Mid-Atlantic Star Party 2001

Observing notes from the evening of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, October 18-20, 2001

The summer of 2001 will go down as the "bummer summer" for North Carolina. It was marked by a long stretch of hazy or cloudy skies, unsuitable for any decent star gazing. Even when I traveled to the mountains, the clouds seemed to follow. Now that fall is here, we're finally being blessed with crisp, clear skies, perfect for hunting down faint astronomical targets. The Mid-Atlantic Star Party is held each fall near the small town of Robbins, North Carolina. The setting is a boy scout camp which basically translates into a big field in the middle of the woods. Make that a big field, filled with sandspurs, in the middle of the woods. Despite the painful sandspurs, and annoying grasshoppers, hundreds of people show up for this event, which continues to grow each year.

It's a great chance to do some observing and meet your fellow observers who share the hobby. You can compare telescopes and accessories. You get to look through telescopes that you can only dream of possessing. It's generally good fellowship under the stars. They have a canteen that runs all night selling hotdogs and hamburgers (at great prices), other sandwiches, coffee and hot chocolate, etc. If you're within driving distance of the Mid-Atlantic Star Party, I highly suggest that you attend, especially if the forecast calls for clear skies. And they always have a raffle with decent prizes too, though I don't seem to ever win anything.

I arrived on Thursday night, October 18, with my pop-up camper in tow. It didn't take too long to find a spot that allowed some shade plus easy access to power and the facilities. Some of my fellow club members were already there, and had already been enjoying clear, dark skies. I must say that I was in star gazer nirvana. I observed three nights in a row, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I tracked down some new Herschel objects, visited some old Messier favorites, and still found time to wander around to chat and take in objects in other telescopes.

Night and day offered lots of stuff for the astronomically inclined. I looked through three different solar telescopes/filters. As someone who only has a white light filter (i.e. I just look at sunspots), it was nice to see the other, sometimes more exciting features of the sun. There was also a voice activated and talking robotic observatory dome and telescope. That was pretty neat. And it was fulfilling to see all kinds of telescopes on the field, from the tiny refractors to the large Newtonians that required ladders to reach the eyepiece. A large 24" Newtonian gave me a great view of the Horsehead Nebula, once again. You could also go to astronomy talks during the day if you had an interest. There were quite a few vendors about, selling their wares to eager astronomers. I bought some more eyepieces before a self imposed exile on my credit card. There were deals to be had if you looked.

But the main purpose of a star party, besides the fellowship, is the observing. And there was plenty of that. I stayed up to about 4am each night. The first two nights were mainly spent hunting down Herschel 400 list objects, with a few sidetracks here and there. The third night was spent viewing the eye candy Messier objects, plus I dabbled in astrophotography. The Orionid meteor shower was the icing on the cake. It put on a pretty good show. Although I did use my binoculars for some casual observing, my main instrument was my Meade 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. It's my workhorse scope since it has tracking capabilities and decent setting circles.

You'll find the list of objects that I observed below:

Thursday, October 18, 2001

NGC3147. Galaxy in Draco. Relatively faint. Medium sized. not much detail. Brighter in middle. Sharp core. Mostly round.

NGC5866. Galaxy in Draco. Pretty and kind of small. Elongated, running in the northwest to southeast direction. Brighter toward middle. Star to the north, right on top of it. Another star, not quite as bright, to the south.

NGC5907. Galaxy in Draco. Faint. Large and very thin. Edge-on galaxy. Running northwest to southeast direction. Long and skinny. Pretty.

NGC5982. Galaxy in Draco. Small and round. Faint. Bright core. Same field of view in the eastern direction is another galaxy, NGC5985, which is oval shaped, running in a north-south direction. Maybe some involved stars.

NGC6543. Planetary nebula in Draco. Bright. Stands out. Looks like a bright fuzzy star.

