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