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Hidden Hollow Star Party - 2002

October 4, 2002 - At the "Hidden Hollow" Star Party...

Comments: Hurricane Lilli has made her presence known here in Ohio. Yesterday's deep, massive cloud cover and thick low pressure system kept us under wraps, giving way to gentle rains. It's really an awesome thing to watch weather fronts via satellite and then translate it to visible sky. For as the day began? Sunshine ruled, but you could see the "spin" in the clouds. Wave after wave cruised over... Giving us that tantalizing glimpse of blue - and then snatching it away.

Heading toward the Observatory around noon, I tried to be as optimistic as possible. The national "Hidden Hollow" Star Party was about to begin, and things weren't looking good...

Usually I am a loner. That's just the way I like it. But today I have a guest with me. And my guest resides in a black zippered bag riding shotgun in the Camaro. Nope. It's not a body. But it is an embodiment. For my friend is none other than Otto Piechowski. Perhaps you may remember my visit with "the Ottoman" at EKU last year, and perhaps you know this fine gentleman personally, but what you need to know is that he has generously donated his very fine Intes MK67 to public service. As a working member of the RCAS, it is a deep honour to be deemed "caretaker" of this valued scope... For it is more than just a fine set of optics to me. It is the love, kindness and wisdom of the hands that guided it before me. And it will shine on in the eyes of all who come after...

Ottoman? Welcome to the Hill...

Spirits remained high, despite the weather. I have had a very fine time working closely with Joe, and I look forward to spending some quiet time with him in the future. It was truly a pleasure helping to organize things, and at registration meeting those who had traveled so far to join us. There was a gentleman who was there long before the others, and his face seemed hauntingly familiar. Soft spoken and friendly, I enjoyed our conversations very much. I kept wondering why he looked like someone I ought to know, and then someone smacked me on the head. Just a gentle tap, mind you... And formally introduced me to Richard Fienberg, the editor-in-chief of "Sky and Telescope" magazine. Coolness... (I kinda' just liked "Rick", too! ;)

The clouds gave way to rain. Not a transient rain, either. This was your good, old-fashioned, all day and into the night Ohio soaker. The kind that puts a real "damper" on a Star Party. Although it kept the attendance down... It didn't work on the attendees! It felt so good just to sit by my most favourite of compadres, Robert, and just be there. Smiles and laughter were free as stories and legends of "star parties past" were handed round the hall. Umbrellas became make-shift swords, and children big and small wore happy faces beneath their ponchos.

Go on, then! Rain!! We dare ya'....

And then the long arm of Lilli lashed us. The hours of rain diminuished to a trickle, and one by one, stars began to shine. As we wandered away from the shelter, the wind came down like a hand... Bowing tree tops low and ripping away their leaves... Snapping branches off like an angry mother seeking a switch. And then? It was gone. The "sucker hole" widend and deepend, giving way to that "slice of heaven" that all were anxious to see. First came the anxious campers, wandering around the puddles to stand by the dome and gaze at the stars. Then Monty and I fetched our binoculars. When there are two? It becomes three... And four... And the shadows come alive with folks setting up their scopes to do what they came here for.

Star party...



October 5, 2002 - At the "Hidden Hollow" Star Party...

Comments: Day Two brings about conversations on the weather. Ordinarily, the weather is a topic left to "small talk" when all other subjects are exhausted, but amoung amateur astronomers? It is of the utmost importance! And news of a clear night in the making is a cause for excitement....

The daylight hours are happily spent enjoying solar observing with spot 137 in the limelight. According to our information, this complex little delta class area passed off a decent X-class flare and left northern Ohio with a splendid chance of aurora. What a present after all the rain! It really did me good to see so many other amateurs who also enjoy solar viewing, and Thousand Oaks? Your filters are outstanding!

Now, best head for the Skyview Lodge to listen to lectures. I was particularly interested in two of our guest speakers, and it seems that I'm not the only one! What a pleasure it is to see a certain face still smiling that I met in the rain last night...


Hey, hey... We all know his name. I seriously doubt there is anyone in the astronomy community who doesn't have at least one of his books, or hasn't read an article he's had published. The man is truly an "astronomy legend".

Mr. Phil Harrington....


