What a great weekend at Stellafane 2014. Just four weeks before, I attended a fantastic Cherry Springs Star Party, and was fortunate enough to get 3 solid nights of observing put in. The forecast for this year’s Stellafane really looked morbid one week before the convention. It looked like a crockpot of humidity during the days, and then wet rain at night. Luckily as the calendar approached, that weather forecast improved infinitely.
I arrived with most of my group early on Thursday, and the weather was mostly pleasant. Upon arriving at 3:20 or so, I immediately picked out my spot for my scope, and began unpacking the car. Two hours later, my 16” Dob was mostly assembled, my tent was up, and everything mostly settled in. One thing I can say about going to a star party – BE ORGANIZED. It makes a huge difference, and gets you to that Zen like state much faster.
Here’s a quick video showing a time lapse of me and my neighbors getting ready for a night of observing.Of course the best thing about Stellafane is that it isn’t really intended to be a serious star party. There will be headlights, there will be lots of noise, there will be parties here and there. So it is a very casual and fun environment defined by the jolly go lucky attendees that decide to come. While observing is a big part of the event, having a relaxing time enjoying the company of amateur astronomers and telescope makers is really the focus.
Thursday night was a wonderful night. I focused in on mostly Messier Eye Candy Objects. Those type of objects look amazing in the 16” f/4 Dob. The seeing started out fairly rough but settled down pretty quickly. It wasn’t fantastic seeing, but it was ok. The one irritant for the night was dew. Even before sundown, the shroud on my scope was covered in dew, and it was a wet night. But I was prepared, rotated eye pieces, and faired pretty well into the 3 AM range.
One of the things that I most look forward to at Stellafane is seeing friends I don’t get to see that often. For the past two years, I have been lucky enough to get to know one of the best planetary imagers out there, John Boudreau. What a great guy! We compared lots of views of Saturn very early on, and as John loves to do, he educated me on some operational and performance considerations of optics. It’s always great to share the sky with John, and for 2 of the 3 nights – we saw some really great things!
Thursday night I also found a few new objects that I have added to my favorites list. My friend Robert, came to me to say “You have to see this little globular cluster. Go to the ink spot nebula.” To this I said, “what nebula?” I had no idea what the Ink Spot Nebula was. Wow, would I be surprised. The ink spot nebula shown below, is also known as Barnard 86, and sits immediately next to the Open Cluster, NGC 6520. Both of these objects are stunning visually. Also shown in the picture below, if you hunt around in it, you can see a faint globular cluster, and it is known as Djorgovski 2 (http://www.astronomy-mall.com/Adventures.In.Deep.Space/july.htm). A really beautiful star field polishes off the amazing view. Finding this glob was of great excitement to me. WOW!
So check out this amazing image take by Morris Mojo Jones (http://mojo.whiteoaks.com/). A beautiful image that almost exactly mimics the visual view. And this image is fantastic!
Also during the night, I looked at a bunch of Messier globulars (M3, M5, M10, M12, M13, M15, M22, M28, M71, M74, M92) and some other NGC globulars in those same areas. Hit all the Messier eye candy in that same area. As the night wore on, I checked out some planetary nebulas, and spent time trying to pull out the central stars. Including the Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), The Blue Snowball (NGC 7662), and the Ring Nebula (M57). Of course the seeing wasn’t good enough to put enough power on the Ring to get a central star in anyone’s telescope. Whenever I can get globulars and planetary nebulas pulled into my scope, I’m a happy guy.
Friday afternoon, I wandered the compound alone and explored some of the trails and pathways that surround the Amateur Telescope Makers rich history. Some really amazing land there with lots of beauty to see. The Porter Turret Telescope though, is by far one of my favorite things to visit while I’m at Stellafane. A very different telescope design. For solar observing it projects a reflected image into the turret onto a white surface, and if the seeing is good, a very good heliostat-like image.
Also, the telescope competition scopes were starting to be set up on the field. All sorts of great and innovative ideas were being displayed there. Everything from a 10” binocular with ingenious mechanics to it to a great super light telescope made of some kind of stretched film used in aviation. There was a good collection of homemade dobs there, and a good friend Tom and his buddies put together a last minute F10 10” Newtonian Reflector made with an aluminum tube. A really beauty of a scope they put together there. It was fun to observe with too, although they were still working out some last minute kinks in their rushed deployment.
