Lockwood Custom Optics at the
2017 Okie-Tex Star Party

Friends and good company make for a great event...

All images and text Copyright Mike Lockwood, 2017.  May not be used without permission.

The Setup

It's not my fault, I swear.  I blame Steve.

More on that later in the "Assigning Blame" section.  (Seriously, there is an Assigning Blame section.)

I steadily checked items off my star party list on Wednesday night after having dinner and beer with friends, as is a weekly tradition and useful diversion around here, especially as fall approaches, the weather cools off, and days grow depressingly shorter.  The star party list is a great help to me, even invaluable, because I know that it is very nearly a complete list of all the stuff that I need to attend a star party in the middle of blessedly and blissfully dark nohwere (35 minutes from the nearest store), without forgetting important items.

As luck would have it, my list was only missing one item - a watch - which I added after my return.  Now I'm pretty sure I have a complete list.  It saves me a lot of time and anxiety while I pack up for a nice trip to somewhere dark, steady, or where friends are gathering with quality optics and some good beverages.

And yes, good beverages are on the list, too, in capital letters.

My new-to-me Subaru Outback swallowed all of the things that I had to transport, some of which would not be returning with me.  I was pleased that things weren't stacked to the roof, and I had an exceptionally clear view out the back window so that the rearview mirror was completely useful.  I turned in for the night and managed to get enough sleep, despite waking up a bit early.  That made for a slightly earlier start than I had planned, which was fine.

Thursday's drive was to central Kansas, and I arrived there around 7:30pm, which made for a nice long, relaxing evening at the hotel.  The next morning I got a fairly early start (for me) and rolled into the Okie-Tex compound at lunch time after making a quick stop in Boise City to pick up some groceries.  We sat inside the main building at Camp Billy Joe as workers used jackhammers to drive metal stakes into the ground so they could erect the large tent.

After lunch, I helped string electrical cords around the observing field, and then helped move tables and chairs into the large tent where people eat meals, and where I would give two talks the following Wednesday.  At this point, most of the setup work was done, thanks to the many volunteers and members of the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club that work so hard to put the event on - thanks to them for making this whole thing possible.  I went off to the field to tape off some space where a number of clients and I would set up our telescopes in close proximity to each other.  As it turned out, this would help the star party be one of the most memorable that I have had.

After a few more tasks, such as moving a freezer, we went into the air-conditioned main building to hydrate, relax, and have dinner.  After that, I headed into Kenton to find the house where I would be staying for the next week or so, and settled in.  As it started to get dark, I headed back over to the camp for some bonus Friday night observing.  The event had not begun yet, so cars were driving in and out with their lights on, but eventually the traffic died down.  I parked along the road near Dave Cotterell's telescope with my car/headlights pointed out of the field.  Dave is pictured at left in the image below, in his natural Okie-Tex habitat, just prior to making a sarcastic comment.  The square, tarp-covered frames are very popular to keep out the Okie-Tex breezes that can shake telescopes and make you put on extra clothing.

Relaxing at Okie-Tex

As we observed, I helped Dave attempt to diagnose the problem he was having with a telescope mount that carried a C11.  Dave has a 12.5" f/6.5 that I provided optics for, but he brought the C11 to this event.  It appeared that one of the two handpads that Dave had was bad, and we concluded the night around midnight when I was getting tired due to about 16 hours of driving catching up with me.

After making the very short drive back to Kenton to the house, I stepped outside to note the superb sky where I was staying.  A few pointless lights were on in Kenton, but it didn't hurt the sky very much.  If I wanted to live in the middle of nowhere and avoid people, this would be a place where it would be possible.  I fell asleep to the droning sound of the small air conditioner that kept the second floor of the house cool.  A photo of the house is below, with Black Mesa in the background.

House in Kenton, OK

The Event Begins

I slept as late as possible the next day, had a small snack, and headed over to the star party to see who had shown up.  As it turned out, Doug and Christina Legrand had arrived, as had John Pratte and a group of friends from Austin, Texas, including Bram, Tara (Celestial Teapot Designs), and Eddie.  Tara's dome tent, which would be invaluable for shelter from the sun for the rest of the event, was going up quickly, and telescopes were rising from the ground and pointing at the sky as they were assembled on tarps, carpet, and canvas ground coverings.

