Sunday, November 18, 2012


After the SCT

There is no “after” for your old Uncle, muchachos. I am still Mr. SCT and still use Schmidt Cassegrains more than any other design of telescope. However, those of y’all who are long-time readers of the little old blog from Chaos Manor South know I do use other telescope types—MCTs, Newtonians, even refractors—from time to time. But I reckon I am identified strongly enough with CATs that the sight of Unk using a Dob at the thirtieth annual Deep South Regional Star Gaze impelled one of my DSRSG buddies to ask concernedly whether my next book would be titled After the SCT

It is SCTs forever for Unk, but, as above, I do use other designs when appropriate. And I figured the 2012 DSRSG would be one of those appropriates. This is our "home" star party, Miss Dorothy’s favorite, and a strong contender for that title with me. I’ve come to look forward to the event as a way to relax in friendly surroundings with relaxed observing.

The principal observing for the Herschel Project is done, but there is still some re-observing and re-imaging to do before the project is completely put to bed. Howsomeever, while the Project got started at DSRSG, I was not much in the mood to visit dozens of minute fuzzies there this year. Nor was I ready to begin my next observing project—more on that some Sunday soon. I thought I would take it easy to the tune of "just" hanging out with friends on the field and looking at bright and cool and pretty stuff.  That agenda just naturally spells “Old Betsy.”

Or maybe I should call the 12-inch Dobbie I’ve owned since 1994 “new Betsy.” I’m not talking about the upgrades I did a few annums back, adding Sky Commander digital setting circles, a high-falutin’ high reflectivity primary coating, and a downsized secondary mirror. I am talking about the just completed mods done to her by ATM Pat Rochford, a long time observing companion of mine.

A couple of months back I confessed to him that while I wanted to take Old Betsy to DSRSG, I wasn’t sure I could. The Dob’s truss tube body was built along the lines of the older design truss tube scopes. Think “Sky Designs.”  Big, solid, heavy mirror box and rocker box. That was cool. The scope we—mostly Pat, natch—made out of my Meade StarFinder served me well since 1998. Problem was, I was considerably stronger those 14 years ago. I still loved Betsy, who has an outstanding mirror, but I didn't use her often. It was too tough to get that mirror box down the front steps and into the truck. Pat swore he would find a way to remedy that.

You can see the results at left. Innovative and attractive in my book. In addition to making cutouts in the mirror and rocker boxes, Mr. Pat shaved a little weight off the upper cage assembly as well. Not only can I now tote the mirror box to the 4Runner with fair ease, I can leave it in the rocker and carry both at the same time without too much moaning and groaning. The weight reduction really made a difference as did the strategically placed handles Pat cut in both mirror and rocker boxes. I could hardly wait to try the new Old Betsy.

I would get that chance at the thirtieth edition of the Deep South Regional Star Gaze. The star party isn’t the biggest—we generally max out somewhere around 150 attendees—but it is one of the friendliest, and the facilities, the Feliciana Retreat Center, provide an infrastructure right up there with the best star parties in America. I missed the 2011 edition due to work, so I was doubly anxious to hit the road for Clinton, Louisiana with Miss D for 2012.

Which is just what we did early Wednesday morning, 7 November. Since the site is only three and-a-half hours away, we didn’t have to scurry like we do for a Chiefland trip, but we wanted to be there in time for the first of the prize drawings at 3 o’clock that afternoon. Just as for our CAV expeditions, I’d packed the 4Runner, Miss Van Pelt, the night before. I can’t begin to express how wonderful it is not to be faced with loading up the ton of gear we pack for any star party on departure morning.

Dorothy and I hit the road just after 8. We intended to stop at our neighborhood Mickey D’s, but it was crowded, and Dorothy had star party fever: “Rod, let’s get on the Interstate and find somewhere for breakfast where we can get in and out in a hurry. Don’t want to be late for DSRSG!” We got off I-10 at the Grand Bay exit, had a bite at the MacDonald’s there (fried chicken biscuit for old Unk, natcherly), and were back on the road to Louisiana again tout suite.

I suppose I am so used to making the drive to Chiefland that getting to Clinton seemed like nothing. Almost before I knew it we were turning off for the Retreat Center and driving onto the normally spacious observing field. “Normally,” because it was already beginning to fill up on Wednesday. Not surprising since not only was this to be the historic XXX edition of one of America’s longest running star parties, the weather reports were as favorable as they have ever been: at least three nights, and maybe four of deep sky heaven in cool, but not downright cold conditions.

