the list.  It was very interesting and instructive to compare views of the same object through several different scopes and also through Arden's binoculars.

Daryl Doughty brought an equatorial mount, but no scope.  Instead he attached his DSLR camera to the mount and spent the evening capturing beautiful digital pictures along the Milky Way (with an occasional airplane).  Early in the evening he also captured the planetary trio above the trees to the west during twilight.  Some of his photos have now been uploaded to the BvilleAstro Yahoo Group and can be viewed in the Photo section at <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BvilleAstro/photos/album/357544685/pic/list> .  While his camera was automatically snapping time exposures of the sky and downloading them to the laptop, Daryl took time to point out a few constellations and pass on some of their mythology.  This form of stargazing is often lost to the attraction of gadgets and equipment, and it's good to return to this most basic aspect of astronomy from time to time.

The sky was dark, the viewing was steady and the stars were bright, but the clouds were persistent.  We had several good hours of viewing before the low clouds in the west had advanced beyond the zenith and crowded our viewing into Sagittarius and Scorpius.  With all there is to see in that part of the sky, this really wasn't a problem until eventually, the clouds reached even there.  After an enjoyable evening of dark sky observing, it was time to pack up and head home.