I like the way the man talks. He pointed out some basic truths that led many of us "scopists" along the path of astronomy... Learning to love the night sky through binoculars. I never realized until I listened to this lecture what a truly important role that binoculars have played in my observations! It was simply a thing I took for granted until now. I learned more about types of binoculars in fifteen minutes than I'd ever known! (and by a stroke of luck, the one's i have are very well suited for astronomy. phew! ;)

Like at least one other "big kid" in the RCAS, I took advantage of Mr. Harrington's presence for an autograph. Silly? Heck, no! For as a "dobber", there was an article he once wrote about the Obsession/Discovery line (and quality dobsonians in general) and aperature fever that I thoroughly enjoyed, and although I'm not into vindication, this particular article came at a very good time in my life. There are far too many folks in the astronomy community who sneer at those of us who love our aperature and simplicity of design, and tout that our optics aren't quality. For such a noted authority figure to defend this style of telescope, and tell the world it is not only capable of splitting demanding double stars, giving perfect color correction, and knocking down deep space objects that your high dollar, small aperature scopes can't even begin to touch with perfect clarity? I say thank you.... It is an honour to have your signature! (gosh, if i brought everythng of yours i had around... we'd be all day!) Although I'm jumping "sync" just a bit here, I would also like to say how much I enjoyed our conversations, and giving you a tour through "Big Blue" later that night. You are truly a scholar and a gentleman...

And speaking of scholars and gentlemen, there was another speaker that I was also anxious to hear!

Mr. Richard Fienberg....


Do I hear an "amen" from the choir? ;)

Rick's lecture was on astronomy and the 21st century... A fascinating overview of the changes we have seen in just our lifetime in both equipment and theory. From the our roots with the Tasco telescope to "strings and things"... The man knows his business. And what's more? Our paths crossed many times over the duration of the "Star Party", and he's just downright nice to talk to... Personable with a Ph.D., would be a good way to describe him. Of course, I can be no one but myself. Once you get to know me, we might easily take the topic of our conversations to a "scholarly" level, or you might just be standing there talking to a grinning, dyslexic fool. (generally i favour dyslexic fools... ;) Even though I don't remember exactly what this particular conversation was about, I do remember smiling as I walked away, singing a snippet of an old rock and roll tune, "It's better to burn out".... When I hear him echo behind me, "Than it is to rust..." Hey, hey... my my. I guess rock and roll never does die.

Rick? I like you very much.

Visiting with the vendors, and drooling over purchased treasures come next. Orion ED 9mm... OOooooh! (hand it over, curt!) Talk of what the evening will bring and... Hello! Darn right I remember you! How could I forget? Unless, of course... "I've got space in my head". ;) Sure, I'll see you later. Count on it.

Now! It won't be long until the Sun sets and the party really gets started! Time for some of us to head toward the city and find some sustenance. Some go here, and others go there... But I'm capturing Robert and eating some real food! Since I only do red meat once in a great while? I'll race you to the Outback... Better yet? You drive!

Returning just as the sky is getting really dark, we walk up the Hill toward the Observatory to find more telescopes than I've ever seen here at one time. All manner, from cassegrains, refractors, and reflectors to radical new designs, such as a fixed set of binoculars which focuses on a movable mirror plate, called a "Skywind". Of course all my friends are here, like Bruce with the 12.5 Meade, "Refractor Boy", Curt, with his ingenious designs, Terry and his 8" Meade dob, (funny, that... the ED eyepiece performs entirely differently between a reflector and refractor... wish i had one to study with!) Monty and his 10" Meade LX, his friend Dan with an Orion 8" Skyview Deluxe (and don't lose track of this one, for I guarantee you it will play a very big role in the near future. ;) and Joe with his superb 8" Meade cassegrain. And you know I walked around and talked to people! From "Jr." ( i remembered! ;) Schrantz who hand ground his own 12.5 Edmunds mirror blank to form an outstanding dobsonian, to a fellow who apologized for just having an 80mm rich field refractor. (dude? don't you dare apologize for this scope! i used one precisely like this once-upon-a-time, and the "Pup" is a very fine scope!) Folks? I think I've found Nirvana...

Going from this one to that, I soon give up the attempt to make notes. Too much at once! After making the rounds of just one section, it was my turn to head for the dome. Retreating to familiar ground, and doing my "thang" with the public. In between spells are spent with other responsibilities and snatching peeks from other scopes as I go by. Not enough hours in the night!

Then along came a spirit...

We had spoken together many times, exchanging smiles and looks. At one point I actually apologized for my strange behaviour, explaining that he looked amazingly like someone rather close to me... Someone that I missed very much. Apparently no offense was taken, for this particular gentleman and I eventually wound up spending some time together after my responsiblities had ended.

And the "spirit" just happens to have a 12.5 Discovery dob...

Well, all right! It doesn't get much better than this does it? Not only does the man "talk the talk"... He "walks the walk" as well! You could put me in a crowd of 500 people - All with similar interests and an outstanding variety of equipment, and there would still be just one to stop me in my tracks. Only hours ago I had Mr. Harrington autograph an article about just such a scope, and just like "magic"? Here it is...

