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The Webfooted Astronomer - October 1999

 

A September OSP

by Joanne Green

Summer was definitely delayed this year. It finally arrived in September at the Oregon Star Party (OSP), giving us mild nights, clear skies, and great viewing. Eager to make up for the lost viewing at cloudy Table Mountain, Pat Lewis and I headed south after Labor Day to a site two hours east of Prineville in the Ochoco National Forest. The Oregon Star Party is held on a 5,300-foot high plateau rimmed with a few Ponderosa pines. To camp, we first leveled the van and then cleared away some of the brown rocks that litter the ground, being careful to preserve the sage brush. (We sorely missed the grassy surface of Table Mountain!) Then we rolled out some Astroturf for our telescopes and waited for nightfall.

Except for one night when clouds obscured half the sky until after 2 a.m., the viewing was great: moderately dark with the contrasting Milky Way, steady views of the planets once they had cleared 15 degrees above the horizon, and better than average viewing of deep sky objects.

The OSP staff had prepared a list of challenges for us, including some dark nebulae, some less observed planetary nebulas, and some faint objects that are usually ignored because they fall near familiar objects—for example, the really faint galaxy near M13 and the sixth galaxy in Stephan's Quintet. I observed some of these with Pat's Grand Prize 12½-inch Dobsonian (which she won at OSP in 1995). I split some double stars in which the components had beautiful contrasting colors. Besides recording these on my Astronomical League Double Star Club achievement list, I chalked up a few more Herschel objects.

Meanwhile, Pat was trying out her new photographic set up, a Pronto refractor on a German equatorial drive. Much of the time she had her eye glued to her guide star. We kept track of Uranus and Neptune by eye and camera and showed some of our OSP friends how to find them and what they look like under high power; "Do you think this object looks more like a star or more like the disk of a planet? Does it look a little blue in color?"

By day there were informative speakers. Among them was Richard Berry, who talked about the rise of the Dobsonian. He showed vintage-1960s slides of homemade telescopes, unwieldy tubes on shaky equatorial mounts made of plumbing pipe. Then John Dobson invented a new, simple, easy-to-build mount that could carry much larger aperture scopes, and the Dobsonian revolution took over amateur telescope making.

Dave Sandage talked on "How do we know?" Where he focused on how astronomers get information solely from analyzing light and other radiation from stars. Steven J. O’Meara of Sky & Telescope wound up the star party with "The Trials and Tribulations of a 19th Century Observer in the 20th Century." As a young man he was employed to observe through the historic refractor at the University of Massachusetts. When his sketches of Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter showed features that were new or unexplained, his astronomy professor told him he couldn't possibly be seeing such things; they were too outlandish. But when the "spokes" of the rings of Saturn appeared later in the Voyager photographs and his tight cloud patterns of Jupiter and some dim features on Mars showed up in NASA missions, he felt vindicated. Moral: Astronomers, stick to your guns! (Read "telescopes.")

Grand prizes in the door prize drawing were one Newtonian and two computerized 8-inch SCT telescopes. We did not win anything. Still, OSP was a good observing experience and worth waiting for.

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