Rocky Mountain Star Stare 2000

Once again the folks at the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society pulled off a well organized, relaxing, mosquito-free weekend at a scenic mountain valley with plenty of interesting activities. This was a great family camping weekend in a nice area for those that could get their families all in one place at one time, and a good time for those of us that couldn't too! Attendance at this year's RMSS was down quite a bit from last years 350 or so. I don't know the total, but there was a spread of about 220 in the door prize ticket numbers.

Thursday afternoon there was to be a presentation by Dmitri Klebe regarding Pikes Peak observatory, and Thursday night's sky conditions were reported to be hazy, but I missed them both.

Friday afternoon I arrived with a thunderstorm in tow (which dissipated by sunset), and just in time to get my little camp set up, grab a bite to eat, and listen to Captain Anna Stuckwisch give a short presentation on the actrivities of the USAF's 6th Space Operations Squadron of the 310th Space Group, which operates a number of satellites providing weather-related products to NOAA and other recipients. Her talk was preceded by a tutorial on Quick Time Pro given by Bob Smith of Apple, Inc.

There was excellent transparencey over most of the sky for the observers that night. I could see four galaxies in the M81/82 field with 12x50 and 11x80 binoculars. Comet 1999 S4 LINEAR looked great in Dave Ewing's eight inch Newtonian. Nice tail. I got to see Neptune's moon Triton in John Asztalos' twelve inch Newtonian and confirmed motion Saturday night. That was a first for me.

Saturday morning found me engaged in my favorite star party activity - wandering around the field photographing homemade telescopes and related equipment. Ken Florentino set up along Denver Row and demonstrated his home built spectrohelioscope again this year, but unfortunately I missed my chance to get a view through it this time.

Ken's scope is a wonderful example of how a creative ATM'er can do so much with so little. Fantastic! Below are pictured the heliostat that feeds sunlight to it, and the synthesizer end of the spectoscope.

Another great example of the ATM'ers art is this beautiful blue alt-azimuth Newtonian featuring a smooth-tracking equatorial platform with a cable drive built almost entirely from parts readily available from any hardware store. This was a prize-winner.

Another prizewinner that sticks in my mind is pictured on the left below. This is a beautifully crafted barn door drive combining simplicity and accuracy. On the right is a nice sled-type focuser temporarily using your basic semi-organic linear kenetic energy storage and retreival units (rubber bands) to provide tension.

My own contribution to the ATM walkabout this year was my 3 and a quarter inch refractor, which I use for solar observing and as a guider for piggyback photography, As any refractor nut knows, deep sky views are dim but contrasty with pinpoint star images in small scopes like this.

My new binomount (model "A") also made its debut and saw a lot of use this weekend. To see more about the details of construction of this item and the differences between models A and B click HERE.

Below are pictured a pair of nice observing chairs. The one on the left is of beautiful wood consturction and was made by a fellow with a beautiful wooden computer controlled alt-azimuth Newtonian. But my favorite of the two is the elegantly simple and easily transportable item on the right. John Asztalos uses this with his low-slung alt-azimuth 12 inch Newtonian.

A permanent fixture at these large star parties is the PVC and nylon observatory made and owned by Joe of the Denver Astronomical Society. This unit serves as both observatory and tent and collapses down into a wheeled box that rolls up onto the back of his pickup truck. The PVC tubes were softened by boiling them in a section of steel rain gutter before bending.

As usual, there were many fine examples of equipment built with care and creaftsmanship in attendance, such a Dan Wray's beautiful 12 inch equatorial Newtonian, which won second prize in 1999, pictured below.

Saturday's swap meet was a bit smaller this year, but even though I got to the feeding frezy a little late, I mangaed to come away with a couple of useful items at a conveniently low price. The kite flyers were out in force and kids activities included the construction of a model of the solar system.

The group photo was relaxed, quick, and painless and there were some great door prizes too: books, eyepiece, accessory case, software, magazine subscriptions, photos, videos, and a new six inch equatorial Newtonian (Vixen/Orion/Celestron?) was raffled off too. Next year there may be two similar raffles.

The door prizes and raffle were followed by a panel discussion on beginning astrophotography, which was followed by a thought-provocing presentation by teacher Ben Wentworth on his adventures in teaching astronomy to the blind. Can you imagine a tactile planetarium? Great stuff!

JMI showed up Saturday evening with a few examples of their products to demo, including their new NTT25, a 25 inch computerized alt-azimuth folded Newtonian that looked like a cross between a witch's cauldron, a gas range, and a jet engine. Interesting. They were gone early Sunday, so I didn't get a picture, but I'm sure they'll have an ad or two in the magazines.

After the typical afternoon thunderstorms, Saturday night turned out quite nice, punctuated by a period or two of clouds but mostly very transparent (M51 obviously pear-shaped in 10x50 finder) with a couple of periods of very good seeing (very intermittent, almost steady diffraction rings in twelve-inch scope at 600x).

Sunday dawned an absolutely sparkling day with late morning seeing actually improving as the noon hour approached. There were solar filters in abundance mounted on various telescopes scattered around the field. I kept an eye on the sun with my three and a quarter inch refractor until about noon-thirty. Late morning seeing was very good. I could effectively use 150x with the mighty three and a quarter which is not commonly doable under mid day mountain skies. A high percentage (30-40%) of the attendees remained for Sunday night, though I decided to leave so I could miss Monday's expected holiday traffic nightmare.

Those of us that made it to RMSS 2000 once again own a big thank you to the organizers of the region's largest gathering of ATM'ers and astro-hounds.

Thank you CSAS!

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