I am finally home from a two week odyssey (a few days off to visit family was included), that culminated in a week at the annual Grand Canyon Star Party. This is the largest public astronomy outreach event in the country. The National Park service claims up to 80,000 visitors for the star party... I was there, and I'm a bit more quantitative when it comes to this kind of thing. I've been to some 100,000 people events before and I think 80,000 is the "marketing figure". Probably 80,000 people come to the park that week, but not quite that many people to the star party itself. The engineering value (my estimate), is more like about 15,000 or so over the course of the week. That's still a LOT of people, with buses dumping people regularly until 11pm there were probably up to about 2,000 people per night coming through the 60 or so telescope stations. Right at the bus drop off point, there were several people doing live imaging with Hyper Stars (for accessibility purposes), and I was in the overflow area doing live stacking using a 100mm refractor.
The event attracts astronomers from all over the country who are "sworn in volunteer park rangers providing interpretive guidance to the night sky". Cool, I"ll have to add that to my resume - LOL. The picture at right shows my Paramount MYT setup with my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 refractor and a jazzed up Starlight Xpress 694 Pro with filter wheel. If you look carefully, in the back right is another Paramount, an MX with my friend from Sky Watcher Kevin LeGore who has been coming to this event for over 10 years. He was doing visual with a much larger refractor and using our iOS app to control his scope. The Paramount also makes a surprisingly effective visual setup.
An EGO and another 12V battery powered my whole system which was run not by laptop, but of course by a Raspberry Pi. My iPad Pro (the smaller of the Pro series) was plenty large enough to show a selection of galaxies as I live stacked them using TheSkyX Professional. It was a bit windy, and the seeing (stability) was not quite as good as at home in Florida, but the transparency at 7,000+ feet was outstanding. Shooting short luminance frames on even faint galaxies such as M101 produced a recognizable galaxy with the first frame.
One of the best things about live stacking is that a whole group of people can watch and discuss what they are seeing at the same time. I'll try and resist gloating that people often said that the picture was way better than any of the views, even through some of the giant Dobsonians that where there. I guess that was gloating... sorry :-)
Families, tourist groups, etc. would stand around me and we'd talk about the structure of galaxies, their distance, and what they were made of. A group of girls from New Zealand were enthralled and we talked endlessly about the nots of star formation in M101 and spiral galaxies.
"I had no idea you could see a galaxy this well with a telescope this small".
If I had a dollar for every time I heard this.
I truly believe with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my might that live stacking is the future of amateur astronomy. It adds the much needed social aspect to the hobby that resonates with the Facebook, Twitter crowd, and the generation that grew up on My Space. Visual is still great, and the dynamic range on many objects still make for a better eyeball view than a photo... but getting a picture up and visible to children, the elderly, the visually impaired, or just a group of people all looking and enjoying it together has never been so ridiculously easy as it is right now. A short TPoint run during twilight, a small refractor and an affordable camera is all you need. No guiding, no giant telescopes that need re-collimating, and no laptop with a wheelbarrow full of deep cycle batteries required. A friend from my local astronomy club is even doing his own live star parties, broadcast live on YouTube now using his Paramount MYT and live stacking. Check it out here.
TheSkyX Professional and the Paramount make this childs play. Come get some.
07-04-2019 11:09 AM