The Black Forest Star Party Page

© 2011-2013, 2016 Ted Saker, Jr. All rights reserved.
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The Black Forest Star Party is held annually at the Cherry Springs (PA) State Park near the town of Coudersport, Pennsylvania on or around new moon weekends varying from late August to mid September. Sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Observers of State College, PA, the event draws approximately 600 attendees from the northeast, midwest and Canada.  Cherry Springs State Park is a National Dark Sky Park and has some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi River. 

Black Forest Star Party 2016 (September 2-4)

Looking over this page, it struck me that I hadn't attended a BFSP for three years, and haven't been to Cherry Springs for over two years. The reason for my absence was due to unfavorable imaging weather and scheduling conflicts. Looking at my index, I noticed that there are no entries for BFSP 2009 or 2010, when I was a vendor's lackey. This year, after four months of inactivity, I was itching to get out and capture some objects. As usual, Joe Golias of Astrozap made the trip. We went up on the day before the official start of the party.

Cherry Springs has the darkest skies within a day's drive of Cbus, with excellent facilities and power in the fields. I've attended five previous BFSPs, and one thing I've learned about Cherry Springs is that the weather is hit or miss. This year was a hit. We were treated to three straight clear nights and even Hurricane Hermione couldn't spoil the party. However, with clear skies comes heavy dew at that site, and there's little I can do when water condenses on either or both mirrors of my telescope.

One of the vendors in attendance is an old acquaintance, Jen Winter of Daystar Filters, whom I met at the Okie-Tex Star Party 15 years ago. Naturally, the talk turned to the upcoming All-American Total Solar Eclipse, which passes directly over her facility. What's the bet that her decision to locate there was influenced by the path of totality? The rest of the vendor gang was there: Camera Concepts, Howie Glatter and Televue.

I went after an object I tried a to bag a couple of years ago at Astroblast, the Bubble Nebula, and a different part of the Veil Nebula I imaged at BFSP 2010. This year, I used my Ha-SII-OIII narrowband filters on the Veil instead of my RGB broadband filters, and I believe my processing skills are improving. I'd hoped to use Pixinsight to process them, but my trial license expired. Funds I would have used to buy the license went instead to a camera upgrade for the Scarlet and Gray Astrograph. So I used the tools I have at hand. More to come on the new camera. Test images look very promising.




The Eastern Veil Nebula

NGC 6992 Supernova Remnant “The Veil” in Cygnus. AT8RC @ f/8, 2100 secs. L, 2100 secs. Ha, 3600 secs. SII, 2700 secs. OIII. Combined using the Hubble Space Telescope Palette. The Veil Nebula has three main parts: the Eastern Veil, the Western Veil, and Fleming’s Triangle (Pickering’s Triangle). It is a frequent object of study for astronomers because it is large, located relatively close to Earth at 1470 light years (8.82 x 10^12 miles), and represents a good example of a middle-aged supernova remnant. For amateur astronomers, the nebula makes one of the most spectacular objects in the northern sky. This image depicts a section of the Eastern Veil.

Posted 17 Sep. 2016


Compare this image with the 2010 BFSP image below, taken with a different telescope and filters.

NGC 7635, aka Sharpless 162, or Caldwell 11, Emission Nebula “The Bubble” in Cassiopeia. 4200 seconds L, 3000 secs. Ha, 7700 secs. SII, 2700 secs. OIII. Combined using the Hubble Space Telescope Palette. The "bubble" is created by the stellar wind from a massive hot, 8.7 magnitude young central star, the 15 ± 5 M☉ SAO 20575 (BD+60 2522). The nebula is near a giant molecular cloud which contains the expansion of the bubble nebula while itself being excited by the hot central star, causing it to glow. It was discovered in 1787 by William Herschel.

Posted 17 Sep. 2016

Here is the same section of the Veil from a lower angle taken with my C11 @ f/6.3, 1800 secs. L, 900 secs. R, 900 secs. G, 1800 secs. B. These are broadband filters, meaning that they allow a larger slice of the spectrum to pass through them to the imaging chip whereas narrowband filters allow only a sliver of the spectrum to pass through.

Taken 9 Sep. 2010 at the Black Forest Star Party.

After I got home from BFSP, Joe reminded me that I had shot the Bubble Nebula before--from Western PA at Astroblast in 2014. I looked around to see if I posted it. I had not, so I looked at my frames and discovered why. The luminance frames were all just a touch out of focus. Here is a process combining all the frames from A-blast and BFSP in one happy image.


Taken 26 & 27 Sep. 2014 at the Astroblast Star Party and

1 - 3 Sep. 2016 at the Black Forest Star Party.


