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Stellar Time, but scope for improvement
Submitted: Sunday, 3rd April 2005 by Rod Berry

Update 4th April 2005 by iceman: Mike Kerr, president of ASNSW, contacted me after reading mine and Rod's SPSP reports, and had some concerns that some of Rod's points could be misleading for the casual reader.  I have given Mike the right of reply and with his permission, have added his email as an addendum so he can clarify and provide explanation for 2 of Rod's main points. You can read Mike's email at the bottom of this report.


The thrill of catching my first glimpse of 50+ telescopes standing together in a field is hard to describe. An army of scopes of that number look like they are waiting for nightfall to conduct a serious covert operation. Or perhaps they appear like a group of long-lost relatives gathered together for a family BBQ? Either way, I was just pleased to hang around them with the thought of enjoying some reflected glory from the cosmos…..

Such were my initial feelings when I joined the IceinSpace contingent on the Astronomy Society of NSW Starparty at Wiruna on the weekend of 11-13 March 2005. It was simply fantastic to jump into the deep end with a bunch of total astro-geeks to do the “astronomy thing” for a whole weekend.

I have to say that there is an element of celebrity missing from amateur astronomers. Forget the red carpet at a “star” party. Spectacles, sandles, and comb-overs are more the order of the day.

There was also a noticeable preponderance of males (many of whom were of generous proportion), which made for a certain degree of blokey bonhomie. There being only two showers, sight was not the only sense that was shared. This all made it rather surprising that I did not see a single blowfly for the entire weekend.

Wiruna is a fairly unexceptional rural property, with a large metal shed for group sessions, and an amenities block. There are a couple of drop toilets located around the site. Camping is in grassy clearings, or in an open forest area to one side. The land looks dry and the roads bring dust. But the skies are very dark, which is all an astronomer really wants or needs.

Mike Salway has given a pretty detailed description of what went on generally during the weekend, so I will confine my comments to what I observed, and my assessment of the good, the bad, and the ugly at the weekend.

All visual observations referred to below were made on my 10” Meade LX200GPS. Most observations were made with a 30mm GSO Superview from Bintel. I also viewed some images in the scopes of Iceman (10” Dob) and XStream and Anna (8” LX90).

What I observed on Friday 11th March

There were two highlights for me, being the Leo Triplet and Centaurus A.

Constellation

Object

Comments

Orion

M42

Great starter for the night, radiant, spilling out over the edges of the 30mm eyepiece, could only resolve the quadrilateral

 

M43

Lovely wispy cousin of M42, no particular detail noted

Leo

M65

Clear view of galaxy edge on at an angle, in same field of view as M66

 

M66

Same as M65

 

NGC3628

Unable to get in the same field of view as M65/M66, just as clearly resolved as elongated galactic object

Hydra

M83

Pinwheel Galaxy, smudge detected with direct view, averted vision enabled detection of faint spiral features

Cancer

M44

Open Cluster, 30+ stars

 

M67

Lovely tightly packed open cluster of 100+ stars

 

M48

Very beautiful open cluster of 100+ stars

Puppis

M47

A huge open cluster with hundreds of stars

 

M46

Lovely open cluster with hundreds of stars

 

NGC2438

Faint smudge planetary nebula superimposed on lower left third of M46

 

NGC2648

Double ticks in my notes, must have been great!

Centaurus

NGC5139

Omega Centaurus, huge globular cluster, amazing

 

NGC5128

Centaurus A, large galaxy able to detect central bright region with dust lane angled across the ball. Averted vision helpful

 

NGC4945

Elongated galaxy taking up the full field of view, worth a visit again!

 

NGC5460

Open cluster in a snakelike pattern

 

NGC5286

Globular cluster, unable to clearly resolve individual stars

Scorpio

M7

Unexceptional open cluster

 

M6

Butterfly shape quite striking. Open cluster

 

IC4628

Open cluster with small tight features

Crux

NGC4755

Jewelbox Cluster, lovely juxtaposition of yellow and blue stars

n/a

Saturn

Clearly resolved rings, several moons visible

 

Jupiter

Two brown latitudinal features clearly distinguished, four+ moons clearly visible, visited several times, very nice.

 

What I observed on Saturday 12th March 2005

I only observed on my scope until 10pm, then wandered with Iceman, Robby, XStream and Anna to look at some behemoth dobs for an hour, only to return to increasing cloud. I had purchased an OIII Filter that morning, which made the nebula viewing very interesting indeed! Absolute highlight was Eta Carina. Viewing was cut short and I had an early night because of clouds.

