SSP thanks

by Marek Cichanski

Two birds with one stone here...

First, a huge thank you to everyone who made SSP 2003 a great experience this year. I didn't go last year, but am very glad that I went this year. The most basic fact is that Shingletown is as dark as the inside of a cow, to quote Mark Twain. The skies were wonderful, and I had a great time using every instrument from my unaided eyes to a 30" telescope.

People were great, too. Lots of my fellow TACos were there, and it was like a good 'ol night at Montebello or Coyote, just with the sky kicked up several notches. There were lots of other nice folks, too. As near as I could tell, everything went smoothly. From my perspective, dust was as minimal an issue as it could have been.

My crazy schedule of going to SSP for the first night, and then driving back to the Bay Area on Thursday to give an exam on Friday actually worked out, new battery and all. I was glad I made the effort to drive back up to SSP on Friday, even if it did involve inching over the Benecia Bridge on Friday afternoon in 107 degree heat.

I was just reading through some of the responses to Mark's call for best astro experiences, and several people mentioned times when they'd seen really dark skies. They described extremely bright Milky Way, and the experience of not being able to identify the constellations due to the profusion of stars.

I had a ball at SSP 2003, and to me the darkness of the sky background was first-rate. The Milky Way blew my mind. But I can't say that I had any trouble identifying the constellations. Furthermore, when I did star counts in the Finnish triangles, I got rather lower limiting magnitudes than I expected. I talked with Mark about the method for making the counts, so I think I was clear about how to do them, but I usually only got about 6.2 to 6.3 LM. The best I ever got was 6.59, and one count only yielded 5.8. Bizarre.

I was just curious if people who were at this year's SSP had any thoughts about how the sky compared with other dark sky sites. Seemed awesome to me, and I'm ready to head back, but I'm curious as to why I didn't see certain features of a really dark sky, like high LM counts and hard - to- identify constellations. Maybe it's just my eyes. Goodness knows they're nearsighted enough. Maybe even with glasses, my nearsightedness causes the star images to be a bit defocused, and maybe that renders the dim stars less visible...

P.S.: For those who haven't done it, hiking up Lassen Peak is a great diversion during SSP. I did it yesterday and was very glad that I did. The wind was quite strong at the summit, but the views were spectacular. Looking down the north face of the mountain toward the Devastated area was remarkable, considering that one is standing at the very spot from the which the devastating lahars and pyroclastic flows issued. Wow!

I thought "oh man, I'll be really burned out and won't want to observe locally for a while", but not so. I have just as much affection for MB and the TAC crew as ever. Bring it on! ETA MB 9 pm or so.