TED'S ASTROPIX:

TEXAS STAR PARTY 2010!!!

 

2010-2011 Ted Saker, Jr. All rights reserved.

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(Page Created: 28 May 2010. Last update: March 18, 2011)


I am rather proud to write that I haven't missed a Texas Star Party this century. Each TSP is like a bottle of fine wine from the cellar. One's expectations considering the vintage, but variations from year to year make the anticipation a real suspense story. though the dismal 2005 and 2007 conditions lurked in the recesses of my memory, I looked forward to the 2010 edition of the Texas Star Party, held at the Prude Guest Ranch, just outside the city of Ft. Davis, Texas, from May 9 to 16. Weather is always a concern. Long range forecasts are virtually useless because they rely on averages over a period of years. Since they are averages, the forecasts do not provide a reliable gauge of weather at the ranch during the event. The lure of very dark skies overcomes any concerns about conditions. In other words, it's well worth the time and travel to experience the way the night sky should look like.

Who am I trying to kid? It's been over two months since I got home. Every year I try to write something that really captures the spirit of the event, but I really find it harder and harder to write something new. With each passing event, it gets more difficult to describe the splendor and glory of the stars set against ebony deep space. I'm constantly comparing the carmel-colored skies of my native central Ohio—where only the moon, planets and brightest stars manage to penetrate—with the velvety blackness of TSP skies. Two things always impress me: the shadow the Milky Way casts when it rises, and the sheer number of stars. There are so many of them that the familiar shapes of the constellations are barely recognizable. My friend Craig Colbert arrived first, as usual, but only he seems to think that there's any real competition. He has a third less distance to cover and he usually leaves a day before me. I'm just happy to arrive there safely and without any major impediments. Keith Venables and his wife, Jan, made the trip from the UK. I met Keith at my first TSP, in 2001. That year's theme honored 2001: A Space Odyssey. This year's theme drew from 2010: The Year We Make Contact. T-shirt designs from both of those years paid tribute to Arthur C. Clarke's seminal works. Also in attendance were Jean Bignon, a WSP pal, who drove from Orlando, and the other members of the TSP Shade Tree Gang.. Once assembled, we prepared for another week of pure astro enjoyment.

According to established practice, Sunday night is for the equipment check and visual observing. I completed John Waggoner's 2010 TSP Telescope Club list entitled “About Face.” John compiled a list of 33 edge-on and face-on galaxies. I also took a crack at Larry Mitchell's 2010 Advanced Observer List entitled “Super Thin Galaxies.” The last Advanced List I completed was in 2006 (Nebulas). I think I'd need at least a 17” telescope to stand a decent chance of completing any of Larry's recent lists. So, I turned my attention to the real reason for the trip: IMAGING!

Despite many pessimistic forecasts, Texas cooperated for three straight nights of clear, dark skies. It was not without some difficulties with the wind. On Monday, we were treated to sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph. My trusty observing tent which I had set up at TSP seven times (plus six at WSP and a few more times at various other star parties) finally encountered conditions it could not stand up to. I felt fortunate, as I met another attendee whose tent was destroyed by a herd of javelinas (small, wild pigs). He sold me the surviving tent poles, but not before I rigged a repair with the help of the very nice people at Higginbotham Bartlett Building Center in Ft. Davis.


The aftermath of the big blow.....

..and the repair results.

 

The repair lasted nicely through the rest of the week. We didn't experience the same kind of winds, and having the tent up was certainly better than the alternative. Notice the ropes in the photo on the left? I had to tie the tent and scope down until the winds subsided.


A west Texas sunset.

A west Texas rainbow.

    I took a very different approach to image acquisition this trip. I have never been satisfied with the results I have been getting since my wonderful Cookbook camera died and I began using Kodak-based sensors. The new techniques paid off handsomely. I also concentrated on creating good flat frames. Despite their importance, there is very little material on how to create proper flat frames.

    A comparison of the image below to images from previous TSP efforts demonstrates the effectiveness of the applications.



2010 Texas Star Party Images




M 83 Spiral Galaxy "The Southern Whirlpool" in Hydra.  45 min. L, 35 min. R, 25 min. G, 55 min. B.
Taken at TSP 2010 and originally processed in
late May, 2010.
 

Same image reprocessed March 18, 2011.

Arp 120 aka NGC 4435-4438 Peculiar Galaxies "The Eyes" in Virgo. 50 m. L. See how many other galaxies I captured in this image. Processed March 18, 2011.

M 100 Spiral Galaxy in Coma Berenices. 45 m L. Another galaxy challenge. Processed March 18, 2011.


All astronomical images were acquired with an SBIG ST-8E camera with AO-7, SBIG CFW-10 with Custom Scientific LRGBHa filters (for tricolor images), Celestron C-11 Schmidt-Cassegrain optical system (@f/6.3), and Losmandy Gemini G-11 GEM. Images originally processed with MaxIm DL™ v. 4.  Reprocessed with MaxIm and several other packages.

RIP Explorer A West Texas Apocalypse

 

    I had a wonderful time with the TSP Shade Tree Gang. Keith Venables delivered a paper on his restoration of a piece of ATM history: an Ellison Newtonian. No, I did not win anything in the Great Texas Giveaway this year.



Clear, Dark and Steady Skies!


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