Constellation

Object

Comments

Orion

M42

With the OIII Filter, the light and dark patches far more differentiated. Dark areas like shadows. Stars looked green. Still limited to resolving the quadrilateral only. 1.25” filter meant restricted to viewing with 26mm eyepiece and lower. Not able to look at whole object at once.

Leo

M65

As per previous night

 

M66

As per previous night

 

NGC3628

As per previous night

Virgo

M104

Sombrero Galaxy, relied on averted vision, clearly detectable

Centaurus

NGC5128

Centaurus A, clearer than previous night, able to sense the dust lanes more clearly tonight, maybe just getting more familiar with the object.

Puppis

M46

Hundreds of bright stars, open but thick,

 

M47

Less stars than M46, but still hundreds of stars, quite beautiful

 

NGC2438

Planetary Nebula superimposed on M46, with OIII Filter much clearer and quite beautiful, false blue/green colour

 

NGC2452

Small planetary nebula detected with OIII Filter as a smudge, close to open cluster

 

NGC2453

Open star cluster close to NGC 2452

Cancer

M48

Medium sized open cluster of approx 100 stars

 

M67

Compact open cluster of 100+ stars

 

 

Tarantula Nebula, with OIII Filter, absolutely spectacular

 

 

Eta Carina Nebula with OIII Filter, almost brought a tear to the eye, phenomenal! Drank deeply of the view, scanning across the object on a slow speed setting on scope.

n/a

Jupiter

Far more clearly resolved than previous night. Saw four latitudinal lines in brown, and also detected dark regions at poles. Great red spot not visible (damn!). Many moons visible (maybe 6?)

 

Saturn

Dominated sky from sunset. Clear and beautiful. Spent some time admiring with naked eye. Cute on low mag. Couldn’t clearly resolve on higher eyepiece than 20mm with 2x Barlow.

 

Moon

Second day moon, visible at sunset. Looked great through 30mm Superview, some deep craters at edge of the terminator, making some lovely, deep, mysterious shadows! Moon faced had slightly violet haze against orange/brown dusk sky. Get out the Windsor & Newton pallet and brushes, Pierre!

The Good

Apart from the beautiful skies, what I most enjoyed about the weekend as a whole was the great sense of openness and friendliness shared between most people. I felt at ease walking up to complete strangers to discuss their contraptions, to sneak a view, or to simply chat about problems or insights. One classic character who spoke with fervour about his sun-scope with an 18 foot focal length (and won a prize for his design) showed incredible grace in asking what I was looking at on the second night, and admired my view of the planetary nebular on M46. It was a great feeling to show him something that clearly was a revelation to him.

We were blessed with great weather. The days were warm to hot, peaking in the high twenties, and the nights were cool but not frigid. I was not uncomfortable with a long sleeve shirt and jacket during night viewing.

The organisers have introduced a new light control policy which may sound a bit fascist at first blush, but which actually makes a great deal of sense, and ensures that we all enjoy uninterrupted dark skies with full dark adaption. It is, after all, the dark skies that we have all travelled many hours to see! I would suggest that a sign be erected at the gate directing latecomers after dark to turn off their headlights and/or to park their cars at the gate to make the policy even better.

The Bad

There were some aspects of the weekend that were disappointing. Whilst we were advised that there was no need to bring any food as the Scouts would fully cater meals, the meals were high in cholesterol and there was a dearth of fresh fruit or fresh vegetables. I was very glad to have brought my own supply of fresh fruit, which kept me “going” (so to speak). I would definitely recommend that any newcomers next year self cater that sort of thing.

There were only two showers, and for 290+ people, that is pushing it a little, meaning that there was often a long queue for the showers. I wouldn’t want to see the event getting any bigger without more facilities being provided. When one considers that we paid $55 to attend, but had to supply our own sleeping quarters and pay for all the food we ordered, one wonders what the fees were used for. Perhaps some of the money could be used in hiring some shower facilities for next year?

The market on the Saturday and Sunday mornings was very disappointing. The companies displaying their wares showed little willingness to reduce prices (except Bintel, who did me a great deal on my OIII filter). It may be worth the organisers considering a requirement that all usual prices be reduced by 10% to make the market attractive. Having said that, for those who do not live near the cities, the market does provide a good opportunity to inspect before buying.

The theme of “astrophotography” was, frankly, a flop. A separate viewing area was set up for astrophotography, but it appeared that only a few scope-owners made use of that facility, suggesting a deep sky viewing theme may have been of more direct interest to participants. It was also rather peculiar that a southern star party should start with a talk on the northern skies.

