I always like to write down my thoughts after a star party or astronomical convention so that I can reflect on those days that I am awake for almost each hour of the day and night. Stellafane is so much more than a star party, it's more like Disney World for amateur astronomers ... the way you remember Disney World as a kid.
I arrived on Friday at noon, and quickly found the camping areas picked over. Individuals and clubs typically attend the convention every year, and get the same campsite. It was the same for me; I made my way down to a flat area by the swap tables where I camped last year. It is both a blessing and a curse to camp by the swap tables: a blessing because there's not far to walk when the deals start, a curse because the deals start well before the 7:00 a.m. official start time. After setting up camp (just a 4-man tent for myself) I made my way to the mirror-making demos. I don't think I learned anything new this time, but I still enjoy being around while the grinding, and lap making are done. How about the smell of that cooking pitch!
After the mirror-making demo, I found some friends from the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford. Victor Chiarizio, Dick Parker, Ray Harder and Alex Smith had set up camp, and were sitting around talking. Victor was adding a few finishing touches to his 16" alt-az scope driven by Mel Bartel's software. Dick brought a 12" Cassegrain. Ray brought his beautiful 14" split ring he displayed for the first time at Stellafane in 2000, and Alex had finished another mirror project. I think Alex is 13 years old, and he's already made a couple of mirrors. We sat around and stayed out of the rain, and enjoyed some of Victor's organic cashews & chips. They taste great, but I would never spend the extra money.
Later, I found myself in the field by the McGregor observatory. John Vogt was present with a new Coronado H-Alpha filter on what I think was a Nexstar 60. The images were impressive. $99 telescope + $900 filter = beautiful solar images. Several prominances and plenty of surface details were visible. I could have spent the entire afternoon viewing the sun through this filter. There were plenty of other telescopes set up, and the view from this hill is quite nice.
On Friday night I set my 20" up on the Southern end of Breezy Hill. I also set up my 8" Newtonian on the G11 mount and registered this telescope for the optical competition. The night started out with a good rain, and then cleared up. We had some pretty good viewing that night. Unfortunately, the judges gave out a little early during one cloudy spell. Not soon after they cancelled the optical competition, it cleared for the rest of the night. Objects observed included the Ring Nebula, M13, M31 and companions, NGC 891 (one of my favorites), NGC 6905 (a beautiful planetary Nebula), M71, Perseus Galaxy cluster (NGC 1275 and companions). It was a mix of mostly already viewed objects, both bright and faint. I usually pull up a bright object for visitors, and do some of the fainter ones for myself. I also had the chance to view a bright planetary nebula through the turret telescope. What struck me was how nice it was to view in a perfectly dark room. At about 3:00am, or so, I headed back towards Stellafane East to catch a few Z's. On the way back, I decided to cross the McGregor observing field, and see how things were going. I talked to a couple of folks, and noticed what appeared to be quite a large telescope. Upon inspection, I found it was a 36" f5 Obsession. Unfortunately, the owner had already turned in for the night so I couldn't take a look. What a great telescope it appeared to be!
Saturday mornings at the swap tables are always great. I sold an 8" blank, a half-box of dental stone, and an old t-ring for a Pentax camera. I ended up buying a new (used) camera body to replace the one I broke many years ago. I didn't really see a lot I was willing or able to buy, but it was still fun to crowd the area and haggle for a while. No major damage was done.
After grabbing a bite to eat, I went back up Breezy Hill and relocated my equipment in front of the Pink Clubhouse, and hooked my 8" newt as a finder on the 20". Lots of people were shocked by the thought of an 8" finder, but it is extremely useful for star hopping and sharing the views. Bob Novak had an incredible 16" Ritchey-Chretien on display. It was mounted on an alt-az mount, and apparently weighed only 70 lbs. It was used at the Coude focus in a seated position. My friend Victor Chiariza built a 16" alt-az system that is computerized by Mel Bartel's software. Victor also cast the webbed-mirror himself, as he is a glass artist. There were lots of telescopes that day including a 200 inch (long) refractor by Bob May, a beautiful 18" split-ring made by a club member of WAS, and lots of others.
Saturday afternoon was spent a little at the tech talks, and talking to friends. After the traditional 1/2 chicken dinner, all the participants gathered around for the Saturday evening program. This was my first program in the amphitheater, and I found it much more enjoyable than sitting under the tent during the rain. John Dobson did a good question/answer session with the kids, and the Springfield Telescope Makers did a good job raffling off door prizes, presenting telescope awards, etc. I had to leave shortly thereafter to get home, but what a great Stellafane this year was. A pretty good night of observing, lots of scopes to see, plenty of friends to have fun with, and just a lot of fun. I can't wait until next year.
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