The star party was coming to life, person by person, piece by piece, telescope by telescope, in the bright Oklahoma sunshine on a beautiful morning in September.  Life is good.

As acquintances were reestablished, as names were recalled out of the cobwebs of my mind, and as more familiar faces appeared, a sense of something special began to establish itself.

It is amazing to think about the distances covered by such a small subset of the human population, just to experiece such a gathering of unique individuals who have an appreciation for a somewhat rare thing - an uncorrupted dark sky, free of light pollution, marred only by natural skyglow and whatever particulates or moisture happen to be floating in the atmosphere above.

Most of the general public does not have a clue what they are missing at places like this, and most would sadly experience some of the most beautiful skies in the country while staring carelessly downward at those all-consuming digital devices that threaten to ruin the art of direct, person to person interaction.  The problem is, in order to look up at the sky, people have to look in the opposite direction of their devices.  (This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Left to their own devices...." by the way.)

I had an evil thought - those immersed in their smart phone universe might just trip over one of the power cords that we had strung out on the field as they wandered carelessly around the observing field typing a text message that they would forget two minutes later.

How fitting that would be.

Oh, by the way, my cell phone doesn't work at Okie-Tex.  Lucky me.  Besides, I need one hand to focus the telescope and another to hold an eyepiece, nightvision device, or beverage, which leaves no place for my cell phone except somewhere else where I can't hear it.  I stopped carrying my phone, and then I realized that I had no way to tell what time it was.  This is when I realized that I had forgotten my watch, and later borrowed one from a friend so that I could see how long I had been running when I went out to get some exercise.

So, while ignoring my cell phone, I greeted friends and clients who arrived with their telescopes, friends, and significant others, and several of which set up in the same area that I had taped off for them.  The field was filling up.  The image below shows the star party looking up the road.  The shadow is from the sun dipping below the ridge on the west side of the star party site, to the right in the photo.  This is the time when telescopes begin to be uncovered and get a chance to start cooling off a bit.  The large tent and main building are seen in the center.  The smaller west observing field is seen on the right side of the road, and the larger east observing field is mostly out of the frame at left.  

Okie-Tex observing field

The Village is Born

Christina Legrand later named our area the "Lockwood Village", and the name has stuck.  I hope it is a feature of Okie-Tex for as long as I can attend, because the year of its founding, 2017, was one to remember.  As everyone gathered, we anticipated the arrival of the remaining villagers, and got ready for some quality observing.

Lunch was served around noon, my first meal of the day after sleeping in and going for a run.  I don't eat breakfast at most star parties, because it's easier and lower-calorie to just wait for lunch.  With some activity in the morning, I don't even get hungry until lunch.

After an afternoon of helping assemble telescopes and watching others assemble telescopes, the magic hour will eventually arrive.  As the song says "It's Five o'Clock Somewhere", but at Okie-Tex it's all about three o'clock or three thirty.  This is because that's when we start the beer tasting.

Now before you chastise me and look down with scorn, contempt, and just general annoyance, I will point out that Okie-Tex, unlike some other events, does not specifically ban alcohol from the premises.  They only ask that people are responsible, and I think that's quite reasonable.  While it is true that other events don't allow it, people still bring tasty beverages anyway and just keep it hidden or out of obvious sight.  I've never seen anyone penalized in any way for having it, though I have seen (and heard) a few who have overindulged at various events.

Personally, I am a self-acknowledged and well-known beer snob.  Just as many enjoy wine tasting, I (and many others) enjoy doing some beer tasting and getting to try some beers that I can't get in my area.  I age dark beer for up to a few years because its flavor improves.  Others do too, and after I found some other so-inclined individuals at Okie-Tex a number of years ago, we have all carefully chosen the contributions that we would bring to the event every year, with the goal of impressing others with excellent flavors and significant ABV (alcohol by volume) and relaxing on a sunny Okie-Tex afternoon.  So far I haven't been to a bad tasting, and the company is always outstanding.

Don't misunderstand me - we're not getting hammered, we have quite a few people tasting, and everyone effectively has about a beer or at most two spread out over some time.  It's the perfect amount to relax before dinner and enjoy a sunny afternoon.  We gathered under Tara's dome tent (for shade) on Saturday and opened a number of good bottles.  It was good time to get to know everyone and try to remember names, which turned out to be pretty easy.  Soon it was dinner time, and, relaxed and in a great mood, we went up for our first Okie-Tex dinner under the big tent.

