Well this is different....
I have just returned from my first Grand Canyon Star Party, and I can all but promise it won't be my last. A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon for a day, and with a rented fast camera lens was determined to stay and take some Milky Way pictures after dark. Mother nature had a few other plans and that opportunity would have to wait until just last week when I got to stay for several days and nights in a row as part of one of the nations largest star parties.
I am a star party veteran now, having started spending vacation time at star parties well before working for Software Bisque, and for the last decade, I've of course been attending and representing Bisque as a sort of "Imaging Evangelist" at star parties all over the country. After all of this experience, I found the Grand Canyon event to be quite unique. Unlike most star parties where amateurs gather to image and observe the night sky, the GCSP is primarily focused on being a public event. There were only about 60 - 70 scopes setup on any given night, but many thousands of visitors were brought in by bus on a regular schedule between 8 and 11 p.m.
Unless you're the general public, you don't "attend" the GCSP, you "volunteer". You are actually for a few days an official park volunteer, and this comes with some privileges and responsibilities. I will admit too it's a bit of a small thrill to drive up to the gate, announce that "I'm an astronomer", and then be let in for free ;-) Your job at the GCSP is an "Interpretive Ranger" of sorts. You show the public the night sky and explain it to them. A very large bus parking lot was filled with scopes, and I setup with friends in the adjacent overflow parking lot, right at the edge of the crowd. By day, there might be some solar scopes setup near the visitors center, or in the case of a friend of mine, he setup a meteorite display and a couple large telescopes just to attract attention and have kids put their hands on "space rocks".
I could go on and on about the people I met. Some from inner cities had never even seen the night sky before, much less the Milky Way. It was so gratifying and exciting to be a true evangelist of sorts for the night sky. "Half the park is after dark" is no joke, the Grand Canyon is one of the worlds premier dark sky sites, and next year they will be completing some needed retrofits to become an IDA recognized dark sky park. I'm very excited and plan to be there for that.
Meanwhile... why was I here? Several reasons. For starters, you just can't build the kinds of products we build sitting at a desk, and there's nothing like a 'real world' trial to see if some things work the way you think they will. I also spent a lot of time with some future customers... I had kids who totally understood the idea of TPoint and mount modeling right away - I'm not kidding - and the only reason I even talked about that was because he kept asking deeper and deeper questions! His curiosity knew no bounds! Besides this of course, if we don't do something to increase the publics awareness and resect for the night sky... well, being out of business will be the least of our concerns...
So about that real world stuff... I brought along a Paramount MYT, and a small 80mm refractor. Instead of looking through the telescope, people watched the live camera feed from the camera and Raspberry Pi on the scope on my iPad. This was not only a real world test for using a light weight imaging system (which I had to setup and tear down nightly!), but also the first public demonstration of our upcoming live stacking feature. 10 to 30 second exposures on galaxies, all being aligned and stacked while they watched. For one group, we actually just galaxy hopped from location to location and only needed a single image to see... A GALAXY! As imagers, we have totally lost touch with reality my friends. The general public has never even seen a sky like this, much less when you point a telescope someplace "up" and a few seconds later they see a swirling galaxy of billions of stars.
There were a few larger dobs setup too, and a couple of video displays, but I was told repeatedly that I had the coolest system there. Yeah, I didn't mind that either ;-) Live stacking will be a thing soon in both LTI and TheSkyX Pro, and I can't encourage any of you enough to get out and share what you do and love with our products (or even our competitors) with the general public. I'll be back to GCSP next year, and I'll not only be padding the trip with some time off to see more of the park after dark on my own time, but I just might bring along something else new from Software Bisque to show off and exercise under those fantastic skies!
06-19-2018 2:09 PM