Chris Oyster with the TV85. (All photos on this page are credited to Larry Oyster unless noted otherwise. Thanks Larry!)
Milk and Fire in the Sky
(a.k.a.) The Laurel Highlands Star Cruise (Extended)
June 13-18, 2001
The Pittsburgh Amateur Astronomers have much to be proud of with the 2001 edition of the Laurel Highlands Star Cruise.
- They have found an excellent dark sky site with convenient access
- The children’s activities make this a great family trip
- Speakers were superb
- Camping facilities were complete
- Could not meet a nicer group of people in attendance
For more details on the event and site see the official website at http://www.members.home.net/lhstarcruise/
Larry Oyster with his new TV102. The scope performed beautifully on deep sky objects. Larry found 33 Messiers in one night-a record for him in an evening.
I setup on Wednesday evening and met Jim Turner from North Carolina. The weather forecast had been all over the place, but one thing was for sure, it was going to be hot and humid until the low pressure system passed on Saturday. Conditions during the hot and humid nights were quite useable for deep sky work. Mars never really showed its stuff. The crowd picked up throughout the day on Thursday and seemed to peek on Friday afternoon. I believe I heard a number of around 280 in attendance.
Observing/Astrophotography equipment in the camp: C14, TV102, 10" Cave Astrola, AP 130EDT, TV101, TV85, Fuji 16x70, Fuji 7x50.
WE WON: Yes, our camp won a major door prize. My niece, Elizabeth, won a complete telescope setup with a value of over $1,000!!! It is an ETX90 with Autostar and tripod. Unfortunately, the night she won was the worst night of viewing during the event.
OVAS setup camp on Thursday. Larry and Chris Oyster and Don Kemper joined me in representing OVAS. My two children, Stephen and Jennifer, along with Jon, Caroline, and Elizabeth Auvil drove up on Friday. My Kendrick observing tent served me well on its second starparty.
I really like the new AP guidescope and rings as well as the Pocono ST4RF flipmate for the ST4. After initial calibration fo the ST4 with the flipmate, finding, focusing, and centering a guidestar is a snap. If I am setup for extended periods of time, I leave the ST4RF in position and will never have to take the ST4 off of the guidescope. The AP guidescope gave me plenty of room to find a guidestar as well as very controlled movement of the scope as compared to the Losmandy 108 rings. Here is a link to one of the shots I took with this setup at this party < Snake nebula >
We met many great folks that camped nearby. Jeff Ballard from the DC beltway area had a 10" Orion XT. Jeff became an instant friend and it was a joy to have him in our camp. The views through the Orion XT were simply awesome. I was extremely impressed with its performance and feel it is the best value in astronomy right now. Jim Turner from North Carolina was also a guest in our camp. He had a great pop-up tent that was stored in a motorcycle trailer weighing only 19 lbs. He had a Celestron 11" on a homemade go-to alt-az mount powered by Meade Autostar motors and hand controller. It was pretty impressive. Jim provided great assistance to my brother-in-law on their new ETX 90 Autostar. Thanks Jim. Matt from Harpers Ferry was also nearby with his 24" Tectron. The views were incredible and Matt is a very accomplished observer. The talent of these individuals is impressive and we were very fortunate to have them in our camp.
Camp with the (clockwise starting on the left) TV85 on Telepod, C14, TV102 on GM8, AP 130 on AP600 QMD, and TV101 on GM8.
Here I am with my new (used) TV101 and Taurus Tracker III for imaging. This shot was on Sunday. Most attendees had already left. Look at that sky!
Best Views: The best views were on Sunday evening. You know it is good when two of the best views are non-telescopic!
- AURORA! At 2:15 a.m. I was tinkering with a photo setup and talking with Larry. As I looked up toward the North I saw a beam of light shooting up at least 20 degrees. My first thought was that there was an airplane or airport or something with an incredible spotlight. I then realized that this was not an isolated beam of light, but was moving and spreading from the north-northwest to the east. I then realized what it was and shouted "Aurora" so all those on the field would know about it. We had done some solar viewing earlier in the day and the sunspot activity was certainly high. I did not really think about an aurora that night. This was my first, so please excuse my enthusiasm and my inability to diagnose the phenomenon with speed. The "fire" continued until dawn. It would subside and then pick back up again. The first sighting around 2:25 had no pronounced color, but was intensely bright, as bright as the Milky Way or brighter. Then at 3:45 a second wave started and that seemed to have shades of red. This patch of red was seen just below the Big Dipper. It was a glorious treat and now I want to see it again. I had two exposures going through my scopes and had no camera to shoot the aurora. Talk about frustration. Looking back, I should have shut down the exposures and shot the Aurora, afterall, M8 will always be there, right?
