Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grand Canyon Star Party 2014

This year's star party is in the books - for us, anyway!  It continues through Saturday, and as usual the last couple years, we only stayed the first half of the event.  Melinda had a doctor appointment this morning requiring an early return, and having her camp out for more than 5 nights was asking too much!  Yes, we went up a day early to lessen the stress of a VERY long day to drive up (about 7 hours for us from Tucson), set up camp, then observe till late at night.  Plus, arriving the day early on Friday, I had a photo project to try on a night off up there, but it turned out cloudy, so we just turned in early, like an hour after sunset!

Even though the Star Party occurs a couple hundred meters from the rim of the Canyon, in an overflow bus lot adjacent to the visitor center, it took us nearly 48 hours after arrival till we took the walk over to see the Grand Canyon in person.  Just before sunset it was spectacular, as usual.  Shown above is a 5-frame mosaic - it just seems too massive to capture in a single shot!

Returning to the observing site, at left Melinda shows off this year's shirt design.  It is a rerun of the first Joe Bergeron design from 10 years ago with Kokopelli gazing through a telescope.  We took the artists suggestion and went with a sand or tan base color, which I think looks great.  At right my Vanna White clones show off my Celestron 14" on the AP1200 mounting, which is my recent standard setup.  It worked great - the mount is stiff enough to hold the view steady even in the strong breezes we sometimes get at rimside, and by leaving the pier set up, aligned to Polaris, it tracks well enough that we run Saturn upwards at 250X, impressing the visitors with the sharp view from the C14.

Even from night one we had a great supply of telescopes.  I recall the ranger counted over 45 telescopes, and even with the new bigger venue we've enjoyed the last couple years, we were starting to rub elbows.  But we also enjoyed some huge crowds -  since we had an actual counter to keep track of how many people looked through our scope, our counts were actually down a little.  Perhaps with more scopes to look through, each individual scope had a little less traffic.  We've had upwards of 300/night in years past, though averaged about 240 our 4 nights.  Still, over 900 ecstatic customers for our 4 nights is pretty good!  Shown here is an HDR shot near sunset to show details in the sky plus the array of telescopes set up nearby.

With the constant line of public wanting to look,
it takes constant attention, so I was always happy for assistance.  Our buddy Chuck helped out with explaining what we were looking at for the folks in line and pointing out the object with the green laser pointer - when he was available from leading sky constellation tours to the public.  Here he is showing Messier 82 to a group of observers - Chuck on the right in this image, a 20 second exposure with 8mm lens at F/2.8, ISO 3200.  A little later with the Milky Way up a little higher and the crowd departed, I took a self-portrait with the same setup and 30 second exposure...

It was a great time - a lot of work and effort for a frantic 3.5 hours of observing, but the visitors are always so great and impressed with the views we show them.  I was able to have some memorable conversations with visitors from all continents save Antarctica, and we met people who came from as far as Texas just for the star party!  You can't have testimonials any more valuable than that!  More coming soon from this trip...


Jack said...

Love the t-shirt, how can we get one?? Christine and I attended 3 of this year's star party nights on the South Rim -- it was her Christmas present to me, lucky me! -- and everything was wonderful: the telescope-hosts, the star gazers, and the stars....and Saturn! Can't thank you enough for giving your time and expertise to us viewers. It is already a special life-memory. Thank you, thank you.
--Jack and Christine from Vermont

Dean said...

Hi Jack-
I'm tracking down who has them and will send you one. Send me an e-mail (click my name in far upper right) and I'll forward what I find for you! Glad you had a great time! -Dean