(Weekend Under The Stars)
or better yet:
Weekend Under The SMOKE!
Highs and Lows
The Weekend Under The Stars event this year had some high and low points, but all in all it was well worth the drive. I was amazed to see how many folks had shown up early on Thursday - much more than usual!
The Lows (from my perspective)
There were not many lows, but more than usual, the worst being the very hazy sky resulting from the tremendous volumes of forest fire smoke that eliminated (or postponed) my annual peek at Pluto Friday night. Saturday, the smoke was so thick that the sunlight reaching the ground had a slightly red/brown tint (reminiscent of the effects seen here during the big Yellowstone fire of a few years ago), and the odor of the smoke could be detected by the nose at times during the day and night. Another low was the fact that both of the speakers slated for Saturday evening were unable to attend. Bummer.
It's always great to run into the freindly astro-folk that make the annual pilgrimage from Laramie, Cheyenne, Ft. Collins, Denver, and elsewhere and get a touch of sunburn hobnobbing the days away.
One real high was seeing a comet tail with no head Friday evening - just a beautiful tail with no coma! The night before it had a nice coma, but in the intervening 24 hours it had broken up and disappeared. Goodbye LINEAR! You were a good comet while you lasted!
Below are some pictures of a few home made telescopes I noticed; an 8 inch Cassegrain; a binomount; and a Newtonian on an interesting altazimuth pipe mount.
There was a fellow (not in picture below) from California that brought along his Daystar Ha filter, and spent most of the day Saturday giving anyone that would a look at the many solar prominences. Very nice. That little item drew a lot interest. We'll be seeing more of these in the future I'm sure.
For the fortunate few of us that were able (about 60 folks), the highest point was the Saturday evening trip up to the 92 inch WIRO telescope on Jelm mountain, which had just been fitted with an optical eyepiece holder. A few volunteers were kind enough to load us into their 4WD vehicles and haul our motley crew up the rough road to the summit. We had the opportunity to view the Ring nebula (wow!), the Cat's Eye nebula (triple wow!), the edge-on galaxy M102 (nice), and Uranus (as big and bright as Jupiter appears in our typical small scopes - could see six tiny pin-pricks of light around it, at least some of which were obviously moons, and I could imagine occasional streaking on the planet, but it was probably just wishfull thinking - a 92 inch column of turbulent air is a lot to look through!). The view of the Cat'sEye, with it's bright blue loops was absolutely stunning, and is burned into my memory. I'd sure like to build a telescope to reproduce that view!!
Upon returning to Foxpark we took another peek at the Cat's Eye through a 17 inch scope to compare the view to what we had just seen on the mountain. There were a few moments of decent seeing when we got a crisp view of Jupiter, but the overall conditions were so smokey that most folks didn't even uncover their telescopes.
The next morning we were lamenting the smoke and poor transparency when a fellow from Virginia mentioned that it was the best viewing he had ever had. That really drove home the fact that east coast folks truly don't know what a dark sky is all about.
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