Over 550 people attended the tenth Oregon Star Party held at the Indian Trail Springs site in central Oregon. This site has been used since 1992 and has proven popular with nearly all who travel there. Its primary attraction is its near-complete lack of artificial skyglow; the nearest towns are both distant and small, with only a faint glow from the Bend-Redmond area in sight low in the west. Held over Labor Day weekend this year, the party did not suffer the drop in attendance expected by the organizing committee; final numbers were nearly identical to the previous two years. While the forecast was not the best for astronomy, the summer of '97 had been a benign one for wildfires, so the crimson haze on the horizon in 1996 would not be a problem this time.
The official dates of the event ran from Thursday through Sunday, but many people came early or stayed late thanks to the three-day weekend. Those who came early did get some viewing in, though the skies were mostly cloudy through Thursday evening. The clouds pulled a fast one on the pleasantly-surprised crowds on Thursday, clearing off almost immediately after sunset. Skies were both dark and steady, rewarding instruments of all sizes and designs with the best images that each scope could produce. At some point one observer snapped: after wandering around the field begging for Barlow lenses, he powered up to 6000x on his 20.4-inch reflector for views of the Ring Nebula. (Well, not exactly the nebula, since this amount of power reveals only the hole inside M57. Later speculation was that he was looking for sunspots on the central star!) Other observers, now deprived of their Barlow lenses, kept their magnification under four digits while examining Saturn, Jupiter and the many objects in the observing packet that is an annual workout for partygoers. Many people stayed up until dawn's early light, fortified by the midnight 'star burgers' cooking on the caterer's stove, while others turned in earlier, hopeful of more excellent nights to follow.
Friday was partly cloudy, but diminishing clouds by afternoon kept expectations high. Nearly everyone had arrived on site by then, and the main observing field was bristling with telescopes of various levels of sophistication. Several automated Dobsonian reflectors were in use, two of them with elegant and effective home-built circuits to keep objects in the eyepiece for extended lengths of time. A healthy number of 20-inch-plus 'scopes were in attendance, and a few of those were completed just in time for this event. Darkness chased off the last clouds, and another night of near-perfection kept observers active. While some marveled at Jupiter and Saturn, other people sketched eyepiece-fields in pursuit of minor planets from the observing guide, while others tracked down objects from the many observing catalogs. The Rose City Astronomers of Portland have just released the latest of these projects, the Herschel II list; it joins the Messier list [110 deep-sky objects] and the original Herschel list [400 objects] in the Astronomical League's stable of programs to keep observers busy. Several participants in the project were on hand, and they chased faint smudges that made the new list of 400. A few took a different path, choosing a page from Uranometria and tracking down as many items as their aperture and observing skills allowed. This produced several new galaxies that will be cherished mementos of the 1997 event. During the night a few late arrivals from Portland came with the local mega-scope, a handmade 40-inch reflector that draws crowds nearly as well as the caterer; its assembly had to wait for daylight. Early-morning views of Saturn at 500x and 750x were unbelievable, as the atmosphere relaxed and let every photon pass undisturbed. Many people watched the old Moon rise around 4:30am before turning in to dream of another clear night ahead.
Saturday was again partly cloudy, but high-level clouds caused anxiety as the day passed. It was a good day for shopping, with an active swap meet and constant crowds examining items for sale at the vendors' tents. Several talks in the afternoon were well attended, and the crowd gathered for the group photograph with mounting excitement. After all, the photo is always followed by the door-prize drawings, and many people came away happy with a full range of prizes up to a three-pack of TeleVue Panoptic eyepieces. Dinner followed to cheer up those whose hands were empty, then the sun lowered and telescopes rose in anticipation. The first hour was tolerable, but more waves of high cirrus clouds were followed by stubborn mid-level clouds that kept even Jupiter under wraps. This was going to be an interesting night for Jupiter, with a moon-dance to keep observers entertained, but by 10pm the view was grim. Even the 40-inch had small crowds as Jupiter was the only object in sight, and that also was engulfed in lowering clouds. Most people, exhausted from two nights of visual ecstasy, accepted the opportunity for sleep and got some extra sleep for the long drive home.
Sunday was moving day for most attendees, as most people headed home and those who remained moved their equipment closer to the main field for camaraderie and convenience. By midday the skies were encouraging, and Sunday evening was another good night for the smaller group that remained. The 40-inch did justify the trip by getting some use this night, and those who stayed the extra night were well rewarded.
All in all, the event went smoothly, and two nights out of three were about as good as anyone could ask for. Survey results indicate that a few adjustments would improve the site, and the committee will speak to the Forest Service about joint projects that would be beneficial to both sides. Next year's event will again be at the Indian Trail Springs site, barring unforeseen problems. Mark August 20-23 on your calendar and join the 550-plus people who make this event great! For more information, visit our web site at http://www.transport.com/~ospinc, or call (503)357-6163.
28 Aug [OSP Thursday]
I stopped in Prineville around 8:30 and noted two bright stars as I left town. This is fine, I think, just pull into a good spot and get some sleep. WRONG - the site is intensely clear when I arrive ~9:30, so pulling past the late-arrival curve is not possible. I set up the 22" near several other late folks, including [Dan and Ben?]. I just hit the big-ticket items until just after 1am, showing the locals a few sights and helping Ben find the Ring in his 41/4" [equatorial, but not pointing north]. I did walk to the main field and let a few people know I was in. This was a very fine night, and my arrival with minimal prep was disappointing. I imagined how Steve would feel; he just couldn't bring himself to drag that bit trailer over for nothing - and he was missing Everything.
