by Dennis Beckley
In the past the event has been frequently plagued by all sorts of natural and man-made disasters including lightening, torrential rainstorms, telescope flinging dust devils, blistering heat and forest fire smoke.
This was the year of the forest fire smoke.
As I approached Bend Oregon after a leisurely 8 hour drive from the Bay area I knew all was not well when I saw the pall of smoke wafting over the town. Turns out there was a big fire just to the NW of Bend and with the prevailing winds this portended doom for the OSP directly downwind 60 miles to the SE.
I stayed overnight in Bend and got early the next morning and drove the 60 miles east through the town of Prineville and out to the Indian Trail Springs star party site. There was a thin layer of smoke drifting through the forest and hills.
When I got to the site at 10:00 in the morning there was an amazing number of trailers, RV's and tents already set up along the major roads. I set up my camp away from the group of "serious" astronomers closer to the shower truck and a discreet distance from the porta-potties. It was hot but not intolerable.
I set up my 18 inch dob and my sun shade and roomy little bed in the back of my station wagon. Soon many others rolled in and set up camp adjacent to me on both sides.
Thursday night the evening meal was very good and having a latte after supper was a nice touch and along with a nice warm shower one of the real bennies of the OSP.
Thursday night started off promising with relatively clear and very dark skies. I had made up a list of "impossible" objects that I wanted to see (some of which I had already seen along with Steve Gottlieb last weekend at Chew's ridge - but that's another story).
As it got really dark I started off with some eye candy objects and soon had a group of people who wanted to look through my scope. It became obvious that I had the biggest scope for some distance around and my list of "impossible" objects was going to go out the window. One old man asked me what I was going to look at next and instead of saying "Pease 1" I said "M51". It was amazing the number of children that attend this star party (OSP has a lot of neat activities to offer the kids). I had to hold one little girl up on the top tray of my ladder to see M51 and I asked her "what do you see Mandy?" and she said " I see that the little galaxy is brighter in the middle than the big one". Out of the mouth of a child comes uncommon wisdom! I've always focused on the spiral arms and the connecting bridge and never took note of the obvious!
One old man came up and said that he always wanted to see M13 through a big scope and so I obliged him a look. It became apparent that he had some eyesight problems and so I had to described to him what he was seeing. It was a real effort for him to go up and down the ladder but he hung in there and thanked me profusely. He was a retired construction worker from Oklahoma here with his son and granddaughter. The next day he came over to my camp and again thanked me for showing him M13 and gave me a paperback that he'd been reading and which he wanted me to have for being so accommodating to him, called "Hyperspace" by Kaku! Go figure!
About 2:00 in the morning the skies started to go bad from the smoke again and so I flicked it in after catching a few nice views of Mars.
Friday started out really bad with a pall of smoke over the sky. The old man came by and said it looked hopeless and so we sat around making small talk for about an hour. Then one by one the stars started coming out! Soon the Milky Way was visible! I fired up the scope and again played host to the folks around me and lots of kids, sticking pretty much to Messiers and Caldwell objects. One lady came by with her daughter and wanted to see Mars. I obliged her and the lady said that she wanted to come back later and look some more after she put her daughter to bed. I continued to observe along with a guy next to me named Brian who made little plastic telrad overlays for different star atlas's.
Along about midnight the lady came back and brought me a local micro brewery beer for letting her look through my scope. I usually don't drink when I'm observing (loss of visual purple, etc) but tonight I made an exception. It turns out her name was Wanda and she frequently did star parties for kids with her 8 inch dob and so looking through my 18 was payback for all her good deeds. We started with some of the more interesting NGC's and worked our way up the Perseus A super cluster. Wanda and Brian were really getting into it now and so we tried for Pease 1 and low and behold we saw it! The sky was exceptionally clear by now and Wanda and Brian wanted to try for Einstein's cross! We found the lensing galaxy CGCG 378-15 at around 14.5 magnitude. We tried diligently for the next hour trying to see the lensed quasar but finally gave up around 3:30. The next day after reading Ray Cash's article in Adventures in Deep Space I seriously doubt that the 4 components of the lensed quasar are seeable in an 18 inch scope (all are magnitude 17 or 18 and only a few arc seconds from the dim elongated galaxy). After checking out Orion and Saturn which were totally beautiful we decided to call it a night. As I was walking to the porta-potty I happened to look up at the Milky Way running more beautiful than I have ever seen it directly overhead from horizon to horizon looking like a giant Veil Nebula with twisting and frills and voids! It was as they say "a religious experience". All my amateur astronomy life I have been looking for the unseeable with bigger and bigger telescopes and here it was all laid out before me and I didn't even need a telescope to see it!
On Saturday I made the rounds and dropped in on Tom O who had his new 24 inch scope on display for sale. Tom is one of the really nice and helpful people that you run across in amateur astronomy and I made a note to come to try and come back later that night and look for Einstein's Cross through his 24. I also stopped by the local TAC-SAC camp and had a nice talk with Jim Ster, Jane Smith, Ed Smith and Alvin Huey and his wife. Jim had the 30 inch Starmaster there and I made a note to try and come back later and look for Einstein's Cross through it!
Spent a few moments talking to Mark and Michele who were selling some fine handmade telescopes up in Vendor's Row.
Later I went to the big raffle ticket giveaway up in the main activities tent. It was very hot inside the tent and brutal outside. Despite this they had a huge turnout (over 900 people attended!) and the local emcee had the crowd worked up to a fever pitch by the time the grand door prizes were awarded. He called out the winning ticket number and no one came forward! He tried to do his going once, going twice thingie but the crowd was having none of it and they all shouted out "gone"!
He called another number and lo and behold it was none other than Mark Wagoner who was walking up to the podium to claim his new 10 inch dob grand prize! The Californians in the crowd went wild when he asked Mark where he was from and he said "Los Gatos"!! Earlier Alvin Huey's wife had won a bunch of nice stuff including a Tony Hallas print and some astronomy software (I think - my mind blurs at this point).
Saturday night started out promising and I again had lots of people wanting to look through my scope. Among them were two elderly ladies who had arrived that day in a big pickup truck and created a Chinese fire drill trying in vane to put up a homongous blue plastic tarp over their entire vehicle ( I believe Albert mentioned that there' only about 3 inches of topsoil over solid bedrock on this martian-like landscape).
I carefully helped the elderly ladies up to the top of my ladder so they could see the Veil Nebula which was almost at the zenith. They hung in there to look at about 10 more objects with me and thanked me profusely for letting them see those things that they had never before seen.
The sky started going bad again bout 1:00 and since I had a long trip back the next day I packed it in.
The next morning as I was breaking camp a little girl came by and asked me if I had seen her new WingZing glider which she had lost late the day before. Then I heard the elderly lady in the pickup truck ask the girl to come over and she gave her a brand new WingZing that she had gotten at OSP about 4 years earlier and never used. After the girl left I told the elderly lady that it was a nice thing that she had done and she told me that she wanted the little girl to have good memories about this star party. I thought about that.
On my long drive home I had lots of time to think about this star party and even though I didn't accomplish a lot objects on my observing list it didn't seem to matter that much. Other star parties are for that (the Texas Star Party for instance). This was a different experience and yes Albert I did have a good time and wish that you could have been there too!