A large star party is an experience worth seeking out… Hundreds of people, hundreds of telescopes, all under a dark sky.
A star party is a meeting of geeks. Technical talk of optics, electronics, and fabrication techniques like 3D printing abounds. In the afternoon and evening you will find small conversations in the shade, pull up a chair and join the discussion.
The plan was something I had executed successfully before… Fly into Portland, spend some time with my folks, then borrow the family camper for the trip out to the Ochoco Mountains for the star party.
With the full sized camper the star party experience is very comfortable… A comfy bed, a small kitchen with a refigerator and freezer, my own private bathroom with shower. Very comfortable indeed.
Departing from my parent’s house is not without hazards. As I pack the camper with gear and food my mother looks on, and she will always be mom… “Do you have enough food?” “Yes mother, I have a written out meal plan.” My meal plan is basically a big bag of frozen chicken breasts to be cooked half a dozen different ways.
“What about vegetables?” “Yes mother.” I dig about for a moment to hold up a single package cup of peas, I have half a dozen such cups. “What about fruit?” Uh oh… She has me there. I will live a few days without fruit.
It turns out I did fine on fruit. There was a pleasant couple in the trailer next door, Mike and Renee. After having helped Mike out a couple times including collimating his ‘scope for him Renee offered me a bit of fruity thanks, a big bowl of apricots off their own tree. Yes, mom… I have fruit.
I arrived a day early for the star party, hoping to add a night’s observing to the schedule. I was far from alone in doing this, quite a few folks were already on site when I got there. Some had arrived over a week early to get their preferred spots. One day early sufficed to get a decent spot along the central road not far from the activity tents.
It is thus I had five full nights of dark to enjoy. I stayed up all night, every night. The sixth and last night I went to bed at midnight as I wanted to get a good night’s sleep brfore driving back. I had plenty to occupy me for those night, a set of observing lists prepared weeks ago in anticipation of a good star party.
Just for fun I also knocked out the official star party intermediate observing list. If I had my 18” ‘scope available I could have done the advanced, no matter, the longer intermediate list was fun using the ten inch, offering a nice selection of objects. Observe at least 20 objects off the list for a pin. While the rules encourage you to draw the object it is not required, I did my usual written observations…
95 Her – A lovely white and yellow pair evenly matched in magnitude, with the white perhaps a bit brighter, about 8” separation, the white to the WNW, located in a rich region of the sky with 95 Her, 96 Her, 101 Her, and 102 Her within a couple degrees
NGC 6781 – Bright and obvious, round and slightly fainter at the center, 2’ diameter, the southern edge modestly brighter, no central star noted, no color noted
NGC 6946 – Large, bright and obvious, a large hazy patch in a rich galactic starfield, >5’ in diameter with the extents difficult to ascertain in the rich starfield, a modest core at the center and a hint of spiral structure visible with averted vision, the bright open cluster NGC 6939 visible 40’ northwest and about the same sizeAndrew Cooper – 17 July 2023
Completing the official list and having it verified gets you an award… Nothing much, just a certificate and a nice little pin. It is mostly the satisfaction of having completed the challenge. I was the very first person to get an award this year, I suppose a day early is cheating a bit.
During the day there are activites to occupy the sunlit hours, killing time until dark. A lecture series with subjects ranging from telescope making to cosmology, a kids activity tent, and the telescope walkabout where folks discuss their latest creations and innovative designs.
There are a few vendors with booths set up including an astronomy shop well stocked with little bits folks are likely to forget. I stop for a while a DayStar Filters where I enjoy hydrogen alpha views of a very active Sun. From the gal there I buy a couple sets of solar filters for binoculars.
There is also a guy selling the design for a set of astro-binoculars, a largely 3D printed kit with extensive plans and video guides. Yes, I buy the modestly priced subscription for the plans, another project to keep my inner ATM happy.
Thus the days pass… Observe all night until the glow of dawn obscures the stars, sleep until noon, get up, make a lunch, charge the batteries while the sunlight pounds down on the camper’s solar panel. While away the afternoon hours, maybe catch a lecture, maybe nap a bit, visit with the neighbors and chat while chatting about all things astro, then prepare the gear for another night of observing. Then enjoy sunset and dinner as the sky grows dark, awaiting another night of observing.
I had signed up to do a little volunteering while attending. I chose to do some evening mentoring sessions at the telescope park. Four 8-inch dobsonians awaited anyone who needed them. The first couple hours would be guided with a mentor available to show you how to use the telescope and to show you about the sky. It is always fun to show an eager beginner how easy it is to get started.
The sign up lists for the evening mentoring were jammed full, we were busy. I had fun, met some nice folks, teaching them a bit about using a telescope and finding your way in the night sky. There was a curious young boy with a father eager to show his son new experiences, a lady having no luck with the telescope but thrilled to learn what she could do with the binoculars she had with her, a group of students that picked up how to use a dob in a few moments and eagerly followed my laser pointer across the sky.
That first bit of mentoring led to another. Brian, the observing list coordinator asked me to help check out folks who came in for their awards. He expected to get mobbed in the last days of the star party, and he was right, a line of folks wanting to go through their observations, and get their pin.
Going through their observations with folks and discussing them was fun. They described their challenges, how they had trouble finding things or not certian what they should see when they got there. I passed along a few hints to make things easier in future observations… What they should look for, how to write an object description, how to tell which way was north in the eyepiece view. In reviewing their observations and drawings and listening to their own experiences I renew my own love of the sky seen through fresh eyes.
It may be a while before I enjoy another large star party. I will be back, but it will be a few years. No regrets this year, the plan worked.