As always, our first task was field setup. With “just” a Dob, it really ain’t that tough: plunk down rocker, insert mirror box, bolt on the truss poles, attach the upper cage and the scope is done. ‘Course, as always, we had our normal huge array of support gear. There was the (Coleman) EZ-Up canopy onto which we tie-wrapped blue-tarp sides to keep it a little warmer in the predicted upper thirties-low forties weather, observing table, laptop computer, battery for laptop, couple of camp chairs, ice chest, eyepiece boxes, yadda-yadda-yadda.

Oh, and one other thing. One other Telescope. Unk was sporting not one but two Dobsonians. One and a half, anyway. Number two was Yoda, my beloved Orion StarBlast f/4 Newtonian. He was half a Dob not because of his size, but because I had temporarily removed him from his mini-Dob mount and put him on my Synta AZ-4 alt-az rig. The little Dob mount works fine for grab and go at home, but I think the AZ-4 is a bit steadier and easier to use at a star party.

Why had I brought Yoda along? In one way he would be the star of my observing show. I was not planning on doing any major observing projects, no, but I did have a goal. I reckon I’ve seen most of the “hard” visual targets over the years, either in my own scopes or somebody else’s. I’ve seen the Horsehead, Barnard’s Galaxy, Pluto, and all the rest of eye-burner gang. But I had never seen the California Nebula in anybody’s scope. Oh, I imagined I glimpsed it in my 66mm SD refractor at DSRSG 2010, but I wasn’t sure. I had been without my h-beta filter that year (it was hiding in one of my many equipment boxes), and Cali-for-nye-ay really needs that filter. I figgered it would be hard to find a better scope to tackle that huge and dim nebula than Yoda. Well, we’d see.

With Betsy and Yoda and everything else ready to go, it was time to check out our accommodations. As I’ve written before, Feliciana’s lodge’s small motel type rooms ain’t up to even the standards of the Chiefland Day’s Inn, but they are far better than drafty chickies. They are clean with nice, small bathrooms and showers and beds with bearable mattresses. There’s air conditioning and heat and even wi-fi (sometimes).

Settled in, it was time to get back to the field for the first door-prize drawing of the event. As y’all know, Unk rarely wins a blessed thing, and he did not surprise this time. DSRSG Managing Director Barry Simon gave away a couple of cool items and promised there’s be plenty more over the next several days, so I was able to keep my hopes alive. Door prizes handed out, supper was beckoning, so it was back to the lodge.

The little motel rooms are nice, but Feliciana’s real draw is its lovely dining area and food that is almost always exemplary. I gave a slight down-check to supper Wednesday evening; I got a dry piece of baked chicken and mushy broccoli, but everybody else was very happy, and this was the only meal I found to be below average. And even if it was not exactly to my liking, there was an excellent salad bar (yes, a salad bar at a star party) so I was fine.

I reckon old man winter is creeping up on me. I lollygagged around the room for a while following supper, and was shocked to walk outside and find the Sun already gone. You can bet I hot-footed it the quarter mile or so down the gravel road (which became a raging river in 2009) to the field. Yeah, not much setting up to do with Betsy, but I hate being rushed as darkness falls.

Alrighty then. Pull the AstroSystems cover off the scope, open up the eyepiece box, fire up the laptop running SkyTools 3, find the dadgum reticle eyepiece, and get the Sky Commanders aligned. I’ve said it before, but I will say it again campers, I have never used a digital setting circle rig as good as—or even close to as good—as the Sky Commanders. They simply do not miss. Even better for lazy old Unk, they are incredibly easy to align compared to Tangent-based systems. No leveling of the tube or warp factors or any foolishness like that. You align on two stars (I used Polaris and Fomalhaut on this night) and you are slap good to go.

Once Fomalhaut had been centered and accepted, I selected the Messier catalog, used the cursor keys to set in “13,” and moved Betsy until the altitude and azimuth readouts reached zero. Took a peep and, yep, there was the big glob shining in the gloaming. Just about smack in the center of the eyepiece, despite the fact that that eyepiece was my narrow-field 12mm Meade illuminated reticle job. Before trotting over to the EZ-Up to retrieve a more fitting ocular, I thought I’d better do something about the dew.