NGC6426. Globular cluster in Ophiuchus. So faint I can hardly see it. Using averted vision, I think I see a faint glow. A look through Jim Anderson's 12" SCT looks about the same.

NGC6517. Globular cluster in Ophiuchus. Barely detect it. Move the scope back and forth to detect the faint glow. Sky is bright in this direction so it's probably washing it out.

NGC6633. Open cluster in Ophiuchus. Big and bright. Overflowing the 25mm eyepiece. Scattered. Bright star to the southeast is brighter than the rest. This is very pretty open cluster because of size and brightness.

Friday, October 19, 2001

NGC6369. Planetary nebula in Ophiuchus. Very, very faint. Just above the treetops, in bright sky. Medium to large size. Need averted vision and move the scope to see it.

NGC7142. Open cluster in Cepheus. Kind of hard to find. Pretty open and scattered. Arms straggling out. Overall it almost gives the impression of a galaxy, with arms. Hard to find because it blends in the with background too much.

NGC7160. Open cluster in Cepheus. Relatively small, but bright members. Spread out a little bit. There doesn't seem to be enough stars to be an actual cluster. Kind of sprawls in the east-west direction. Two particular stars look like two tiny headlights to me.

NGC7510. Open cluster in Cepheus. Very tight and small. Hardly say enough stars for cluster. Relatively bright members. Nice little "V" shape.

NGC7209. Open cluster in Lacerta. Almost straight up so I do the limbo under my finder scope. Pretty, big, open, scattered. This is a huge cluster. Relatively bright star to the north, but not sure if it's part of the cluster. Really fills up the eyepiece.

NGC7243. Open cluster in Lacerta. Big, bright, open, scattered. Fills the eyepiece. Almost needs a wider field of view. Concentration of stars run in the east-west direction.

NGC7296. Open cluster in Lacerta. Pales in comparison to previous clusters. Small, just a handful of stars. Cluster better under with low power.

NGC253. Galaxy in Sculptor. Huge, oval, and long galaxy. Relatively bright, running in the northeast to southwest direction. Numerous involved stars. Again, bright and big. There are hints of a dust lane along one edge, but clouds in that part of the sky keep making the galaxy fade in and out so I'm not sure.

NGC288. Globular cluster in Sculptor. Relatively bright, but dimmer stars. Medium to large size. Doesn't have the bright core like you see in some globular clusters. To the northwest, there is a star that is a little bit brighter. It appears to be right on the edge of the cluster, so I don't know if it's an actual member of just a field star.

NGC613. Galaxy in Sculptor. Faint and small. Star to the north of it, like a little marker. A little bit of oval shape, in the east-west direction. Might be an involved star or bright core, off center a little. Sky too bad to give me a good view.

NGC6802. Open cluster in Vulpecula. Very, very faint. Almost has a diffuse, galactic glow. Kind of like a sparkling cloud. I would not have noticed this one normally.

NGC6823. Open cluster in Vulpecula. Not that remarkable. Big, open, and scattered. Suppose to be some nebulosity around it. My UHC narrow-band filter hints at it, but I'm not sure.

NGC6830. Open cluster in Vulpecula. Medium to large size. Scattered. Irregular shaped. Fainter members in background give it a slight glow. Almost blends in with background and field stars.

NGC6882. Open cluster in Vulpecula. Sparse. Barely registers as a cluster if at all.

NGC6885. Open cluster in Vulpecula. Right beside of NGC6882. In fact, I don't know why they are considered separate clusters. A few more stars to this one, but about the same.

NGC6940. Open cluster in Vulpecula. Big, bright, rich star cluster. Scattered. Sprinkling of brighter stars with it. Need a bigger field of view.

It was a very successful and fun Mid-Atlantic Star Party. I wish all star parties could be as good as this one. Although I used up a lot of my astronomy time allotment that my wife grants me, it was worth every minute of it.  If you've never been, I encourage you to go and I hope to see you at the next one.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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