OSP Twenty: and I Thought Last Year was Complicated?!?

Oregon Star Party XX was a huge success by most standards, and was acclaimed by every attendee who voiced an opinion. Knowing that helps me keep things in perspective, since my participation was quite limited in several respects.

For one thing, it was my first year away from the duties of being door-prize coordinator. My wife and I found other tasks, but the patterns required by that duty felt familiar. For another.. well, I shall just go at them in order.

We headed for OSP early this year, arriving Tuesday afternoon with my in-laws following us in their pickup. The commute went well enough until we stopped at the ranger station for water, at which point I failed to secure the door to our tent-trailer. A few miles down the road we learned of the problem, and I locked it down without wondering if anything got away. We still don't really know if anything did, but within the hour we were trying to set up our tent-trailer without a crank! I could have lost it at home, or perhaps on that stretch of road; it doesn't really matter where, just that it was gone. Jim W. faked a crank with some tire irons, and I later adapted a lug wrench to lower the leveling pads - so at least we had a place to stay. We then set up our gear, ate dinner, and prepared to observe. I had hoped to complete a re-build of the 17˝-inch telescope this year but was foiled again, so for the second consecutive year I reluctantly assembled the beast again. A warm and windy evening greeted us, but it only took a couple hours before the weariness of the day overtook me. After maybe two hours of gazing and shooting the thin crescent moon, we were off to bed.

I could stop now, since that's all the time I got to spend on the big 'scope.

Shortly before noon on Wednesday, a strong straight-line wind caught the covered but unsecured telescope tube and hit at the precise angle to do damage (any other angle would have swung the tube like a wind-sock). Without bungees to hold it in place, the scope inverted vertically and slammed hard on the rocky ground while we watched from about 30 feet away. Since the primary mirror is held by a sling, a flip such as this give the mirror no protection, and as Lórien and her dad held up the tube I pulled the thin mirror from its skewed position in the mirror box. A single pinky-fingernail chip was the worst damage, although a scratch and scrape were also apparent; it could have been in four pieces given what had happened. I considered the telescope to still be usable.. for about five hours. Just before dinner I thought to look at the secondary mirror to see how it had fared - and found it face-down on the Mylar heat cover, unblemished but detached from the silicone glue that was holding it in place. This can't be simply duct-taped back into place (don't think I did not consider it!), and I wrote off the big 'scope less than 24 hours into a five-day event. We three observers spent the remaining days of wonderful weather using Jim's C-11, Lórien's 8" Newtonian and my 16x70mm binoculars.

On Thursday I found a vendor with the right kind of glue and a better diagonal mirror for the telescope. I am partway through a redesign of the telescope, and the larger upper cage suggests a slightly larger diagonal - so I bought the mirror, borrowed the glue, and began to hope that by Friday night I would be observing with large aperture again. Sadly, the glue did not set within 24 hours, so yet again my hopes were dashed. The only good news was that a large dumpster was nearby, so heaving the remnants of the old heavy box meant easier packing for the trip home!

So - did I do any real observing at all? Surprisingly I did, using whatever was at hand. While Lórien was seeking M14 I sought it with my binoculars, and encountered ngc6366 adjacent to a bright star. It was only slightly better in the C-11, but finding it in 70mm binocs was surprising. Later in the week, Jim sought the Blue Snowball planetary, and while he took a break I looked in my atlas for other nearby object. I picked up ngc7640, a thin galaxy with decently brighter core - sadly, that one was already recorded so I had a single new capture for the week. Considering my OSP average, that's juat awful.. but this was obviously not my typical OSP. I also tried my new digital camera's long exposure settings on the sky in general, seeking Perseids; however good they may have been at their peak, I was disappointed by the number of Perseids at this star party. We saw what I would consider "several" every night, and few spectacular ones. On the other hand, the camera performed nicely!

On Saturday the people began to leave soon after the door-prize drawing (hosted well by John Harris, who will continue at that post while I find other things to assist with). Soon thereafter the clouds began to settle in for the night, and a full night of sleep was available. That's really a good way to end a star party, since the drive home requires some decent rest. The one good news for the week came after the door prizes - someone had turned in a compatible crank for our trailer to the lost and found! We can't prove that it was ours, especially since it was mangled and aged quite a bit for a year-old crank.. but nobody else put in a claim, so now it's ours. It actually rained about .20" into Sunday morning, but during a few breaks we managed to take down the tent-trailer and pack leftover party items into the OSP trailer for the year. The drive home was less showery (we sought our true crank along the road, without success), we bailed the kitten out of his bed & breakfast before closing time, and soon it was all over but the memories and a large pile of laundry.

Next year will be different (although I think I said that last year, and while it was indeed different, it wasn't in the ways I had hoped!). For one thing, the 17˝ will be in its new housing, both prettier and more compact (even with that slightly larger upper cage). We also picked up a bargain short-focus mirror blank, that hopefully will lead to a more convenient telescope as well. We will also have more tools in the car, in case the unforeseen happens yet again. In any case, we'll be there.. and hopefully you will too!