Despite the fact that the Sun was barely down, Yoda’s steel tube already had a light film of moisture. If you live and observe down here, you are naturally prepared to deal with the wet stuff, and I did so by connecting a 9-volt battery to Betsy’s AstroSystems secondary heater. This is turned up to the max, and one battery will barely last the whole night, but without the heater running full tilt, there will be run-ending dew on the secondary mirror before midnight. I suppose I could rig a 12-volt power supply for the heater, but one of the joys of using Betsy is not having to worry about big batteries. I don’t mind expending one 9-volter per run for the heater, and the 9-volt cell that powers the Sky Commander will last for a bunch of nights.

Hokay, all set, time for a better eyepiece. Somewhat better, anyway. I was interested to see how my el cheapo Zhumell 16-mm 100 degree ocular would work. I’d done a little playing with it at the club dark site back in The Swamp, but not enough to give it a fair trial. Still on M13, I inserted it in the focuser and had a look: “Not that bad, really not that bad at all.” In f/4.8 Betsy, the field was pretty good fairly far out to the edge. Yes, the stars in the last 25% grew to look progressively more like comets, but I spend my time staring at what’s centered, not what’s on the edge. Focused on the King of the Northern Globs, I really didn’t notice the less than perfect edge-stars. I just saw a crisp contrasty image surrounded by an incredibly expansive field circle.

As real dark came on, I was reacquainted with just how well a good 12-inch Dob will do under dark skies. While there was a humidity-enhanced light dome from the little town of Clinton and a less perceptible one from Baton Rouge, the skies were considerably better than magnitude 6 at the zenith, and M13 really strutted its stuff. At astronomical twilight, the cluster became that cliché of deep sky observers, “diamond dust on velvet,” and the little nearby galaxy, NGC 6207, began to take on real form and substance.

Yeah, the dew was heavy and just got heavier, but I did not let that stop me. I began the evening looking at my “best of the best” of the Herschel list, starting with M31 and M110 and M32. The monster galaxy and its companions were amazing, if not quite as amazing as they were one special night down Chiefland way a few annums back. Two dark lanes were easily on view, the big spiral’s nucleus was a tiny burning pinpoint, satellite M110 was huge, and the cluster of giant stars in one of M31’s arms, NGC 206, was not the challenge it usually is for me. I reckon I stared at Andromeda for at least half an hour. And that was what this star party was all about for me, leisurely contemplation of wonders, not a race to get as many hard ones as I could.

Not that I didn’t do any Herschel work. I set aside a block of time Wednesday night to do some H-400 sketching. In addition to NGC 206/M31 shown here, I essayed drawings of M76 (Little Dumbell), NGC 7009 (Saturn Nebula), and NGC 6826 (Blinking Planetary). Even if I hadn’t wanted to do some deep sky drawings for The Herschel Project Phase II, I would have done some sketching anyway. I find I enjoy visual observing much more if I know I will have something to take home at the end of the run. Not having a video or CCD image to admire afterwards had made me almost stop observing visually, but sketching has brought my eyeballs back to the eyepiece.

Round midnight, I took a deep breath, downed a Monster energy drink, gobbled a Jack Links Beef Stick, and considered the “what next?” How about the California Nebula? I got Yoda cranking with the h-beta filter and a 20mm Orion Expanse wide field 1.25-inch eyepiece. I looked and looked and looked, but nary a trace of the big red cloud did I see. Oh, I sorta convinced myself I spied a hint of the cloud, but that was not what this quest was about. Unless I saw it starkly in my eyepiece, I was not going to put it in the “seen” column.

I played around with Yoda for a little while after that and had a great time. Double Cluster? Magnificent. M37? Astounding. M42? Ain’t nothing like seeing the whole sword in a richest field telescope. By the time Orion was high enough to allow me to see that sword, I was amazed to find my watch creeping on toward two in the cotton-picking a.m. And suddenly weariness set in. I could have grabbed another Monster, but I decided it was best to get a little rest so I’d be fresh for Thursday evening. The combination of getting up early for the drive and not getting to bed early enough because I got caught up in the pea-picking Presidential election coverage meant I was ready to pull that accursed Big Switch.

Sky Commander and secondary heater turned off and Betsy covered, I put the laptop in its case and trotted back to the lodge. What a joy to have a nice warm room within walking distance. Hooked up the laptop, inserted a DVD of Apollo 13, poured out a generous portion of the sainted Yell, and was soon relaxing in grand fashion. For a little while. It was not long before Unk’s peepers began to close and he knew nothing more till well after dawn Thursday.

