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May 2010 Informal Star Party

May 2010 Informal Star Party Notes

On Friday evening, May 28, a small group of BAS members met at Sooner Park for an informal viewing session.  Steve Plank, eager to try out his new Meade ETX 125 scope, arranged the event, which met to the southeast of the Sooner Park Pool, not far from the large concrete ring once used for model airplane flights.  In addition to Steve's scope, David Tobola brought his 12.5" Dobsonian, Duane Perkins brought a Celestron Newtonian on a Go To mount, and Daryl Doughty brought his homemade apochromatic refractor on an LXD55 mount.  In addition, Don Fudge brought a new Samsung integrating video camera and discussed video astronomy with John Grismore, Apryl Kaylor and several others.

As would be expected, with the swimming pool nearby, Madison and Hoover schools just a few blocks away, and Mid High just a bit further, the site is exposed to security and street lights from many directions.  Nevertheless, the sky is almost completely unobstructed in all directions. While this wouldn't be a site of choice for the most serious deep sky observations or astrophotography, its convenience makes it more than adequate for informal observing.

As planned, Steve spent most of his time familiarizing himself with his new scope and practicing procedures for aligning the Go To mount. Before long, he had the scope automatically slewing from object to object, providing good views of Venus, Mars and Saturn, as well as several Messier objects.  The ETX performed well and seemed mechanically solid and optically high quality.

David Tobola's Big Dob provided good views of the planets as well as the globular cluster, Messier 13 and the Ring Nebula.  Considering the degradation from the heavy humidity in the air, his scope provided sharp, clear images of the planets and performed admirably on the fainter targets.  Despite the haze and humidity, which hid most stars below 15° altitude, David was able to locate the Ring Nebula with his scope.  Earlier in the evening, before dark, David explained many of the improvements he made to the scope to enhance it's performance, including special texturing in the tube's interior to reduce internal reflections, an extended light baffle/dew shield to further reduce off-axis light and several fans to quickly bring the 25 pound glass mirror to ambient temperature and reduce convection currents.  Clearly his efforts have paid off.

Duane Perkins' Celestron is a Go To Newtonian, which looked very convenient for quick setup.  Duane has added an auxiliary GPS unit, which makes setup even easier.  Of course, this setup advantage works in reverse, too.  When sky conditions deteriorated as the humidity rose, Duane was packed up and ready to roll in no time.

The lone refractor at the viewing session was a beautiful, triple element apochromatic scope made by Daryl Doughty.  Even at low altitude, through soupy skies, it did a fine job of showing the sharply contrasting colors of the double star, Alberio, in Cygnus.  Right at the end of our observing, Daryl's scope showed stunning views of the deep orange, full Moon, just after it rose above the horizon.

The event was an unqualified success, and this Sooner Park site should serve us well in the future for impromptu, casual observing.