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Kamuela, HI 96743

An electronic publication of The West Hawaii Astronomy Club -

    Andrew Cooper

Vice President:
    Cliff Livermore



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W. M. Keck Observatory

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Sizzlin' Summer Star Party 2007

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cooper - read his report on his website -- THANKS Andrew!

Here's Doug's observing report from the Sizzlin' Summer Star Party, July 14, 2007:

Our Sizzling Summer star party came off great. This was not our best turnout from a "total number of people" perspective, but it was a solid turnout; definitely our best large telescope turnout. We had double digit numbers of large telescopes including several 10- 14", and one each 16", 18", 22", and 24" to complement all the others down to at least a couple of nice pairs of binoculars. We started with our pre-dark dinner social. Dinner came off great....a simple hotdogs & supporting goodies affair that tasted good and cleaned up easily. Thanks to Dan & family for cooking...tasty. There was no major cleanup rush due to the cloud cover, and everyone mixed it up well.

About sunset, and not uncommonly, there was much moaning and groaning about the site due to cloud cover. It looked like it was getting worse compared to the early holes....they were filling in! We had several sacrificial volunteers leave (which always works to take clouds away with them...thanks!) :-).

About 8pm, some astute binocular "scouts" noticed a long line of low horizon NE to NW stars visible. Carlton promptly left to go checkout Waikoloa Rd to see if the sky was clear. The usual cavorting about whether to abandon ship started occurring after Carlton came back with a "clear sky elsewhere" report. However, I've observed too many times at this site under similar conditions to abandon under these conditions...I had a pretty good idea that with a North breeze and clearing already evident on the horizon, we'd easily get our turn with plenty of time to spare. I ignored all the usual chatter, and waited for what I was sure would be the eventual outcome. I've only very rarely been skunked at this site. Sure enough, by 8:30 or so, our first shouts of "STARS overhead!" started coming from multiple people. That allowed most of us to finish alignments of finders and telrads etc, and begin early viewing of objects like Jupiter, which actually benefit from a bit of haze in good seeing to take some of the brightness off without color effects from filters. Patience is usually rewarded nicely at this site.

The sky cleared in a couple of major fits and starts/restarts, teasing us at first, then blasting through definitively with a marvelous view of the milky way characteristic of the 2500ft elevation and truly dark sky location. Very warm, then a surprising weakening of the breeze to virtually dead still conditions. The sky just kept getting better and better. By 11:00, everyone was busy ripping off objects on their lists and sharing views with others. I had to start yelling at Cliff to stop hogging his 24". "CLIFF....GET OFF THE LADDER!!!" He was reluctant, but a good sport to share so much from such demanding visitors (mostly me!).

There was a lot more mixing of folks this time, and comparisons of fields in same and different eyepieces was all the rage. We had a good deal of dobsonian colimation practice (always fun), and with good reason. Jupiter was giving hints that the seeing was good....maybe very good.

At the club meeting a few days back, I had mentioned that the seeing was expected to be great for the star party, but the MK forecast had changed to only be average, so this expectation was taken away. However, as I was viewing double stars in my seeing lists, I could tell that the seeing was better than the revised forecast. As the night progressed, I could tell that the seeing was excellent....we were easily splitting 3 arcsec doubles with plenty of room to spare. I started noticing doubles and faint companions in often visited locations I had never noticed before. I guessed that we were getting 2 arcsecond or better seeing. Several of us spent quite a bit of time looking at the double "heart" star of the Trifid nebula, and noticed that this pair is actually composed of 5 stars! A straight line of 4, 2 bright and 2 very faint, plus a split of the "left" brightest in the perpendicular "downward" direction (as viewed in the Dobs). Another collimation round for some of the large dobs not quite pulling it off, and then others were seeing these treats as well.

