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the Chiefland Fall Star Party 2013

A nice trip to Florida before the worst winter in years takes hold

All images and text Copyright Mike Lockwood, 2013.  May not be used without permission.

It's one of my favorite days, but it's a long one.

I'm talking about he day of driving it takes me to get from the frozen fields of central Illinois to the warmer, but similarly flat area around Chiefland, Florida.  Some trips I break it up into two days, but on this one I had extra energy and just kept on driving, arriving at about 11pm.  For this event, I stay indoors with friends.  Camping doesn't usually work so well with my allergies.

I had a beer, visited a bit, and went to sleep.

This was not a large star party this year, but many come from nearby so they can time their visit to coincide with clear skies and good weather.  It has been large in the past, depending on weather and scheduling.

Here are some views of the observing field.  This is the "back field", not the field that was formerly Tom Clark's front yard. (As of the writing of this article, the ownership of the field may be changing hands.)  The large building serves as a kitchen and room for talks.  There's also a cottage behind that.

The back observing field at Chiefland 

The image below shows a view looking to the right of the image above.  The rest of the field and the observatories that sit on it are seen, some belonging to the owner of the field, and some leasing a spot on the field.

Another view of the back field

Below is the back yard of some CAV residents that I often stay with when I visit Chiefland.  Some other friends had set up their travel trailer, and Joe had arrived with his 32" f/3.6 at this point, seen in front of the dome.  A 28" f/3.5 resides in the dome.  The sky was clear, and the stage was set for a nice night of observing with friends.

A back yard at CAV

Below we see Scott and Diane with their 24" f/4.1 Zambuto/Starmaster behind them.  I think it's behind the Subaru in the image above.  Overall it was a nice compact, convenient setup.

Scott and Diane with their 24" Starmaster

As darkness falls, the astronomer-friendly lighting on the porch (below) and in the house make relaxing with a beverage quite relaxing (and believe me, at least one of the people in the picture above can relax with beverages) when a break is needed from observing.  The porch is often a nice social gathering point when some clouds pass through, or when they come to stay.  It's not a big deal, at least we have some tasty beer to pass the time.  It's not uncommon to hear raised voices and laughter echoing across this particular observing field.

A porch lit for astronomers

Of course the travel trailer has astronomer-friendly lighting too, and is dimmer than it appers in the photo below.  It's only bright enough to get down the stairs, which seems to be the most hazardous thing at this particular gathering.  Everything else is pretty flat, but you have to watch out for the rocks and other things that are in the yard, but most of which have solar-powered lights marking their position, as can be seen at lower right above.

Definitely an astronomer's trailer

I spent most of my time here, away from the main observing field since I didn't know too many people back there.  It was difficult to tear myself away from excellent 32", 28", and 24" scopes located so conveniently close to my bed.

Remember, if the trailer's a-rockin, the jacks aren't set properly, or someone's digging around for a piece of astro gear that they haven't seen for a while.

What to do during the day at CAV?  Dolly suggests dozing.  She's an expert.

Astronomy is a hard life

Actually we did do lots of things, from tuning telescopes, to playing golf, and I even got in an afternoon of waterskiing.  I took Joe along for a lesson because he had never had luck getting up on skis, but with a good driver he was skiing in no time.

In the middle of the week I gave a talk about two large telescopes, a 42" and 50", that I had recently completed optical work on.  I think people enjoyed it.

Scott and Diane's dog below is a *very* active dog, and she enjoys playing outside.  It was very difficult to get her to sit still for a picture.  Astronomers play outside at night too, and below right we see Joe observing with his 32" telescope as the summer Milky Way sets, and Venus shines brightly just before being blocked by the trees.

Another guard dogJoe observes with his 32"

Finally, below, Venus shines very brightly over the 28" dome.  The weather wasn't perfect, but we had some decent skies, and very good seeing.  Joe was pushing 800x on at least one night, with great results.

Milky Way over a dome in CAV

Chiefland is a state of mind - you can do all astronomy all of the time if you want to, and some of the imagers that live there do.  However, for me, it's a nice warm place to visit good friends, do some observing, and also enjoy some of the other things that Florida has to offer.  For example, after a long time not playing any golf, I've gotten around for a few rounds with Tom Clark in New Mexico and Dana here at CAV.  Joe also joined us for a round, and it was great time.

Most of the observing for this event was deep sky.  Jupiter was rising quite early in the morning, and was not well placed despite the normally pretty good Chiefland seeing.  Lots of planetary nebulas were tracked down in the 32", as well as some nice galaxy clusters.  For the most part I only stayed up late enough to see a bit of Orion after it had risen a bit.  The transparency was not optimal, but it was still as good as it would have been at home, but much warmer.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but after a week of other activities in Florida I had to head home for a long, cold, nasty, frigid, windy, annoying, spirit-testing, intolerable, heating system straining, depressing winter.  I finished a lot of mirrors because there was barely any reason to go outside due to the record cold, except to shovel snow.  This definitely made me eager to head south again for the Winter Star Party 2014 to get a break from the frozen fields of Illinois.

Clear, dark skies, warm weather, good friends, and good seeing.

-Mike Lockwood, Lockwood Custom Optics