Since your old Uncle normally rises at 4:30 every freaking a.m., it’s hard for him to sleep late, even on a star party holiday. Guess I must have been tireder than I thought, though, ‘cause I was just barely able to get myself out of bed in time for breakfast at 9:30. If supper Wednesday was a dud, breakfast Thursday was an uptick. It wasn’t fancy—eggs, grits, sausage, biscuits—but it was a real good southern breakfast. Afterwards I felt raring to go for a day at the star party and the night that would follow.

Walking down to the field to uncover Betsy and let her dry out in the sun after the incredibly heavy dew the night before, I was in heaven. The sky was an uber clear, crisp blue with a hint of not just fall but winter in the air. There was little doubt the night would be a good one.

How did I fill the hours till supper? Strolled around the rapidly filling observing field getting reacquainted with fellow amateurs I hadn’t seen in a couple of years and admiring their gear. No real big guns this time, but several large dobs were on the field nevertheless. Was there a telescope trend in evidence? Couldn’t see one. The field’s telescopes seemed evenly divided among SCTs—including a couple of big ones—fancy-dan refractors, and Dobbies. There were even a few nicely preserved moldie oldies including a Meade DS-10 and a 6-inch RV-6 that had been converted into a Dob (and which had had its tube painted Celestron orange).

After a few turns around the field and an hour or so sitting under the tailgating canopy with D., I went back to the lodge for a nap before the raffle at 3 o’clock. Again, I didn’t win a consarned thing even though my good luck charm, Miss Dorothy, was the ticket puller.

Supper done, it was time for the curtain to go up on the great sky show. I aligned Betsy’s Sky Commanders, but she got something of the short shrift on this evening. I devoted most of my time to watching my former student and current Possum Swamp Astronomical Society Vice President, Jon Ellard, take some excellent images with his beautiful William Optics ED refractor and DSLR, and scanning the deep black skies with Yoda.

What was the most amazing thing I saw with the little feller? Probably the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. With the 20mm Expanse or the 16mm Uwan ultra-wide field, the StarBlast’s field is just barely big enough to cram in both the east and west loops of nebula. It was cool to see both parts of the Veil in the eyepiece at once. What was more amazing, maybe, was seeing the dimmer patch in the middle, Pickering’s Triangle, not just visible but looking like more than just a dim smudge. Yeah, I used an OIII filter, but that is still purty good for a cheap little 4-inch Newt.

The object for the night, however, the target for the night, would be The California Nebula, NGC 1499. At 2.5-degrees in length, this thing is way too big for even Yoda’s generous field of view, but I figured he’d take in the whole width of the thing, about .5-degrees, and put enough dark space in the field for me to make it out. Filter? The h-beta would be de rigueur for this faint, red nebula.  The California, which shines strongly in the light of glowing hydrogen, is one of the few objects other than the Horsehead the h-beta filter works on.

Hokay. Position Yoda in the general area, right there alongside Menkib, Xi Persei, and start scanning. I looked for a while and didn’t see nuttin’ honey. I wasn’t ready to give up though. Walked over to the EZ-Up for the dark cloth I drape over my head when chasing the dimmest of the dim. Once your eyes are fully dark adapted, you’ll find there is a surprising amount of ambient light on the average star party field. It is essential to keep this light from entering the eye lens end of your eyepiece, hitting the h-beta, and flooding the ocular with dim light.

Took a deep breath, did one more north-south pan—the AZ-4 made it incredibly easy to slew around. And there it was. Once I spotted the nebula, it wasn’t even that hard, a nice broad stripe of gray running across my field. I slewed off and back on a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself, and then I celebrated with a Monster. Finally bagging The California after all these years put a smile on your Uncle’s face that lasted the rest of the night, you betcha. That left only one more big challenge.

While I’ve spotted the Horsehead in my C11 (barely) and convincingly in other folks’ instruments (including a very nice Discovery 15-inch truss tuber on the field next to me on this evening), I wanted a good look at it with Betsy, but I didn’t think this would be the night for it. I didn’t feel up to straining for yet another killer. Given the weather reports I figured Horsey would wait till Friday.

