Report on first night of SSP

by Marek Cichanski

Here's a quick rundown on the first night of SSP:

I was there for the first night, and am now back in the Bay Area so as to give an exam on Friday, and I'll be heading back up Friday afternoon - assuming that I can get a new battery in my Jeep fairly quickly on Friday...fingers crossed...

The first night was quite nice. Lots of people there, but when I left this morning, there was plenty of space left. (The SSP site is huge.) The dust situation looked pretty good to me - meaning that I didn't see much of it. The folks from the town have been going over it with a watering truck, and they've used a "hay shooter" to put shredded hay over the dirt, and then watered that. The idea is that it will help retain the moisture. People seem to be following the "speed limit = crawl" rule pretty well, too. I was a little suprised at how late into civil twilight they were shooting hay and watering, but that didn't seem to turn into an issue.

Conditions were great on Wednesday, at least in terms of temperature, clear sky, and transparency. Although the Bay Area and Central Valley were/are baking under 100 degree heat, when I got to Shingletown on Wednesday at about 4 pm it was 81. Cooled down quite quickly after sunset. I think we were a little suprised by how quickly we had to put on warm clothing. Got down into the fifties by midnight or so. I think it was about 53 when I went to sleep at 3:30 am. Great sleeping weather, at least for the few hours of night that remained. I suspect that it's going to get a little warmer at Shingletown, but I don't think anyone's anticipating a rerun of last year's heat at the site. Transparency is pretty good, judging from the long-distance views of Lassen and Shasta, although Craig Colvin, who's been there since Monday, observed slightly better transparency earlier in the week.

Shingletown sure is dark! I think that there's a wee bit of a Redding light dome, but it's basically a "novelty" light dome, and doesn't really affect anything. The naked-eye Milky Way is great! Very wide, bright, and detailed. For me, the real winners at a site like that are the dark nebulae and dust lanes. They were showing up quite well. I saw the Pipe Nebula with the naked eye and binos. Couldn't quite get the Snake Nebula to show itself in my 10" dob, so maybe the transparency could be a skosh better, but not by much. The single most spectacular thing I saw Wednesday night was the Large Sagittarius Starcloud in binos. Amazing dark-neb detail in there, very mottled and structured. The view I had through my scope of the Veil (with an Orion Ultrablock filter) was perhaps the best view I've ever had of the Veil through any scope, light buckets included.

The only thing that was slightly under par was the seeing. It got pretty soft, with somewhat bloated stars. But I don't think anyone was complaining, since we were so glad to have that darkness.

Here's the best way to sum up the first night - it was quiet. I mean the kind of quiet that happens when a boisterous family sits down to a really good meal, and after a while you realize that no one's saying anything, because they're too busy concentrating on eating. It's that good.

Looking forward to getting back up there tomorrow...fingers crossed...