South Pacific Star Party 2005!
11th-13th March 2005
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The IceInSpace Contingent. L-R: iceman, robby, rod, xstream, anna

On the 11th-13th March 2005, the ASNSW held their annual South Pacific Star Party (SPSP) at a property called Wiruna, near Ilford/Mudgee in NSW. It's one of the biggest star parties held in Australia each year, with around 300 astronomers from around the country converging on the dark skies of Wiruna.

It was my first time attending, and from the IceInSpace Forums, we had a few representatives also going. Robby from New Zealand, Rodstar also from the Central Coast, xstream (john) and his wife Anna from Melbourne, and Seeker and his wife and daughter from Sydney. Greg Bryant (AS&T) and Lyle Rumble (S&S) were also there.

The picture on the right has some of the IceInSpace contingent, unfortunately Seeker and his family weren't there on the Sunday when this picture was taken. From left to right, Iceman, Robby, Rod, John and Anna.


Friday the 11th


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My 10" dob with the IceInSpace stickers

We left at about 11am from Hornsby after we picked Robby up at the station. We convoyed out there, and stopped at Mt Victoria in the blue mountains for lunch. and arrived at Wiruna at about 3pm.

We sat through the welcome speech in the main hall and then drove the car to the observing fields to set up our scopes, and then back to the camping field to set up the tents.


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Robby and the Argo Navis

It wasn't long before we met the first forum member, xstream (john) and his wife Anna. It was lucky I posted my mug on the forums, because the next person to seek me out was Seeker, who found me at the registration desk. He was there with his wife and daughter. Also ran into Greg Bryant from AS&T, and Gary Kopff and Mai from Wildcard Innovations - the company that make the ArgoNavis DSC computer. Robby had to pick up an ArgoNavis for a kiwi friend, and Gary and Mai offered to help us set it up and use it on my 10" dob later in the night, which we of course accepted.


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Rod and his LX200

As it started getting dark at around 8pm people started tinkering with their scopes, getting them ready for the nights viewing. As soon as a few bright stars appeared against the dark blue, we aligned our scopes and started the viewing with Saturn.

Gary and Mai came down later and we unplugged the encoders from my SkyCommander and plugged it into the Argo Navis. Gary went through the setup process and we were up and running with it after only a few minutes. He took us through the features and it's one very nice piece of gear - great user interface, lots of functions and features. We left it on my scope for the whole weekend and made great use of it.

While Rod played on his own with his Meade LX200, John and Anna were on the other side of "rabbit hole ditch" with their LX90, and Robby and I drove the dob.


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The Friday night weather was crystal clear

The viewing report will be from my views with the dob. Rod took his own notes and will hopefully add his report later.

The plan for the night was to go galaxy and planetary nebula hunting, and we started with one of the best.. Centaurus A.

Viewing Report, Friday the 11th

Scope Used: 10" dob with SkyCommander and ArgoNavis DSC's

Transparency: 4/5
Seeing: 3/5
Eyepieces: 16mm Nagler Type 2, 12mm Nagler Type 4, 30mm GSO SV, 9mm GSO plossl

