Lockwood Custom Optics at the 2012 Winter Star Party

Visit Chiefland, visit friends, head to the Keys for some superb seeing, visit relatives, swing by Chiefland again

All images and text Copyright Mike Lockwood, 2012.  May not be used without permission.

Having worked long hours in the fall and over the not-so-cold Illinois winter this past season, I wanted to spend longer in Florida in 2012 than I had in my whirlwind tour in 2011.

In fact, last year I wrote "
Overall, this trip was over too soon.  I could have used a few more days to 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......."

Taking my own advice, I did just that and extended my vacation to make up for the nights and weekends that I had been working to get caught up.  I left Tuesday morning, and found a blanket of snow on the fields and some of the roads.  I drove on snow-covered roads very carefully for ~20 miles just southeast of Charleston, IL, and was quite relieved when I finally found clear roads and I could relax a bit.  One long day on Tuesday got me to southern Georgia, and then arrived at the Chiefland Astronomy Village in the early afternoon on Wednesday.  A visit to Tom and Jeannie Clark's place was first on the list, as they were preparing to move to their new place at the New Mexico Astronomy Village.

After 40 years in Florida, the Clarks are looking forward to living in a place that was less humid in the summer, under skies that hold less humidity year-round, and which are closer to the national parks that they love to visit.  At the time of my first visit on the way to WSP, Tom was waiting for the truck to show up to move all of his shop equipment to his new shop building.

The photo below, taken with a fisheye lens, shows Tom and I with his 42" f/4 telescope, which was still assembled pending my visit.  With the mirror needing recoating, Tom asked me to test out the optics to see if they needed a tuneup.  I also insisted on testing the edge support of the mirror cell, and checking the mounted secondary.  Following some brief viewing sessions between clouds, we planned the jouney of the optics and cells to my shop.  John pratte would squeeze the mirror and cell into his van for the return journey, and I would stop by again on the way home to rest up and pick up the secondary mirror and holder.

Tom Clark and I with the 42" telescope

With clouds coming and going, observing was not going to happen, so I decided to photograph Tom's observatory before he moved out of it.  By leaving the shutter open and rotating the dome, its contents could be seen, including Tom standing on his user-friendly rolling observing ladder/staircase, and Dana operating the dome controls.  I was on Tom's 12-foot ladder with the camera clamped to the top on a small tripod.  The shadow of the ladder and some trees is visible on the outside of the dome, and these were created by distant cars driving down one of the roads near CAV.

Tom Clark's Chiefland dome

Tom has sold his house and shop to new owners, seen below on the left.  I almost got everyone to smile at the same time for this photo, in which we have, from left to right, Jonesy, Jenny, Jeannie, and Tom.  Bear, the dog, is wondering what is going on, and who will give him food.

Jonesy, Jenny, Jeanny and Tom

We took a short tour of CAV, but in particular I wanted to see the telescope below, which I had made the optics for a few years ago.  In the photo below Barry, left, and Tom stand and admire Barry's 16" Dream Astrograph.  Also notice just how close the dome is to the roll-off observatory.....

Barry and Tom with Barry's astrograph

Well, it wouldn't be close for long - Barry had a plan.  Some wooden "tracks" were constructed, and the dome was cut free of its old supports and literally rolled to its new location, not far from its old location.  Of course the massive concrete pier could not be moved, and would be duplicated in its new location.  So.... old location.....


.....and below is the new location.

New location

There was even more activity at Chiefland.  Below, Bear the dog says "let's go see what Dana is up to".  Actually Dana's up on the second floor of his beautiful brand-new observatory.  The only things that will improve the photo of the inside of his dome is a cooler full of beer and a nice 28" Starmaster telescope sitting in the middle of it!

Bear the dogDana's dome

In the image below, we see it from the outside, with the future workshop on the right.  Looks like it's almost ready for a grand opening party.  Knowing these guys, there will be plenty of quality beverages at the grand opening.

