University Lowbrow Astronomers

The Fifth Annual Great Lakes Star Gaze.

by Charlie Nielsen
Printed in Reflections: November, 2007.

September 30, 2007

Although this was the fifth Great Lakes Star Gaze, it was rather shamefully, my first. I say shamefully because I used to go regularly to the former SMURFS star party, which as I understand the GLSG replaced. Also, I have thought of going to the GLSG in previous years, but for whatever reasons, did not. I attended the Black Forest Star Party last year, and even though I got very little observing time in, I still enjoyed getting back into star partying after a few years layoff. I thought about going to GLSG this year and not BFSP, so when I discovered they were going to be held the same weekend, that made the decision even easier. Last year we had a lot of rain and clouds at Black Forest and a couple weeks later I heard the woeful stories of the massive rainout at the GLSG. If it happened again, at least I did not drive as far to get rained out. I was optimistic however, that the weather would pay us back for last year, and it did indeed, as I understand, at both sites.

Charlie

The GLSG was extended an extra day this year, so I took full advantage and drove up Thursday, arriving a little after 2:30 PM. I was afraid at first that I would have to wait around until 5:00 PM to be let on the field to set up camp. But as it turned out we were given the word to go ahead and select our spot at around 3:30 or 4:00 PM. I was very pleased to have the extra time since it looked like the skies were going to cooperate the very first night. All was well at this point except the 15 to 20 MPH wind that made setting up a tent single handed a little challenging (to state it politely). But set up camp I did anyway, and in plenty of time to walk around and meet some the other attendees. I noted no other Lowbrows yet, they not did appear until the next day. I checked out the food situation, which was some of the folks that run the RV Park where the event is held, who were cooking and serving a limited variety of food. Though the menu was limited, the food tasted good and was reasonably priced. They also had various packages of food suitable to take back to camp and use at night. The building the food is in, as well the shower facilities, are located in a valley just north of the hill where the observing area is. The slope was pretty steep and maybe 100 feet long, so when you got back up to the top, you felt it, especially if you ate a lot down below. The trail was nicely lit after dark by red rope lights. There are permanent bathroom and shower facilities in the valley, and on the hill were several port-a potties.

The Field

The first night was almost totally clear. There were some clouds toward the northern horizon, and even some distant lightening, but they largely stayed away from us. The night was clear and very steady. I am guessing the magnitude limit was at least 5.5 if not 6. I was using my 12” Orion Intelliscope, and my 7” Intes Mak-Cass. The already excellent contrast provided by the Intes was especially stunning at this location. I think the object that particularly sticks in my mind from that night was M33. Even the 7” was showing some structure. The clouds finally did move in some time after 4:00 AM, at which point I folded. It even rained for a while around 6:00 AM.

I spent day two doing as little as possible. I visited the vendor tents and found myself purchasing a really potent (30mW) green laser, which are not allowed to be used at night here (well at least near the observing field, hint, hint). Hey, I had to test it! Other Lowbrows started showing up in the afternoon, and a couple more on Saturday, eventually putting nine or more of us on the scene. Friday night was mostly cloudy until almost midnight, and then it cleared off nicely. Not as steady as Thursday night, but very dark. This site is not as dark as SMURFS or Black Forest, but darker than I expected. I forget the reading John Causland got on his dark sky quality meter, but I believe it was much better than Lake Hudson, but not as good as one other site he found in the northern Lower Peninsula. It was a real good number though. Many of the attendees gave it up before the skies cleared that night, but the Lowbrows knew better. We had a great time until the wee hours of the morning.

Frozen Telescope

Saturday started early with a swap meet, more vendors, and the various talks that went on the rest of the day. Just before dark was the door prize drawing. If I remember correctly the Lowbrows showed their presence by John Causland, Jack Brisbin, and me winning door prizes. If I forgot someone, you are free to jump on my case about that. The first winner was someone that Jack knew. The winners had to draw the next winner, so Jack yelled out for his friend to give him some help, and Jack promptly won a 3.5mm Nagler. How did they pull that off? Saturday night remained clear most of the night. It was very dark, a little steadier than Friday night, but very cold. Eventually we had ice covering our eyepiece cases, telescope shrouds, etc. Keeping eyepieces from fogging was a chore. But the views made it worth the struggle. John Kirchhoff was camped right behind me with a Televue 127, oh my! I spent some quality time with him and that scope, getting spoiled with a 31 Nagler, and the new Ethos. I walked away with the Ethos to try it in John Causland’s mighty 61 CM Starmaster. A few hours of fun ensued, with a view of M33 with that combo that was just spellbinding. The galaxy filled the 100 degree field of view with embedded star clusters and gas clouds in plain view. M31 was also killer, sporting double dark lanes, and I think I may have spotted one of its globulars. The hardy (if not hard core) Lowbrows kept it up until somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00 AM, not letting the ice and cold slow us down one bit. Yasu and Yumi arose in the middle of the night and took over second shift, which went well past dawn.

I thought this was a great star party in every respect, and yes, the weather did pay us back for last year. In fact this has been a great season for us when you think about it. I highly recommend the Great Lakes Star Gaze, and if you go next year, you will almost certainly see me there again.

Photo Credits

The photos on this page were taken by John Causland and Yasu Inugi.

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This page originally appeared in Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers (the club newsletter).
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