Winter Star Party 2003
February 3 - 9, 2003
Warning this page is very large and packed with images from the Winter Star Party, Please be patient while they load

The Winter Star Party was a huge success for me and Astro-Physics. The sky conditions were so good that our scopes reached their true potential on just about anything I have ever observed. These are some of my personal observations, most done with the 10" 14.6 AP Mak-Cass:
SATURN: This planet was razor sharp at almost any power I cared to use. "Refractor-like" took on a new meaning for me because there weren't any refractors of any size (including a 10" Triplet folded APO) that even came close to showing the detail, contrast and color fidelity of this object that we observed with the 10" AP Mak-Cass. Besides the usual ring divisions, I saw not only the Enke minimum routinely, but on Thursday night finally glimpsed the Enke gap as a very fine hairline arc right at the edges of the outer ring at the anses. Several others glimpsed it also during moments of very steady seeing. I believe Alan French confirmed my observation of this feature, and called over Sue to see it. By the time she reached the scope about 10 minutes later, the seeing had deteriorated enough that this ring division had vanished.
JUPITER: Monday wasn't bad, but Thursday was spectacular. Powers of 309x with our new 12mm triplet ocular and even 391x with the Zeiss Abbe Ortho were not really enough to show all there was to see. I was wishing for a good 8mm ocular, but there was a gap in my collection. Nevertheless, Jupiter was outstanding at those powers, and I saw tons of detail that I cannot even begin to describe. However, I was hearing reports of detail on Ganymede in the 12" Tec Mak, so I brought out my 4mm Zeiss Abbe Ortho. Indeed at 927X, this Moon looked like a small planet and did show markings during moments of steady seeing as shown in the sketch to the right. One comment on the seeing down there -.although to me, the seeing was extremely good most of the time, it was never a 10 by Florida standards. It varied between a 6 and 8 with perhaps moments of 9. For myself, with Midwest standards, it was superb, for sure.

DEEP SKY: Mark and I devoted one night to visual deep-sky exploration of southern objects with his Astro-Physics 9.25" FastMax (made as a prototype several years ago) and my 10" F14.6. It was cool to go from object to object near the horizon and see nebular detail so close to the southern pole. At one point, Mark commented that Omega Centauri looked so much brighter in my 10" than it did in his FastMax. He didn't think that 2/3 inch of extra aperture would make that much difference. It turned out to be an illusion - I was using a 16mm Nagler with a very wide 82 degree field, and he was using a Pentax Ortho at similar power, but with only 45 degree field. With this ocular, the globular looked dimmer and constrained in his scope. I lent him my 9mm Nagler, and WOW! what a difference this made to the visual image of this globular. It just jumped out at you with dense stars down into the core and sprays of stars surrounding the cluster. It made a believer of me that there is no one perfect eyepiece for every occasion. There is no such thing as a no-compromise ocular. Rather, there is an ideal ocular for every application.

EYEPIECE TEST: The prototype 12mm Triplet ocular from Aries that I brought along provided the most contrasty planetary views of any ocular that I put up against it. The views using my 2" Maxbright diagonal (recently cleaned) in my 10" AP Mak-Cass (also clean) produced extremely contrasty views of Saturn and Jupiter. In one test, we placed the Triplet Aries in one side of the Baader Binoviewer, and another 12mm Ortho in the other side. In the Ortho, there was a definite glow around Jupiter, which dissipated approximately 2 Jupiter diameters out from the planet. The 12mm Aries Triplet went to black sky at the edge of the planet with no discernible glow at all around the ball of the planet. In all tests, this was the case. Even my very fine Zeiss Abbe Orthos did show slightly less contrast (although it was a very minute difference).

I did not have a chance to compare the new TEC triplet oculars with my own 12mm, but I heard that they also showed exquisite contrast in the 10" AP Mak, as well as in Yuri's 12" Mak-Cass. Yuri and I talked about the reason for the high contrast, and we both believe that it is not so much the coatings, or even the fact there are only 2 air-glass surfaces in the cemented triplet vs. 4 in a separated design, but it probably has to do with the minimal amount of glass between eye and sky. That, and the type of glass chosen to do the bending of the light. All glass scatters light, and it is very important to choose types that minimize scatter. This sometimes precludes you from using glass types that would give a better design on paper, but produces a lesser result in reality. Testing this 12mm ocular under excellent seeing conditions with a really well-made telescope gave me new insight as to just exactly what will be needed to produce a really outstanding set of oculars. Even though it was the best ocular that I had access to, it was not yet as perfect a design as can be achieved. Stay tuned.

CCD IMAGING: WOW! That's all I can say. I have never achieved such tight star images with my 10" Mak as I did on Tuesday night when Trent, Mark and myself concentrated on deep-sky imaging. While conditions for planetary views were not so good, the sky was clear and steady enough to provide some of the most detailed CCD images that I have ever seen. All three scopes were busy gathering photons and making those pixels glow. Stars measured in Maxim at 1.5 arc sec routinely all night long, and I suspect I will find some images with quite a bit smaller size stars. I got detail in the Trapezium that I was not able to achieve up here in Illinois. I shot close ups of the three galaxies in Leo that will be layered on top of Mark's wide field Leo image that he took with the 9.25" FastMax. Trent got some gorgeous shots of the Mice interacting galaxies.

