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Winter Star Party 2019
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

I’ve just returned from my “Latitude Adjustment” at the annual Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys. This is one of the world’s top star parties with attendance topping out at 600 amateur astronomers many years. This year the event returned to the site in the Keys, which was still recovering from damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017, and the staff limited the gate count at 350. I had a feeling of dread as just days before they had to announce that despite all efforts, the site would be without AC power of any kind during the event. According to one source on staff, only three people asked for their money back! Monday afternoon, you wouldn’t even know that attendance had been limited as the place was packed. Rules on generator usage were relaxed and most people shared their lines with neighbors chipping in on gas, and there were zero complaints (and most generators today are surprisingly quiet). Possibly because everyone was in such a good mood because the weather could not have been better. Not too hot, not too cool at night, and clear most every night.

Normally I setup near the “Wheelhouse” where the talks and presentations are given, but that building is out of commission still from the storm, so I setup near the vendors and Micki’s Kitchen. This was a great place to be and the vendors could all hang out together and everyone in the camp came by there at one time or another. I had both a Paramount MYT setup for visual observing via my iPad and WiSky board, and a Paramount MX+ setup for imaging. Three other Paramounts (an MX, and two MYT’s) were nearby… we actually were surrounding a friends AP mount… ha ha.. we win ;-) . Across the island there were another three Paramount MYT’s with customers I knew well, and we did some late-night consulting and a couple of daily build updates from my thumb drive. 

Much of this year’s event was planned at the last minute due to site uncertainties, and so Mike Lockwood and I were the only speakers. Mike talked about optics, and I talked about @Focus3, and our upcoming SkyBoxx (still a code name) product and about my experiences imaging from a Raspberry Pi and battery-powered operation (timely given the conditions!). There were a couple of interesting pieces of information that came out of the talks from audience feedback.

First was that no one else offering the Raspberry Pi experience has live stacking capabilities. Access to live stacking on a tablet device seemed to this group to be a killer feature. I had always considered this important as I do a good bit of outreach myself, but I thought my favoritism was somewhat biased. Seems I’m not the only one.

Another important thing we need to address with our message is about the wireless communication between the SkyBoxx (based on a Raspberry Pi) and your mobile device or laptop. It seems if you say “Wi-Fi”, everyone assumes you mean the Internet. When you state,

Richard states: “The device creates a Wi-Fi hot spot you can connect to with your tablet or laptop.”

Audience asks: “What if you’re in a remote location and there’s no signal?”

Richard answers: “The device makes the hot spot/signal for you.”

Audience asks: “But how does it get to the Internet?”

Richard: “You don’t need the Internet…”

Audience asks: “If there’s no Internet, how do you use Wi-Fi then?”

Yes, we have some educating to do. The analogy I used is, "think radio,” and any preconceived notions about Wi-Fi. The SkyBoxx becomes something like a radio transmitter, and your mobile device or laptop listens to it. That seemed to work.

Did I mention the weather was fantastic? The annual astrophotography contest is another Winter Star Party Staple, and the last several years, I’ve won one of the three categories (Deep Sky, Widefield, Solar System). This year I had strong entries for all three and took both Deep Sky and Widefield (the Widefield shot was with a DSLR on a tripod). My M78 was all imaged with a Raspberry Pi (and unguided), and I controlled it with my iPad. Several people came by to see, and I also demonstrated live stacking. I must say, even with long exposures, the live stacking is a lot of fun to watch as you can get a real time view of just how clean your data is getting as you accumulate exposures. 

I now have a pile of plaques and have won every year I’ve competed for the last seven years. In the interest of fostering some more competition, I’m going to “retire” from WSP competitions and next year will be serving as one of the judges as well as helping to refactor the competition a little bit. I’m looking forward to serving in this new role and as a regular speaker for the last decade or so, we’ll add some workshops geared more towards helping others feel more confident about entering the contest as well.

Well, that’s all for now, I have a pretty busy dance card now as travel season ramps up culminating with a return to the Grand Canyon Star Party in June. See you around!

Richard


Posted 02-13-2019 10:50 AM by Richard Wright

Comments

David Illig wrote re: Winter Star Party 2019
on 02-13-2019 3:32 PM

Great write up, fabulous photo! Yes, it’s time for you to retire from competition and give others a chance.

Leona and me? We’re in cool, rainy, San Luis Obispo, CA visiting an elderly (even older than me!) friend.

We look foreword to seeing the gang at NEAIC/NEAF.

natashaaiken480 wrote re: Winter Star Party 2019
on 03-25-2019 4:33 AM

Amazing and memorable! Need to make it down more often.  Probably the most fun you’ll ever have observing the stars!  Between the great people you’ll meet and just being in the Keys it’s literally one of the nicest vacations I’ve ever had.

   

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