Winter Star Party 2015

The proverbial kid in the candy store.

The proverbial kid in the candy store.

This year was my 13th consecutive Winter Star Party, and the fourth year I’ve gone “officially” as a vendor representing Software Bisque. I like going as a vendor as I’m just a touch claustrophobic in crowds and the vendors get to come in a day early for setup. This gives me a chance to take the day to unload and setup more equipment than even the most die-hard star party attendees normally bring along. On opening morning there is a mad land rush to acquire the best spots, and of course lots of people milling about. Normally after most people are done setting up, they start wandering around looking for people to talk to… often while they are trying to setup… you can see the issue if you have a lot of cool toys to get going right? 😉

I had quite the arsenal this year at my disposal, all three Bisque Paramount models, and focal lengths from 400mm up to 2000mm. I got there at noon the day before the star party with a UHaul full of “stuff”, and by dark I still wasn’t really completely finished with three imaging systems up and going with tent, etc. Hey, the vendors talk and blab with each other too!

I was also honored to be an invited speaker for this year. My topic was Choosing a Camera for Astrophotography. Given that I’ve written most of the camera plug-ins for TheSkyX, and use a camera from most every vendor somewhat regularly, it was a topic I felt competent to talk about. My scheduled slot was Wednesday afternoon, and went over my allotted hour just a little. I had to stop though as the next speaker was ready to go. I did promise the audience that if they wanted they could download the slides, and I’ve posted them here. Bear in mind, this is only the slides… they don’t contain all the info, just the backup material for what I was talking about.

Sunday night I did some imaging with just the Veloce RH-200 on a Paramount MX+. I shot some subs of the cone and fox fur nebula, and I did a lengthy TPoint run on the ME II with the big 10″ RC. Alas, the rough van ride threw the RC way out of collimation so the images were a bit soft. I knew too I wanted to enter the astrophotography contest and any images I took Sunday night really weren’t valid for submission.

The Winning Shot!

The Winning Shot!

Monday night the weather was clear only for a few hours and I took two hours on Sharpless 308, three 20 minute OIII subs, and an hour of RGB data. That was all I could do that night before the clouds rolled in, and my first attempt at processing the data was quite disappointing. The wind and seeing didn’t let me do any additional imaging at 600mm fl with the Veloce, so I made one last attempt Thursday night to clean up the image. Turns out, that was a good call because it won first place in the imaging contest (Deep Sky Category) the next morning! All the “bubble” data is in the OIII channel. I’m hoping next year I can get more data on this and do an even better job.

The ESprit 80 is a great wide field instrument!

The ESprit 80 is a great wide field instrument!

While the Veloce @f/3 and the Starlight Xpress 694 is a killer combo, I could not get as much use out of it all week as I’d hoped. I was also very excited to be trying for the first time a new ESprit 80 APO from Sky-Watcher. I pared it with a cooled one shot color camera (QHY10) and a Chroma Lo-Glow light pollution filter to get some good wider field shots. The wind most of the week was brutal, and the seeing (stability) also suffered considerably. Short focal lengths ruled the nights. The ESprit 80 is f/5 with 400mm focal length, and my first impression is it’s far better than using any camera lens that could possibly be had for the same money. The stars were great all the way across the field, and the profile of the scope on the Paramount MyT was nearly unaffected by even considerably strong gusts of wind. The short focal length also performed excellently against the poor seeing as the pixel scale was large enough to overcome the turbulent air.

My quarry, finally captured!

My quarry, finally captured!

My prime target for the week was the Witch Head Nebula. I’ve tried to get a decent image of this nebula for years and every attempt has been unsatisfactory. My last attempt on the previous new moon was with a very good telephoto lens, but I still wasn’t happy. In fact, I called Kevin Lagore at Sky-Watcher and asked if they could send me the 80mm version of the ESprit (I also have their 150mm on loan) in time for this star party so I could shoot this particular nebula. I had also acquired recently Chroma’s new Lo-Glow light pollution filter based on some recent reviews of it. I was very happy with the paring, and the subs as the nebula descended into the light dome of Key West were hardly affected at all (I may do a more complete review of this filter in the future).

Thursday night was “the” night. There was a huge amount of wind, and a big storm during most of the week and Thursday night promised lighter winds and clear skies. I imaged all night long with both the ESprit and the Veloce. Most of the Veloce subs were not so great because there was some wind, and it kept catching the light shield and bouncing it around. The Esprit on the MyT did great however. I used data on the Witch Head from the previous night as well and found two hours of good subs to use. I then changed targets to the Rosette nebula and went outside the gates to the back of my UHaul van to process the Witch Head. When done, I made my second pass at the Sharpless 308 image and then went back to my site to change targets again. Now I was on Markarians Chain while working on the Rosette image. I also had some usable data on the Antenna, and the M81/82 pairing. I worked all night and turned in five images for the imaging contest the next morning. It’s funny, but the winning image was from Monday night and I could have just as well slept in! Still, I’m pretty happy with my other images, especially the ESprit shots.

Not a winner, but not a disappointing shot either.

Not a winner, but not a disappointing shot either.

I enjoy competing in the imaging contests, as it’s quite the adrenaline rush. Get the data, and process the data, and you can’t spend 12 hours working a data set. It brings out the best in you… well, and sometimes the worst. I’ve managed to win one of the three categories the last three years in a row, but seeing some of the other entries, I’m not going to count on winning every year, there are some very good imagers on the field, and sometimes I think we win by fluke of what strikes the judges particular fancy. In any case, it does also help push me to keep getting better. When I look at some of my images from four years ago… sheesh… pretty bad. It’s always good to measure ourselves to see if we are really improving…. otherwise you might as well kill time watching TV and getting more sleep 😉

Richard

 

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