Live from the Chiefland Star Party! Well, not quite, the star party was over Sunday but it’s a good framework for the last installment about my “State of the Art” theme. I gave two talks at the Star Party, and one was on the Paramount and Software Bisque imaging workflow. Although a good bit of that presentation had to do with the new camera plug-in, the first part was about how to do a polar alignment and perform TPoint runs. I even used our database add on with the Palomar Sky Survey data to do a simulated pointing run with Image Links.
The weather was the PITS! I arrived Tuesday, and from Monday through Friday night the skies were a gray mass of clouds. At night the ceiling came down to ground level and it was a misty wet mess. Never has the Chiefland Star Party been such a complete wash weather wise. Fortunately, there was a good crowd there, the talks were good, and I met a lot of customers and made a few new friends.
Saturday the sun came out and teased us all day, and there were enough stars after sunset peeking between large misty sucker holes to do some carefully targeted manual TPoint samples. A good opportunity to practice what I’ve been preaching, I decided to do a polar alignment of my two mounts during the day. I put in the current location, double checked the time, homed, and slewed to the sun (making sure both scopes were covered of course!). First I sighted the MX to the sun using the versa plate. A neighbor came to see the process and we made some jokes about blinding myself. David Ellison was his name, and he had a great idea for when we aligned the ME. In true Red Neck fashion, we used a soda straw and some duct tape to make a makeshift sun spotter. It worked great! Perhaps we should commercialize the idea?
Once it was dark, I proceeded to slew to a visible star through the clouds and do an Image Link. On the MX, I had a short focal length scope and a rough alignment had always proven sufficient. The ME had a 2000mm focal length scope attached, and I was concerned, but it was aligned well enough that I could take an image, and image link would solve for where the mount/scope was actually pointing on the first try. I guess that whole soda straw thing was a great idea! I synced, added the sample, and using the techniques previously described managed to get close to 20 points to do at least one coarse polar alignment adjustment. That was all I could do for the night before the clouds closed in completely, and it was the final night of the star party.
Because of the poor run of weather, the organizers however allowed any willing parties to stay an extra night or two. I originally had decided to call it quits, but when I saw clear blue skies Sunday late morning, I decided to make one more night of it.
Sunday at twilight the skies were good, with a little more moisture in the air than I’d have liked. There was also a big moon hanging nearby. I ran a 60-point run on the MX to nail down the polar alignment and decided to just guide. I shot the sculptor galaxy since I had a nice view to the south I do not have at home. It never got above 40 degrees, there was moon, and the skies were a little soft, but I think I did okay.
Parked on the ME I had a longer focal length scope, 1960mm running at f/7. I did a 50 point run to nail down polar alignment like I did on the MX, but this time I followed up with a 250 point TPoint run and enabled ProTrack. I ran 10-minute exposures on M74 using a CCD camera. Alas, I could not keep the dew of the large corrector plate, but you can see at right that the tracking for 10 minutes was more than up to the task.
The longer run did bite into the evening a bit past twilight, but not much. If I’d had multiple nights to image it would have been a bonanza. Baring the dew, I could have easily gotten six hours in on M74, which would have made for a fantastic showcase image. Well, there's always next year!