NGC5128 Galaxy Centaurus A galaxy. Dust lane very visible
NGC1566 Galaxy Face on spiral galaxy in Dorado. Dim but visible.
NGC5139 Glob Cl. Omega Centauri globular. Stunning, filling the field of view. Hundreds of stars resolved
NGC9755 Open Cl. Jewelbox open cluster. Pinpoint stars, around 50+ visible. Colours vibrant in the 3 middle stars
M42 Nebula Orion nebula. E & F stars resolved, wings filled the field of view. With the OIII filter more nebulosity was seen
C/2005 A1 Comet About 1 degree from 47Tuc, fairly faint ~ mag 8. Coma faint but visible, looked like a small hazy glob
47Tuc Glob Cl. Bright core, not quite as big as Omega Centauri but very bright. Almost ruins night vision.
NGC4744 Galaxy Galaxy in Centaurus. Dim at mag 12.5, a faint smudge in the middle of the FOV
NGC2070 Nebula Tarantula Neb. Magnificent arms spreading out. With the OIII filter the central detail and structure jumped out
NGC4945 Galaxy Galaxy in Centaurus. Mag 8.5 no notes recorded
NGC3242 Planetary Nebula Ghost of Jupiter Planetary Neb. Small blue disc
NGC2555 Galaxy Galaxy in Hydra. Faint smudge. No other notes recorded
NGC2808 Glob Cl. Globular Cluster in Carina. Mag ~6ish. Small, but neat compact cluster
NGC6752 Glob Cl. Globular Cluster in Pavo. Mag 5.4. No notes recorded
NGC3115 Galaxy Spindle Galaxy in Sextans. Mag 8.5. Nice structure
NGC4038 Galaxy Antannae Galaxy in Corvus. Mag 10. Unremarkable at first, a later viewing showed a little structure
NGC3132 Planetary Nebula Planetary Neb in Vela. Mag 9.7. Eight-Burst Nebula. Averted Vision needed to show more detail
M65/ M66/ NGC3628 Galaxy Leo triplet of galaxies. 3 just fit in FOV with the 16Nag. The 30mm SV allowed them to fit better though the edges were softer
M104 Galaxy Sombrero Galaxy. Dust lane and glowing centre stood out. Awesome sight
M83 Galaxy Southern Pinwheel Galaxy in Hydra. Face on spiral, structure and dust lanes barely visible
M46 & NGC2438 Open Cl. & Planetary Nebula Open cluster with planetary neb. Easily visible planetary
NGC2392 Planetary Nebula Eskimo Neb - Planetary in Gemini. Blue green elipse, more visible with averted vision
NGC3918 Planetary Nebula Blue Planetary Neb in Centaurus. Bright blue disc
NGC3372 Nebula Eta Carina Neb. High contrast, dust lanes prominent, hermunculus nebula around eta carinae star visible in good seeing. With the OIII filter the contrast was even more enhanced, providing a 3D view

At around 12:30am the dew started making everything wet, including the mirror.. and every star started looking like a nebula or galaxy :) So it was time to pack it up and get some sleep.

The highlights for the night were M104, M83, the Leo Triplet and NGC5128.


Saturday the 12th


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Solar scopes

After a terrible nights sleep on hard bumpy ground with a thin piece of foam as a mattress, the beautiful day outside made the bad stuff go away. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and we were at a star party :)

Took a look through a few PST's in the morning, some nice prominences visible.


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My pictures in the webcam comp

I wasn't planning to enter the astrophotography competition (webcam category), but there were only 6 entries so far and I thought mine had a chance against them. I entered 3 of my own, my moon mosaic, jupiter and saturn.

We took a look through the vendor stalls in the main hall, and honestly we were a bit disappointed. There were no markdowns or specials, everything was at normal shop prices. Rod bought himself an Astronomik OIII filter for galaxy viewing.. it was quite a surprise to him when we told him that it will actually make galaxies look worse :) Not to be deterred though, Rod planned a good night of nebula viewing instead :)


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To fill in time during the day, Robby, Rod and myself went for a drive up to Mudgee where we had lunch at a local cafe. On the way there we saw a willy-willy, which was pretty cool.


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Windermere Dam

On the way back we stopped at a winery for some tastings, and then stopped again at Windermere Dam.. quite a nice spot.


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CCD category, the M104 picture won

We made it back for the announcement of the astrophotography prizes and lucky door prizes.. Much to our surprise, I didn't grab first or second place in the webcam category.. instead, an over-exposed over-processed moon shot won! >:( But no, i'm not bitter! :) Anyway you'll get to see the winning entry in the next Sky&Space, apparently.


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John and Anna setting up their scope

We then sat through the most painful 90 minutes of the weekend, the lucky door prize draw. None of the IceInSpace contingent won anything.. and it took soooo long to get through it all. I guess if I won the Meade LD75 it might have been worth it. :)

A spit roast for dinner, accompanied by some lovely wine courtesy of Rod, and the nights viewing was ready to begin. We shifed our scopes over the rabbit ditch next to John and Anna so we could chat more easily while viewing.


