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I wrote earlier about a Star Party here in Sweden, now I have been on a second one this year, the MAK or Mariestad Star Party.
I took some photos from the party and wrote some text to it for all people that couldn't visit the party, you can see them here:
There is also some photos from the travel to the party and back home.
I hope some of you can visit Sweden in the future.
The 28th annual Grand Canyon Star Party (GCSP) will be held June 9 through 16, 2018, in northern Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park. GCSP is an annual collaboration between the National Park Service and astronomers from around North America and often the world to bring astronomy outreach to Park visitors. New Moon will be June 13, mid-week, making giving us dark skies for most of the week while providing a few days of crescent moon for the visitors on the last few nights.
Amateur astronomers with a telescope and love of the sky to share, and the interested public of all ages, are invited to experience the beautiful Arizona nights in an exploration of the heavenly Grand Canyon skies. Not an astronomer? Drop in for an unforgettable and fabulous vacation for families, singles, and seniors.
GCSP will be held concurrently on both the North and South Rims. Visitors to the park are free to show up at their leisure, and observe through any or all telescopes. Astronomers choosing to set up for the event need to register in advance with the appropriate coordinator below. The South Rim can accommodate 80 or more telescopes, and we have not had to limit South Rim attendance thus far. The ten or so North Rim slots on the Lodge veranda, however, usually are accounted for by the end of February.
In general, volunteer astronomers should pre-register with the coordinator for the Rim they wish to join. Astronomers are responsible for securing their own lodging, and, due to the nature of the venues for both rims, telescopes generally need to be set up and taken down each night. Please see the North Rim site for unique arrangements for that venue. For the South Rim, we have space reserved for larger instruments, and a second reserved area at the entrance for live video setups, that may be left in place for the duration.
Visitor attendance at the Grand Canyon National Park has increased by 50% over the last four years, and lodging has become difficult to get less than four or five months in advance. In fact, Trailer Village has been filled for the June event as early as January for the last two years. If you are planning to attend, make reservations at the earliest opportunity. Accommodation information can be found at the web sites below.
At the South Rim component, over the past several years the day time outreach has grown significantly, with daytime hands-on demonstrations on astronomical topics at the Main Visitor Center and occasionally in the Bright Angel area, indoor demonstrations at the visitor center, and solar, lunar, and planetary observing during the day around the park. Also at the South Rim, at the Visitor Center theater we will have a variety of nightly presentations by a great group of speakers as the twilight deepens.
Web sites and contact information are shown below. Please contact Steve for the North Rim, or me for the South Rim, if you are interested in attending or for questions you might have.
Coordinator, North Rim, Grand Canyon Star Party
53750 W. Prickley Pear Rd.
Maricopa, AZ 85239
E-mail: fester00 [at] hotmail.com
Coordinator, South Rim, Grand Canyon Star Party
P.O. Box 457
Cortaro, AZ 85652
E-mail: gcsp [at] tucsonastronomy.org
Phone: 520 546-2961
Event: Chiricahua National Monument Star Party
Date: Saturday October 21, 2017
Location: Chiricahua National Monument, 37 miles Southeast of Willcox, AZ, about 5400 feet elevation
Weather: Clear skies, low 90s at home in Marana, AZ about 140 miles Northwest of the park at 2:00 PM, about 70 at the park at 5:30 PM, dropping to upper 40s around 9:30 PM when we left.
Seeing: and Transparency: Seeing very steady, transparency generally good with some high stratus due to merging contrails from late afternoon west-bound Los Angeles air traffic.
Equipment: 10” f/10 Meade 2120 SCT operating at f/5 (1270mm) for deep sky, Celestron AVX mount, Mallincam Xterminator live video camera, QFX 19" LCD 12V monitor, Werker deep cycle 100 amp-hour power supply with A/C inverter.
The TAAA provided Jim Knoll, Dean Ketelsen, Paul Williamson, and myself to set up telescopes to support a public night under the stars, part of the Chiricahua National Monument (CNM)’s efforts to achieve International Dark Sky Park status. Jim did the heavy lifting in setting up the event and visiting the site to choose a setup site.
