A Member Society of
The Southwest Region of the Astronomical League
Bringing Amateur Astronomy
to the World
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
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.
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.
Rick Feinberg: Challenges for Astronomy in the 21st
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.
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.
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
The Southwest Region of the Astronomical League
made up of 28 member societies of the Astronomical League in the
states of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
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A Member Society of The Southwest Region
Bringing Amateur Astronomy to the World
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.