The Ugly

This is where I get down and get dirty. I hope not to offend any readers. Two things really bothered me:

  1. No reasons were given for the choices made in the astrophotography competition. This made it impossible for entrants and onlookers to understand why certain entries won and others did not. In the webcam section, in the opinion of everyone I spoke to, Mike’s entries (3) were all clearly far superior to anything else on display. Not only did Mike not win, but he did not even get a place. This was a dumbfounding decision, and rather annoying given that a digital camera was the major prize in that category. Reasons must be given for such events, particularly when such prizes are on offer. Otherwise it is hard to draw any other conclusion than that favouritism is being shown towards club members. I still am not clear, as a result of this decision, on whether non-member submissions are even considered in determining the prizes in this competition.

  2. There was a farcical scene in the lucky door prize competition that must never be repeated. In this event, the numbers of everyone in attendance (we are all allocated a number upon payment of camp fees) are placed in a container and drawn at random. There is a list of prizes for all to see, the idea being that the first person drawn gets the first pick of the list, that item is then removed from the list, then the second person is drawn to pick from what remains, and so on. In total, there are about 50 prizes, meaning the odds were pretty good of getting something. The top prize this year was an LX75 8” SN (Wow!). The clear rule at the beginning of the event was that you had to be there in person to claim the prize. The problem was that the first person drawn was not there. After the second number was called, the first person’s sister arrived claiming the prize. Against the clear rules of the competition, the prize was given to that person. The only thing that saved the situation was that the second named person was not there either. One can only just imagine the debacle that would have ensued had the second person also claimed the LX75. My simple message is that when you have prizes worth $1,000+, you have to observe the rules. Nothing less is acceptable. Otherwise, people just lose faith in the competition.

Summary

I envisage returning to the SPSP year after year. It is a fantastic event. Its strengths are the people who come and the dark skies that are on offer. There is always something new to learn from someone else, and something new in the sky to observe. I am confident the organisers will address some of the issues I have raised in this report, and that over time the competitions and other events will run more smoothly. I’d recommend that IceInSpacers seriously consider setting aside the new moon weekend in March 2006 for the next SPSP. I look forward to seeing you there!

Written by Rodstar. Discuss this article at the IceInSpace Forums.

 

Addendum

by Mike Kerr, president of ASNSW

4th April 2005

Hi Mike,

I was interested to read the SPSP reports written by you and Rod Berry for your IceInSpace website. It's good to see some SPSP reports that include some actual observing and I'm glad that you both enjoyed yourselves.

The two articles suggested some areas for improvement and we will definitely take this into account when we are planning next year's SPSP. Thank you for the feedback.

There are a couple of points in Rod's article ("Stellar Time, but scope for improvement"), however, which could leave the casual reader with the wrong impression and I would like to provide some clarification.

1. Astrophotography Competition

All submissions, both member and non-member, were considered and judged in a fair manner. The judges did not rely solely on the printed images in the display or the compressed images used in the laptop slide show when evaluating the entries, but also looked at the full resolution originals supplied by each entrant. This was done to ensure that entries were not unfairly marked down because of a lesser quality printed image or compression artifacts in the slide show.

Unfortunately, because of time constraints in what was a very crowded afternoon's program, we did not at the time give a detailed explanation of the judging process or the reasons for choosing the winning entries. In retrospect this was a mistake and we will correct this for next year's competition.

2. Door Prize Competition

I acknowledge that the awarding of the major door prize was a confusing situation, which could have been misunderstood by some people in the audience. I should have realised this at the time and explained more clearly to everyone what was going on. If you can bear with me, I'd like to do that now.

The first ticket drawn out was number 150. When the ticket holder did not show up, I declared the ticket as "gone". The next ticket drawn was number 151. As I was declaring this ticket "gone" as well, the holder of ticket 150, Tamara Sanders, appeared at the back of the meeting hall. Together with Josie Sanders, Tamara came to the front of the hall where I explained to them that unfortunately their ticket had been declared void. Tamara then indicated that ticket 151 also belonged to a member of their group, Alfred Russo. At that point Alfred came into the hall.

Since Tamara had arrived at virtually the same time as I was declaring ticket 151 "gone" and could be considered as Alfred's representative, I decided that Alfred was a valid recipient of the prize. Alfred was happy for Tamara and Josie to participate in the selection and presentation of his prize, which he is entitled to do. Not surprisingly, they chose the major prize, the Meade telescope.

In summary, the major prize winner was the Alfred Russo, the holder of ticket 151, which was the second ticket drawn out. It's worth remembering that if Tamara and Alfred had been present when their tickets were drawn, they could have walked away with the first and second prizes. As it was, they left with only one prize, albeit the major prize.

I hope this explains what happened and I apologise for any confusion. We will be taking a close look at the prize draw event for next year's SPSP to make it smoother, shorter, and more transparent.

I hope we see you both back for SPSP 14.

Regards,

Mike Kerr

ASNSW President

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