I switched over to Betsy for the last hour or three. I didn’t go after the super-dim with her, but neither did I lollygag on the Messiers. What I did was run through some of the Kepple-Sanner picks from their Night Sky Observer's Guide. No, Unk did not have that prized and wonderful book (our copy was autographed by the authors at the 2001 Texas Star Party) out in the heavy dew of the DSRSG field. I just used SkyTools 3. The NSOG objects have been made into ST3 lists, constellation by constellation. While you don’t have Kepple and Sanner’s wonderful notes and descriptions, that’s a small price to pay for not winding up with damp and soggy pages.

I toured the wonders of the northern sky in Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Perseus, seeing not just copious and beautiful open clusters and galaxies (there are plenty even in the starry reaches of the north), but some fascinating nebulae I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. Including good, old Pac Man, NGC 281, who was amazingly bold and detailed in the 16mm Zhumell aided by my 2-inch Thousand Oaks OIII.

A glance at SkyTools’ display showed the time was, almost unbelievably, creeping on to 3 a.m. The question then became, “To Monster or Not to Monster?” In the end, I decided it was near about Big Switch time. I’d seen plenty, achieved my major goal for the star party, and was beginning to feel chilled in the dew-heavy darkness. Also, Betsy’s dew-heater battery had finally given up the ghost, and I didn’t feel like hunting up another one. To top it all off, a few clouds had begun flowing in from the south. It was back to the lodge for a little Yell, a little snacking, and some TV courtesy of a DVD (a very silly UFO documentary I scored in WallyWorld).

A look at the sky after breakfast Friday morning revealed patchy though not threatening clouds sailing across the still mostly blue skies. Looked like Friday might be “unsettled,” but I still figgered we would get plenty of viewing in before all was said and done. After lunch, it was back to the field to await the arrival of Pat Rochford, who brought a newly constructed 16-inch Dobsonian with him.

What Pat did when he designed this scope was take a cue from the Obsession Ultralights. The Dob Pat wound up with, which is equipped with an amazingly good Meade primary from an old StarFinder, will easily ride in the trunk of his Saturn Ion. And it is attractive, too, looking more like a piece of modern sculpture than a telescope. 

After Pat got his scope set up and had done a little fine tuning of Betsy’s azimuth motion for me (it was  a wee bit too hard for my tastes), it was door prize time. Given what had transpired the previous two afternoons and my usual “luck,” you could have knocked me over with a feather when Barry called out “ROD MOLLISE”! What I got was a nice pair of Celestron 10x50s. I can always use another set of these ubiquitous astro-glasses, and I was very pleased to find Celestron has substantially improved both the optics and mechanics of their binocs in the dozen years or so since Miss Dorothy won our last pair of Celestron 10x50s at Deep South.

After the excitement of the drawing, Pat and I took a stroll around the field, and soon ran across Jack Huerkamp and his LX-80. Most of us have heard various stories about Meade’s new iOptron-like alt-az/equatorial mount, with many of the posts on the Cloudy Nights indicating the thing is a disaster. I generally take most of what I read on the Internets with a grain of salt, but was afraid the smoke might mean fire this time. So I was anxious to see what was what when Jack, who many of you know in his role as U.S. seller of the Mallincam, got the mount going.

Frankly, both Pat and I were a little taken aback at the fairly large amount of play in the LX-80’s azimuth axis. Push on Jack’s C9.25’s rear cell with a finger and the mount moved easily in azimuth. Only a test under the stars would condemn or vindicate the thing, though. I was at least impressed by the appearance of the mount, which is pretty and robust-looking. I was not impressed, however, that Jack had had to have a new tripod head fabricated (by a machinist). Several users have had Meade’s poorly designed and cast head break where the tripod legs are attached, resulting in disaster or near disaster for their telescopes. The custom head was sturdy and attractive, but, dadgummit, you shouldn’t have to do that with a brand new mount.

What's a star party without stuff to buy? While I miss having Rex and Rex's Astrostuff with us in these latter days, we were not vendorless; Astrogizmos was there. While this outfit focuses on, yep, "gizmos"red lights, batteries, scope covers, stuff like thatin some ways if there is only one dealer on site at a star party I am happy to see it is them. After all, it ain't that likely I'm gonna buy a new Ethos on the spur of the moment, but I probably will need some batteries or a red light. Miss D. and I enjoyed browsing the wares and wound up with a scope cover for Yoda, some red film for Unk's iPhone, and a set of constellation playing cards Dorothy fancied.

