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The Webfooted Astronomer - October 2000

 

OSP: Report from Star-Party Poopers

By Pat Lewis

THE 13th annual Oregon Star Party (OSP) was held at Indian Trail Spring in the Ochoco Mountains of east-Central Oregon, from August 31 to September 3, 2000. As we have done since 1992, Joanne Green and I registered in advance, paid our fees and made our plans to attend.

Late summer in these mountains is often a season of forest fires. Arriving at our AstrOasis viewing site near Bend three days early, we enjoyed fine weather and clear night skies. However, we could see smoke and at night a red glow in the northeast, and learned that a huge area some 20 miles from the OSP site had been set afire by lightning and was burning in a wild firestorm, with a thousand firefighters trying to get it under control. Prevailing winds were carrying smoke directly over the star party site, and burnt tree needles were falling from the sky there. Worse, the weather forecast was for clouds and possible drizzle.

Nevertheless, with stubborn optimism we packed up on Thursday and drove to OSP. "Maybe the smoke won't be too bad; maybe the weather forecast is wrong," we told ourselves. It was only a little smoky there and partly sunny. Several hundred people were already camped. We chose a spot, leveled the van and cleared rocks from areas for our tent and telescopes. At dusk only about a third of the sky was clear. It was windy and chilly. There had been a strong "dust devil" windstorm that had wrecked several canvas shade tents. No one seemed to be setting up to observe; neither did we, turning in early.

In the morning the clouds were solidly overcast, temperature 43 degrees. Forecast: rain. From past experience we know that rain turns the volcanic dust of the Ochocos into sticky mud. And by now we were beginning to believe the forecast. It seemed likely we would not get to observe at all, and if it rained we would be in for a big cleanup. Along the road in front of us, one after another, vehicles were going out, leaving.

Reluctantly we decided to join them. Brushing dry dust from bags and boxes, we packed everything up again, said goodbye to friends, and drove away in the early afternoon. Back at AstrOasis we enjoyed the comforts of a good roof and heated buildings. It did rain that evening, about a quarter inch—enough to allow us to burn up a big pile of dry weeds.

Later we learned that it rained over an inch at OSP. The day was described as something like a "cold sauna." There were no stars to be seen on Friday night, but late Saturday night the clouds cleared and some persistent souls got to do some observing. About 750 people were registered to come. With good weather probably more than 800 would have showed up; as it was, only about 625 picked up their registration packets. It was the worst "washout" in the history of this star party. (After all, it was the 13th year!) On the good side, though, the rain helped to get the fires stopped.

We missed out on some good presentations. Among them, Richard Berry gave a talk on William Herschel and nebulae. Dave Sandage spoke on motions of the sun, moon, and planets. Adam Block, from Kitt Peak Nat'l Observatory, talked about their advanced amateur program. At the door prize drawing, the grand prize of a Celestar 8 telescope was won by Harold Lock from Eugene.

The star party committee each year produces a well-researched observers' packet suggesting things to look for—some easy, others challenging. This one includes sky maps for several asteroids, a sketching plan for the Omega Nebula, deep-sky objects in Sagitta and Pegasus and elsewhere, double stars, and sunspot studies. We'll keep the packet—maybe we will get to do some of it yet. And next summer you'll probably see us once again, ever hopeful, heading for the Ochocos.

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