On Saturday, January 14, BAS held its second annual winter star party. Like last year, we observed from the Wah-Shah-She Girl Scout Camp, 15 minutes southwest of Bartlesville. A big thanks to Arden Strycker for coordinating the event, especially his uncanny ability to invoke warm temperatures and clear skies in the middle of January. He's now two for two. Steve Plank volunteered to lead a caravan from the Civic Center parking lot for those who were unfamiliar with the location of the camp. We had a broad range of experience levels attending this year, and experienced members were all very helpful to our novice observers. There was lots of encouragement and plenty of advice traded back and forth among members.
Nine telescopes ranging from a 2 inch refractor to a 16 inch Dobsonian reflector, several pairs of binoculars and a couple of tripod mounted DSLR cameras were scattered across the observing field. David and John Tobola brought their big Dob (the 16" scope), and gave it a good workout under exceptionally dark skies. Views of Jupiter were strikingly sharp and detailed, while the Orion Nebula was nothing short of stunning. The very broad extent of the nebula and amazing detail within its wispy cloud-like structure looked like a time exposure photograph. Arden tracked down faint deep sky objects, while Rick Bryant took a series of digital images spanning most of the extent of the winter Milky Way. We're anxious to see the results of this effort. Others viewed planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies.
Steve Plank, along with several other experienced BAS members, provided lots of help and advice for newer members who were learning how to improve their observing abilities with their own telescopes and binoculars. Everyone spent some time roaming the observing field, looking through all the different scopes, comparing views of a wide variety of celestial objects. There were also impromptu discussions about constellation identification, star lore and object identification. Sometimes star charts aided these discussions, and occasionally a smartphone with planetarium software did the job.
Despite the warm temperatures at sunset, the clear, dry air allowed for rapid cooling, and as the night progressed, the lodge adjacent to our observing field became a more frequently visited stop. It probably helped that a few members provided snacks and drinks inside, but the real attraction was the warm, flickering fire in the huge fireplace. It was a perfect place to pull up a chair, get something to eat, talk with others and compare notes while warming up, before returning to the chilly, but strikingly dark, clear skies outside.
The convenient and accessible location near Bartlesville, the wide open view of the dark night sky and the superior facilities make this observing location hard to beat. We look forward to more great star gazing events at Wah-Shah-She in the future.