Posted 17 Sep. 2016




Black Forest Star Party 2013 (September 5-8)

October 29, 2013:  Weather at the Cherry Springs State Park can be capricious. This year's BFSP started out strong with clear skies the first night, then the clouds rolled in. Software issues compounded the situation and prevented me from taking more than one monochrome image with the C-11. As in previous years, I attended BFSP with Joe Golias of Astrozap. However, we went as civilians and let the Astrozap dealers in attendance handle the commerce.

Unfortunately, as a result of the weather and autoguiding problems, I took only one image of a very challenging galaxy group known as Stephan's Quintet (NGC7317, NGC7318A, NGC7318B, NGC7319, and NGC7320) in the constellation of Pegasus, 6000 seconds L only.

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Black Forest Star Party 2012 (September 13-16)

September 22, 2012: The big story this year was the incredible run of good weather I have seen at the star parties I attended in 2012 carried through September. Attendees of this year's BFSP were treated to clear skies every night.  The only blemish was a rainstorm on Friday evening, but the clouds cleared out around midnight. Given the late date (only a week before the Autumnal Equinox), Friday evening's weather affected telescope time only marginally.  Besides, I needed the rest.  Once again serving as an Astrozap lackey, I helped Joe at the booth.  This year it was really difficult.  BFSP was the first time since the Cherry Springs Star Party in June that I had the telescope out and camera running, and I wanted to get as much time in as possible.  That meant staying up until the large hours of the morning, leaving time only for a nap before manning the booth.  Needless to say, that was tiring.  However, I think it was worth the effort.

September means fall galaxy season is here.  Although it's not as impressive as spring galaxy season in terms of the sheer numbers, fall galaxy season gives us the two greatest galaxies in the local group:  the Andromeda and Triangulum Galaxies.  Andromeda is so large that a wide-field telescope is required to get the entire object to fit on the imaging sensor, unless one has the time and patience to image it in sections and piece a mosaic together.  The Triangulum Galaxy, on the other hand, fits well enough on the sensor to make it an easy target.  It's also  known as the Pinwheel; however, it shares that moniker with other galaxies, most notably M 101.  However, when one refers to the Pinwheel, the Triangulum Galaxy is the first one to come to mind. 

With the exception of the Cherry Springs Star Party, I have been using the AT6RC astrograph for my imaging runs.  In preparation for BFSP 2012, I selected a variety of objects to image.  Unfortunately, the best laid plans often go astray, and this event was no exception.  I recently acquired a new off-axis guider so that I could guide on stars in front of my color filters.  This would allow me to use a greater number and variety of guide stars.  Unfortunately, I discovered to my dismay that despite the optical design, this telescope has a lot of off-axis coma. The guide stars looked like little arcs instead of points when using the external guider, thereby negating the advantage of shooting in front of the color filters.  I had to switch to the camera's internal guide chip, and that configuration brought its own problems.  The objects I wanted to image did not have bright enough guide stars when they were east of the meridian, and they did not transit until about four in the morning.  That did not leave enough time to get color layers.  Adding to the problem was the development of significant guiding errors. I've learned that when fatigue is combined with intricate equipment issues, it's best to simplify the imaging run (and get some rest). 

        I decided to image the Pinwheel Galaxy in Triangulum, an object that I imaged in 2010 with the C-11.  That  provided an opportunity to obtain all four layers without worrying about the meridian.  Also, I wanted to get an image with  the AT6RC to compare to the image I took with the C-11 two years  before.  Along those lines, I also imaged the Deer Lick Group (NGC 7331 et al.) that I previously imaged at the Hidden Hollow Star Party of 2010.  The other objects--NGC 891 and M76--will have to wait until I acquire the color layers at a later date, when they transit the meridian earlier in the evening.  In addition, I tried my hand at the Double Cluster in Perseus.  Since my field of view is too small to get both halves of the cluster in the same frame, I thought of trying my hand at my first mosaic.  Unfortunately, due to the smaller than expected field of view, a gap exists between the two parts of the combined object.  This will require imaging the gap in order to connect the two parts of the cluster together. 

        On the bright side, the high humidity levels after Friday's rains affected a lot of telescopes that evening, but not mine.  The AT6RC does not have glass at the front of the optical tube, unlike my C-11 or a refractor.  BFSP is notorious for heavy dew.  It makes me glad to be working with Joe.

       The images below were taken with the AT6RC (a 6" Ritchie-Chretien reflector), ST-8XME CCD camera with Custom Scientific LRGB filters.



M33 Spiral Galaxy ("The Pinwheel") in Triangulum. AT6RC @ f/9, 45 min. L-R-G, 75 min. B. Compare this with the 2010 BFSP image below.