Friday night we were occasionally troubled by clouds, but not too bad. I divided my time equally between Betsy and Yoda, but took some looks through Pat’s baby. In addition to wanting to give the big scope a try, I wanted to determine whether Unk should think about upgrading to a 16-inch someday. The answer, I think, is “no.” The Veil Nebula, for example, was beautiful in the 16-inch. But it looked almost as bright and every bit as detailed in Betsy. And Betsy and I have such a long history together over nearly twenty years that I don’t think I could bear to sell her or stop using her. Following Pat’s mods, I can carry Bets around easily enough again, so I think me and the old gal are just gonna keep on trucking.

Best object of the evening? Had to be that Veil again. The eastern half, NGC 6992, The Bridal Veil, stretched on forever with its filigreed swirls, and the Western half, NGC 6960, the Witch’s Broom was as good as I’d ever seen it. Not just the “handle” crossing 52 Cygni, but the “straw” end, too.

After viewing that giant supernova remnant for a good long time, I thought I’d see how Mr. Huerkamp and his LX-80 were doing. Verdict? In alt-azimuth mode, the C9.25 was more than steady enough for visual use. No, it was not the Rock of Gibraltar, but neither was it much, if any, worse than what I would expect from any mount in this size range. Go-to was accurate and the Audiostar was kinda cool. Basically I liked both the looks and function of the mount. B-U-T…

A couple of caveats: Meade’s assertion that this mount will handle from 40 to 70 pounds depending on configuration is laughably optimistic. The C9.25 was fine visually in either alt-az or polar mode, but the mount would have been happier with a C8. I put its payload capacity as similar to a CG5. Also, I am unwilling to give the 80 a clean bill of health even for these payloads without testing one with the stock tripod head. I was also not overly impressed with polar mode. Jack set the mount up GEM style the following evening, and, while OK for visual, it was definitely shakier. I am not at all sanguine about its ability to do imaging, either, even relatively short exposures with a Mallincam. Jack will be testing the mount with one of his cameras shortly, and I will be interested to hear his results.

The big deal for me on this night was The Nasty Nag, the Horsehead Nebula, B33. I was pretty sure it would be tonight or not at all for it, since weather would move in Saturday, it looked like. When Orion was finally up and at least approaching the Meridian, I went after the Monstrous Mare with Betsy and a 22mm Panoptic and the h-beta filter. I knew from years of sometimes bitter experience exactly where to look and I knew to cover my head with a black cloth and to sit and relax and stare for a long time.

Which is just what I did, and at first saw exactly zero, zip, zilch. But, as the old hunter crept higher, I began to make out the Horse’s bright background, IC 434, till it eventually became almost easy. Another half hour or so, and B33 itself began to wink in and out, eventually getting to the point where it was easy enough to hold steady, at least with averted vision. As I continued to look it got darker and darker, and, finally, just before my poor eyeball began to bleed, started to hint at details beyond a mere dark kidney-bean shaped intrusion into IC434. WHEEW!

I don’t know how long Pat and Jon and I kept on keeping on Friday, night, but it was a goodly while, and by the time Orion rose and we’d had some good looks at it, our fellow observers had mostly deserted the field. Pat headed off to his quarters in the group cabins, and I moved on down the road to the lodge for the usual ration of Yell and DVDs. I even did a little cruising of the Cloudy Nights bulletin boards before turning in. I reckon I was the only person on the Internet in the wee hours, and Feliciana’s pitiful bandwidth was good enough to let me do a bit of surfing.

Saturday’s dawn brought the last day of DSRSG XXX and, dang, more clouds. What little I could glean from the Internet when I could get on, or from my iPhone when I could get a connection to a distant cell tower, indicated the clouds were in advance of a front that would bring rain to the Gulf area Sunday-Monday. But it looked like we might get a few hours on this night, till nine or shortly after. The Plan, then? Hang out on the field with buddies, most of whom I wouldn’t see again for another year, and look at Messiers and other purties.

The big event of Saturday afternoon was, again, the final prize giveaway, and this would be the BIG giveaway. Oh how I wished my name would be pulled for the lovely Explore Scientific 127 refractor—ES was VERY generous with prize donations…THANKS, SCOTT! Naturally I didn’t win it. Neither did Dorothy or Jon or Pat. Pat did get a nice little camera tripod, and another of our longtime PSAS buddies, Greg Thompson, won a cool Orion auto-guiding outfit.

Following the best meal of the Gaze, which featured two of Unk’s favo-right items, brisket and pecan pie, it was time to wrap up another DSRSG with whatever observing we could get in. Actually, it went well at first. No, the sky was not as transparent as it had been Friday, but at times it was right good.