CNM is a picturesque combined prairie and brushy high desert area at over 5,000 feet elevation and about forty miles from urban light sources, a combination giving it very dark skies along with favorable transparency. Humidity for the two days I was in the area was under 10%, helping provide a clear access to the exoatmospheric realm. CNM is rightfully called, quoting from its web site, a "Wonderland of Rocks", waiting to be explored. The 8-mile paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds, and inhabitants of this 11,985 acre site including the Faraway Ranch Historic District with plenty to discover more about the people who have called this area home. The quality of the night sky here, with the cooperation of the climatology, weather cooperates, gives great skies for exploring the full environment at this dark sky site.
OK, on with the show. The location is about a two hour drive from home, and then back again. I wasn’t sure how long we’d have visitors since the event was advertised in the area as well as there being a campground within the property. I needed to be there early enough to set up my scope as well as check out the Bonita Campground Amphitheater for a sunset talk I was requested to give, so I was looking at a pretty full day and late night so to be safe, I planned to drive home the next morning and got a room in Willcox. The star party was coincident with several major events in Willcox including a wine festival, the Boulder Dash Trail Run, art classes and festivals, all of which had most of the motel rooms in town booked a couple of months in advance but I was able to reserve one six weeks in advance.
After an uneventful drive to Willcox, I checked into the Super 8 and headed the forty miles to CNM. I set up with the others at the Faraway Ranch Parking Lot, headed over to the campground amphitheater. We have been setting up this support for the CNM star party series for around six months, and it was great to meet Ranger Suzanne Moody, our point of contact. Suzanne was setting up the projector, I plugged in my laptop, and we were ready to go.
As people began coming into the outdoor arena, Suzanne engaged them in conversation and prompting their observations about the experience in the facility. I am always amazed when I deal with National Park Service Rangers and their positive approach to the whole function. Everyone Suzanne dealt with at the Amphitheater received personal attention with a smile and enthusiasm. And it always seems that way, with the Interpretive Rangers I've teamed with at a half dozen National Parks, Monuments, and Recreation Areas. Always uplifting to be around.
The talk is an overview of what’s available to view at night. A brief description of how small and large stars work, basic facts about our solar system and planets, clusters, constellations, galaxies, nebulae, and comets, finishing up with a four minute stream of astrophotographs of the objects we’d been discussing. We had about 20 people show up; the festivities in Willcox cut down the size of the potential audience.
I went back to the setup site, and the other three were going strong with about 50 visitors. It took me a while in the dark to polar and stellar alignments done, then I caught up with the others. The first item I showed was M22, the large globular cluster in Sagittarius. The gain was set on 3, with only the 2.1 seconds of integration set, and there were some red artifacts in the cluster core so I backed the gain down to zero and upped the integration time to 8 seconds and the cluster exploded on the screen, filling it like a picture of Omega Centaurus. From then on, I kept the gain off and used only integration time to enhance the various objects.
From then on, it was a great teaching opportunity with about a dozen folks who hung around.my spot. For this season, I jumped through my usual list of objects that show well with the Mallincam. After M22, I went over to M8, the Lagoon, and upped the integration time to highlight the huge emission nebula and its evolving open cluster condensing from the gas cloud as each star’s nuclear fusion initiates and sends out a pressure wave to continue the star forming process. In a few million years, all we’ll have to view is the cluster devoid of gas, but for now, what a beauty.
Next came The Swan, M17, a red emission nebula that resembles its namesake and appears to be shedding feathers. Some of the most massive stars generating the energy to cause the emission are hidden behind the dust cloud that makes the crook of the neck of the swan, needing infrared sensors to peer into the dark. We spent a good amount of time discussing the range of stellar evolution in view, with the new birthing in M8 and M17, while the end of the process residing in M22.
