Oregon Star Party 2013

The plan is simple, a vacation combining a visit to my family and a run to Oregon Star Party. I miss doing the larger regional star parties, six telescopes is a big star party on the island. OSP would feature hundreds of telescopes, speakers, and hopefully dark skies. I also volunteered as a speaker, may as well bring and share little Keck experience.

Andrew and the Galaxy
The author taking astrophotos under the Milky Way Galaxy
Heading to a major star party takes some planning. Worse, I would be doing this with what could be packed for airline travel. The answer would be to implement my usual star party plan… Set up for astrophotography, this would allow vising other telescopes while my camera ran under computer control. Good astrophotography can also be done with relatively small equipment.

The site is quite remote, no nearby hardware store to replace a missing bolt, no internet connection to allow download of a missing driver. The setup would have to work with what was packed to start with. Several iterations of packing showed that two cases would be required to carry the setup. An ancient hard suitcase I have had since my Air Force days, and a hard equipment case purchased years ago for a portable telescope I have yet to build. At least both had wheels and could be hauled by one person through an airport terminal.

After a few very nice days visiting with my parents I steal away in the camper for the drive to OSP. Four hours sees me over the Cascades, into the Ochoco Mountains east of Prineville. It is a very pleasant drive, a beautiful day, open roads, Mt. Hood soaring over the trees that line the highway. The sort of driving you just can not do on the island, the sort of vacation I grew up with.

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The Lights Went Out in Kapaʻau

An interesting bit of news passed along, HELCO was planning a power outage at 8pm. I expect my reaction to this information was a little different than most… This is great! With a school star party scheduled at Kohala Elementary, the news that the entire town would be dark for the star party was a pleasant surprise.

Mr. O's Stars
Mr. O shows a family the stars at Kohala Elementary
It would be a long day… Up early to pack the telescope, up to the summit for a day of working on the AO system, troubleshooting a couple issues plaguing observations. Then an early departure from the summit to head for Waimea and over the Kohala Mountain Road to Kapaʻau on the very north end of the island.

I stopped to get dinner in Hawi on the way. Surprisingly the Bamboo Restaurant was open early, they normally do not open until 6pm. I find out that the whole town was bracing for the power cut at 8pm, with events and opening times moved up. Not everyone had gotten the notice, I was the only diner in the restaurant. A pleasant meal chatting with the staff and a good burger were just what I needed, food and a brief rest to prepare for the evening.

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An Evening with Astronomers

A quandry… Our regular astronomy club meeting was the same night as Keck’s evening with astronomers lecture. These invitation events are presented to donors, featuring a lecture from a professional astronomer beneath the palm trees of the Fairmont Orchid resort. A number of our members go to both events and faced a choice of which event to attend.

A solution was proposed… Cancel the club meeting in Waimea and head for the lecture down at the resort instead. To cap the evening we would bring along a few telescopes to share the sky.

The club setup five telescope ranging from Purrcynth’s 80mm refractor to Cliff’s 24″ Dobsonian. It was an impressive line of telescopes. I setup next to Maureen with her new 10″ SCT, a nice match for the 11″ NexStar I use for public work. Arriving before the guests we had a line of telescopes setup and ready for viewing well before dark. As Venus and Jupiter appeared in the sunset we began providing views to the early arriving guests.

Sharing the SkyMaureen sharing her telescope with guests at Keck's Evening with Astronomers

The lecture was presented by Dr. Chris Martin of Caltech, covering a subject that is often overlooked, the environment between the galaxies, vast expanses of space that are anything but empty. Here can be found enormous reservoirs of gas, accounting for the majority of normal matter in the universe, something astronomers call the intergalactic medium.

I enjoyed the lecture. Having a somewhat more than average astronomy education, I find so many public lectures a bit repetitive, I have heard it before. Not this night! Dr. Martin covered a lot of material I had never previously encountered. How the universe is filled with streamers of moving gas, influenced by the gravity of dark matter the gas streams into the galaxies and clusters of galaxies, allowing the formation of new stars in an extraordinarily dynamic process. It was a view that has altered the way I see the universe.

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A School Star Party

Something was wrong… it was not raining.

Four previous times we have attempted to do this, hold a star party for the students of Waikoloa Elementary School. Four times it has been either cloudy, or outright raining. Yes, raining in one of the driest areas of the island, a place that gets, maybe, ten inches of rain each year.

We even had clear skies!

It was a great event, perfect skies, several big telescopes, and hundreds of eager eyes.

Mr. O and the Kids
Students of Waikoloa Elementary School enjoying the night with Mr. O
Early in the evening I was worried that it was all for naught. About 7:30pm we were all set up and had a total of two guests, a mother and her daughter. They were getting a private showing of the sky at my telescope, with good views of Saturn, star clusters and nebulae. But where was everyone else? Classroom announcements had been made. Flyers had been sent home with every student. Two people?

They hit us just after 8:00pm, a steady stream of students and parents drawn to see the sky. I would guess that well over two hundred folks came by the star party. The skies in Waikoloa are wonderful for this sort of thing. Nice and dark, with the summer Milky Way glowing brightly overhead. We slewed from globulars to nebulae, to binary stars. Steady lines of folks waiting to look through each telescope. I have never gotten tired of the reaction when someone sees something spectacular through the eyepiece for the first time.

Cliff used his 24″ ‘scope to hunt down the new supernova in M101, visible as a small star like object at the edge of a faint halo. I was wondering which star was actually the supernova. Examining some photos afterwards I realized we were looking at the correct object. It will be interesting to observe this event over the coming week, as a nearby Type 1A supernova it should get quite bright.

My thanks to the guys from WHAC who supported this event. Mr. O, our school contact had everything perfectly arranged, from the flyers, to insuring the lights and sprinklers were off for the night. It was a great event, I expect we will do this again.

Rained Out

Well, the Waikoloa Elementary School star party wasn’t much for stars. We did see one star briefly through the clouds. There were four telescopes setup in the schoolyard waiting in hopes that the clouds would clear, but it was not to be. We stood around talking story and examining Cliff’s 24″ telescope. A truss tube dob is a great scope to show how a telescope works, all the inner parts exposed.

We waited an hour, but around 8pm the first hints of rain began. As the drops thickened we scurried to get the telescopes put away.

My thanks to the WHAC members who came out in support of this event! We will be attempting to reschedule the event, possibly for May 22nd.