All Arizona Star Party October 2009

The 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 imaging.    

Click here to see a very funny Youtube video Chris Johnson took of me while I was setting up.

Click here to see a panoramic view of the field taken Sunday morning after pretty much everyone had left.  

The 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 shovel.

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.

The view down the field towards the hospitality tent.

Kevin standing in front of his 16" dob.

Friends in the shade.  102 in October is simply brutal.

Wide open spaces with a nice turquoise porta-potty.

Rush hour at Farnsworth Ranch Arizona.  About 20 cars showed up in about 30 minutes Saturday afternoon.

Some high clouds and lots of sun bake the field Saturday afternoon.

I've always neglected to take a picture of the dirt.  Well here you have it.

A giant bear of a dog (Rascal) decides to catch a girl off guard while waiting for the raffle to begin.  You can see the 10" dob that was the grand price with the blue tape holding the dust cover on.

Chris Johnson (Ozy) giving a thumbs up for a good night of observing.

The crowd of people all hanging out in the shade.

Here is a view of the South end of the field (looking West).  Our RV is at the back.  Snake country as it is now known.

Sunset on Saturday.  It was a welcome sight for two reasons. 1) darkness was starting and so we could start to see things with our telescopes and 2) the brutal heat was abating. 

The new Obsession 18" UC.  If I were a visual guy, this is the scope I would want.

A view down the business end of the Obesssion.

Dueling refractors.  Chris Johnson (Ozy) was only doing visual during this star party, and I was only doing imaging.  Here our two scopes both are looking at Jupiter after sunset.  His Takahashi TOA 150 and my Astro-Physics 160 were by far the two largest refactors at the party.

Greg with his C11.  He had issues with his batteries as well.  Maybe there was some kind of battery votex at this party?  Or perhaps the spirit of the dead rattlesnake coming back to haunt us.

A shot of me next to my scope ready for the first night of imaging.  

Slewed over to Jupiter to confirm pointing was still on from the previous night.

A 30 second exposure stretched quite a bit showing the ghost of me standing by my AP160 while it was shooting the Heart nebula IC1805

Orion raising above the Tucson skyglow.

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