Oregon Star Party 2017

Due to lucky happenstance the location for Oregon Star Party, the same location used for decades, was within the path of totality for the 2017 total solar eclipse. This provided an opportunity to both attend the star party again, and to view the eclipse.

An assortment of telescopes wait out the day at oregon Star Party 2017
An assortment of telescopes wait out the day at oregon Star Party 2017
I do enjoy the large star parties, something we do not have on the island. I had attended OSP a few years ago, the eclipse made the opportunity to attend once again very tempting.

Registration for the star party was an issue. Due to the eclipse attendance was going to be very good, so good that registration was closed within two hours of opening! I got the announcement email, then waited until I got out of a meeting to register, only to find out I was too late! I put my name on the waiting list and hoped.

With a month to go I received word that my waiting list position was opened for registration. By this time my family already had plans to camp in the Ochoco Mts. for the eclipse, no reason not to do both!

With plans in hand to attend OSP I faced another dilemma. While most logistical issues were solved through use of a fully equipped family vehicle, a VW camper van, I had no telescope to use. I could pack a smaller telescope, and would for photographing the eclipse, a larger scope would allow me to hunt deep sky objects. I have long ago observed nearly every bright object observable from northern latitudes. I needed aperture.

14.5" Starmaster Telescope
A borrowed 14.5″ Starmaster Telescope
To this end I sent a few emails to folks I knew at the Rose City Astronomers. Would anyone like to lend me a telescope? I can return the favor if you want to visit Hawaii and enjoy southern skies! I had no trouble finding someone to take me up on that offer. Ken quickly returned my emails and offered the use of a 14.5″ Starmaster… Perfect!

I alternated my time between the family campsite at Grant’s Spring and OSP. I camped Thursday at the spring, moved to OSP for Friday and Saturday nights, then back to Grant’s Spring for Sunday night and the eclipse on Monday morning. OSP would have an eclipse duration of 1’28” while Grant’s Spring would experience 1’57” of totality. I wanted that twenty-nine seconds.

While only 20 miles apart as the raven flies, it would take over an hour of driving minor highways and forest service roads to get from one site to the other.

Heading to OSP on Friday rather than Thursday also avoided the heavy traffic entering the huge Symbiosis festival. From Prineville the most direct route is to cross Lookout Mountain on Canyon Creek Road. I feared this would create a massive traffic jam on Thursday, the first day of entry to the festival. It was, plenty of folks I knew at OSP related tales of hours spent in traffic.

Wrecked Motor Home
A class A Tioga motor home wrecked along Ochoco Creek Road east of Prineville
What I did see was the remains of the massive migration to Symbiosis. Stalled vehicles, vehicles run off the road into the trees, tow trucks recovering other vehicles, and at least one spectacularly wrecked motor home wedged between an embankment and a large pine tree.

There were impacts on OSP from the music fest… The stages and lights were nearly nine miles away, still we could hear the beat drifting through the night. The lights could be seen directly and as a glowing dome over the festival, ruining a good chunk of the northern sky. The lights were obscene, for those of us who come to these dark skies to enjoy the natural world, bringing the traffic, light, and noise of a small city to this place is simply repugnant.

Arriving I quickly met up with David Nemo who was working the registration tent. I met David at OSP years ago, a great guy and a past president of the Rose City Astronomers. I ended up finding some parking space for the VW and setting up in the same group of telescopes.

This group of scopes had some other good observers, including Larry and Sameer. Larry was using a Skywatcher collapsible 16″, while Sameer has a newly built 16″ string ‘scope to play with. Newly built? First light was at OSP and he was still dealing with setting up and debugging the drive system. That new.

The group proved to be very good company through the night. Larry and David worked on the official star party challenge observing list. I had a list of objects in the far north, objects that do not rise well for observing in Hawaii at 20°N latitude.

Smoky Sunset at OSP
Heavy smoke makes for a colorful sunset at Oregon Star Party
The first night started with the site wreathed in heavy smoke from the forest fires in the Cascade Mts. to the west. It made for a pretty sunset, but lousy observing. I spent the first two hours of the night over in Ken’s trailer where a steady flow of visitors made for great conversations.

After 10pm the smoke began to settle and dissipate, there were sections of the sky free of obscuration and viewing began. After midnight the sky was pretty much completely clear and observing conditions were quite good. I ended up getting to sleep well after 3am with a satisfying observing session recorded in my notes.

The next day was spent mostly under the large awning next to David’s trailer. This little oasis of shade served much the same purpose as Ken’s trailer the night before, a steady flow of visitors stopping by and continuous conversation on all things astronomy.

Rob and Quinn Brown's String 'Scopes
Rob and Quinn Brown discuss the design and construction of a pair of tensegrity dob’s.
One of my favorite parts of the star party, indeed, one of my major reasons for attending, is to see the telescopes that ATM’s are building. This is celebrated during the Telescope Walkabout, where Mel Bartel, a well known telescope maker, leads the gathered crowd on a tour of interesting hand-built telescopes.

A few years ago I saw an innovative little 6″ travel scope on the walkabout. Such an interesting little telescope I had to go and build one myself! This time would be no different… I have seen the next telescope I am going to build.

I could use an airline portable travel scope, something with sufficient aperture to do deep sky. Twelve or fourteen inches would do the job, thus avoiding the need to borrow a telescope next time. Something along the lines of Don Peckham’s Tensegrity string telescope design is just the thing.

Don Peckham and Tensegrity Telescopes
Don Peckham beside a pair of his tensegrity telescopes
I have toyed with the idea of an ultralight travel design for some time now, even drawing out various concepts. Don’s designs really do offer some practical solutions to the problem. As a result I spent some time talking to Don and examining the details of his telescopes. I am going to have to draw out another design and maybe even make one of these interesting ‘scopes.

For more on the telescope walkabout you can read Mel Bartels summary on his webpage including photos and descriptions on each telescope on this year’s tour.

Saturday night provided clearer skies than Friday, good observing conditions from nearly the start of the night. Again I stayed up until nearly four in the morning enjoying use of the excellent 14.5″ telescope to roam through the northern skies.

After sleeping in a bit Sunday morning I packed up and headed back to the family campsite at Grant’s Spring, saying aloha to the guys at OSP. Time to get into position for the main event of this trip.

In the end I did not finish as much of my observing list as I would have liked. The smoky skies and simple scheduling made it tough to get in much observing time, blame the eclipse. This is more than made up for in the fun I had visiting other serious amateur telescope makers and observers. I came home with plans to build another telescope and the hope I can attend OSP again sometime soon.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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