My original intent was to blog daily from the Winter Star Party... silly boy. Silly, silly boy...
Star parties are a busy affair as is, but WSP is the most intense week of any event I attend regularly (it is also hands down, my favorite), only matched perhaps by NEAF, which only lasts a few days. There are customers to talk to, other vendors to get caught up with, talks to attend (or give), and of course friends who want to go to dinner, etc. Since WSP is so close to home, the friend ratio is even higher because friends from home and my own astronomy club in the Orlando area (CFAS) are here too. Oh, let's not forget that it's hot all day (mostly) and we are up all night. Some imaging, some teaching someone to guide for the first time (you know who you are <g>). I slept for ten hours straight when I got home last night.
As typical, I had an overly ambitious imaging plan, and I brought along a considerable arsenal of gear:
- Paramount MYT
- Paramount ME II
- Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 w/FLI Proline 16803, MoonLite NightCrawler Focuser
- Sky-Watcher Esprit 80 w/QSI 683, Feather Touch Focuser
- Lunt 60mm pressure tuned Ha solar scope
- Coronado 60mm Ca solar Scope
- Full Spectrum Modified Canon T3i w/AutoFocus bracket from Starlight Instruments
- Tripod, sky tracker, unmodified DSLR, an assortment of lenses.
No guider or guide scope. I decided both mounts have good trained PEC and I wanted to show that unguided at a star party was doable without having to run models all night long. The most I did was 119 points on the big 150 refractor, and was done well before twilight the night we setup and had skies for it. Interestingly, the big mount did not settle all week, but the MYT with the Esprit 80 needed a recalibration nightly. I suppose the heavy mount "settled" quickly and the lighter mount was more prone to gradual settling. Some pads under the feet would probably have solved that issue (the feet on the ME II tripod are larger too). It is mostly sand and gravel after all. In any case, by the end of the week I was over 10 arcminutes off, and decided to do a mechanical adjustment and new TPoint run on Friday night. 70 Points during twilight and I was unguided for 10 minute subs all night with my 400mm refractor. I have some glorious data on IC 2177 (the Seagull) with that system I need to process now. It's worth mentioning that my friend and neighbor on Paramount Hill Jon Talbot setup next to me and was doing 30 minutes unguided(!!!) narrowband images with his refractor on a MYT Friday and Saturday night.
For most of the week, we did not find favor with the weather gods. It was cloud strewn most days and neither of the solar scopes saw any action. At night it was mostly cloudy, with a few gaps and short spans during which we imaged like mad to try and get every sub we could for the annual astrophotography contest. Wednesday we had a huge storm come through that blew down the food vendor tent, toppled some Dobs, and blew a friend's SCT over and even blew water into it! Fortunately a good drying in the sun and re-collimation and he was back in business.
Thursday night was forecast to be good, but the clouds and haze disappointed us. While waiting for a break, most of us were processing our images all night for the Astrophoto contest as entries were due Friday morning. I saw one of my friend's images (Jon's), and thought I might lose my winning streak (I've won one of the categories the last three years I've attended), but you never know what the judges are looking for. I also often have more than one entry, but because of the weather and other issues I had only a single entry for the deep sky category with about 4 hours of data on IC 443 (the Jellyfish nebula) from 10 minute subs gathered over four nights with the 150mm refractor (1050mm focal length). I was happy to hear the winner of the deep sky category announced as my image again this year.
We were rewarded for our patience on Friday and Saturday night. Not just the best weather all week, but the best skies I've seen in a few years at WSP. To the south out over the ocean the skies were amazing and you could watch the brighter stars wink out as they set below the horizon. Eta Carina was visible naked eye just above the ocean's edge, and a friend shooting it with his DSLR has some very impressive subs to process when he gets home! I did a star trail with the stars reflecting in the bay and tidal pools (also still TBD processing wise). One of many reasons this is my favorite star party! Typically, a lot of people leave Friday after the door prizes, or leave Saturday. Saturday night is usually a ghost town... but not this year! It was as crowded Saturday night as Monday night as few people were willing to leave the best skies we've seen in years.
I was also a speaker this year and on Thursday I gave a presentation entitled "The Future of Portable Imaging". This was 1/2 my own experiences on traveling with a Paramount, and battery technologies, and 1/2 vendor revelations about what we are doing at Software Bisque towards these ends. TheSkyX on the Raspberry Pi is gaining some traction as a portable alternative to keeping a laptop powered all night, but as they say on the TV, "but wait... there's more!". We are also working on an entirely new front end for imaging that is designed for a small screen (netbook or tablet). I showed this off publicly for the first time to a packed room in the wheelhouse, along with an early sneak peak at upcoming technologies which will benefit this streamlined, more automated interface as well as find their way soon into the main TheSkyX Pro interface. Stay tuned to see what we have to say at NEAF, and possibly a publicly available "Technology Preview" of @focus3 and a new improved screen stretch that also supports color previews for OSC cameras. Yeah, you didn't think Orchestrate II was the only thing we've been working on did you?
Sleep is for mortals ;-)
After finally getting somewhat caught up at home I've started processing more of my WSP images. I wanted to share an image made from 11.6 hours of unguided 5 and 10 minute (narrowband/Ha was 10 minutes) exposures on a Paramount MYT. Not all on one night of course! The decision not to even bring a guider this year certainly did me no harm... guiding is just more trouble than it's worth sometimes ;-)
I invite you to explore the full resolution version here:
P.S. Anomalies in the corners are from the camera/optic, not tracking.
02-20-2017 1:00 AM