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2-day old crescent moon

The plan for tonight was globs and galaxies. The weather was nice again, the clouds had mostly cleared and things were looking good for an all-nighter.

The 2-day old moon made a brief appearance just after the sun went down, made a nice crescent.

Viewing Report, Saturday the 12th

Scope Used: 10" dob with ArgoNavis DSC's

Transparency: 3.5/5
Seeing: 3.5/5
Eyepieces: 16mm Nagler Type 2

M42 Nebula Viewed M42 through my 10" dob, an 80mm stellarview with binoviewer, and a 6" dob. My 10" obviously let the most light in, and more detail was clearly visible in the nebula. E & F stars visible in the trap. The views through the binoviewed 80mm were pleasing, with good contrast and it is very comfortable viewing through 2 eyes. The 6" dob was a nice contrasty sharp view.
Saturn Planet ng was slightly better than last night, cassini division visible most of the way around
M67 Open Cl. Open cluster. Nice little cluster, looks like the tarantula shape with stars instead of nebula
M46 & NGC2438 Open Cl. and Planetary Nebula Open cluster with planetary neb. Easily visible planetary, stars nice and sharp.
NGC3324/ Eta Carina Nebula Nebula Looked absolutely brilliant tonight, the homunculus was easily visible and the contrast between the dark lanes and the bright nebula was awesome. The OIII filter of Rod's made it look even more 3D
365 Carbon Star Carbon star Espin-Birmingham 365 - 2 degrees west of Beta Crucis, the eastern star of the Southern Cross)  - Small red carbon star, very pinpoint and very red.
NGC4755 Open Cl. Jewelbox open cluster. Excellent view
M79 Glob Cl. No notes.
NGC1851 Glob Cl. Small compact globular
NGC2440 Planetary Nebula Small planetary nebula, averted vision needed to make the nebula pop out
NGC2298 Glob Cl. Very small, very faint at mag 9.3
NGC2808 Glob Cl. Globular in Carina. medium size, bright compact core
NGC4372 Glob Cl. Globular in Musca. Very open. Mag 7.3
NGC4833 Glob Cl. Glob. More Condensed
NGC2516 Open Cl. No notes.
NGC5139 Glob Cl. Omega Centauri globular. Beautiful view again
NGC3201 Glob Cl. Small, medium density
M65/ M66/ NGC3628 Galaxy Group No notes taken.
NGC3115 Galaxy Spindle Galaxy in Sextans. Mag 8.5. Nice structure
NGC2974 Galaxy Very faint, mag 10.9. Bright star on the edge of the fuzz
NGC2967 Galaxy Fuzzy haze, no detail visible
NGC2986 Galaxy A bit brighter with a hint of structure
NGC3048 Galaxy Antennae galaxy. Faint structure
NGC5128 Galaxy Centaurus A galaxy. Dust lane very visible, averted vision showed more detail
NGC3557 Galaxy Very faint, bright core, jsut a smudge
NGC1947 Galaxy Galaxy in Dorado. Very faint, barely visible
NGC1672 Galaxy Brighter, larger, structure visible
NGC2359 Nebula Thors Helmet nebula in Canis Major
NGC1617 Galaxy Very faint with a brighter core
NGC3521 Galaxy Galaxy in Leo. No notes taken
NGC2640 Galaxy Galaxy in Leo. Very faint, no detail
M105/ NGC3384/ M95/ M96 Galaxy Group 4 galaxies in Leo. Excellent view, 1 very faint
M104 Galaxy Sombrero Galaxy. Excellent view, dark lane with bright bulge



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Mike Kerr's 25" dob

Tonight we also spent a bit of time wandering around and looking through a few other scopes. Of course biggest was best, so we started at Mike Kerr's 25" dob, push-to with SkyCommander DSC's and on a tracking platform. It was a monster!

We viewed NGC2359 (Thors Helmet) and NGC1566 (galaxy), and it was the most detail i've ever seen in a galaxy. Spiral structure and darker lanes were jumping out, it almost looked like a picture.