After dinner the sun starts to dip behind the ridge to the west, and telescope covers start coming off.  Below Christina (right) talks with a friend, and her husband Doug checks the secondary of her 30" f/3.3 scope.  Yes, it is her telescope, he has a large refractor.  Note the long shadows and the storm in the background, which was in the Texas panhandle.

Doug and Christina and her 30" f/3.3

This year, however, one telescope was not simply uncovered, it actually made a sort of performance - it was picked up by a transporter unit and literally driven to its observing spot!

This drive was accomplished by Ed, who had built a magnificent 24" f/2.75 instrument around optics that I had made.  He designed all of the electronics and other systems himself, and had parts made, CNCed, etc., before he assembled it all himself, including the "transport unit" which is necessary to move the very heavy instrument.  He designed all of the electronic systems, too.  It is one of the most amazing instruments that I've ever seen, and it deserves its own article to do the design work justice.

Below is one of my favorite images from the event.  
With Okie-Tex topography in the background, we see Ed driving his telescope with the hand paddle while Christina, over Ed's right shoulder, near her 30" f/3.3 Starmaster, and John Pratte and another attendee, near John's 32" f/3.6, look on with slightly shocked amusement and approval.

Ed's scope takes a drive

I will note that thankfully it did not make that really damn annoying beeping sound when he put it in reverse, unlike scooters in the aisles of Walmart!

For Saturday night we had Ed's 24" f/2.75 self-built telescope, Doug and Christina's 30" f/3.3 Starmaster, and John Pratte's 32" f/3.6 built by him (JPAstrocraft), all set up next to each other.  We had saved space for two more telescopes that would arrive the next day, we hoped.

Also set up nearby, from the Austin area, were Bram, Eddie, and Tara, who had set up their scopes just south of us, including Tara's new-to-her 14.5" Starmaster.  It was great to have them nearby for moral support, interesting object suggestions, and tea.

Unbeknownst to me, another client, Duane, had arrived with his 30" f/3.3 StarStructure and had set up just across the driving lane from our group either by coincidence or because he recognized some of the village members.  It was great to see him after a couple of years, and great to have his scope nearby.  He is pictured with his excellent StarStructure telescope below.

Duane with his 30" StarStructure

The first night was spent looking at our favorite objects in multiple telescopes and enjoying the dark skies of Okie-Tex.  Sky quality meter readings were around 21.6 to 21.7, and the only defects in the sky were the typical natural skyglow and whatever dust and particulates were up there above us.  With all of the fires in the west over the summer, we were fortunate to have fairly transparent skies.

Okie-Tex forecast After a night of catching up with dark skies and fun, we all called it a night around 1am.  We had only done visual observing, no night-vision observing, because I had decided to work on that during the next clear night.

Sunday dawned clear, but clouds steadily advanced later in the day.  We watched the radar and assumed that it would likely clear off later in the night if the clouds came.  The forecast for the rest of the week is shown at right.

Allan Wade and his son Jordan arrived on Sunday, all the way from Australia!  I had recently seen Allan at the solar eclipse in August (eclipse article here), and on this trip Jordan had joined him for the week to enjoy some northern skies for a change.

After dinner, we waited to see what would happen.  There were storms to the north and west, though many times they fall apart as they pass eastern New Mexico.  With half the sky cloudy and a storm approaching, I decided to head back to the house to shoot some photos of the storms because the house had a nearly flat horizon to the west, while the camp's eastern horizon was blocked quite effectively by a lot of rock in the form of a mesa.

We were awaiting the arrival of Steve, who had driven all the way from New York state to join us under the dark Oklahoma skies.  He was giving some other HAM radio operators in the group updates via radio, and we expected him before nightfall.  He just made it.

Assigning Blame

Steve is a storm of knowledge, enthusiasm, charisma, and vocal volume.

After countless phone conversations, as the evening light was fading, I saw a Subaru, adorned with a large radio antenna on its rear corner, pulling a trailer, driving up the road to the observing field just as I was walking out to my Subaru to go take pictures from Kenton.  At least he has good taste in cars.  We said our hellos, I pointed him to the area where we had set up, and I headed back to Kenton to set up my camera.  I fully expected to return for some observing later on, but it was not to be.