There's something to be said for visual observing....I'll note that I haven't seen any photographs of these extra Trifid stars before....most photos bloom and/or overexpose to enhance the nebulosity. This defeats the ability to know the faintest stars well. Seeing the 5 "heart" stars in the Trifid, two main, and their three faint close companions, is much like seeing the 6 stars of the trapezium...capturable only with a keen eye towards detail, good techniques, and good collimation.

We spent a good time comparing Cliff's image intensifier "I3" eyepiece to many views of planetaries and galaxies with/without filters and under different eyepieces/telescopes. A very interesting niche eyepiece for some objects. Cliffgasims galore.. :-)

The night progressed, and folks slowly began falling off after midnight. By about 2am, I think we were finally down to 3 of us. Cliff's 24", my 22", and Tony's 12.5" were left with a still fabulous sky to ourselves. I only remember one 15 minute or so weakening of the sky conditions (which is somewhat unusual...normally it seems like I expect a couple/three of these events each night), but the sky recovered well as is also usual. Cliff finally gave up about 3:30am? Doug and Tony finished up the night with many more objects, and a fabulous look at a very high reaching Zodiacal light display, followed by the sure signs of daybreak about 5am or thereabouts. Had I been paying more attention, I should have turned around and looked to see if the Gegenshein was visible. I'll bet it was, given how high the extension of the zodiacal light column was. I'll never know now. This will be something to look for in the fall.

All in all, a pretty nice night at the Club site, with good company, a farewell of honor for Craig Combes, and a night for the books. For those who missed the event, consider attending our "Fantastic Fall" gathering in October when we'll do it all again with a different set of stars and objects.

As for myself, I had a memorable night, with too many "firsts" to remember. I managed to consistently remain behind schedule for my own observing list (which only meant that I had a great time with other telescopes and needed to then furiouly catch up on my own list from time to time). I got through all 198 objects in my list without a moment to spare.

I had a good checkout run for my new 40mm Paragon widefield eyepiece. It's not a Nagler, but it's no slouch either (and it costs MUCH less). A worthy addition to any eyepiece set for sure. Thanks to Tony for letting me use his 2" oxygen filter on the 40mm; This is a pairing with special benefits for widefield objects like the Helix and the Veils. I've never seen such a nice wide view of the Veils before...each side (East/West) completely fits in the field of following the's all there! Another thought on the 40mm wide field....I've been keeping a list of the "best" Barnard dark nebulas, but when viewing at 200 power with a 12mm Nagler, I haven't been seeing much to brag about (except for ones like the Inkspot). Well, I was wrong on multiple counts. First, off- topic, please note that my favorite 12mm Nagler 4 eyepiece is not at 150 power like I mistakenly told multiple folks...oops, sorry... must be math challenged at low altitudes! :-) The 12mm in my scope is actually 198 power. Ok, back on topic...more importantly, I was wrong on starting to give up on my "best" Barnards. Without filters, and with the 40mm wide field, these objects were easily visible. All of my "bests", along with uncounted numbers seen just sampling the heart of the great rift...what a treat. I'll be keeping these Barnard objects in my favorites list after all.

I got quite used to rapid switching of the 12mm and 40mm eyepieces last if I could just figure out how to magically make them parfocal so I won't have to fiddle with such wide differences in focus between these different eyepieces. I guess there'll always be something to complain about huh?

I'll wrap up my observing report with a final note on seeing. I woke up early this afternoon after getting to bed about 6am this morning and looked at the Keck nightlogs for K1 and K2. They reported excellent seeing of .45 and .68 arsecs (however the .68 had a note that seeing was occasionally better.... .58 and .47). Averaging the best/worst together is .56 arcsecs. That's good seeing anyway you slice it. It was expecially nice to have this kind of seeing coincide with one of our major observing events.

Ok, I've blathered enough. I'm sure I've forgotten lots of details and shared far more than anyone is interested in. It's all a blur now. Again, thanks to all who helped with food prep, potluck items, and cleanup. Andrew got a few group images, and hopefully one of his shots with all of our telescopes will come out nicely enough that we can put it on the website.

See you all at the next meeting.....


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