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20" dob on the left

We then tried a 20" obsession just down the field, and we looked at the horsehead with a H-beta filter, Eta Carina/NGC3324 and the Leo triplet of galaxies (M65/M66/NGC3628).

The horsehead was pretty disappointing. While it was (barely) visible, it was most forgettable and not really exciting.. For me, not worth buying a h-beta filter for one object. Photographically it is much prettier.

Eta Carina through the 20" was simply the best i've ever seen this nebula. The homunculus was jutting out of the Eta Carina star on both sides, and the detail in the nebula was stunning.


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The suns rays through the dusty sky just before the sun set

Looking through those big scopes really is enough to drive a man into aperture fever, but luckily I can't afford such a fever and so I have to stay realistic :)

I also saw a bright orange fireball at 9:40pm in the southeast. It covered about 20-30 degrees of sky and glowed for about 5+ seconds. It's the first time i've seen one of these, and i'll definitely never forget that sight! Truly amazing.

Dew again rolled in (along with some high cloud) around midnight, so off to bed it was. Apparently it cleared up nicely around 2am, but I needed sleep to drive home the next day anyway.

The highlights of the night were the fireball, NGC1566 in the 25", NGC3324 in the 20", and Omega Centauri in my 10".

Sunday the 13th


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Mike and Rob at the swap meet

Went back to the vendor stalls again on Sunday morning, and was equally as disappointed as Saturday morning, no specials, no sales. The swap meet was set up in the tent next door, and unfortunately there were only a few people trying to sell their warez, nothing I was interested in.

Robby setup on a table to try and get some interest in his star-mate, and I left some IceInSpace flyers and banners there too. A few people collected the flyers and spoke to Robby about his product.


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Rod, Anna, John and Robby

I spoke to Steve Mogg (who makes the Mogg ToUcam adapters), and met some local amateurs and astronomers from the Central Coast, as well as Peter and David from the NSAS.

The star party ended for us at about 11am when we left to drive home.

All in all, it was a great weekend. I had a great time, especially meeting Robby, Rod, John, Anna, Narayan (seeker), his wife and daughter, along with Gary Kopff, Mai, Greg Bryant, Lyle Rumble, Lena Moore, John Brambury, Andrew, Ross and many other people I neglected to remember the names of.

The skies were dark and the weather was good.. for 4 hours drive though it is a bit far to do too often.. i think you could get equally as dark skies in the blue mountains for only 2 hours drive. I guess it's the culture, the atmosphere and the social event that makes a star party a star party.. it's not just the dark skies and the observing.

Everyone was friendly, though being an ASNSW event it seemed to be a bit cliquey, with what seemed like 80% of the people there belonging to the ASNSW. It also seemed like all the ASNSW members won the prizes, especially the webcam category! :) I'm sure it wasn't the case but it just felt like it at times. Rod has some other ideas on how the event could be improved, i'm sure he'll elaborate on them in his event report.

All in all it was a great weekend and i'm really glad I made the effort to go. My telescope performed well, and I didn't want to hand back the 16mm Nag or the ArgoNavis. I'm actually very pleased with the views through my scope, when compared with the scopes around me. I've never had much of an opportunity to compare views before, so it's pleasing to see that my scope is good optically, and is collimated well.

The DSC's are the best investment I have made on my scope.. Finding galaxies was quick and fast, even faster than the whizzing buzzing whirring goto scopes next door :) All I was missing was tracking, but with the DSOs we were viewing at medium power, it wasn't an issue.

I'm looking forward to going again next year.. I guess I should warn my wife now.. :)

Misc. Images


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Some of the big dobs on show

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Some of the big dobs on show

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Some of the big dobs on show

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Some of the big dobs on show

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Miscellaneous field shot

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Miscellaneous field shot

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C11 on an EQ6 SkyScan

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Windermere Dam

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Windermere Dam

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Images in the DSLR category

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Images in the Film category

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A very nice imaging scope

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Part of an 18m focal length home-made scope
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