The lightning display was nearly continuous and quite memorable.  If I were to assign percentiles, this storm was in the upper 1% of those I have ever seen in terms of lightning frequency.  I shot a couple of videos at first with my camera just to show it in action.  However, practically all of the lightning was cloud to cloud, and I only saw one or two cloud to ground strikes.  I have no explanation for that, but it's very interesting.

I set up my camera on the small second floor deck and on the ground to shoot images as the storm approached.  As I watched the clouds roll and transform themselves, I finally could see some approaching rain as the lightning illuminated it.  It was becoming apparent that we would probably get some rain out of the storms.  The view below is looking southwest.

Storm approaching Kenton, OK

Soon I could see the rain obscuring the end of the nearby Black Mesa as it stretched off into the distance to the west, toward the storms.  I watched the rain sweep eastward down the mesa.  Bit by bit, more and more of the mesa was hidden, and this progressed until the rain appeared to be only a mile away or so.  At that point it was time to head inside, and it became apparent that we were about to get some rain.  I grabbed the tripod and headed in.  The wind began to gust very strongly and loudly, and I hoped that everyone's tents and telescopes were safe and secure.  I scrambled to close the house's open windows.

As it turned out, Steve's arrival timing was impeccable, and the storms were somewhat unusual, and so, just for fun, we assigned the blame for the storms to him.  I thus gave him the nickname "Stormy Steve" as the result of his arrival time.  It just instantly popped into my head as the storm rolled in.  The view below is to the northwest, with Black Mesa being hidden by rain.

Storm arrives in Kenton, OK

As the rain came down, I sat inside and tried to find some weather information on the computer and TV.  Soon after the first storm, a second approached, and it began with small hail rather than rain, which made for a loud roar on the roof, walls, and windows for about 30 seconds.  
At about 10pm the power went out as the storms likely blasted through the flat, barren high-plains area to the east, where I surmised that the power supply came from.  As the storm subsided, the water at the house didn't work because the power was out, so I just went to sleep early.  At some point the power came back on, so I was able to take a shower the next morning, Monday, after a nice run in the cool morning.

I then headed back over to the camp to see how everyone at the event was doing.  As it turned out, the area had received about two inches of rain, and the normal yearly average was only about 17 inches.  So, this was a significant event in the near-desert.  Damage at the star party was minimal, with some tents damaged and a scope or two tipped over.  The dome tent was still in place, so our tasting site was safe.  Everyone was unwrapping their scopes from tarps and drying out any drips or small puddles that had formed from water that got through.  Rocker boxes were blotted dry, tarps dried in the sun, and we were excited to have a clear night, possibly with the dust washed out of the air, after the excitement of the previous evening.

Steve began to unpack and set up his 24" f/4.5, with optics that I had finished.  He also got organized and set up his tent and a number of battery chargers, some radio equipment, and a cooler that was powered by a solar panel.  Cold food and beverages were definitely a priority for him.  He was settling in nicely after a stormy first night.

Later in the day John and Cindy arrived, all the way from Alabama.  They brought a 22" f/3.3 JPAstrocraft telescope with quartz optics from me (see In the Shop article about it here), and they also enjoy beer tasting, so they fit right in.  See the beautiful telescope below, with collimator in the focuser to get it ready for its first night under the Okie-Tex skies.  With low expansion optics, cool-down affected images less than Pyrex mirrors, and it produced beautiful images throughout the night.

22" f/3.3 JPAstrocraft telescope

Soon it was dinner time.  After dinner, and after the sun was well below the ridge, I collected the villagers for a group photo, with me on John's eight-foot observing ladder with my camera.  In the image below, Christina is at left with her 30" f/3.3, then John and Cindy with the 22" f/3.3 JPAstrocraft scope, Ed in the blue shirt in the foreground with his 24" f/2.75, Steve in the black shirt with his 24" f/4.4, and John Pratte with his 32" f/3.6 at right.  In the background, Duane's 30" f/3.3 StarStructure sticks up above Christina's 30" and John's 22" scope.

The villagers

What a great gathering of friends it was, and I hope to repeat it many times.  If you have Lockwood optics and you love to use them, you too can be a villager!

