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The Texas Star Party 2002
May 5 - May 12

TSP 2002 Observing Field

The Great Texas Giveaway is a popular feature after the guest speaker programs on Friday and Saturday nights. Mike Planchon and Bob Summerfield always keep the crowd entertained as the door prizes are distributed.

Richard Canino of Fort Davis, TX, became the newest AAAA member by winning the AstroMax Binocular Kit which AAAA donated to TSP as a door prize. TSP staff member Amelia Goldberg from Houston helps coordinates the door prizes.

Texas Star Party 2002: 
A Personal Report

by Ed Flaspoehler, AAAA

The 24th Annual Texas Star Party was again hosted on the magnificent Prude Ranch, a 3500 acre mile-high guest ranch located six miles northwest of Fort Davis, Texas, in the shadow of McDonald University. Attendance this year was limited to a maximum of 650, to prevent overcrowding of Ranch facilities, and the final attendance was announced to be only 595. TSP week this year was May 5-12, 2002.


I got to TSP on Wednesday night, about 8:00 pm. That was local sunset, so it was still quite light. I found the cabin, with Jackie Beucher, Jen Winters, and Kathy and Gil Machin, all from Kansas City. Since my original plan was not to arrive until the next day, they were surprised to see me. But I had checked the weather reports in Dallas the night before, which indicated CLEAR for the area, so set out from Dallas early Wednesday, after finally getting everything into the car by 11:00. It is 500 miles to Fort Davis from my house, and including one hour for lunch at Red Lobster in Abilene, I made it in 9 hours. Not bad.

I originally was not going to set up for the evening, but Jackie "nagged" me so I did get the telescope out of the car and set up. I am glad I did. It turned out to be a beautiful evening; we looked at the planetary alignment, Comet Ikeya-Zhang, and I got started on Herschels, looking for objects in Leo, Coma, Gemini. I ended up staying up until 3:00 a.m., and was pretty tired when I finally went to bed.

I did not really do much during TSP, just took things easy and visited around. I decided not to attend any of the afternoon sessions, and looking back, that was a great idea. (I am getting pretty saturated with people talking about the observatory they built in their back yard, or CCD imaging techniques. I even did not go to the SWRAL annual meeting on Friday afternoon.) Thursday night, the skies were not near as good as they have been in other years, with lots of haze and especially dust in the air, which was residue from the continuing drought they are having in that area of West Texas. It is very dry and dusty out there right now, and the skies were a bit murky from all the dust. Plus, there is encroaching down stream air pollution from autos and power plants in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, 150 miles to the west.

tsp2002-11.jpg (18476 bytes)During the day on Thursday, in addition to visiting the vendor area and buying a few astronomical "necessities", I visited Van and Nancy Robinson in their beautiful home in Davis Mountain Estates, just up the road from the Prude Ranch. Van and Nancy used to live in Dallas, and Van was a member of the Texas Astronomical Society when he retired. Then, he and Nancy moved out for Fort Davis and built a new house, with observatory attached, naturally. Van and Nancy hosted an open house during the day Thursday, and many of us were able to visit, and see their new home and observatory. Van's observatory has a roll off roof and houses a 16-inch Dobsonian telescope. It is fully computer equipped, contains a nice astronomical library, and plenty of work space is available for comfortable observing, just a few steps from house.

Kathy Machin and Jen Winter headed home to Kansas City on Friday night to handle a family emergency, and  Jackie decided to head out Saturday morning, a day early. So that left Gil and me by ourselves. I felt a bit abandoned at first, but bounced back quickly, and took the van up to the Visitor Center at McDonald Observatory. They have just finished the new installation, and it is quite spacious and well done. They have an especially beautiful spectroscope projecting a spectrum on the wall that is quite spectacular. But overall, the exhibits are aimed more at kids than adults, and it was a mild disappointment for me. But I joined the Friends of McDonald Observatory anyway, for the AAAA.

tsp2002-5.jpg (24594 bytes)

tsp2002-3.jpg (10205 bytes)

Rick Feinberg: Challenges for Astronomy in the 21st Century

Saturday night ended up being the only presentation I was able to attend at TSP. Rick Feinberg, Editor in Chief at S&T, gave a talk on The Challenges for Astronomy in the 21st Century. It was good, but I had heard it before, since it was basically an updated version of the same talk he gave at Ventura for the Astronomical League Convention a few years back. Among the issues he highlighted were the search for Dark Manner and Dark Energy, the need for Unification  of Gravity with Other Forces, the Evolution and Large-Scale Structure of Galaxies and the Universe, and Inflation vs. "Branes" and the current research into higher dimensions by mathematicians and physicists.

