Last night I went to the Central Texas Star Party. It's an event held at the Canyon of the Eagles observatory site out in the countryside, put on by the Austin Astronomical Society. It was my first major astro event and I thought it was really good fun.
I got there very early, about 2PM, to get a good spot (which includes a table with power point so I could run my scope and laptop). Most folks had already arrived and set up their gear (like the gear you see in the picture above) but had left it to attend some Society meetings. I estimate about 100 folks attended (includes wives!!!). Types of scopes ranged from small, store-bought reflectors and refractors through to massive truss dobsonian designs and everything in between.
A good mate of mine turned up 30 minutes after I arrived with a much needed sun shade (it was 98 yesterday afternoon!). We set up the sun shade, then relaxed for a few hours shooting the breeze and trying to stay cool. Later joined by Jeff from the more informal Dam Astronomers group, more good conversation over dinner.
When it got dark we had okay conditions to begin with. High level clouds plagued our observing for a good few hours, but by midnight the conditions had settled down nicely and I was able to target some deep sky objects to a good level of satisfaction. The Perseids meteor shower also put on a great show throughout the night, much to the delight of the group that had assembled under those dark skies.
Highlights of the evening include:
a. Observing lots of deep sky stuff (especially around Sagitarrius). Good night for galaxies. I also observed M24 ("Star Cloud") for the first time and was really impressed with it.
b. Putting the Panoptic 22mm through its paces. It performed really well on all object.
c. Hubble Space Telescope flyover
d. Iridium Flare: During the 60s, a bunch of satellites were put into orbit with iridium (material) used in the antennas. When these satellites pass overhead at the right angle, their antennas emit a really bright reflection visible from Earth. We saw one last night and I was stunned at how bright it was - just amazing.
e. Perseids meteor shower: All night long, small fireballs shot across the sky. Some even exploded in some rather brilliant flashes.
f. The funny bunch of astronomers who would "ooh" and "ahh" loudly together when a meteor shot across the sky. When one meteor raced 80% across the sky above us, leaving a beautiful trail behind it, the crowd actually applauded! LOL
g. By midnight the Milky Way was high above our heads, stretching from north to south. Just amazing...
I also put the Televue 10mm Radian to the test. I liked it. I used it with some globular clusters and while the image was a bit on the dark side, it provided excellent contrast and detail. I would have liked to have tested it on Jupiter more thoroughly but conditions left Jupiter in a less-than-desirable state last night.
I spent the entire night at the site. I observed until around 3:30am, then slept in the back of the car (made a bed in the back!) and awoke at 7am. Packed up the gear and was back home by 9am, albeit totally wiped out!
All-in-all, a great night out and something I wouldn't hesitate recommending to other fellow astronomers who might be tossing and turning over whether or not to go to such an event.