Mid Atlantic Star Party 2003

Observing notes from the evening of Thursday & Friday, October 23 & 24, 2003

Well the Mid Atlantic Star Party for the year 2003 has come and gone. I, along with a few hundred of my fellow stargazers, gathered at the MASP site during the week of October 21 through October 27. I arrived on the afternoon of October 23, with my camping gear and my 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope in tow. The weather forecast was for a "clear and cold" night, followed by another night that was suppose to be mostly clear. Although there was an excellent turnout for MASP this year, I was really disappointed with the whole thing.

Like I said, the turnout was great. I was shocked to arrive on a Thursday afternoon to find the field pretty well packed. Towing my pop-up camper, I decided to setup in the southwestern portion of the field. Although the trees ate up my southern horizon, that was about the only place available that was level enough to setup on, and would afford me the luxury of setting up my telescope beside my campsite, something I haven't done in the past. And I was kind of forced into this position since my normal camp area was a) reserved for those seeking full electrical and water hookups at a high price of $80, and b) it was already taken anyway. The field was covered with tents and campers and scopes of every size and type. I just couldn't get over how many people were there. It's amazing to see that many astronomy enthusiasts in one place.

Well, I might as well get my grumbling over. I've already said I was disappointed with this MASP so I guess I need to tell you why. First of all, the price of the event has DOUBLED for me. Because I had a mobile camper, I was charged double the normal fee, even though I didn't use up more space than some tent campers, and I didn't take advantage of special hookups. It was an arbitrary fee to raise money and it was applied to mobile campers because they can be easily identified and targeted. I considered it outrageous and unfair, especially since there were some HUGE RVs there, I'm talking mobile tankers with secondary vehicles in tow, that paid the same price as me.  If the conception is that I'm being charged more because of the assumption I take up more space, then I would think that these gigantic RVs would be charged even more.  I understand the need for funds, but I think it should be spread equally among all participants. A couple to three dollar increase for all would have been the fair thing to do. Secondly, there were no vendors to speak of. "Camera Concepts" was there, along with the dude that sells "Blaho Binocular Mounts" (an excellent product by the way), but that was about it. And that was extremely disheartening. Part of the lure of the star party is to browse the wares of the vendors. You pick up stuff you need, plus you wheel and deal on stuff you don't really need. Them not being there really took the fun out of the event. And of course, no vendors meant no decent door prizes, which was another big bummer.

Speaking of door prizes, the new policy is "you don't get no stinkin' tickets unless you buy them". A couple of years ago, MASP was great when it came to door prizes and tickets. They gave you 5 or 10 tickets at registration, and you distributed your ticket(s) among the door prizes you wished to be considered for. Each door prize had its own box. If you liked a certain item, you would put all your tickets in there for a better chance at winning it. If you liked more than one prize, you would split up your tickets. It was a great idea and system. Now, you don't get ANY tickets unless you buy them. That means people with more money to spend have a better chance than those that have less money. Having more money should not mean you get better odds at winning a door prize. It wasn't fair and it really stole a lot of the thunder that made MASP so great and unique.

The canteen also went up on their food prices. It still wasn't too bad though, but the days of really cheap meals are gone. But you still could a hamburger or hotdog without breaking the bank. I understand the need to increase prices when the price of supplies go up. Unfortunately, they were crazy enough to think I would pay $10 for the traditional Saturday night spaghetti meal. I can get a much better meal at Ragazzi's or Olive Garden for that kind of money!

The bitter icing on this fallen cake was the weather. Of course the organizers of MASP have no control over the weather, but it was a disappointment that the forecast was so wrong. The "clear and cold" forecast for Thursday turned out to be partly to mostly cloudy with mild temperatures. The mostly clear forecast for Friday, after a long day of clear blue skies, turned into a mostly cloudy to totally clouded out night. The only positive side to the event, besides fellowshipping with my fellow stargazers, was that I did manage to observe a few objects over the two nights and I got some excellent views of the sun during the day through various types of solar filters.

