And that was just the daytime attractions! The dominant feature of the Oregon Star Party remains its black skies, and those who joined in for the official Thursday-Sunday party were not let down. As always, a few fanatics were on site early in the week, before tents, showers or even portable toilets were on the scene; reports showed that Tuesday was a good night, with Wednesday less so but still usable for some views. Thursday afternoon was reserved for a scattering of thunderstorms with their dust-dampening showers. Several storms were troublesome to the cities of Bend and Redmond, but the OSP site had only light rain and a few rumbles that caused discomfort but no danger to the immediate area. The weather relaxed after that, and the night was clear from dusk until dawn. Exquisite late-night views of Jupiter and Saturn were available at every telescope, and deep-sky hunters worked on observing lists provided at the site as well as adding to their Messier and Herschel lists. Each night included an orientation program at 10PM, so newcomers to the star-party scene were given a quick tour of the skies and asked questions until satisfied (or hoarse). Plenty of people remained up until twilight chased Orion from the eastern sky, and the main observing area was quiet until the hot sun drove people from tents, trailers and RVs to rejoin the waking world.
More people joined the group Friday, and cumulus clouds brough welcome shade but no showers (they confined themselves to the 18-booth truck, which kept very busy Friday and Saturday). Nearly everyone was set up by Friday evening, and the area was filled with people in their new purple shirts sporting the new OSP neo-primitive logo. The clouds disappeared quickly Friday night, although the horizons were murkier than Thursday. Optics ranging from unaided eyes to the massive 40-inch from Portland were pointed at objects ranging in diversity from Jupiter to Einstein's Cross, a gravitational-lens artifact that was marginally visible in a 20-inch telescope but looked much better with more aperture. The observing field at OSP surprises many new attendees with its predominance of homemade telescopes of varying sizes, designs and instrumentation. Several telescopes use tracking systems designed and programmed by the telescope-maker, while others use platforms, digital setting circles, or good old-fashioned 'dead reckoning'. The larger scopes often carry homemade 8- to 12-inch f/4 finder scopes on their backs, while others stick to more traditional finderscopes, riflescopes or zero-power LED pointers to show the way. Friday was another night of steady skies, and marvelous high-power views of Jupiter and Saturn were again popular. Once again many people were still chasing objects as dawn erased the late-winter stars rising in the east.
Saturday contained its usual big events, including the noon swap-meet, group photo and door-prize drawing (with 51 prizes, making for very good odds!). A new event was born on the e-mail system a few months back thanks to the proliferation of Mars Pathfinder toys: a Sojourner race on the rocky red dust of Indian Trail Spring! About a dozen rovers dared the tricky 2-minute course set out by Interplanetary Race Commissioner Dan Peterson, first under the control of the children then later by the big kids. An unguarded remark led to a tougher 'adult course' as kids added piles of rocks onto the path to make it a little harder to negotiate. This was so entertaining that several people were late to the swap meet, where deals could be made on many used and barely-used bits of astronomical equipment. After a couple hours' rest, the photo and door-prize event led directly to the BBQ beef dinner, held under warm and non-threatening skies. As the sun prepared to set, however, a dark mass rose from the horizon to greet it, and by twilight it was clear that Saturday night's plans would have to wait for some clouds to blow over. The clouds had other plans, though, and by 9PM a few raindrops drove observers and their scopes under cover. Distant lightning drove ever closer, but the loss of solar energy depleted their resources down to a few gusty, rumbly showers around midnight. Skies eventually cleared before dawn, but the breezes and comfortably-wrapped observers chose to write the night off in favor of a well-rested drive home.
Sunday is departure-day for nearly everyone. Those who bring extra gear find that Sunday-night observing is a relaxing way to end the weekend with fewer amenities but choice camping and observing sites, so several people stayed behind as the masses pulled out. Since many decided to leave at dusk on Saturday night as the first raindrops fell, the exodus was even quieter than usual. Volunteers assisted the committee members in the search for windblown litter, chair-folding and tent-folding, and by noon the site was looking rather empty. A year from now, it will teem with energy, enthusiasm, and equipment again as the 1999 event returns to the Ochoco Mountain site.