Monday night was clear, and it was time to do some observing with the nightvision unit.  This was a third generation unit, in a form factor know as a Mod3.  The display was white phophor, and it was also "filmless".  To describe it, one would call it a gen3 filmless white phosphor image intensifier.  To use it, I installed an adapter, (TV/TNVC adapter) that connected a 17mm TeleVue Delos eyepiece to the lens of the nightvision unit.  This allows the unit to "see into" the eyepiece and amplify the light from that image.  This configuration is called afocal imaging, it has some significant advantages, and it can be done with a nightvision unit or camera with a lens.  (Also see my Adventures in Nightvision article.)

The nightvision units are commonly used with a narrowband H-alpha filter, the type that those taking narrowband, long-exposure images of the sky often use.  With the 24" and 32", we preferred the narrower band filter on the 17mm Delos, because it showed more nebular detail.  The 24" f/2.75 had a field of view advantage and was faster optically, which one would normally expect to produce a brighter image.  (The effect is the same as with a fast camera lens, which produces brighter images of extended objects than a slower lens.)  However, the increased aperture of the 32" and increased image scale made the view in the 32" more detailed to my eye.  As usual, there is a tradeoff between field of view an detail visible.

We also found that the NV unit did not help the view of certain galaxies very much, in particular Stephan's Quintet.  It did help NGC 891 and some other galaxy clusters, but results were not consistent.  The view of M51 was improved, making galaxy structure quite evident and brighter than visually, though structure was also quite obvious visually.

Later in the night it became evident to me that I was fighting off a cold or having some very bad allergies.  At some point I felt like I might be running a slight fever or had a minor sinus infection.  In any event, I was cold and had to put on a winter coat to stay warm.  I called it a night a bit early, took a very long, hot shower, and went to sleep.  After a lot of sleep, I felt better on Tuesday, but my sinuses were still not right for a week after as they recovered from something.  I just hoped I wouldn't have any problems with my voice during my two talks on Wednesday afternoon.

Celebrating with Sushi, Sake, etc.

Tuesday was a very enjoyable day.  I felt better, the weather was beautiful, and after lunch I had two fun events on my schedule.

The first was a sake tasting with excellent sushi, which we joined at 2:30pm.  Still full from lunch, we didn't eat too much, but was impossible to resist sampling the fresh-made sushi with some extra-hot wasabi.  It was REALLY good.  I enjoyed the flavors of the sushi, and enjoyed the burn of the wasabi helping to open and clear my sinuses!

Sushi and saki!

I'm not a sake drinker normally, but it was very interesting to sample a little bit of each to note the wide variety of styles.  Some were clear, some were cloudy, and each tasted a bit different.  I didn't have that much, and at the risk of this article appearing to be only about drinking, here is a photo of the very diverse selection.  Please do not ask for a translation.


Next, we wandered over to the dome tent to start our our daily beer tasting, and we invited the sushi/sake crowd to come on over.  Thankfully it was followed by dinner, and more relaxing.  Yes, life was really difficult on Tuesday at Okie-Tex, but I had earned a break.  Below, I take a picture of Allan, from Australia, taking a picture of the empty beverages.  He even brought Australian beer to add to the tasting offerings.

Saki tasters join us for beer tasting

What a great day it was.  Sometimes the events become a little bit monotonous, with boredom during the day and observing at night, so it's nice to have some variety, especially around such great company.

As it turned out, it was the perfect day to relax.  Clouds came in from the north unexpectedly and we ended up sitting under the dome tent sipping tasty beverages for the entire evening.  It was great to just sit and rest and talk to such a great group of interesting people, including Tara (Celestial Teapot Designs) and Bram, who are seen relaxing below as we began a tasting or possibly continued it.

Tara and Bram relax

Most of the day had been spent socializing and relaxing, and despite the weather it had been one of the most enjoyable at the event, and this could have only been due to the company.  At midnight, after socializing, complaining about the weather, telling stories, and telling bad and good jokes, it was still cloudy, so we reluctantly agreed to call it a night as we decided that some extra sleep would be a good idea.  Back at the house, I woke up at 4am and peeked out the window apprehensively, but it was still cloudy so I didn't feel bad about going back to sleep, in fact I was happy that I could, as it would help me recover from my sinus issues and be more alert (and hopefully entertaining) for my talks.

