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JoeTourist at the 2003 Island Star Party

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Mars imageI attended the Island Star Party last year, but I was "telescope-less" (is that a word?).  It was fun to walk and talk among all the various telescopes and their owners.  I found a unique story for each pair.  I was on a mission last year, since I had just placed an order for my new Meade LX-90 telescope.  It was going to be a couple of months before I received it, and I was flush with excitement.  Several LX-90 owners were at the Island Star Party, and I sought their experiences before I officially joined their ranks.

Oh, and the rest of the gear was fascinating as well!  A star party shows just how inventive and resourceful amateur astronomers can be.  I learned how to make a dew heater out of bits of electrical scraps, how big and heavy some telescopes are when one is up-close and personal to them.  I also learned that amateur astronomers (at least the ones who attend star parties) are a very friendly lot, and are eager to share their knowledge and experience with others.  Since I found last year's Island Star Party so much fun, this year's event was high on my list!

At this years's event, Friday night was cloudy just like last year.  Most gave up and went to bed, but by about 2am the clouds disappeared.  A few of the diehards who stuck it out were rewarded in the early morning hours with great views of Mars.

Saturday night was a different story - beautiful clear skies showed us all the heavens could offer.  My personal observing log grew by leaps and bounds. I took advantage of this dark site to observe galaxies and nebulae which are impossible to see in light-polluted Victoria.  The Veil Nebula, Trifid Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy, and Owl Nebula were easily observed in all their splendor, however the standout for me was the Lagoon Nebula and the Swan Nebula.  My OIII filter showed the full glory of these two nebulae.  The "wows" and "oohhs" of those who shared my thrill confirmed that this pair were big hits with everyone who stopped by to have a look - full circle - now I am sharing my experiences with others.

I didn't neglect my old favorites which I normally observe from the city.  M13 Hercules Cluster was superb, looking just like a pile of spilled sugar crystals. M11 Wild Duck Cluster showed detail in this tight, dense cluster I hadn't  observed before. M31 Andromeda Galaxy was no longer just a fuzzy ball. I could actually see some structure in the galaxy.

Later, I even had a chance to share some of my new-found expertise by helping Laura Roche identify Neptune, which I had first sighted only a few days previous from my Victoria site.  By this time Mars had risen over the eastern mountain horizon, and David Lee was busy with his Astrovid CCD camera, laptop and Pronto scope (Mars at the Island Star Party 2003).  The view of Mars through my larger aperture telescope was not too exciting for the first couple of hours, but after Mars gained some altitude I was rewarded with the best views of the planet I have ever observed through any telescope.  The messages I had been reading on the Internet were correct - right now Mars is best observed at around 3am, just before twilight.

Given the superb observing on Saturday night, I decided to return for Sunday night.  The big crowds were gone, but the diehards were still there.  We even had a few members of the public drive in and observe, and some stayed to camp for the night.  It was a less hectic observing session as the dark enveloped us, and we had the added bonus of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower this evening. The hourly rate of the Delta Aquarids is 20, and that is pretty well what we observed. While everyone waited for Mars to rise, we also entertained ourselves with observing our old favorites and some new objects.  I concentrated on picking up more objects I can't see from my city location: M76 Little Dumbell and the M110 galaxy. Of course I had to gaze again at the Lagoon Nebula and the Swan Nebula - both were spectacular!

As Mars rose above the horizon, everyone swung their scopes over to have a look.  The image was boiling just like the previous night until Mars gained some altitude.  By 2am, it was looking very nice is every scope.  I gazed at a  near perfect Mars for most of the time between 2am and 3am, when I decided to have a shot at imaging Mars with my digital camera, afocal through the 9.7mm eyepiece.  I took over 100 images, and ended up stacking 50 of the best to build my first image of Mars. See my Astrophotographs web page for details of my efforts.  By 3:30am, I think I was the last to shut down as I packed up for the drive back home to Victoria.

The Island Star Party 2003 was the first star party this beginner amateur astronomer fully participated in. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I met lots of interesting people, traded knowledge with a few of my fellow astronomers, and just generally had a good time. Thanks go to Ed and Rich, and all the gang at the Cowichan Valley StarFinders Astronomy Club.  I can't wait for our own Third Annual RASCALS Star Party 2003 to roll around in September!

Joe Carr


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Last updated: December 12, 2013

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