The scope that I was most interested in was known as a “Kutter” Telescope. The basic gist is you take a perfectly good refractor, and cut it open. That’s right! Then replace the lenses with various mirrors in a crazy combination. The end configuration is a Schiefspiegler configuration. The real advantage of this scope design is it’s great for achieving very high focal lengths with a minimum of apperature. A 4” scope in this configuration can easily be crafted into something like an F/22! Likely great for Moon observations, planets and double stars, etc…very bright things.
The following image is an example of plan for a Kutter telescope that you can find on http://atm.udjat.nl/telescopes/kutter/log.html. Below it is a photo I took of the Kutter I admired at the telescope competition.
I explored more of the convention, but I didn’t attend any talks on either Friday or Saturday. I did check out the mirror and telescope making exhibits/workshops. My mission for Stellafane next year is to attend all of the mirror making workshops. That is something I’m very interested in, and cutting in the time to make my own 6” or 8” Newtonian is a very likely event in my future. The mirrors and scopes people make and display at Stellafane, are a real inspiration for doing a simple Newtonian that I can say I made myself. Maybe I can even make the mirror well enough to become a member of the Stellafane Telescope Makers. There is a class that runs in Stellafane that covers mirror and telescope making, and that too is something I’m very interested in attending someday.
Friday night was once again clear. An amazing thing to have so many clear nights while observing at star parties, and none of us were complaining. This time however there were some forest fires in Canada, and there was a persistent haze that had minimal effects on object viewed in the telescope. However, there was a significant detriment to the views had with the unaided eye, that somehow took away from the whole effect. There was some additional light pollution that was due to the light of nearby towns reflecting off the smokey haze. Galaxy views showed the most detriment, but most other objects were still good sights to see.
Friday night’s objects were very much like Thursday’s objects. Chasing globs and planetary nebula, and I tossed in the joy of Double Stars too, continuing my pursuit of my favorite double stars. The most notable I shared with everyone was 70 Ophiuchi. 70 Oph is a beautiful combination of two 4.2 and 6.0 stars with one being a definitive gold color and the other a yellowish-white color. They aesthetically reach a balance of beauty with one another. Upon reading up on them, it appears that they drift between 2” and 7” apart over a period of 88 years. Pretty amazing to think these two gems are drifting around one another with an 88 year cycle (about the same amount of time it takes Uranus to orbit the Sun). A must see object for anyone, and probably a fun one to sketch over a lifetime!
Once again, upon awaking Saturday mid-morning, and doing the wake up ritual, I headed out to Breezy Hill, admired more hand crafted telescopes, walked around in the pink clubhouse, bumped into some great friends, and then hiked it back to camp, going off the beaten path, and checking out the beautiful Vermont nature on the hills of Stellafane. I stopped in at the McGregor Observatory to see what was going on with the Schupmann Telescope. A very interesting telescope design that I have not yet researched the history behind it or the design details. Maybe on the next cloudy night. I also was able to hang out with a fellow meteorite enthusiast that I originally met at Stellafane a few years ago. Wayne Zuhl, he’s such a great guy, and we’ve been getting to know each other quite well over the years. He has one of the most amazing meteorite collections I have ever heard of.
As I returned to our base camp, all of my Kopernik companions were packing up after hearing a less than inviting weather forecast. I also reluctantly packed up my gear as well. Everything in my soul said not too, but I did it anyway. Most of the telescopes on the observing field were slowly disappearing. We enjoyed the fantastic BBQ Chicken Dinner, and then we went to the main amphitheater with the hopes of winning some awesome astronomy freebies. Every person at Stellafane dreams of winning an “Al Bag” which is basically a gift bag filled with expensive Televue Eye Pieces. There are usually 4 “Al Bags” there, and the cheapest one is worth about $600 and the most expensive one is worth around $2500 in eye pieces. Our good friends Rick and Marianne won the “Delos” bag worth about $2000 and my twitter Friend Jim won grand prize “Ethos” bag. I’m very fortunate to know these people, as they are both willing to share views at the telescope with me through their new awesome eye pieces!
That night, we made the long trek home after a really great time. It is always hard to leave.
Stellafane is almost a spiritual event when it comes to amateur astronomy. The silent valley of Breezy Hill loudens up once a year as nearly a thousand astronomers converge. There are no vendors, no electricity, and no plumbing. There is just a reverence to this place, a sense of great people from a great past as well as the present, who started something that has grown and grown over the years. There are few events in astronomy that match the class and aura that Stellafane has to offer, and I highly recommend any astronomer to visit this magical Vermont hillside at least once in their life.