I should point out that having this many weather issues is quite rare, in my experience, having attend ten Okie-Tex star parties.  Rain is very rare, as are entire nights that are cloudy.  So, it was an atypical year, but the company and events more than made up for that.  In fact, this year I truly realized the importance of taking a night or two off from observing to enjoy the company more than the sky.

On Wednesday Doug and Christina packed up and headed home.  With the forecast looking good for the night, I was sad to see them go, but they had had fun and had some good oberving, and I planned to visit them in Albuquerque on my way home.  Wednesday afternoon I gave two talks that were brand new.  The first was about how I make mirrors and some of the steps involved, and the second was an introduction to nightvision and some of the issues involved with it.  The audience was large and enthusiastic, and the talks went well.  Later on, more people complimented my talk about mirror making than the nightvision talk, but people enjoyed both.  I had expected the nightvision talk to be more popular, but I'm not complaining about people wanting to hear more about mirror making!  I promptly headed for the afternoon beer tasting that was just getting started, which is the perfect follow-up to talking for about two hours straight.

I feel I have earned the right to post one more photo of the empty bottles of superb beer, just to make the other beer snobs jealous, along with a couple of highly skilled participants.  Keep in mind, many participants made for reasonable portions.  This was my last tasting for the week, because I was leaving Thursday afternoon, and the quality made it very memorable, especially the KBS in the center of the photo.

More superb beer!

I realize now that the tastings are an excellent way to gather a group of people during the day and actually see them in the daylight and get to know them better.  Events like this are necessary, otherwise people tend to stick to their own area of the field, sit around, and maybe not socialize as much as they would if events like this were available.  Attending talks is one activity that you can do during the day, but socializing with the people watching the talk is not really looked upon as a good thing by the speaker who is trying to talk!  So, events that gather people to talk and socialize are really vital to making new friends and expanding the amount of fun that you have at a star party.  To confirm this, I note that many at the tastings did not stop by to observe with us, and I didn't have time to go observe with them either, so I am glad that we had some time during the day to converse, make new friends, and share excellent beer finds.

So, to have more fun at an event and make new friends, resist the urge to sit around all day near your camp - get out and walk around and see what others are doing.  Get your naps in between social engagements.

Speaking of new friends...... around this time in the middle of the week, Steve's star party was made tedious and stressful by some ungrateful moronic corporate wankers, but never fear, the rest of the village was there and that helped rectify the situation as much as we could, along with a few beverages.  It was truly great to observe and talk with him.  Below he celebrates the Jewish new year with us prior to observing, along with a couple of self-admitted immature astronomers.  And I thought I was the only one.....

A celebration

Wednesday night was superb.  It was one of the most enjoyable nights I have ever had at a star party.  I was never bored, and time went by effortlessly as the sky turned above.

The night was completely clear and he winds had nearly stopped, making observing conditions exceedingy pleasant, a welcome change from the previous weather issues.  It was astronomy paradise, complete with five telescopes with superb optics to choose from.  On this final night for me, the SQM reading was 21.6 or so.  This is a very, very good night, not the best I have seen here, but other weather (wind in particular) and temperatures were very pleasant, and the seeing was pretty good.  We effortlessly bagged objects in all parts of the sky.

The 22" f/3.3, 24" f/4.4, 24" f/2.75, 30" f/3.3, and 32" f/3.6 belonging to all the remaining villagers were all operating nicely, and I did many nightvision experiments with and without filter on multiple telescopes.  Things were slowly becoming clearer to me.  NGC 891 looked markedly better with nightvision in the 24" f/2.75 and 32" f/3.6.  Certain galaxy clusters showed up better than others with NV, and I began to suspect that the reason was the spectra of the galaxies due to this particular nightvision unit's lack of response at wavelengths shorter than 600nm.

M16 was excellent in multiple telescopes, showing off the "Pillars of Creation" quite easily in the nightvision unit.  We also enjoyed M17, M8, M20, the Veil (all three parts), the Crescent, and the North American.  I believe it was the Deer Lick Group that showed improvement in the major component (or possibly another galaxy cluster).  I didn't keep track of other observations.  I'm not a serious observer in that sense - I don't have any oberving pins (nor do I care about them), but I've spent more time under the sky than many that do, I know more about telescopes than most, and I have the most fun with good optics and good company.

