Texas Star Party 2005

This year I decided to attend the Texas Star Party (TSP) again. This was my 5th TSP and the first since 1994. I filled out the registration, sent in my money and on Sunday, May 1st, Barbara and I left Colorado and headed for the Davis Mountains in west Texas.

All the previous week, I had watched the weather reports for this part of the country, and it looked like we would have a week of clear, dark skies. I made several lists of things I wanted to look at under some of the darkest skies on the continental US. The first night, we stopped in Pecos, TX and spent the night at the local WalMart. Looking at the sky, it was clear and stars were everywhere. I was ready to arrive at the Prude Ranch and start my TSP 2005 observing.

I awoke Monday morning to an overcast sky. No problem. It's the night sky I want to be clear, so cloudy in the daytime is alright. What I didn't know, and would soon find out from the weather display setup in the dining room of the TSP lodge, is that a stationary front had parked itself right over this part of Texas. It remained in place all week.

I now know what kind of weather is generated underneath a stationary front.

It was a misty rain from Monday afternoon through Wednesday noon, at which time the sky started to breakup. By sunset on Wednesday, there was a high thin cloud deck everywhere, but that didn't stop me from trying to find objects. Of the lists of objects I wished to observe, I had decided to do some of the special TSP observing programs, for they give neat pins for completing these programs. I was able to capture a few of these objects when the sky complete clouded over about 10 PM. By 11 PM, it was completely clear. We observed for about 45 minutes, at which time the sky completely clouded over in about 30 seconds. By 12:30 AM it cleared up again as fast as it clouded over. We observed till about 1:30 AM, when the sky packed it in for the night. We didn't know the sky had decided this until about 3 AM, when we realized the sky would not open up yet one more time.

The dew Wednesday night was very heavy. My paper was so wet, I couldn't write on it anymore. Holding it in my hand was like holding a wet paper towel.

Thursday night was even stranger. Thursday was clear all day. Not a cloud anywhere. No wind at all. I skipped the 7:30 PM speaker and uncovered my scope, added all the finder scopes and started the mirror cooling. By 8:30 PM, some clouds were seen in the NW, grouping and plotting along the horizon. By 9:15, they had amassed enough friends to cover the sky from the NW to overhead, and by 10 PM, the sky was completely covered. Then these clouds had the nerve to invite their nasty friends. Lightening was seen in the NW, soon replaced by strong wind and rain. We cover the scope and ran into the dining hall to look at the radar loop.

It was clear in Mexico. I didn't want to drive to Mexico to observe tonight, so I decided to set the alarm for every hour, and poke my head out and see what happened. Barbara woke me at 1:30 AM and said the sky was clear. I jumped into my clothes, and setup the scope for observing. The sky was soft, the dew was heavy, but the stars were steady. I observed well into morning twilight.

Friday night started out with a high haze that eventually cleared, but the sky was soft and the stars large blobs. I observed until about 12:30 AM, at which time the sky clouded over for the rest of the night, at least for me anyway. I packed it up and went to bed. I heard it cleared up again after 3:30 AM.

Saturday night, after the speaker and door prizes were handed out, we left west Texas and headed north, under very overcast skies. By the time we reached the New Mexico border, the sky was clear.

So, that's what the weather was like under a stationary front.

The non-observing activities of the TSP were awesome. We had a behind the scenes tour of all the big scope at McDonald Observatory. We listened to Halton Arp talk about his observations that support that the Big Bang might not be right, and that the z value, the red shift of a spectral line from its normal position, that correlates to a recessions speed might be wrong. The universe might not be expanding forever. Truly an awesome and thought provoking presentation by the man that believes his theories are correct and has been basically shut out by the astronomical community for these views.

The Thursday night speaker was Brent Archinal and he talked about creating a coordinate mapping system for the Saturn moon Titan. I didn't listen to this person, for I was setting up my scope, hoping for some observing.

The Friday night speaker was Stephanie McLaughin, a NASA public outreach person for Deep Impact. She gave a nice talk about hitting a comet which was followed by a door prize giveaway that no other star party I have attended even comes close to. Incredible prizes.

The Saturday night speaker was David Eicher, the editor of Astronomy magazine. He spent about 10 minutes talking about our own, Karen Mendenhall. I guess he was with her on her last solar eclipse trip in that rocky boat in the South Pacific. He mentioned that she and others on the boat were playing a game, trying to name star fields and asterisms. She named the area in the tail of Scorpio, "the Gecko" for it looked like such a critter. I was shocked to see her name on one of the slides of this presentation.

I decided to enter my telescope in the Amateur Telescope Making contest. I had never done this before. I was rewarded with a nice presentation about my scope at the Saturday night awards ceremony and a certificate. I even won a John Dobson DVD as a door prize at the Saturday night door prize giveaway. The grand prize was a fully loaded, GPS navigation, computer controlled GOTO, 8 inch Meade telescope.

As many of you might know, I took a friends' concept (Leroy Guatney) and initial work and created the current Globular Cluster Observing Club for the Astronomical League. In one of the vendor's display was the observing guide I wrote for this club. The impact of what I had accomplished had never really hit me until I saw my book on sale in this booth.

Colorado was supported at TSP 2005 by Joe Gafford, Sandy Shaw, her friend Laurie from the Denver club, Randy and Judy Cunningham from AstroSystems, Michael Roos from the Northern Colorado club, Gene from Johnstown, who used to be a member of Longmont club, and Barbara and myself.

I met many friends from when I was a member of the Texas Astronomical Society in Dallas, TX. Thank goodness for the name badges. Some I remembered their name, but many others I had to glance at the badge to get their name.

For anyone with aperture fever, there were two 36-inch telescopes to view through. For all the times I have seen M51 through Gary Garzone's 30-inch telescope and drooled on his eyepiece, I have NEVER seen M51 in an amateur scope so clear, with so many spiral arms as I have through Larry Mitchell's 36-inch scope. The entire bridge to the neighbor galaxy was easily seen.

Completing the drive home on Sunday May 8th, I realized this was Flat Tire Day for the US. Not only did we suffer a blown out tire, may other poor folks did too. At the gas station in Las Vegas, NM we hobbled to (we drove 30 miles on one tire of dualie tire set at 25 mph), there were 6 other people getting flat tires fixed. Once we were back on the road, we noticed about 10 more cars between there and Denver, on the side of the road, fixing a tire.

All in all, it was a wonderful event to attend. Seeing old astro buddies is a good thing. Making new astro buddies is a good thing. Catching ANY photons you can is a good thing. Sharing the sky with someone you love, priceless.