What wasn’t so good was the constant hollering by a few attendees, who I reckon had been lapping up the sauce a little too heavily. The loud fake laughter and screaming and other foolishness wasn’t very funny after the first two minutes or so, but went on all fracking night long. Hey, y’all know me, I am all for a nip or three. But not on the observing field, not if you are going to spoil the evening for your fellow observers. I have no doubt Mr. Simon will nip this in the bud right quick and that it will not recur next year.

As I’d resolved, I didn’t strain for faint fuzzies, just visited faves from DSRSGs past. Like M33, which had put on such a show for Miss Dorothy’s (and Old Betsy's) first Deep South in ’94, and good old M74—who didn’t look half bad despite his moniker “The Phantom Galaxy.” Surprisingly, the Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888, which can occasionally give even a 12-inch fits, was almost as prominent as it was one very special night in 2009. Not only was its skinny nebulous loop bold in the 16mm – OIII combo, I began to catch hints of the haze between the crescent’s horns.

Until around ten, the sky was actually better than I’d thought it would be, and a fellow DSRSGer with a sky quality meter pronounced it almost as good as it had been Friday—when the clouds and haze would temporarily move off, anyway. Not unexpectedly, though, as midnight approached those times became fewer. As long as we stayed on the field, we were never completely socked in, but by the time M42 was high enough to bother with, it was close. Pat and I took our traditional look at the Great Cloud, which looked just super in the 16, and called it, walking down the road to our accommodations under winter stars just as we’d done at so many DSRSGs back in the 1990s.

All that was left was DVD watching, Yell sipping, and packing in the a.m. I hate departure morning at the end of a star party, but this time it wasn’t so bad. Partially because I knew I only faced a three hour drive home to The Swamp instead of the six hours from Chiefland. I also never feel quite as wistful leaving DSRSG as I do leaving CAV. Maybe because I've been doing Deep South so long that it is a normal fixture of my life, and I just assume will go on forever. I sure hope it does. I’ve been to most of the big ones, muchachos, but I will say there is not a star party I love better—or as much as—good ol’ Deep South.


Deep South XXX was one of the last of the DSRSGs where everything--including weather--came together for me. The problems the Feliciana Retreat Center facility would face in just a few years were heralded by that dried up baked chicken we had the first night.

But in 2012  I was blissfully unaware of all the change that was on the horizon and would begin in a little over two years. At the time I wrote this, I was still a full-time engineer, still living at Chaos Manor South, and still lugging around a C11. A lot of things were to change over the next few annums, but one thing didn't:  my love for SCTs. I am still Mr. SCT even though I practice that with an humble 8-inch Edge 800 in these latter days.

I still think that for general use the Schmidt Cassegrain is the absolute best. Yes, I use my 10-inch GSO Dob a lot (well, I did before my recent accident, anyway), but goto and tracking is not to be sneezed at even for visual work. Yes, there is no after the SCT for me.

Interesting detailed report from DSRSG, Ucle Rod, worthy of the double-feature you owed us. Congratulations are in order not only on winning the raffle, but in particular on bagging the Horsehead and California Nebula.

Thinking about it, the latter might actually be my favorite object for a short-focus 4”. It was first shown to me through a fellow observer’s Stellarvue on the top of Spruce Knob, and later I kept returning to it with my old f/5.5 Televue from Cherry Springs. It does require dark skies, but a 4” with h-beta will show not only the detailed and sharp “geographical” outline but also some of the interior mottling.

Incidentally, the 16” that practically lives in the trunk of my smallish (by American standards) car is a very slightly more minimalistic version of your friend’s. A talented Ohio ATMer who observes from Cherry Springs passed it down to me for a reasonable fee when moving on to his 20” project.

Thanks for another great report. Are you sure you're a Yell man? That looked an awful lot like a Crown Royal bag on Betsy's secondary ;-)

--Robert Harris
Hi Rod,

A wonderful report. Cool to see you doing some sketching. I'm trying to find a good balance myself between Mallincam usage and visual. What keeps nagging me in the back of my head is that while I've captured an image of an object with the MCX, I don't feel like I've seen (or perhaps better phrased, experienced it, unless I do it visually, even if it is a barely perceptible smudge.

I've love for you to write a blog post on balancing video and visual and what both mean to you sometime and how that has changed over the years.

--Michael in Texas
God bless your indelible soul, brudda.
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