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Great Lakes Star Gaze - 2003 - First Annual

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September 26-28 2003
River Valley RV Park
Gladwin, Michigan
Attendance 70-100

Dave's 13" T-scope

This month marked a new era for Michigan: the return of its annual statewide star party. Not since SMURFS folded have all Michigan amateurs had an event they could truly call their own. Then just last year (thanks in part to some persistent loudmouths on the Michigan Astronomy Yahoo Group) Sunset Astronomical Society then President Joe Bruessow decided enough was enough and it was time to bring back the statewide star party. In true form, other members of the SAS rallied around and helped make it a possibility.

Friday, the 26th, saw that possibility become reality.

Joe and Roland at the registration booth

I reached the River Valley RV Park outside of Gladwin around 1:30pm Friday afternoon, setup camp and soon spotted a pair of compatriots heading towards me. Together, my camping buddy (Roland) and I made our way up to the observing field to grab a spot and register. We were immediately greeted at the registration tent by the ever present Joe Bruessow and the efficient Linda Hancock, who got us registered, sold us tee shirts and managed to pry yet another 5 dollars out of my pocket for the raffle.

Shortly after this Roland and I met with Dave and gave his new 13" T- scope a good looking over. Man - What a nice little scope – little being the operative word! Lightweight and user friendly, one of my regrets on this weekend was that I didn't get a chance to look through it after dark.

Having been warned by Jeff and Clay that chili would be served promptly at 5pm, and that it was strictly first come first serve (and being well aware that Clay's culinary skills are something of a legend at astrogatherings) Roland and I hurried down the hill to some of the best chili (and soup) that I've had in a long time.

Some of us feasting on - Clay's Northen Michigan Gourmet Chilli

At 6:30, we met in the enclosed building that was to serve as meeting hall, and Joe Officially welcomed us to the 1st Annual Great Lakes StarGaze. Clayton Kessler gave a wonderful talk on film imaging, and I had a tough time following him but I gave it the old college try with an exposition of visual challenge objects for the evening. Due to the rain pounding down, both Clay and myself let our talks go a bit longer than they otherwise would, and shortly before 10 we all retired back to our respective campsites, to sleep and dream of clear skies.

Keeping an eye on the weather through the night, I awoke at 3am and noticed the sky had cleared – after waking Roland up, he and I made the long walk up the hill to the observing site, unpacked our equipment and began to setup. Both Saturn and M42 were spectacular through the TV102/Denk II/30mm Ultimas. Unfortunately that was all I had time to view as clouds quickly closed in and we decided to pack it in for the night.

Saturday saw rain off and on during the day.

Breakfast was a stack of pancakes and sausage served up warm (and inexpensively) by the food wagon – Incidentally, they did a great job of providing good food at a reasonable price, and I hope they make it back next year. We ate and talked and before we knew it the clock read 11am. Time for the swap meet to begin, and astronomers went into their feeding frenzy. I divested myself of a 9mm synta ultrawide (thanks Bob – hope you are enjoying it!) and a laminated desk edition of Sky Atlas 2000 in order to acquire a pair of Oberwerk 8x56 binoculars. John from Rider's Hobby Shop in Livonia was there and he brought (among other things) one of the new Orion ED 80mm scopes with him. The scope was a little larger than the TV76 he had for sale, but quite a bit lighter. I prevailed upon him to set the scope up outside so we could take a quick peek. A few minutes later, we had the little thing sitting on a tripod, pointing at the bumper of a Chevy a couple of hundred yards away. There was very little in focus chromatic aberration, and the image at 100x was surprisingly sharp and clear. How did this little guy perform under the stars? Read on….

Next to where we had the 80ED setup, Gary had his TV76 with a Coronado Ha filter setup – unfortunately, before I had a chance to peak, the sun disappeared behind the clouds – I still haven't had a chance to look at the sun in Ha – and my pocketbook suspects that's probably a good thing.

Roland and I headed into Clair to tend to some errands, and stopped at a tiny flyspeck restaurant for lunch. (You can always tell these places by their unassuming décor and the fact they are packed with locals.) The booth we were in was leaning about 10 degrees off level but that didn't stop Roland or I from enjoying one of the best double cheeseburgers either of us had eaten in a while. Unfortunately I don't remember the name, but I'm pretty sure I can find it again, and you can bet I'll be certain to try next year.

We headed back to the meeting hall and found we had evidently just missed an impromptu talk by John on astro software (drat!), and while Roland attended Kevin and Kristen's "How to Build a Dob in an Hour" Dale and I walked back to camp to talk equipment and observing for a while. Roland joined us shortly and we talked till our stomach's started to growl. Heading down to the food stand, I had an infamous "Walking Taco" for dinner and then we walked in on what was unfortunately the tail end of Jeff's talk on CCD imaging. What little I saw looked very good. Dick was up next with an excellent talk on the Apollo landing sites. I'm an Apollo buff, but Dick showed pictures that I've never seen before – a wonderful presentation. Dale then went on to seemingly do the impossible. He made the topic of double stars an interesting one. I've never been much of a double observer, but Dale is doing something most of the rest of us aren't – he's contributing to real science with his observations, and I find that extremely worthwhile. Kudo's Dale!

