Sunday, September 21, 2014


Yesterday was the Fall Star-B-Que for the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  What is a Star-B-Que, you ask?  Well it combines the best 2 parts of belonging to an astronomy group, socializing at a potluck picnic, and observing under some pristine skies.  The picnic area at the National Observatory is very nearly perfect for such an event.  It has a pavilion, flush toilets, and an open area with concrete pads to set up scopes.  The employee association even provides a gas grill for our use - it is always great!

Plans were complicated this week by Hurricane Odile, which came up Baja and was supposed to bring up to 7 inches of rain or more to the Tucson area.  Fortunately, it got the to the US border and veered east, so while we got some rain early in the week, we didn't get hammered like Baja did.  But for some reason, the moisture didn't clear out like it usually did and the Observatory spent 3 days buried in clouds and fog, finally dispersing Friday evening.  Saturday, Star-B-Que day dawned with severe cloud buildups over the mountains, and even as we drove out to Kitt Peak for the event, we saw some desert downpours just 15 miles SW of the mountain.  Arriving to set up, there were plenty of clouds, but a promise of clear skies to the west.  By sunset after some grillin' and eatin' there was a rush to set up gear under clear skies.

I'm keeping this post short, I did some visual observing with the 14" and also did some wide-field imaging that I'll post later if I get anything of interest.  Just as it was getting dark, I took the wide-field self portrait at left with kit lens and a 40 second exposure showing clear skies and a bright Milky Way galaxy arching over us.  With a couple new eyepieces (Meade UWAs), I and others were treated to some spectacular views of some favorites.  The Triffid Nebula, M20 was looking pretty much just like the picture in my last post, though in black-and-white, since the cones in our eyes don't work in low light levels!  I also showed a few people the great globular cluster M22 in the rich Milky Way background, and a little later, the Helix Nebula was spectacular with a nebula filter to increase contrast.

A bunch of us also visited John Davis, an engineer who works with me at the Mirror Lab.  He had just finished working on an equatorial mount and had its debut under dark skies with a 12" telescope and camera.  I'll be sure to show some of his pictures if he sends them along.  His mounting sure was impressive!

We didn't have too late a night - we were about the last to leave shortly after 11pm and were home by 12:30.  It was a nice night, given that most were there just for the picnic with the threat of rain.  Sometimes nature smiles upon us!

EDIT-  John Davis has posted the images he took Saturday evening on his blog.  My favorite of the night was of the HII region Messier 16 in the midst of the Summer Milky Way - he sent me a larger size than appears on his blog, so I stretched it a bit and show it here. Not bad for 9 minutes total exposure with an unmodified camera. It was through a 12" telescope though, and the image quality is testament to the quality of the mount he has built.  Note that you can see a little star bloat in the corners - he was not using a coma corrector for the Newtonian telescope.  Future efforts should have better images!  Going to the more general address of his blog, you can see his progress from the machining of the mount through the first exposures... Fun stuff!

1 comment:

Astroweis said...

Wonderful, simply wonderful! Which, I had been there. Best, Christian