Below, telescope designer, builder and dare I say visionary, Ed (who conceived and built the 24" f/2.75 and its transport unit) carries his cooler, which we of course pointed out should really be transported by his scope transporter!  At right is a night-time scene for which my tracking mount didn't track - one of the Apple family from Kenton observes with the 24" f/2.75 under the skies that he calls home.

Ed transports important itemsOkie-Tex skies do not disappoint

After a long night, around 2am or after I set up the NV unit at 1X with an H-alpha filter, and about eight people enjoyed scanning the milky way for familiar objects which they had never seen so easily before.  It really is a revelation to see all of the H-alpha nebulosity in Cygnus in real-time, amplified in all of its beauty and glory.  Many expressions of amazement and a few obscenities made it clear how impressed everyone was with seeing H-alpha nebulosity in real-time.  This was a fitting close to a great event for me.  I packed it in around 3am and tried to sleep in.

After lunch on Thursday, I packed up the last of my things and headed west to visit a friend in Los Alamos, NM.  I was told that Saturday was also wet at Okie-Tex, which was very abnormal.  Here is a final image from that magnificant Wednesday night that was so enjoyable.  In the foreground, Steve aims his 24" f/4.4 at M51 before it gets too low to observe, and the magnificant summer Milky Way floats overhead early in the evening.

One last Okie-Tex image

Los Alamos

I visited a friend and his family briefly, and I'll just post a quick photo or two of the drive heading north out of Santa Fe.  It is a beautiful area, and I hope to get to do some more observing up there in the future.

Heading for Los Alamos

Here is the view from just below Los Alamos, looking back down toward the valley that Santa Fe sits in.  This is an HDR image.

Looking down from Los Alamos

Observing at NMAV

After a couple of days in Los Alamos, I headed southwest to the New Mexico Astronomy Village between Deming and Silver City, NM.  On Sunday night, we hoped to use the 42", but the dome was not cooperating so we blamed Tom Clark for that.  (I love to assign blame, as you can tell from this article.)  So, we headed back to use Gary's 24" f/3.3 Starmaster (my optics).  The image below was taken to show what could be seen and imaged with the moon in the sky.

Milky Way despite moonlight

After the moon set, it was not a good evening, maybe 21.3 or so on the sky quality meter.  We enjoyed views of major nebula in the southern Milky Way with the NV unit on the 17mm Delos and called it an early night.

On Monday we got to work on the 24" Starmaster, doing extensive cleaning and maintenanace that took much of the afternoon.  Monday night we rolled the newly cleaned and tweaked telescope out, and it was a bit better - 21.4 or so on the meter.  We started pointing the scope at larger H-alpha nebulas seen in the Milky Way near Perseus and Cassiopeia, and we actually saw the Elephant Trunk dark lane through the telescope directly with the NV unit.

Gary, Vandy, and Kevin were amazed by the 1x view (with narrowband H-alpha filter) of the Milky Way from northern horizon (California Nebula hanging in space) up through the various nebulae in Cassiopeia, and especially Cygnus, and then down to the southern Milky Way.  I know that some of the objects in Scorpius had already set, but the moon and time of year prevented us from seeing all of those.  Below is a photo of Gary and Kevin observing with the 24" f/3.3 and the nightvision unit.

Observing at NMAV

On Tuesday we went to Silver City because I had never been there, and we decided to visit Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery.  I had a nice (and spicy!) flatbread with green chiles for a late lunch (and the leftovers for dinner), and enjoyed some tasters of various beers on tap.  Their tequila was very, very good, so I picked up a bottle to take home.  I was not that impressed with their rum, though.

Beer and flatbread, Little Toad Creek Brewery

Tuesday night was cloudy and we watched one of the new Star Trek episodes on the theater screen, and also the newest Big Bang Theory.  Gary has a great theater setup and there was no shortage of volume, so it was a fun night.

Soon it was time to start heading homeward, and I'll simply leave you with one more photo from one of my drives through the mountains.  I arrived home in early October just in time to star figuring a huge pile of polished mirrors.  As I write this, the pile is much, much smaller, but other projects will soon distract me as I hope to get the shop increased in size a bit.  More on that later.....

Into the NM mountains.....

Clear, dark skies, big telescopes, good beer, good friends, steady seeing, and nice scenery.

-Mike Lockwood, Lockwood Custom Optics