Ah, my. "How you remind me", eh?

It was my great pleasure to make Victor's acquaintance on a more personal level this time. The hour had grown late for some, but since my tour of duty was over, it was good to find someone to play with. And what a telescope! I'm here to tell you that the Discovery line is absolutely everything you could ask for! Yeah, I was a bit naughty in the things we chose to look at... But there was a very good reason that I had you aim at those particular stars or objects.. (hehehheh... you knew all along that there was a bit more lurking behind that beatific smile of mine, didn't you? ;) I wanted to see just what this telescope could do, and I was not disappointed! Stiking color correction and absolute perfection of image... I like you and I like this telescope!

Sharing knowledge, we hopped to some things that required a precision instrument, and once again I find the Discovery telescope outstanding. Other things were just plain fun, eh? Silicon stars and doubles... Exploring the world of spectra with some of my toys. Using the maps to discover that little patch you thought was nebulosity near the M35 to be a open cluster, and then resolving the heck out of it. And hey! Isn't that Orion? Then let me show you what this big scope will do to the "Trapezium" that others only dream about.... The Discovery takes out six without even trying!!

Whisking him away to "Big Blue", we pester Jerry as he's ending his program to let us up to sock some power on the "Trap". (hey, guy... your perserverance is an inspiration in itself.) After a few eyepiece switches, we have what I'm looking for... Eight and more! Seeing those inner stars reveal themselves in that scalloped cloud of nebulosity is an awesome sight. (what's that you said? bogart?! oh... i was being a bit of a scope hog wasn't i? ;)

Giving Jerry our thanks, we head back to the Discovery to play around a bit more, and give me a opportunity to meet some of the other members of the Akron based group. The winter constellations keep climbing into the sky, and some real beauties like the M41 are in their prime. And Jupiter is beginning to come on strong... Realizing that I have to work the next day, and regretting the fact that I must go, we say our "goodbyes" and I go back to Bruce where I've stashed my stuff. And Bruce always knows how to keep me there just a bit longer....

Wanna' see this?

When Saturn rocks your world, you've got to at least step to the edge of the field, and say... "Hey, Vic? Come and look at this!" And he complies... Perhaps, I'm not ready to leave just yet?! Looking round about us, we notice most everyone has turned in for the night. The dome stands open, but the big scope is no longer being used.

Would you like to play for a bit longer?

Laughing like kids, we duck inside the darkened dome. It's not often during a public demonstration that only two people get this chance, and we're off to Saturn! Seems we're both willing this time... Quite willing to trade in immediate crisp detail, to wait on that moment of clarity when the power of aperature turns it into BIG crisp detail!! Hard to believe that's only a 25mm isn't it? Now, let's have a go with this old, cheesy video camera, eh? And see what we can do....

(As always, I sometimes have difficulty in chosing just one frame to illustrate. The video format isn't the best suited to astrophotography in a "frozen" form - for one frame shows surface detail with aching clarity, while another defines the ring divisions so clean it will break your heart! And yes, I really wasn't paying that much attention to focus at the moment either... But since it is only a temporary illustration, I'll leave it for now. Perhaps the future I'll continue to try with different eyepieces and film speeds... And then again? Maybe I don't honestly care anymore. Riiiiiiiiight.... ;)

After we'd had our fill of the amazing Saturn, I persuaded my "spirit" to set the scope, while I turned the dome, on a blinding Jupiter. And like the night before? Where there are two... All too soon there will be three... Then four... Then several scout troops of sleepy eyed children awaiting their turn at the Mightiest Planet of them All!

I was never more appreciative of my new found friend that I was at that moment. Running the big scope for a crowd requires two people, for the operator is basically blind as to what's below the lift. Needless to say, my "l'esprit du coeur et la nuit" made the finest tour guide I could ask for. (You'll never know just how much.... For taking small people close to the eyepiece meant me being in a very akward position, and just knowing there was a smile and a hand when we dropped meant everything.) On my knees, the big scope brought me down to "kid size" for operator clearance, and those knees supported more than one child as they clamoured up to gaze in awe at the magnificent Jupiter. Their smiles and exclamations made it all worth the while....

When at last the dome had emptied, the dawn was not far away. Victor stayed around to help me close up shop, and I felt a bit guilty for I had to leave for work and couldn't return the favour. Saying our final farewells, it is time for me to go. The "Hidden Hollow" Star Party has given me something extraordinarily special over the last two days... A mixture of dreams and memories....

And a reminder of what I love.

"And this I how you remind me... Of what I really am."


~theAstronomer