Illinois Dark Skies Star Party 2006
With the weather conditions degrading during the day on Thursday and
thickening, Mike Conron and I decided to skip Thursday at IDSSP06.
the forecast of rain and storms, we packed up and headed over Friday
I arrived around 2pm, and Mike C. arrived around 5pm. The
site is the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Park, about 25 miles
northwest of Springfield, Illinois. The park is fairly large
and has prairie as well
as some hills, lakes, and stands of trees. It's a nice variety
coming from the farm fields of Champaign.
Upon arrival we
annoyed to learn that we could not park on the grass - we had to unload
leave our vehicle parked next to the gravel road that led to the
So, we decided to park our trailer, which didn't weigh much, on
grass to the west of my tent, which was quite large. This would
shelter from the wind if it blew. (This turned out to be a wise
Of course this led to a game of "save the parking space" which
annoyance later in the weekend when someone took my space despite my
it with my cooler later in the weekend. Hopefully this will be
next year - it's really a hassle and quite tiring to trapse back and
between your vehicle and your telescope to put stuff away or dig it
out. (No one said anything about the trailer.)
The sky was partly sunny with building storms around, but nothing
overhead. As we chatted with new friends under a canopy, an
cloud on the western horizon caught our eyes. Report of tornadoes
being chatted about as I snapped this picture and Mike Conron rolled
As the cloud raced towards us, we threw everything in the vehicles or
grabbed our umbrellas and headed for cover. For me, this was the
For Mike Conron, it was his minivan, where he later recorded some
narrated video as the wind shook the van and some small hail briefly
pelted the roof! Minutes later heavy rain and wind gusts beat
our tents, vehicles and the shelter.
One particularly strong gust threw branches and leaves straight up into
air from trees several hundred feet west of us, betraying its identity
a microburst, the type of gust known to cause airplanes to crash!
We saw the leaves so we knew what was coming. The
~60mph gust damaged at least two tents and overturned a canopy that
end over end until coming to rest against a small tree, only feet from
vehicles. Fortunately it was undamaged. The wind burst
through the shelter, blowing rain horizontally
soaking many. Those taking shelter in their campers reported an
experience as they wondered if they would be overturned.
Fortunately none were.
Suddenly lightning struck close enough that we heard the sizzle as it
the air. It rained heavily, more lightening boomed, and then
calmed down. Soon the setting sun was seen through the falling
and this continued for a while. Finally a beautiful double
graced the sky, and we emerged from our shelters into the humid air.
I headed for my car, donned my waterproof boots, and slogged off to
check my tent - dry
for a few drips that had blown in, and undamaged. Glad we left
trailer beside it! I pulled my camera out and started taking
of the rainbow.
It seems that things besides a pot of gold may lie at the end of
rainbow.... like a porta-potty....
and a trailer (see below) housing a 30" telescope! Also pictured
below is one
guy that was glad his tent was still standing, even though some of the
flaps had been open during the storm.
Shortly after this, the sky cleared to the northwest, and the clouds to
west were beautifully lit by the sinking sun.
People wandered around near the shelter and the circle drive/parking
in front of it, debating whether or not to set up their telescopes.
Despite the high humidity left after the storm, we had generally clear
from ~7pm to midnight on Friday night. We enjoyed reasonably dark
the the light dome from Sprinfield and another small town to the
was enhanced by clouds over them, which reflected their light our way.
set up our 30" F/3.8 scope
as darkness fell, and I gobbled down my Jimmy
John's sandwich during that process. Soon it was dark, the dew
heavy, and we enjoyed fairly mosquito-free observing. I had some
but I noted there was no hot cocoa available in the shelter nearest
we camped. (There apparently was cocoa at the other shelter.)
had to use a 12V heater to blast the dew off our secondary mirror
but other than that we enjoyed some good observing and got to sleep at
The next morning dawned gray, drizzly, and slightly cooler.
was wet, including my chair that got soaked in Friday afternoon's
Mike Conron obtained breakfast and we ate in the shelter while it
having a lively discussion with some of our observing friends from the
before. We were in rare form and laughter echoed from the
At some point I wandered over to the other camping area where the
trivia event was being held, and I managed to answer a question and
a very nice waterproof plastic chart of 600 notable deep-sky objects
I think I will really enjoy and use. Many prizes were awarded.
We ate lunch (more sandwiches we had brought) and sat around talking
the afternoon. I visited a few friends, killed some time, and
over to the larger camping area to take a shower. The facilities
excellent and very clean, and I came back clean and refreshed. At
point the clouds seemed to be breaking up. The awards and door
drawing were held, and as usual I didn't win anything.
We cooked dinner under clearing sky. We set the 30" scope back
and soon strong wind gusts buffetted the camp. Even our
squat 30" did a little weathervaning, and I grabbed a sweatshirt and
after wearing shorts and a T-shirt all afternoon. Some clouds
in the south, but overall the sky looked quite blue and beautiful, and
were optimistic about the coming night's observing. Here are
photos of the sunset and the 30" scope all ready for observing.
Saturday night was indeed beautiful, with improved transparency.
seeing was not quite as good, but we didn't care - Jupiter set quite
after sunset, and we were there for the darkness and deep sky objects
The globulars and nebulae in the southern Milky Way were
from the humungous Lagoon to the Trifid showing four parts (OK the
to the Omega with tremendous detail, and the Eagle showing the pillars
The Veil was the best I have seen it, seeming to show some color in
the northern and southern halves, along with lots of detail in the
overlooked center section. The Crescent (NGC 6888) showed lots of
and a nearly complete loop. The Dumbell was bright with lots of
in the nebulosity. Even the little Dumbell (M76) showed lots of
The central star in M57 blinked in an out, and was actually more
on Friday night. M31 showed three dust lanes.
A friend (who had way too many toys) brought over his Denkmeier
and we had even more fun looking at globulars and Andromeda yet again,
well as M33. We were impressed with its quality and how it
the steep light cone from our very fast primary mirror. At this
we noticed substantial cloudcover coming in from the west, just as
was rising, of course. So much for the all-night observing
we had hoped for, but we could definitely use some sleep. We
a few quick looks through my 10" F/5.5 at the
Pleaides and the Double Cluster.
We packed up the 30" in anticipation of more rain.
Sunday dawned drizzly again, and we slept in a bit and packed up in a
drizzle. Despite the rain, we had a great time, and plan to
again next year. We just hope we can park on the grass!