NGC 7331 Spiral Galaxy and companions ("The Deer Lick Group") in Pegasus 45 min. L-R-G, 75 min. B. Compare this to the monochrome image below taken at the 2010 Hidden Hollow Star Party.

M 33 Spiral Galaxy (“The Pinwheel”) in Triangulum. C11 @ f/6.3, 40 min. L, 20 min. R, 20 min. G, 10 min. B. Taken 9 Sep. 2010

NGC 7331 Spiral Galaxy and companions (“The Deer Lick Group”) in Pegasus. C11 @ f/6.3, 30 min. L. Taken 9 Oct. 2010.

NGC 869 Open Cluster (the western half of the Double Cluster) in Perseus. 10 min. L-R-G-B.

NGC 884 Open Cluster (the eastern half of the Double Cluster) in Perseus. 10 min. L-R-G-B.


Black Forest Star Party 2011 (August 25-28)

August 31, 2011: Given the competition from Starfest and Almost Heaven Star Parties, I was surprised at how well attended the star party was. I had agreed to serve as lackey to my good friend Joe Golias, and we worked the Astrozap booth Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon, August 24, and set up our imaging rigs. There was no opportunity to uncover the telescope as the clouds gave way to thunderstorms late in the evening. Thursday dawned cloudy again, but by late afternoon, clear skies appeared and the fun began. Transparency was excellent but seeing was no better than average. I spent the bulk of the evening on one target: the Trifid Nebula. Over the years I have been imaging, I have tried on several occasions to obtain a decent tri-color image and failed to achieve satisfactory results. Armed with reasonably current equipment, I set to work at astronomical twilight. At this time of year, the Trifid has nearly transited at that time, and ends up in the trees in about three hours. I used all of the time available to acquire the luminance, blue and green layers. During the run, I used the time to troll the fields looking in various telescopes. I observed Comet Garadd juxtaposed with M 71 and M22 in a 16” Lightbridge, M51 in an Orion XT10, and generally scanned the very nice dark skies with a pair of binoculars. By the time the Trifid hit the trees, I had only obtained one quarter of the number of red layers. In addition, despite the use of dew heating equipment, the amount of moisture in the air caused dew to form on my corrector plate, thereby ending the imaging run rather prematurely. I run my dew fighting equipment off of a battery that is not up to the challenge of a really humid night.

Friday's daylight hours had the group on edge. Overcast skies had moved in again. By afternoon, the skies turned to partly cloudy and solar observing became possible. I noticed a lot of solar activity—numerous flares and a long dark fissure. By dusk, skies had cleared again, but transparency was not nearly as good as the previous evening even if seeing was better. I was able to complete the red layers on the Trifid and this time, I cranked up the power on the dew heaters high enough to prevent dew from forming. Coincidentally, the battery ran out as I finished my run. While taking images, I walked the field again looking through other telescopes. I believe that Comet Garadd made its closest approach to M 71 that evening, and the pair was a striking site. The comet had a short, wedge-shaped tail and a pronounced coma that set nicely against the hard stellar points of the nearby globular cluster. NGC 891 was another excellent sight. It was a snap to find it. The dust lane was very pronounced. The Double Cluster looked beautiful: a double handful of diamond dust scattered against a black velvet background.

Unfortunately, that was all the telescope time I got. Saturday was clouded out. Many of the attendees who live in the east had packed up and left in order to beat Hurricane Irene to their homes. That, at least, allowed me to sample the food vendor's offerings, which were quite good. Sunday morning brought the storm's leading edge surprisingly far west, making packing conditions less than ideal. An ill-timed microburst snapped one of my tent poles (the same one broken at TSP 2010) as I was taking down the tent. The cloud deck did not give way until I was well into Ohio. That was a monster of a storm even if damage was far less than predicted.

I have attended three BFSPs. I like the location, being only a day's drive from Columbus. It's a dedicated dark sky site with Bortle 2 conditions and indoor plumbing (a real plus). The park maintains three domes on site. I never really checked to see what kind of telescopes are in them. The downside is that the site is on the north slope of the Appalachians and observing conditions tend to be very unpredictable. It's not a site that you can go to for a night's observing as you are very likely to be clouded out. The best way to enjoy this site is to plan to spend several days there. This increases the chances of getting at least one good night in, which had been the case for the previous two BFSPs. When the weather cooperates, it is truly “lights out” at Cherry Springs. All in all, it is a fine event and I was very pleased with the Trifid image I obtained.




A portion of the observing field with a classic C-8 in the foreground.

You never know what you'll run across at a star party. A piece of astronomy history: the Byers 892 GEM.


Ready for action.


M20 Emission Nebula in Sagittarius (“The Trifid”). This is the object I intended to image at this event.


Sunset Saturday Night.


Battle fatigue.

Clear (and Dark) Skies!

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