To complete the life cycle demonstration we ended up nearly overhead, first with M27, the Dumbbell planetary nebula in Vulpecula the Fox, just below the Summer Triangle, a huge item on the monitor screen since I operate at f/5, a longer focal length of 1270mm to get a large image size. This item required an increase of integration time to over 20 seconds, but the blue-green ionizing oxygen center was wrapped nicely in the red hydrogen outer layer all generated by the heat from the white dwarf core star caused by the increased stellar winds from the helium flash near the end of life of the dying former star. For a while we went over to The Ring nebula, M57, in Lyra, a much smaller object due to being about twice as far away from us as M27. The double white dwarf stars were clearly visible, but the integration time needed to be dropped to around 5 seconds to accommodate the higher surface brightness of the little Cheerio. As a comparison, I tried to go back to M8 and couldn’t find it, thinking my alignment had gone awry. Then I looked up and saw Sagittarius had dipped behind a high Southwestern ridge, and even the Xterminator has trouble looking through rock.
The final object I showed off was NGC457, The Owl Cluster, looking like a bat hanging upside down with the camera orientation appropriate to the upcoming holiday, and is an example of a cluster that has used up all of the source gas but whose stars have yet to dissipate at only about 22 million years old, fills in the timeline of stellar evolution.
Our audience eventually left, I packed up, went to the motel, and had an uneventful trip home, except for an accident that had closed I-10 and had us get off and back on. Among the dented vehicles I saw was an auto transporter with six vehicles on fire. That’s going to cost!
A nice start to a continuing partnership with Chiricahua National Monument.
Event: Oracle State Park Star Party
Date: Saturday September 23, 2017
Location: Oracle State Park, Oracle AZ, about 4400 ft elevation
Weather: Clear skies, mid-80s at home in Marana, AZ about 35 miles southwest of the park 5:45 PM, dropping to mid-50s in the park to around 9:00 PM when done.
Seeing: and Transparency: Generally good.
Equipment: 10" f/10 Meade 2120 SCT operating at f/5 (1270mm) for deep sky, Orion EQ-G Atlas mount, Mallincam Xterminator live video camera, QFX 19" LCD 12V monitor, Werker deep cycle 100 amp-hour power supply with A/C inverter.
I usually try to have my equipment set up and ready to go well before sunset since my method of public outreach involves both a telescope and a live video presentation of the day and night sky. This is to enable participation by visitors who might have mobility or vision issues, or smaller children who have not yet developed the ability to visualize the eye candy in an eyepiece (it takes from about age five to as late as age 7 to build the out-of-context discrimination capability in the maturing brain). I rely on the live video display on a monitor to help those who might have difficulty accessing an eyepiece or processing the image.
Unfortunately for me, I came down with a bit of food poisoning in late afternoon and did not get to OSP until after sunset. I knew there would be at least five other telescopes set up, but I really like the visitors who attend events here. Through their efforts, park management, and volunteers, two years ago they completed the work to get the site designated an International Dark Sky Site by the International Darksky Association and they really do appreciate their environment, both day and night. I scrambled to get my stuff crammed into the astronomer gaggle, but I wasn't set up until well after 7 PM. The visitors at the other scopes, and the volunteers showing the home universe to the audience, were great to listen to while I fumbled around in the dark. Then came the usual annoyances when setting up late; somehow my polar alignment was way off, and the focus of the scope was hugely off the mark. It took about 20 minutes on the setting moon to even find a bright object to get the focus fixed. After that, it was a wonderful night. The camera performed greatly. Usually, aligning and pointing would take about 20 minutes, but I threw the rules out into the bushes and did some old geezer tricks. I remembered where Polaris should be in the Polar scope for that time of night, and polar aligned first. That's a cheat for this mount, because then all I need is to find a star near my target and not worry about multiple star pattern matching. Polar took a minute, Schedar in Cassiopeia took two minutes, and done. Jumped right to The Owl Cluster, NGC 457, one of those few objects that looks like it's name. It filled the 19" monitor, a cluster of about 150 or so stars making a pointillist image of an owl spreading its wings. This is a fascinating object for young, and old, alike because it does look like an owl spreading its wings, an amazing 8-9,000 light years away yet very bright, indicating the large size of these relatively new stars, about 22 million years in some references. Being so big, they won't last very long. Since I can rotate the camera and give it any orientation, for Halloween I show it off upside down as The Bat for kids. For about fifteen or twenty years, it picked up the colloquial names of The ET Cluster or the Johnny Five Cluster, after the movies ET and Short Circuit, and I even had scouts at a Davis-Monthan AFB camporee call it The F-15, but mostly it has reverted back to The Owl although there is an accepted name of Kachina Doll. The challenge I gave my visitors was to spot the color variations in the constituent stars. Stars look white unless you test yourself, then the subtleties of the stellar temperatures start invading the consciousness. Cold stars are reddish, hot stars are bluish, with some of the red lost in the infrared and invisible, and some of the blue up in the ultraviolet also lost to our vision. Lots of teaching can happen here.
