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The Webfooted Astronomer - September 2001

 

Oregon Star Party 2001

by Pat Lewis

DARK skies, bright Milky Way, lots of good company —these are what we always anticipate as we start our drive to the annual Oregon Star Party at 5300 feet in the Ochoco Mountains of Central Oregon. But sometimes nature likes to play little tricks on us. Fresh in our minds was our ignominious early departure last year under threatening ash-filled skies. And again this year there were 300 fires being fought in Oregon. But this turned out to be a good year.

Part of our route had to be a detour, but we went through some wonderfully green and picturesque mountain country. At the star party site hundreds of people were setting up their camps and getting out telescopes of all shapes and varieties. Some 800 people came this year. We met some old friends, and made a few new ones. Our spot was near Rob's historic Stump. Small volcanic rocks lie in profusion all over the ground, so the first thing everyone has to do is move rocks to make places to walk.

We had come from spending two days at our place near Bend. There was smoke in the atmosphere, which interfered with good seeing. We hoped it would be better at OSP, a hundred miles east and higher in altitude. But those who had been there early in the week, said smoke had been bad there, too. That first night, Thursday, the sky overhead was fine, but the near-horizon was almost as bad as the "pea-soup" near Bend.

The next day a strong wind sprang up that blew away most of the smoke and brought the temperature down making it more comfortable during the day. That night and Saturday night were the sort one hopes for, chilly but with only a light breeze, very dark sky with no horizon glows from cities, and brilliant stars. It was great! Pat took some pictures, and Joanne was observing deep-sky objects through our 12½-inch Dobsonian.

With daytime temperatures in the 90s, the shower truck was popular. They had brought up 4500 gallons of water, but ran out by Saturday noon. Richard Berry was among the speakers who gave presentations. He has worked out how prehistoric observers using stick-and-stone technology would have used the stars to calculate the length of the year and other basic time data. At the door prize drawing, some nice prizes were awarded (although your club representatives failed to win so much as a T-shirt). The grand prize telescope, a Celestar 8 with accessories, happened to go to Bruce Johnson, the OSP's official photographer, who excitedly proclaimed that he had attended for 14 years and had never before won anything!

It was on the whole a fine experience. Next summer, if you want to try a dark-sky site, with the advantage of August nights that are noticeably longer than those in June and July, consider going down to the Oregon Star Party.

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