One note worth mentioning is that Bob and Lisa Summerfield of Astronomy-To-Go were awarded the Omega Centauri Award for their contribution to astronomy and education. They were flabbergasted. Bob and Lisa are great friends, and friends of everyone it seems, and this is a well deserved award. Dave Tosteson  from Minnesota was awarded the Lone Star Gazer award for his work with students and observing projects. I did not know him, but we had talked, and he is very nice. Apparently he is an expert observer. Mike Planchon presented the Omega Centarui Award to  Bob and Lisa Summerfield, and Barbara Wilson presented the Lone Stargazer Award to Dave Tosteson.

tsp2002-2.jpg (15588 bytes)TSP Observing Coordinator John Wagoner, seen in the photo here with AAAA Member David Bushard, reported that he awarded 296 observing pins during the week: 167 pins for the Seeing Double program, 30 pins for the Glorious Globulars program, 37 pins for the Observing Odyssey program, and 62 pins for the binocular program. That is a lot of observing going on. Reports are that the programs, especially the Seeing Double program, were lots of fun this year.

Saturday night ended up cloudy, so Jackie did not miss anything. I ended up walking around the field in the dark, seeing who I could find. I had a lot of interesting conversations with lots of different people. I ran into Mike Planchon later in the evening, and Anna brought down some of her cherry cobbler to share around. Delicious!

So Sunday, it was over. I got the car packed, Fort Davis dust and all, and headed south to Presidio, TX, for a drive down the Rio Grande and a day in Big Bend National Park.


TSP weather was OK this year, but not much more than that. I arrived on Wednesday evening, about 8:00, just about local sunset. Wednesday was clear, and ended up being the clearest of the nights I was there. Before I arrived, I understand that it was mostly cloudy,  with a few sucker holes here and there.

There has been a drought for some months out there in west Texas, and because of that, lots of dust, which results in haze in the air. For that reason, even during the day, transparency was terrible, even when it was clear. At times, even when it was sunny, you could not see the mountains across the field from the ranch because of the haze. I was trying to work on the Spring objects on my Herschel list, and made some progress, but it was tough going with all the haze.

Saturday night ended up being cloudy again, so after the talks and giveaway, I just visited around, and headed out the next morning, rested rather than excited from all the observing.

I spent the day Sunday in Big Bend NP, and found a hotel in Marathon for Sunday night on my way out of the park. I settled into the hotel about 10:30, but was still not sleepy, so I drove out of town about a mile and found a dark side road for some additional observing. That turned out to be the best night I had all week. The dust in the air seemed to have settled, or moved on. I was even able to get a few shots of Comet Ikeya-Zhang before turning in about 12:30.


The Southwest Region of the Astronomical League holds its annual business meeting during TSP, and it is encouraging to hear that SWRAL will be increasing its interest in its member societies and their activities outside of TSP each year. To find out more about the Texas Star Party, visit their web page at http://www.texasstarparty.org/

Visit the TSP Web Site: 
http://www.texasstarparty.org


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of the 
Astronomical League

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The Texas Star Party is the Annual Convention of the Southwest Region of the Astronomical League,
sponsored by SWRAL and hosted by TSP, Inc.

Click HERE to Read Our Report on TSP 2003
Click HERE to Read Our Report on TSP 2002
Click HERE to Read Our Report on TSP 2001

Click HERE for TSP 2003 Observing Programs
Click HERE for TSP 2001 Observing Programs
Click HERE for TSP 2000 Observing Programs
Click HERE for TSP 1999 Observing Programs

Click HERE for AL Observing Programs to Download

The Southwest Region of the Astronomical League is made up of  28 member societies of the Astronomical League in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

Join the AAAA's SWRAL Newsgroup

Hosted by Yahoo Groups and the American Association of Amateur Astronomers

The purpose of the SWRAL Yahoo! Newsgroup, hosted by the American Association of Amateur Astronomers, is to create a forum where members of SWRAL clubs can share ideas and experiences, and just get to know each other. If you belong to one of the member societies of the Southwest Region of the Astronomical League, or just want to know more about what is going on in this part of the Astronomical League, please join us as we share ideas about our region and what we can do to encourage more communication between clubs.


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The American Association of Amateur Astronomers is a member society of the Astronomical League. Based in Plano, TX, and with a worldwide membership, including 15% of its  members in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, AAAA is proud to be one of the ten largest clubs in the Astronomical League, and the second largest club in the Southwest Region.


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