- Milky Way: At about 2:30 the Milky Way arched straight overhead. The closest edge on galaxy. Not even a 36" reflector can outdo this sight. It was awesome to see it stretch from below Sagittarius to below Perseus. It may have been the prettiest sight I have seen, ever.
- Omega nebula in all scopes with and without the OIII filer. This nebula really had some contrast in these skies. I could see the extended nebulosity below the base of the swan. Great treat.
The Site: Pine Hill campground near Bruceton Mills, WV
Pine Hill is located about 10 minutes off of I-68 which runs just below the Mason-Dixon line. The elevation at the site is around 2,200 feet. It is a beautiful forested area with Morgantown the nearest city of consequence about 30 miles to the west.
Limiting Visual Magnitude: The best night for a true evaluation of the site was on Sunday night. This night I tried to find a different star overhead rather than rely on the Little Dipper stars. I settled on one in Hercules. Two stars close in proximity 50 and 48 Herculis (reference Sky Atlas 2000). The Sky software plots these two as being separated by only 20". Maybe I am using my imagination, but I am quite sure I saw the two stars with averted vision, separated distinctively. I am not aware of the limitations on the capability of the naked eye to split stars. 48 Herculis is listed at magnitude 6.59 in The Sky software. 50 Herculis is listed as 5.73. The sky that night was simply awesome.
Light domes: There is one noticeable light dome to the north-northwest that I assume is associated with Morgantown, WV. It rises no more than 15 degrees above the horizon and was not significant in any way. There is 24 hour construction on a new prison within 5 miles of the site that will need to monitored. Perhaps, we can be pro-active and initiate a dialogue with regards to friendly lighting similar to the example at Stellafane. I would not hesitate at all to use this site for astrophotography. As a matter of fact, I am thinking of going there during the August new Moon to beat some of the humidity of the lowlands.
The field: The observing field is quite large and has plenty of room for more participants. It provides excellent horizons. There is no electricity on the field, however. 4 porta-potties were in place on the field. The bathhouses are located in the main camping area, which is about .3 miles away. It is a nice walk or a short drive. The bathhouses are comfortable and convenient. The field can accommodate large RV’s. The organizers sectioned off the entire field with observing spaces that were quite large. This really added structure to the field and provided defined areas for foot and vehicular traffic.
Laurel Highlands Star Cruise: The Event
The presentations were solid. I saw two formal presentations, took the kids to the "Beginner Astronomy" course, saw a couple of movies, and viewed the "Who Wants to Be An Astronomer" game show. All presentations were excellent with high-quality video and sound. The speaker tent was comfortable with dark plastic on the underside to enhance the video projection images on the screen.
The vendors are listed on the starcruise website. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with Roger Blake of Taurus Tracker fame. We had a great discussion on astrophotography and he let me demo one of his Taurus tracker III on my TV101. I bought itJ , but only after none of my 15 raffle tickets won me a $200 discount. Roger images with a 10" Cave. This is of interest to our club since we have a 10" Cave that we recently sold to our newest deep sky hunter, Don Kemper.
Don Kemper with the 10" Cave. Don is known as the "Caveman" as he is also a spelunker.
Bob Novak, accomplished telecsope maker, was also in attendance. He visited our site one day and I learned more about telescopes in that brief time than I had learned in my last 5 years. Bob's current project is a 16" Ritchey Chretien! Whenever Bob is around, talk with him about telescopes. I bet you learn something.
The organizers have gone out of their way to make this event attractive to all astronomers, regardless of knowledge level. Beginning classes are held for families, rocket launches for the children, game shows- it really is a great family event. I have attended many starparties, Laurel is the only one I have ever thought of taking my children to.
Family and friends played some UNO during the afternoon
(photo credit to Larry McHenry)
The door prizes were a significant improvement over those in 2000. Everything was better in 2001 than in 2000. Experience with these events proves to be invaluable. The leadership of the event has been very open to ideas and polled attendees on their priorities as well as the preferred times for the event in subsequent years. The Pittsburgh astronomers have a great event brewing here, and as a native West Virginian, I want to help make this event successful.