Tennessee Star Party (TNSP), Sept 26-28 2003

Click to enlargeReport by Michael McCulloch

The TNSP was hosted by the BSAS at Camp Nakanawa just west of Crossville, TN. The camp was established in 1920 as a girl's summer camp. The facility is easy to find just off of I-40 and Hwy 70. Overnight accommodations were rustic cabins located within walking distance of the observing field, or camping along the lake or in the observing field itself. Various buildings within the camp were used during the TNSP, primarily including the Wigwam for presentations and the Dining Hall for the obvious. The food in the Dining Hall was good and plenty was provided.

A note about the accommodations: the cabins are rustic but functional. No bedding was provided and the mattresses were a bit dusty but reasonably comfortable for persons 6 feet or less. The bathhouse facility is dated and is in need of renovation in my opinion.

Click to enlargeI arrived about 4 PM on Friday. After registering and arranging my things in my cabin, I attended the "How to Get Started in Video Astronomy" presentation by Bill Griswold and Dennis Williams in the Wigwam. The focus was on the Philips ToUcam and the AstroVid Stellacam products.

Friday's dinner followed at 6 PM. At 7 PM most attendees moved to the observing field. Two lines of scopes were oriented running east-west on the field. The first night of observing on the 26th (Friday) was initially clear with a heavy haze. The Milky Way was visible, but lacked detailed visible structure. The eastern and southern horizons showed significant light pollution that was amplified by the haze. It made for difficult observing of any object within 30 degrees of the horizon. I concentrated on various objects near zenith with my 12.5" Portaball, which included objects in Cygnus, Lyra, Hercules, and Aquila. Within a couple of hours, Cassiopeia and Andromeda cleared the haze. The evening was warm and rather breezy but the breeze also kept dewing to a minimum. Sometime around 11 PM a could bank moved in and disrupted the viewing. After waiting for a half hour, I put my scope away and headed back to the cabin. Of course, on the walk back the sky cleared again and Robb Feldhege and I talked with some of the vendors near the vendor pavilion and observed Mars with a unique "gel card" that contained various filter colors that you placed over the eyepiece while viewing. It made for easy and quick comparisons as to how the various color filters enhance certain features of Mars.

Unfortunately, I decided to turn in early on Friday evening (about 12:30 AM) even though the clouds cleared at midnight. I anticipated that the cold front passage predicted for Saturday would move through and exit before dark on Saturday with the added benefit of cleaning the haze from the atmosphere.

Click to enlargeAt 5:30 AM on Saturday morning, the front arrived with some wind, hard rain and some lightning -- nothing serious for cabin-dwellers but some of the tent campers were worried for a while as I was informed at breakfast at 9 AM. At about 11 AM, another round of storms moved through with some rather vivid lightning and loud thunder. Around noon, I decided to leave the camp and head for Cookeville where I spent the afternoon shopping and visiting my alma mater, Tennessee Tech. The skies in Cookeville (west of the camp) were promisingly clear and sunny at 2 PM, but started to deteriorate with clouds as I started my return to camp.

I arrived back in camp at about 4 PM and attended the "Dynamic Mars: Massive Dust Storms in 2001 to New Findings of 2003" presentation by Dr. Richard Schmude. The presentation was interesting from the aspect that serious research is being conducted using the observations and photos from amateurs located around the world that congregate in the MarsObservers Yahoo group. Since Mars rotates at a similar rate to that of the Earth, observers spread across the globe are critical for full 'round-the-clock coverage of the Martian globe. One of the areas of research most facilitated by amateurs included mapping of the polar cap shrinkage over time for comparison with past Mars opposition events. The conclusion is that the South Polar Cap appeared to be larger than average during the 2003 event.

Once again, dinner followed at 6 PM and we moved to the observing field. Clouds initially blocked the view. At about 8 PM, the skies cleared and the Milky Way was visible -- this time with some detailed structure visible. The eastern sky still showed significant light pollution. Observing continued for about an hour (I didn't setup my scope but visited with others) at which point the clouds returned. Given the clouds and a gathering dewy fog on the observing field, I decided to head for home.

I hope for better skies next year!

P.S. It is has come to my attention that the sky cleared after I left Saturday night. Sometimes it pays to be patient!