Great speakers kept us entertainted even when the rains poured down.

And then it was the time we had all been waiting for, and the packed meeting hall warmed with the bodies of 70 some astronomers. Time for the door prizes! Prizes were plentiful and ranged from college astronomy textbooks, Astronomy magazine subscriptions, a Discovery dobsonian, a Celestron Nexstar 80, Meade 8.8 ultrawide, a Denkmier binoviewer and more. Somehow the astrophotography guys took the big visual accessories - Clay won an anniversary gift in the form of the Denkmeier Standard and Jeff took home the 8.8 ultrawide! Both of which were greatly appreciated by their new owners (astrophotography guys or not), I might add. And then it was time for the raffle drawing: an 8" Hardin Optical dob – the winner was a very young girl whose smile was nearly as large as the scope itself. A neat trick since she was several inches shorter. Seeing this young girl win was far better than winning it myself could ever have been, as everyone agreed. Next year, I suspect we will have some prizes earmarked specifically for children.

In the meantime, the sky had cleared and we all rushed up the hill to the observing field to set up and get started. I had my TV102 and Denkmeier unit out for about an hour and was constantly surrounded by a crowd of interested onlookers – at one point Joe walked over to find out why the smallest scope on the field had the biggest group around it. General consensus seemed to be that binoviewing may very well be the natural evolution of visual astronomy. It certainly made for some of the more crowd pleasing experiences that evening.

Kevin's beautiful homemade dob

While the others observed through my scope, Joe, myself and a small crowd of folks started counting naked eye stars in M45. Right about then, Jeff stopped by with his new toy (Celestron 25x100 binoculars) and asked if I wanted to take a glimpse. Ever try handholding 4" binos?? I'll tell you that I saw some strange and interesting things, and further that it's not an experience I care to repeat. I think Jeff actually strained his shoulder later that night on those beasts. I hope he intends to mount them on a tripod for the next attempt. If not, I'm certainly not going to engage him in arm wrestling contests any time in the near future.

After this, I packed up the scope and began visiting others while bringing the binoviewer along. First stop (and one that kept me busy for a while) was John's 18" Obsession. (What a great scope!) A small crowd gathered around while we used the binoviewer and John gave us a wonderful show including; M13, M57, M27, NGC 891, and the Veil. The 18", binoviewer, a pair of 30mm ultimas and an OIII filter all combined to give me one of the best views of the Veil that I've ever had. But even so, it was still more fun to watch the reactions of people who had never used a binoviewer before. They were all about the same – shock and awe as they experienced a new way of looking at the universe. Paul in particular seemed extremely impressed – so much so, I can't help but wonder if his Denk II's are en route to his house already.

Roland excused himself at this point and went back to the camper to grab some zzzz's while I walked back to the main field to visit with more friends.

Bob's Discovery Dob and observing chair

Removing the OCS from the binoviewer and plopping it in Dale's SCT resulted in wave after wave of clouds coming in. The gathered group would suggest a target and by the time Dale would manage to get the 12" LX200 slewed to it, it would be clouded over. It was almost like we were (with the universes help) yanking Dales chain on a cosmic level. Finally, the chuckles died down, the skies cleared and Dale was able to acquire a target. His initial reaction was pure silence. He was so quiet I quite literally wondered if the was ok for a minute. Just when I was about to nudge him, he looked up, wiped his eyes and quietly cursed about how much money I just cost him.

Deciding to leave him alone with his misery for a while, I wandered off to take a peek through the Orion ED, and found John with it and the TV76 pointed toward Mars. While seeing admittedly wasn't the best, the views were surprisingly similar. Clay confided to me that when he looked through it at Vega earlier in the evening there was very little false color, and that the 80 and 76 mm provided amazingly similar in focus views. I think I've found my travel scope.
As I was wandering back to Dale the clouds began to roll in and I decided it was time for me to hit the hay. With thoughts of clear skies and all the scopes viewing through and people I missed chatting with this evening, sleep came slowly but it did finally come.

Sunday morning arrived, and it was time to pack up, brake camp, say our goodbyes and head home to our respective families.
I've only mentioned a tiny fraction of the friends who were there, and of the experiences we had. I hope I've gotten the names right – please forgive me if I've missed one or two. There were amateurs there from all over Michigan – with different styles and tastes, but there was one thing we all agreed on – even if it had rained all evening, both evenings, we still would have had a wonderful time.

Joe Bruessow and crew, I'd like to take a moment to thank you on behalf of the amateurs of Michigan. It was an excellent experience! When can I register for next year's event?

Clear Skies (and good friends)
Tom T.

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