At this point, I'm seriously weighing the option of not going to next year's Mid Atlantic Star Party. Arbitrarily increased prices, no vendors, and no door prize tickets pretty much ruins the whole thing that made MASP so great. Again, if they need more funds, a small increase in the general ticket price would cover it, especially given how big the attendance was. They also need to actively solicit vendors to be there. It's a win-win situation because a lot of people can see various vendors in one spot and will come to MASP for the opportunity, plus the vendors get more business and exposure. If MASP is going to be run the same way next year, there's a strong possibility that I'll just head for the mountains if it's clear. I don't want MASP to be just another commercial star party.

Well that's that. Now the best part of these notes, my actual observations of the objects I managed to track down when the sky was clear:

Thursday night, October 23, 2003:

NGC7814. Galaxy in Pegasus. Elongated oval. Medium brightness. Running northwest to southeast. Brighter toward the middle.

NGC23. Galaxy in Pegasus. Shows up well. Small and faint. Round glow. Sharp, bright, pinpoint nucleus. Core almost looks double to me. Wonder if it's an involved star I'm seeing.

NGC7042. Galaxy in Pegasus. Extremely faint. Faint glow with averted vision.

NGC7177. Galaxy in Pegasus. Relatively easy to see. Medium size. Oval shape east to west. Bright center.

NGC7332. Galaxy in Pegasus. Pretty. Streak of elongated light running northwest to southeast. Brighter core. Bonus view because another edge-on elongated galaxy is right beside it, perpendicular to it. It's NGC7339. It's a bit fainter than NGC7332. These are "skinny" galaxies.

NGC7457. Galaxy in Pegasus. Medium brightness, easy to see. Roundish shape. Gradually gets brighter toward middle. Round fuzzy spot.

NGC1169. Galaxy in Perseus. Relatively faint, but medium in size. Oval shape. Core a little bit brighter.

NGC1193. Open cluster in Perseus. First time I've had to use averted vision to see an open cluster! Tiny, faint cluster. Marker star to the northwest. Faint little glow.

NGC1207. Galaxy in Perseus. Faint little, roundish glow. Averted vision needed to see it.

NGC1348. Open cluster in Perseus. Faint, small little concentration of stars. Barely above the background of stars. A few members stand out better than others.

NGC1491. Emission Nebula in Perseus. Star surrounded by nebulosity. Pretty and nice. Easy to see. Star off to the side, almost makes it look like a planetary.

NGC1579. Emission nebula in Perseus. Fainter than previous. Faint glow, almost like a really faint star cluster would look.

NGC1582. Open cluster in Perseus. Huge and spread out. Fills the eyepiece. Hard to tell from the background. Bright and scattered. Has a ring kind of shape, that is fat on one side.

NGC1605. Open cluster in Perseus. Faint little glow in background. Averted vision.

NGC1624. Nebula in Perseus. Faint little small patch of glowing nebula around a small grouping of dim stars. Very small and concentrated.

NGC672. Galaxy in Triangulum. Medium to large size. Oval shape running east to west, maybe a little northwest to southeast. Uniform in brightness.

NGC890. Galaxy in Triangulum. Small, tiny. Bright core.

NGC1060. Galaxy in Triangulum. Small, faint. Brighter core. Tiny.

NGC925. Galaxy in Triangulum. Medium to large size. Nice oval shape running east to west. Nice galaxy. Uniform brightness. Couple of sparkles from some foreground stars.

Saturn in Gemini. Although seeing is not that great, and Saturn is still relatively low in the eastern sky, the Cassini division is visible. The moon Tethys is visible to the west of the rings with Enceladus and Rhea visible to the east of the rings. Dione can be seen southeast of the planet. Titan is way east of the planet, and slightly north. Could see some banding on the surface of the planet.

Friday night, October 24, 2003:

NGC7619. Galaxy in Pegasus. Faint, little, round glow. Brighter core, toward the center.

NGC7626. Galaxy in Pegasus. Same field of view as NGC7619. Faint, little glow. Uniform in brightness.

NGC6814. Galaxy in Aquila. Round, faint glow, right at the edge of averted vision. Uniform in brightness.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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