130F6 DOUBLET REFRACTOR: I had this little guy set up on the 400 mount and had a chance to evaluate the performance on deep sky and planets. Faint violet color was visible around the ball of Jupiter, which I expected. It was less apparent on Saturn. Some people commented on the violet halo around Jupiter, others did not see it when the image was in focus. Even though it is a doublet with chromatic aberration, it did not give up anything in detail and contrast on Jupiter to the 130F6 EDF sitting nearby. On deep sky, the color was not an issue. The Orion Nebula with a 9mm Nagler literally sparkled with detail. The hot, bright Trapezium stars looked totally color free in this little doublet. We tried a special color corrector which focused the violet completely, but unfortunately also unfocused the red end of the spectrum a tiny amount. The planets looked better without it. Back to the drawing board on that one. It does show that visual testing and confirmation of any new design is absolutely necessary - you can't always trust a paper design. Everybody loved the carbon-fiber tube. I let Sue French borrow it for a little while and she booked around the sky with it. She said that it was indeed brighter than her Traveler, but the lack of finder scope hindered her deep sky observing, so she went back to her trusty Traveler setup. The scope is a definite maybe in our lineup.

STV TESTING: We set up the STV guider on Trent's 10" F9 Mak-Cass. Nearby was another setup, Ian Turner's 12" RC Optical, also with STV guider. It became quite apparent that productivity is enhanced with this setup because the hunt for guide stars in these long scopes can be frustrating when trying to use only the ST10 guide chip. There was always a guide star available in the STV. Guiding seemed to work well even at 90 inches of focal length using the E-finder. We guided at .5x, 1 to 3 second integrations.

BOTTOM LINE: Enke minima and Enke gap in Saturn's rings, Trapezium stars blown wide apart with 6 always obvious and 7th coming and going (I believe it was the h star(s) outside of the Trapezium), the companion to Sirius very obvious at 309X and 371X, detail on Ganymede, CCD star images measuring less than 1.5 arc sec., good friends to shoot the breeze with all week and excellent seafood at the local restaurants. Many thanks to the Southern Cross Astronomical Society for a very fine star party.
Waiting in line for noon when the grounds open, left to right Alan French, David Toth, Mark Jenkins, Trent Kjell.
All set up and ready; canons aimed skyward. The 9.25" FastMax on a 900GTO, and the 10" F9 Mak-Cass, 10" F14.6 Mak-Cass, 12" RC Optical all on 1200 GTO mounts. David Hanon's 180F9 EDT can be seen peeking out in the background.
Ian Turner getting ready for a night of imaging with his 12.5" Optical Guidance System RC. Ian guides this beauty with an SBIG STV, control box seen hanging on the side of the mount.
Trent plugging in his electrical circuits (a study in electrocution).
Our little lightweight 130 travel scope prototype on the 400 mount
Mark showing off his 9.25" FastMax to Adrian Catterall. Adrian flew in with some friends from England to schmooze and see all the equipment everybody brought.
Markus Ludes (laughing in the background) air freighted in what must have been a ton of equipment. Markus' friend Mathias having fun riding his 10" Folded refractor tube assembly (later it was properly mounted on the equatorial).
That's me next to my 10" Mak-Cass setup
Trent and his 10" F9 Mak-Cass.
Trent talking to Robert Ashton. Long shadows and blue skies mean it's almost time for the night's activities.
Sue French relaxing - life's tough at a star party.
Mark, Trent and Robert Ashton sitting in the shade. Palm trees are no longer there, so we substituted artificial shade from Eckerd's Drug store.
12" RC Optical on 1200 GTO Mount
12" Takahashi Mewlon on 1200 Mount. This setup won first prize in the imaging contest.
10" Truss tube RC. Kendrick's astro tents were everywhere.
Yuri Petrunin of Telescope Engineering Co. with his two partners, at dinner in Big Pine Key, toasting us at the AP table
The AstroFolks were joined by Allister St. Clair and Stephen Russell for dinner in Big Pine. The seafood was excellent.
Also in our group that night was Brian Sledz who flew in for a couple of days of sunshine. (sorry for the blurry photo).
What a great star party. I'll drink to that!
Beth Schultze looking through the Astro-Physics 130 EDFS F6 on a 600GTO mount.You also may notice Sirius in the background. Thank you to Jonathan Sabin for the image.

Astro Images from the Winter Star Party 2003
NGC5128 Centaurus A 10" AP Mak-Cass, 4 exp, 5 min each Core of M42 taken with 10" Mak-Cass Combination of 1 sec, 2 sec and 5 sec exposures, 20 each M100 taken with 10" F14.6 AP Mak-Cass 5 X 5 minute exposures M65 taken with 10" AP F14.6 Mak 5 minute exposure, 9 images stacked, Cropped
M66 with 10" F14.6 AP Mak-Cass 5 min exposure, 10 images stacked NGC2903 taken by Trent Kjell with AP 10"F9 Mak-Cass Antennae Color taken by Trent Kjell with AP 10"F9 Mak-Cass Antennae Color high res Trent Kjell AP 10" F9 Mak-Cass
Antennae interacting Galaxies, taken by Trent Kjell with 10"F9 AP Mak-Cass Sketches by Stephen E Russell Jupiter, Ganymede and Sirius B Sketches of Saturn by Stephen E. Russell at the Winter Star Party NGC3628 of the Leo Trio, 4 exposures, 5 min each AP 10" F14.6 Mak-Cass

Copyright © 2004-2005, Astro-Physics, Inc. - All Rights Reserved
This page was last modified: January 10, 2005

Astro-Physics, Inc.
11250 Forest Hills Road, Machesney Park, IL  61115, U.S.A.
Phone: 815-282-1513   Fax: 815-282-9847