Report: Ad-hoc Star Party May 25th

Submitted by Larry Faltz

We took advantage of the 3-day holiday weekend to call, via email blast, for a spur-of-the-moment star party on Sunday, May 25th when it became clear that the regularly scheduled event on the 24th could not take place because of early-evening thunderstorms. I was expecting just a few folks to be available on such short notice, but there was a wonderful response with at least 13 instruments of all types and sizes, as well as a small number of non-scope-bearing attendees, including WAA Vice President for Programs Pat Mahon.

Among the highlights was the presence of two fabulous refractors. Eric Baumgartner brought his Astrophysics Starfire 130mm refractor, a scope I first looked through in Hawaii  in 2012 when we were both on Sky & Telescope's Transit of Venus trip.

Eric's friend Jim Cortina set up a 175mm Thomas M. Back triplet refractor on an Astrophysics mount. This is surely the largest refractor ever to be set up at a WAA star party. It's a magnificent instrument, top-of-the-line in every respect. Tom Back, a brilliant optical designer, sadly passed away a few years ago at a young age, but he left a number of truly outstanding examples of optical design and manufacture.


Kevin and WAA Assistant VP Claudia Parrington came "light" with a Celestron SLT 90. WAA Field Events VP Bob Kelly brought his trusty 8" Orion dobsonian. Newsletter Editor Tom Boustead brought his Stellarvue 90mm refractor on a brand-new Celestron AVX go-to equatorial mount. Dave Butler came with his trusty Meade LX90 and the BiPH image intensifier. DeDe Raver had her brand-new Meade 8" Lightswitch (purchased after seeing the Parringtons' "talking scope" in action) for first light. Joe DePietro observed through a 6" Celestron SCT. Art Linker tried out his first go-to mount, a Celestron he bought on eBay, with a Stellarvue Nighthawk 80mm refractor. Gary Miller set up his wonderful 12.5" Obsession truss-tube dobsonian. Erik and Eva Anderson arrived a little later with their Televue NP101, and Leo and Lisa brought a brand-new 12" Orion Intelliscope dobsonian.

Elyse and I came with Locutis, the Celestron CPC800/Mallincam combination. Any scope with that many wires, power supplies, computers and attached bits needs its own name.

The weather was beautiful during the day but high thin clouds were around for the first part of the evening. Nevertheless, seeing was pretty good with three planets (Jupiter, Mars and Saturn) well-placed for all the scopes. Later in the evening the sky cleared with good transparency (SQM improving from 19.64 when the clouds were present to 20.16 when the sky cleared). Optimal viewing was from about 10:45 pm to 12:45 am, and Eric, Jim and we stayed quite late, finally packing up and exiting the park around 1:20 am.

While Eric and Jim went after a diverse selection of galaxies, planetary nebulae and double stars with their wonderful refractors, I concentrated Locutis on galaxies in the Virgo and Coma clusters as well in Ursa Major. The dust lane in M104, the Sombrero Galaxy in Virgo, was sharp and dramatic. M51 looked great as usual with spiral arms quite evident, including the bridge between the two galactic nuclei. I also showed the Ring and Dumbbell nebulae when they rose in the east, as well as M16 and its famous "Pillars of Creation," easily seen with the Mallincam, which is particularly sensitive in the red end of the spectrum. I even showed the 17th magnitude Twin Quasar in Ursa Major to Eric and Jim. It was only a tiny dot on the screen, but at a distance of 8 billion light-years it's the furthest thing any of us have ever directly visualized.

Here are two Mallincam screen shots (remember, they're 28-second video captures, not hours-long, computer-processed CCD images). The first is M63, the Sunflower Galaxy, a mag 8.6 galaxy in Canes Venatici.

The second is M100, a mag 9.4 spiral galaxy smack dab in the middle of the Coma Berenices cluster. Nearby galaxies NGC 4328 (mag 13.0) and NGC 4323 (mag 14.8) are visible just below M100.