OSP 2006: well .. it's complicated!

More images at flickr!

The story of the 2006 Oregon Star Party for me is marked with several ups and downs. In terms of weather it was among the best: clear nights, comfortable days, only a few smoky periods from nearby forest-fires, and very few of the dust-devils that roam the field and dismantle camps and telescopes. On the equipment side of the equation, a mixed result: my telescope-rebuilding project failed in the final few days and I was forced to reassemble the unsatisfactory original housing. We also were trying our new tent-trailer here, and technical difficulties greeted us there as well. On the health front, my fiancé Lórien arrived in Portland with signs of the bug her family was passing around, which was a mean infectious thing that would take me down a week later. Somehow, though, looking back on it (even as I type this in mid-September, still on antibiotics), I would give this year a good rating.

We headed for central Oregon on Wednesday inauspiciously: despite my best efforts I could not pack tightly enough to carry Lórien's telescope so she had to drive behind me and the trailer. We did have the foresight to pack some cough syrup, just in case, but forgot many other items of value - therefore, we stopped a few times along the way. Doing that brought us to the site at 8:10PM, which was 10 minutes after the barricade is erected to keep lights off the main observing field. It was deep twilight, and we were about to set up our trailer for the first time, and not where we had intended to be. It went up smoothly, thank goodness, and Lórien set up her 8-inch Newtonian while I finished preparing the trailer. For the second time in its short life, the propane system failed to respond properly, meaning we could not cook any meals; we had plenty of cold food in the cooler, but at some point this would be important - and at the end of a long day it was infuriating! I chose to leave my 'scope in the car, so soon we were seeing a few sights in Lórien's 8-inch scope. After capturing a few Messier objects (and mochas at the potable coffee-trailer!) we decided to turn in; it had been a long and tiring day.

Thursday began with a few clouds, and a decision: should we break down all our gear, drive a few hundred yards into the main encampment, and set up all over again? We agreed this spot was good enough for the weekend and I began unloading my 17˝-inch box, remembering all over again what I disliked about this first draft. After that, we walked up the road and into the central area, where more vendors than ever were set up. As the OSP doorprize coordinator, this implied that business would be good, since vendors are expected to donate to our Saturday drawing. While I had planned to gather the goods on Saturday, several people handed things to me or called me over the radio sooner; in the end I had most of the prizes by late Friday. These accumulated with the other donations that had been mailed to me beforehand, and soon the (tidy) pile was becoming quite impressive! Much of the afternoon was cool and cloudy, but as often happens on the high desert the clouds dispersed by early evening. I tweaked a few last parts of my rickety telescope, then discovered that the set-screws were Both missing from my focuser. While trying to scavenge one from another part, I dropped and lost it in the twilight. I was overwhelmed with rage, frustration and failure and went to bed, but Lórien coaxed me out to help with her telescope. We spent several hours with the 8-inch again while the larger beast sat unused and in fact unwanted; I wondered how it would fare at the next day's swap-meet. While returning from the mocha-shack again we stopped and looked through an 18-inch telescope; the view prompted Lórien to comment on its great views, and I began to believe that my 17˝ would not be leaving me any time soon. During the night, after a dozen and more attempts to reconnect the propane system, the gas stove came to life - this was reassuring, and we pre-heated the tent before bed.

Friday we awoke late.. but not so late as to miss the swap-meet at 11:00! After cooking breakfast (whoopee!) and hard-boiling some eggs we headed for the tent. We missed the opening few minutes, but in the end I sold off two parts I had no use for - and the mirrors stayed at our site. Lórien got a good deal on color filters, and had added a new eyepiece the day before - so despite her health was feeling very good about things. I found a box of spare parts at Sean's shop and they gave me new set-screws; I also found the stray from the night before, so I could actually contemplate a night of observing at last. Later in the day I collected a few more door prizes and took advantage of the on-site shower-trailer. Later we decided to do the telescope walkabout, where I might learn new ways to rebuild the rebuilt telescope. After one stop, though, Lórien stepped away and went back for a nap; the bug was taking control and making her weak and miserable. When I returned she was not sure if she would come out for stargazing, but in the end she did manage a couple of hours of observing before retuning to bed.
I chose this night to try one of the new observing programs at OSP, choosing the mid-level Oregon Sky 25 as my test. I could see that my hastily-rebuilt telescope had problems, and they became clear as I tried to split the multiple star mu Bootis - my cobbled-together mount was quite astigmatic! I stuck with low powers and sought out the more extended objects on the list, and at 1:30 found the minimum number of objects to qualify for the award. Since this was perhaps the poorest night of the event - still clear, but probably a bit of smoke damaging the transparency - I decided that was enough for one night.

So it came to Saturday, the final full day and my time to hand out prizes. I turned in my observing 'log' (minimal, but acceptable - whew!) and collected the last few prizes for the afternoon drawing. I had many helpers to deal out the prizes, and having most of the loot a day sooner proved quite helpful, so when 4:00 rolled around I was ready for action. Lórien was slated to help me with their distribution, but by then she was confining herself to the tent with no energy, a seriously sore throat and increasingly painful cough. Everything went smoothly, but now my throat was raw too.. too much talking, or my turn to suffer? By nightfall Lórien remained in bed, and I was getting punchy from all the good weather - but I did want to capture a few more of the Oregon Sky objects before the end. I remembered the six-inch mask for my telescope and recaptured mu Boo in its glory, then hit southern Ophiuchus for two objects. Soon two became a dozen as I hopped from globular to globular, sweeping up many new catches between M9 and M19. I was done before midnight, though, concerned that a long night could be troublesome for the drive home. Lórien would have to drive herself, and I would need to do much of the disassembly of our camp.

Sunday was closing day, and I helped the crew take down some of our on-site gear before looking to our needs. Lórien appeared at the mocha-shack just as I finished, so I drove her back to camp and we began dismantling our temporary home. She was weak, but more helpful than I had expected. At 1:00 we started for home, making several stops for her comfort in the heat. The next day she was on antibiotics and serious cough medicine.

The star party overall went extremely smoothly by all accounts. Our story was a bit crazy, but it was still a great event. With only a little luck, next year will go much more smoothly - we shall be married (lessening Lórien's commute), my rebuilt scope will take less space, we'll both be in one car and the trailer will preform properly on the first try. Whatever luck may come, we'll be at OSP 2007; hopefully we will see you there!