Well, on to the pretty stuff. I swung the scope over to Sagittarius and the star Nunki, the top left star in the teapot handle. Aligning there, it made all of the gorgeous items toward the core of the Milky Way Galaxy available. I jumped over to M22, a globular cluster over the lid of the teapot. This is one of the top four beautiful globs, along with Omega Centaurus, M13 in Hercules, and M4 next to Antares in Scorpius. Globs are weirdly interesting collections. Although the Milky Way is on the order of 7.5 billion years old, these constituent elements' stars approach 12 billion years of age. What's up with that? Several theories have been proposed. Cores of small, old galaxies cannibalized in the formation of the Milky Way, or maybe a huge gas cloud formed a million or more stars in such a small region that their mutual gravity kept them from dissipating, or perhaps multiple smaller clusters of stars passed each other and their mutual gravity bound them into a single object. Some years ago, Kitt Peak National Observatory was part of a study to use non-visible frequencies to track the beehive of motion at the center of some globs, and sure enough, supermassive black holes were found at the cores of the first few studied. That's an indication that these are the cores of old galaxies integrated into the Milky Way. But wait a minute. A few more were studied, no black hole, and all the stars were about the same age. OK, a second theory might also be in play. Then, while studying globs around nearby galaxies, mixed ages of stars and no black holes were discovered. Wow, all three theories seem to be valid. So these tight beehives of fast moving aging stars have multiple possible sources. One remaining mystery is why the Milky Way only has less than 180 of these in highly elliptical orbits around the core of our galaxy, when others in our local group have as many as 4,000 globular clusters. And using the camera with its color sensitivity, we were able to see some of the stars in M22 are approaching end of life and can be seen as red giants among the white diamonds.
With that teaching accomplished we moseyed on over to M8, The Lagoon, formally labeled a "Cluster With Nebulosity", meaning stars are still forming out of the gas cloud. For billions of years, a hydrogen cloud, sometimes with other elements added in from past supernovas in the vicinity, will be hanging around without the density to pull together and start star formation. The something will happen to change the environment, perhaps a passing star, or maybe a supernova, and the local density somewhere in the cloud will pass the equilibrium state and start contracting, eventually compressing into enough heat and pressure to initiate nuclear fusion and a star is born. The new star blasts out an initial pressure wave that triggers another, and another, and each triggers more cascading star formation. That's The Lagoon; one half newly formed stars densely packed, the other half a gas cloud waiting its turn. We were treated to a bright red emission nebula of gas cloud, energized by the hot new stars and the ultraviolet energy of formation causing the remaining gas cloud to fluoresce a brilliant red along side the tight cluster of bright new stars. More great teaching opportunities.
We finished up on M17, The Swan Nebula that looks like, well, a glowing gaseous mass in the form of a swan. The teaching moment here is that the red textured emission nebula, while appearing in the form of a swan, is not, really. The area around the head has the shape of a swan's head and neck because of an intervening dust cloud. The young hot stars, whose energy is causing the gas cloud to glow red as an emission nebula, are completely hidden inside and behind the dust cloud. However, advances in infrared technology finally unveiled the cause for the glowing emission nebula of The Swan. A very nice way to end the evening.
Well, what started as a chaotic swirl for me ended up a very nice night with what usually proves to be some of the best audiences in my ten events or so each month. OSP gets a special audience who are a joy to work with, as well as the park staff (missed Jennifer Rinio this time, since she was not with us) and the help and efforts by Mike Weasner and volunteers and Friends of OSP. So many visitors show up we do need the scopes to support the great folks, but it does get a bit crowded. Works great, though!