Wind and cool temperatures characterized WSP 2015 with a huge thunderstorm with lightening on Wednesday evening that left some with leaking tents and others with their dobs or tripods knocked over by the wind. We were dressed in double and triple layers, ski jackets, gloves, earmuffs and hats. We're in the Florida Keys?
Someone's smartphone weather ap predicted the storm would hit us between 11 pm and midnight. My watch read 11:33 pm when I woke to the sound of rain and wind against my tent. In preparation, I had removed my 5" refractor and 6" SCT from the mounts and put them inside my car, leaving only the heavy 9.25" SCT covered with a thick plastic drop cloth and wrapped tightly with bungee cords. The thatched roofs of the chickee huts leaked, eaten away in places by the resident lizards searching for insects; and tarps were blown off the roofs by the wind. The rain poured in through the screened, uncovered chickee hut doorways. Fortunately, my small Coleman Sundome tent was on relatively high ground with a few trees around it so it wasn't as exposed as some others. None of us slept that night wondering if our tents would come out of their stakes and land on top of us with the constant thunder crashing around us, the sky lighting up from the lightening and the wind blowing at our tents. The next morning, parts of the campground were flooded and even a couple of the port-a-potties were sitting in 6" of water.
Monday and Thursday evenings were the best viewing times of the entire week. Windy conditions left imagers unable to do the kind of astrophotography they had hoped to do. But Monday and Thursday? - worth the trip for the visual viewing. This was one year we didn't have to worry about humidity. Both of those nights I catnapped between 11-1 to catch the sky between 8-11pm and then 1:30 - 5 am for the Southern Cross, NGC 4755 Jewel Box, and Centaurus with it's spectacular NGC 5130 Omega Centauri - objects viewable at really low latitudes.
After seeing a friend take a spectacular DSLR photo of NGC 3372 Eta Carinae, I aimed my scope at it. But it was a different night, timing was a bit late and alhough I could make out some fuzz in my scope, his scope was designed with a low focal ratio. I've put viewing NGC 3372 on my list for a future WSP. Seeing Scorpius rising up in the east over the ocean with no other constellations around it at 6 am as the sky turned light blue was worth losing sleep over.
Also worth the trip was being at the PixInsight tutorial seminar led by Ron Brecher from Canada, an excellent presenter. Ron gave a superb introduction to PixInsight. It was for beginners; but it was intense. We all had our laptops with the trial program on it and if we missed a mouse-click or went to the wrong menu item, we easily fell behind. Ron had us download three files and work with them to develop an edited photo. I commend Ron on the way he handled every single question. If anyone momentarily fell behind, all we had to do was raise our hand and he got us right back on track. You don't see this type of presenter in many tutorials. Ideally, of course, you'd have two others walking around the room, but Ron was doing this as a non-paid volunteer and there were few others available to volunteer who had that type of PixInsight knowledge. The tutorial was only 2 hours, but it gave us a good introduction as to how PixInsight worked. As a result, I think it'll be a few years before I reach that stage and I have the highest admiration for Charles, Prabhakar, Chuck, Albert and others using PixInsight.
But speaking of imaging, you might want to check out the photos that were submitted for the WSP's annual astrophotography contest, although conditions weren't that good.
Prabhakar, your versions of the Witch Head Nebula sent to the SFAAA imaging forum are far superior. Charles (Lillo), your image of Bode's Galaxy is fantastic that you sent to the SFAAA imaging forum. I especially liked seeing that since I had taken a look at it in my telescope at the WSP and hadn't known M81 was called Bode's Galaxy after the astronomer who "discovered" it in the 1700's until this past week. (lots I don't know!)
I had a few goals at the WSP and accomplished them. I wanted to use all of my scopes to make comparisons. I wanted to concentrate on viewing southern constellations Crux and Centaurus.
Explore Scientific was at the WSP and they were able to adjust the Crayford focuser on my ED 127 as well as fix the looseness in my Twilight I mount, problems that had existed for some time. They donated the grand door prize - an ED carbon fiber 102 on a Twilight I mount. Celestron also donated a door prize - a lucky lady from NC won an 8" Evolution.
My AVX with the StarSense Accessory was right on target, so much so I put the refractor on it. I didn't have one on the Evolution and got frustrated over the time it took me to do a good alignment. On Thursday I decided to take the Celestron StarSense Accessory (SSA) off the AVX and put it on the Evolution and use that as my main scope. The Evolution was spot on in "go to" with the StarSense. As a result, I'm biting the bullet and investing in a second SS just make my life a lot easier. I am the worse when it comes to using a hand control to center a star - the right star. I've been known to center a star only to have it be the wrong one. If I want to spend my time visually looking at objects and studying them, I need accessories such as the SSA. Life is short.
There was no Internet access at the WSP as there had been in previous years. Last year we also didn't have it. but it was because the vendor who graciously supplied the WSP with Wi-Fi each year had his truck break down on the way to the WSP. This year, it was sadly another story. We were told he was busily working at a task a month or so ago, fell asleep and didn't wake up. I'm sorry I didn't write down his name to more properly convey in this report the WSP's appreciation of his past generosity. It appears that with the popularity of smartphones everyone may be on their own as far as Internet access at the WSP. I don't have a smartphone and didn't feel like going to the local library, so was without access for a week. The e-mail sure piled up!
Next year's WSP is from February 8 - 14, 2016. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to getting out to MM63 when the group is next scheduled to go.
Mary Ann Wallace