A shuttle launch, my 20" F/3
makes its third journey to the
Keys, and a 32" scope amazes us
images and text Copyright Mike Lockwood, 2011
lot about the Winter Star Party in years past, but this year I think
I'll let the photos do most of the talking.
with a couple of new lenses, we made the long journey to sunny Florida
a bit later this year, thanks to a late Winter Star Party. I
certainly needed the break, having only recently finished up optical
work on a 50" f/2.2 R-C primary, a very involved job that kept me in
the shop during one of the nastiest Illinois winters in recent memory.
all of the crooked politicians in Illinois and a bunch of the cowardly
state legislators that "visited" from two other states can all kiss my
ass - I'm heading to Florida for a couple of weeks, so please try not
to have the state too much more screwed up when I return.
it's my web site, and I can say stuff like this, but maybe that was a
bit of cabin fever talking.)
two days of driving, we headed out to watch the shuttle launch where a
friend had graciously held a parking space for us about 10 miles from
(thanks Grant!). Following a relaxing couple of hours in the
sun, the shuttle somehow went off within its launch window, and we were
treated to a nice show until it disappeared into a recently-arrived
cloud bank about 20 seconds after launch. Oh well, at least
saw, heard and FELT the launch. We were fortunate to see a
two years in a row, and we celebrated with dinner and beer.
this, we headed for Andrew's workshop, where you can always count on
seeing some unique things. This year there were grinding
machines, a coating chamber, and lots of interesting people around for
his yearly pre-WSP mini-star party.
Here, Andrew concentrates on
the task at hand, doing a bit of grinding, and Russ admires a fresh
aluminum coating that was just deposited on a 10" mirror that I made
for him a while back. (Contrary to the comments around the
on that day, the mirror did not break due to his reflection.
people are just unkind.)
Russ then went on to admire John Pratte's beautiful 25" F/4 scope, and
got up close to take a photo of his own.
Sunday we headed for the Keys, where we would spend the night before
WSP opened so that we could be reasonably early in line. As
turned out, this wasn't really necessary, because there was a good
amount of open space when we arrived.
After dinner on Big Pine
Key, we returned to falling darkness at our resort, and out came the
camera. Despite some lights on the property, the sky was
beautiful. My new wide-angle lens got a workout.
nice summary - the winter Milky Way and a palm tree make a nice
combination for those of us from the frozen land of corrupt
politicians. Binoculars were retrieved with haste as we
objects for the star party and enjoyed the nice sea breeze.
my favorite spot was sitting in these chairs, scanning around with the
binoculars, enjoying a very good beer, and calling friends up north and
leaving messages that highlighted the local weather conditions.
tower and red lights are across the road from the WSP site, and the
time exposure turned the reflection into a line marking the way to the
"promised land" of winter astronomy.
next day dawned, still breezy, but beautiful, clear, and sunny.
The humidity was relatively low, and we hoped the next night
would be as good as the previous one. We waited in the line
US 1, enjoying the breeze blowing through the van as we sat by the sea.
Life is hard, we thought.
set up our scopes in the "Valley of the Quality Dobs" behind the
showers/restrooms. This turned out to help shelter us from
winds during the week.
wandered around as Tippy did the customary opening address, snapping a
few photos. A tall Starmaster dominated the field in this
collimation police were out in force, and the captain of the force sat
in the shade of his instrument (below, left). I resisted the
to give one of the collimation knobs on his telescope a random turn.
Maybe next year......
A 32" telescope arrived, containing
a primary and secondary that I had just reworked. Before we
it, it was getting dark, and I brought my camera and tripod over to it.
fell in earnest, and the 32" began to deliver some of the most amazing
views that I have seen through a telescope. Despite some
winds, the showpiece objects revealed themselves in stunning,
overwhelming detail and clarity. The structure in M42 was
indescribable. What stuck with me from this first night was
view of M51, where the "globby" nature of the spiral arms first
appeared to me plain as day, and the view of Saturn at 3am, where we
saw the shading/structures within the rings that many call "spokes".
The color of the planet and rings were vibrant and
by any instrument I've used.
On a later night we went
star-hunting in the Trapezium, and found a total of 10 stars.
owner of the 32" will say much, much more about his observing when he
finishes his own report.
Below is another shot of the 32" and
its owner (left). Next, Al Nagler (right, below) enjoys a
through my 20" F/3. He said:
20 inch f/3 is my favorite big scope. Imagine 20 inches, with
ladder needed (in fact I observed mostly using our "Air-Chair"). It has
the biggest possible true field for its size, with fabulous optical
performance (Saturn showing the crepe ring plus MANY moons with the
SIPS + 3.7 mm Ethos-sx @ 473x). I was happy to get my annual
"Omega-Fix" and I found a NEW benefit to this instrument - STABILITY:
it was virtually the only one operating in the stiff wind we had for
several days. BRAVO, Mike!" - Al Nagler
to the wind, the 32" was moved TWICE, once to the valley, and again
back against some trees, between two camper trailers. This
afforded good shelter from the wind, and allowed viewing up to 1400x.
all the hard work we were doing watching a guy move a 32" scope around
the field, we were tired and decided to venture down to Key West and
enjoy a margarita. We also stopped for the obligatory
tourist photo-op at Mallory Square.
returned, relaxed by the margarita, napped a little bit, and waited for
darkness to fall again. I climbed some stairs to capture a
twilight shot. The lights of passing cars create the
red-orange-yellow trails on the right side of the image, and this
illustrates just how narrow the camp property is. It is truly
narrow "slice" of paradise.
some clouds pestered us, a colorfully-lit tent caught my attention, and
I had to capture it in a photograph, Orion above it, and the distorted
perspective giving the radio tower an interesting "lean".
of the later nights proved to be the clearest, and the haze dropped
down fairly low, revealing Eta Carinae (reddish glow near horizon in
photo below), the bottom star in the Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta
Centauri later on, and the Milky Way hugging the southern horizon.
I decided to frame it with a couple of palm trees just to
northern friends more jealous.
this trip was over too soon. I could have used a few more
unwind after a very busy winter of optical work, so I resolve now to
add those days to next year's trip.
Hell, maybe I'll add another week.......
Clear, dark skies, warm weather, good friends, and good seeing.
Lockwood, Lockwood Custom Optics