29 Aug [OSP Friday]
Around 9:30 I drove up to the main field and pulled in just across the road from Chuck's grouping of Tel/More products. The vendors from previous years were here again [marking one year of inactivity on the 80mm refractor..]. The day was mostly cloudy with discrete cumulus, but they dissipated as the day went on, strange but true. A couple of small devils whirled by while I checked the maps for fun tours and asteroid sites. Two neophytes from Puget Sound pulled up, one with a 7" Maksutov and one just looking. The beef dinner was great, and skies continued to clear at dusk. This night was another strong one, rated by Chuck at 8 or 8.5 [some thought Thu was a touch better, though]. I had chosen UMet page 126 for entertainment, on the Psc/And/Peg junction; it was very fine with smudges in clumps, including n176/176A in collision. When I shared it with Howard he traded me for page 11, where several galactic pairs were hovering around the Little Dip's bowl. I also did some sketching of six minor-planet fields around a Psc, hoping for good skies Saturday to check the fields. In the back of my mind, though, I knew the forecast was best for Friday night. . .
Swayzes did in fact arrive late this evening, but their scope stayed in the trailer as they hopped about seeing the sights [Bruce liked the 176 pair also]. Steve and Mel shooed me away from my scope for some heavy testing, finding it very good with possible undercorrection in the center [hey, I have a 4" secondary will that help?]. Jupiter looked fine but Saturn was the showpiece, and all turned that way with single-digit eyepieces to admire the steady view. My 4.7 showed me a great globe at 505x, and the rings and moons were impressively sharp. Mel's compuscope was tracking nicely at 750x; nice to look without all the nudging! That was nothing compared to earlier events; on both nights he was borrowing Barlows for views inside M57, using 2000-6000x to apparently check for sunspots on the central star. Now that's tracking! The midnight burger kept me fueled for the night; I turned in after moonrise, just short of 5am.
30 Aug [OSP Saturday]
Managed to sleep until 9:45, then crawled about checking MegaStar for the mplanets and another good UMet page. I found one in Cetus and crossed my fingers. The swap meet brought out no mirror blanks, so after recalculating a few parameters I picked up a 2.25" secondary from Joe for the nextscope, apparently with a 13.1" mirror [f/4.94 or 5.22 likely]. I also picked up a focuser for the 80mm from Rex; his subliminal radio talk works!! My shopping caused me to miss the group photo [which I paid for this time..], and my '777' number somehow failed to win a prize. Steve Nehl's wife took the Panoptic set, which pleased both of them mightily. He stopped by at dusk and shot me a few times [he liked my uncluttered southern horizon], promising to return for the dramatic milky-way shot if the cirrus stays low. The skies have been pretty good but high-level stuff is threatening to interfere. Dusk is very pretty but not astronomically correct: fiery cirrus and mid-level clouds in several directions. The first hour goes well [though once again I've screwed up the Jovian-moon page], but by 9pm it's even tough to hold Jupiter. It's the Swayzes' nightmare come true, since this is the first night for the 40-inch. A few dozen line up for views anyway; wonder what they saw? After my dinner-burger I stay up a while just in case, then crash at 11:15 with alarm set for 1:30. I woke up at 1am, saw nothing promising, and turned off the alarm.
31 Aug [OSP Sunday]
The clouds were downright threatening at 8am, but by late morning things looked good again. I chose to check on Marcia and skip out, so I was gone at my usual noon time. Picked up two signs then chose the northward road, buzzing through Mitchell's suburbs. Just short of Service Creek I encountered a crowd of pronghorn 'antelope', a sight I've missed until now. The strips and chips in Condon were tasty, and their county fair was just ending when I passed through. I heard later that those who stayed Sunday had another good night, so Steve did get a night with his 40-inch .. and less congestion!
minor planets - 97:Klotho & 558:Carmen [same field], 103:Hera & 113:Amalthea [same field], 17:Thetis, 4:Vesta [recapture].
Uranometria - n160, 162, 169/169A; n252, 258, 260; n81,83,91,93,94,96?, 79,84,85,86? [p126];7814 nr g Peg; 5909/12, 6068/6068A in UMi.
OSP in general - the police radio was fairly quiet, though it seemed that more neophyte-level problems cropped up this time [e.g. white-light troubles]. Several comments from the field indicated plenty of first-timers talking over their heads. The site performed well, and USFS spoke glowingly of us [these were the Rainbow Family veterans, after all!]. Talk is cheap, especially compared to gravel and other improvements. Ray H. heard that the Smithsonian article may turn high-level heads at the USFS, which could shine a favorable light on our portion of multiple use. On the other hand, Ray will not be Top Cop next year; something on Saturday brought his interest way down the scale [more at the meeting]. Chuck seemed a bit tentative also: many committee members will be gone in '99 [European eclipse] so some may test the water in '98... The September meeting will be interesting, as we decide what to do with the McCormacks' offer and the ultimate future for the OSP. It may be a good time to call in some other clubs for support!