All Arizona Star Party October
2009 All Arizona Star Party was another great success. As usual I
spent both Friday October 16th and Saturday October 17th nights.
Friday night was excellent. Seeing was rock steady and there was not
a hint of wind. Temperatures were very mild compared to years
past. The low I measured was 53F, or almost 20 degrees warmer than
last year's low. Saturday was very hot. In fact it was record
heat. With my thermometer in the sun it registered 133F!!!
When I put it in the shade it was 102F! This is mid October mind
you, not late June. What made the night time temperatures tee shirt
weather made the days incredibly hot.
This year, I was invited to
join Chris Johnson's group in his rented RV. With the record heat,
the RV and it's air conditioning made it much more bearable during the day.
Chris, Greg, Steve and I all setup in large array of tarps all together.
Saturday night wasn't nearly
as good. Some high clouds wandered through during the early part of
the night as well as some general haze. Toward the zenith remained
quite clear and dark though. Around 10PM we noticed what looked like
a flash bulb going off in the distance. Soon it was going off
several times a minute. It turned out to be lightening way off in
the distance. A storm was halfway between Nogales and Douglas
Arizona, and we could see the lightening from almost 100 miles away.
You wouldn't think that this would pose a problem, but when imaging, these
flashes become cumulative in a 15 minute exposure creating light
pollution. Because of this, my images from Saturday night weren't
nearly as dark as Friday night.
I had one other issue on
Saturday night. The batteries running my laptop and CCD camera
died. This still baffles me as I had plenty of juice to spare with
two 115 amp hour monsters running the laptop and the camera. Even at
a draw of 8 amps (the maximum for both together) I should have over 20
hours of time. I even recharged the batteries during the day on
Saturday while the generator was running in the RV. It would have
been a show stopper if Chris and Greg didn't offer up their big deep cycle
batteries. With their help I was able to finish my planned night of
here to see a very funny Youtube video Chris Johnson took of me while
I was setting up.
here to see a panoramic view of the field taken Sunday morning after
pretty much everyone had left.
very warm temperatures brought out a rather unwelcome guest this
year. At about 8PM on Friday night I happened to hear what sounded like
hissing. I thought perhaps it was one of my batteries overloading so
I shinned my red flashlight over to where the noise was coming from down
near my batteries. I happened to see a 3 foot diamondback rattlesnake slithering right towards me about 2 feet away. The sound I
heard was the snake sliding its belly on the tarp. 7 years of being a dad
gives a person very keen hearing I guess. I said, "Snake!"
and on came the white lights, normally a taboo at a star party. If
it were just me out camping, I would just give the little guy lots of room
and perhaps prod it along out of the way. However, when there are
dozens of people all wandering around in total darkness and knowing that there
was a rattlesnake somewhere near by in the dark was not a good
situation. It had to either be captured or killed. In hind
sight I would have preferred to have captured it and put it in one of my
plastic storage bins until morning when it could have been taken out far
away and released. Unfortunately in the dark, and thinking only of
our immediate safety, the only way to handle the situation was to kill
it. Getting bitten by a rattlesnake this far from a hospital could
be very serious. Steve, decided to play hero (or fool, depending on
your perspective) and got a long pole from the RV to entice it away from
our scopes into the dirt. He then chopped the head off with a
The number of times I have
wandered around this field in the dark made me realize how dangerous
stargazing can be in the desert. I had never seen anything but
birds, bugs and dust in the 6 star parties I have attended out
there. I never even considered the possibility of running into a
rattlesnake, let alone one who came to me out of the millions of acres of
open desert. Last year when the temperatures were dropping close to
freezing, there is no way a snake would be out and about during the
night. This year, when early evening temperatures were still in the
80's he was probably looking for a warm spot to settle down for the
night. He ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.