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Winter Star Party (WSP) 2012 Summary PDF Print E-mail
Written by Robert Fitzgerald   
Sunday, 11 March 2012 23:14
Well folks the 28th Annual Winter Star Party is in the books - and I'd say it was one of the better ones I've attended in recent years. Attendance was down though 568 tickets were sold only about 448 were rumored to have showed and the plentiful hot water for the showers seemed to support these rumors! By accident (really - we had other plans) I ended up No. 6 in line on the Overseas Highway!
This was Debra's first (and last) time helping me with the drive down and 'sleeping' in the car prior to the 'Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889'! She is convinced we're all a bit touched to subject ourselves to this - but I think I generally agree with her on that point!  The nighttime temps were a balmy 65F or warmer with daytime temps hitting 87F on Friday!  The cool thing about WSP is you get to wear shorts 24/7 in Winter!  Be advised a light jacket is needed to keep the dew off as it can 'rain' under pop-up awnings!  No rain this year and clouds arrived for a few hours Monday night and Tuesday; otherwise Wed-Friday nights were mostly clear.  Even so, the super steady skies of the The Keys produce steady atmosphere we dream of here in Raleigh.  A testament to this fact is when Pierre' cranked up his magic 24" Starmaster Dob on Mars and we swear we saw a couple of rovers!! :-)
After the frantic activity of spot-selection, driving cheap aluminum tent stakes into coral (about 1" of soil sits on top of hard coral) and jockeying for line power access, I got to meet a few folks around me.  Across from me were two retired MIT professors, a couple of Veterinarian and Civil Engineering professors from UF in Gainesville, a retired Psychiatrist from NY, some IBMers from NY, Scott with TeleVue, Terry Platt with Starlight Express (U.K.) and Tom Dees (machinist) from Wisconsin.  The Psychiatrist, Willie Yee, whom I initially complained to other RAC attendees, was a little annoying (you had to be there) turned out to be fun to talk to and I'm grateful I made his acquaintance.   He's a retired Psychiatrist who's into astronomy, Quakerism, Star Trek and yoga!  This is a combination ONLY a retired person could concoct!   We shared exquisite views through his 13.1" restored Coulter mirror in a Rob Teeter Dob.   Al Nagler hung around with us Wednesday night as well as Terry Platt (Starlight Express owner) enjoying 'unique' conversations while hunting for insanely obscure and dim galaxies skimming the southern horizon.  Willie has decorated/reprogrammed his 2007 Prius to mimmic a Star Trek shuttlecraft.  Have to tell you guys, please spend some time sifting through Willie's web site - pretty darn funny and creative car! As he drove out of the WSP he hit the Phaser, Photon Canon and the Tune to Star Trek blared away ending with the unique sound of "Beam me up!" as he disappeared onto US 1 North! Dozens of people were clapping, cheering and laughing!  He is living proof you're never too old to enjoy childhood - again!  http://www.willieyee.info/ZHIndex.html
Beyond the amazing photon cannon Pierre' owns, of interest to me this year was the 32" f/3.46 (think that's right) that Mike Lockwood spent a year refiguring the mirror.  I think maybe Jim, Carl or Al knew some of the history behind this monster Dob but let me tell you the view I experienced was very similar to raw subs we imagers take!   I felt kind of bad for the owner though - there were waiting lines every night at the eyepiece - Rule One - don't take a monster Dob out to a star party and expect to enjoy it all by yourself!!!   Also, I got to sit down with the guys from Officina Stellare. Gino actually let me image with the CRC-320 on a Paramount MX Friday night. This astrograph is a work of art folks! The ultra-corrected Richey-Chretien carbon fiber whizz-banger of an OTA is just sexy to look at but how did it perform?? AWESOME!!!!   We pulled a single 10 min test sub on M45 using an SBIG with the 8300 chip and I nearly passed out!  Nebulosity out the whaazoo! John Novak won the imaging contest using his 10" f/4 OTA but he too was drawn to these works of art.  He sat with me while we both learned about these OTAs from Officina Stellare Italians.  They'd occasionally get so excited describing technical details that Italian and English words were often freely mixed!  John got very anxious to see what the 16" could do so he talked Gino into spinning the Paramount ME around to the same target he won the imaging contest with.  They took one 10 min sub and when it popped up John actually whipped out his credit card and bought that OTA!!  The guys from Italy were incredibly intelligent and highly technical guys and were exceptionally proud of their products (which is also reflected in their astronomical cost)!! These OTAs are made near Venice in case anyone is going to Italy this year and wants to see glass other than Murano glass!
Most folks packed up and left Friday after the raffle (I won again this year - this time a $30 DVD with "The Sky - 1936-1941 The Complete Collection".  Sold it on AstroMart already!  Friday night was just spectacular and maybe only 150 or less folks stayed. It was great b/c it was 2 for 1 on the brownies and folks played guitars, sung, etc.  Very magical night!!
So my overall take-away this year was complete satisfaction.  No nights were completely squashed due to clouds and we only had to endure part of Monday and Tuesday night doing sucker-hole astronomy.  Winds were under 12 knots (and even no wind quite often) on the berm most nights and back where I always image we often had zero wind all night.  Mosquitoes were a problem most nights though - unusual for the WSP.  We did finally brave the long lunch lines at The Keys Fishery walk-up-eat-out restaurant in Marathon - good value but not knock-your-socks-off cusine.  MIckey's Kitchen provided 24/7 food (good dinners as always) but I mostly just ate warm brownies and Mountain Dew each night from them!  My favorite meal they offer is the Ham and Potato dinner - reminds me of the Farmer's Market Restaurant of the same dish.  Also, the internet, once again provided by Jeff, owner of AstroGizmos was faster this year due to lower number of attendees.  Also, when the weather is clear, folks aren't on the internet nonstop gawking at the radar images so on clear nights the internet connection is pretty decent!  Traffic leaving (back though Daytona) was not terrible - only on Islamorada Keys did the annual Flea Market Event tie up traffic from 9-5 pm for the departing attendees both Saturday and Sunday. Next year the WSP is early February so that won't be a problem next year nor most likely, the mosquitoes!
I strongly encourage RAC folks to consider a trip to the WSP.  Since our hobby is weather dependent, you might hit a week of clear skies but harsh winds, clouds, cold or hot temps, rain or like this year - near perfect conditions!  I agree you are taking risk at great expense since we're talking about 2,000 miles round-trip!  Like anything though - you go for the whole experience - an epic American road trip, fighting sleep deprivation both while driving back and forth and while observing, meeting other like-minded enthusiasts, wearing shorts while enjoying Winter Astronomy, looking through other's scopes/eyepieces, munching on brownies in the wee hours of the morning, mingling with professional astronomers, vendors and enjoying all The Keys have to offer!  Did I mention those astronomical Southern Targets?!!  Here's one you never see off our coast - 'Constellation Carnival'!  Don't know that one?  Come to WSP and discover for yourself!!
Last Updated on Monday, 12 March 2012 06:04