Dana's new observatory

On Friday I headed over to join John Pratte at Andrew's place, and he had his yearly star party on Saturday night.  He does this because we're always there with our telescopes, ready to head for the Keys on Sunday or Monday.  This year there were some imaging telescopes, as you can see in the image below, and some visual scopes a bit farther from his building.

The hanger at night

A couple of guys were trying to get the fork mount, also seen in the above photo with a couple of small scopes mounted on it for alignment/calibration purposes, to track and goto properly.  They offered beer to the benevolent, yet irritable gods of astroimaging, but the gods were not thirsty or didn't care for that type of beer.  So the guys enjoyed the beers and had some limited success on this partly cloudy night.

An offering of beer

After some nice views through the telescopes and lots of cursing at computers and electronics, the clouds rolled in and we moved the party indoors.

Clouds over the hangar

The next day we drove south, and reached the Keys where we had a nice seafood dinner to celebrate our arrival.  John, Bob (pictured below) and I then enjoyed some tasty beverages at the resort where we stayed, complete with my thermometer for documentation of the temperature and emailing back to the frozen north.  This was the first time I had not stayed on-site, and I enjoyed a bit more sleep than I usually got in previous years.

February warmth

At the star party, you run into all kinds of interesting people, like Tippy D'Auria and Steve O'Meara, who were hanging around before the talks began on Tuesday afternoon.  My talk was at 1pm, and Steve's was right after me.

Tippy D'Auria, left, and Steve O'Meara, right

To capture the feeling of WSP, this year I brought a fisheye lens to get some full-sky images.  The first thing I did was to plop the camera down right in the middle of the driveway to capture the sign, palm trees, and tropical sky overhead.  Orion is visible at right between the two palm trees, and the Beehive cluster is visible at the zenith, in almost exactly the center of the image.

Fisheye shot from WSP driveway

In the next image below we see John Pratte, of JPAstrocraft, observing with his 25" f/4 telescope.  Above him can be seen some blue/purple streaks, which are from Bob Summerfield's laser pointer indicating the Pleiades and the Hyades.  This laser pointer was obviously a very high-powered model, and was the only one allowed at the star party, because Bob was doing a sky show at the time for some of the kids that were attending the star party with their families.  Saturn was stunning in John's scope on one evening after I had gone to sleep, and he said it was the best view he and a few others around had ever seen of the ringed planet.

Observing and a laser pointer

The image below was taken just to get a conspicuous palm tree into an image, and to show brilliant Venus setting in the west, with Jupiter just above it.  Jupiter provided superb views as darkness was falling, and the views were limited only by cooling optics.  Canopus is just visible at the bottom of the image, over the southern horizon.  The infamous radio tower is visible at the top, of course, along with the power poles and lines.

Palm trees and stars

Below, someone observes through the fork-mounted long-focus Newtonian that always seems to be set up down by the water every year at WSP.

Observing on the berm

The owner observes through his 32" scope containing my optics, and stars reflect in the primary mirror in the next image below.  His suspended boundary-layer scrubbing fan can be seen suspended above the primary, cooling the front of the mirror.  The back is also cooled, and this arrangement worked rather well.  This year's star party was warmer and more humid than others that I have experienced, so the mirror didn't have quite as far to cool to get near ambient.  Views through this scope were outstanding, with Mars at ~900x revealing more detail than many observers could recall from any view, and the Ghost of Jupiter filling the eyepiece at ~2600x!  This is exactly why I go to star parties - to share views through big telescopes with good optics.  As a bonus, I don't really have to bring a telescope anymore.

Note the power lines overhead - while well out of reach of the telescopes, they were with reach of the lights of cars passing on US 1 less than a hundred feet away.  While the trees mostly blocked this light, the light traveling down the wires looked almost like meteors, and fooled us a few times before we got used to it.  I began calling them the "Power Lineids".  Others liked it, and so it stuck.

A 32" scope

The observing field is lit by red lights from the attendees, restroom, and the red strobe on the radio/microwave tower that is across US 1 from the camp.  While it appears crowded, there was a bit more room to set up this year.  Many nights were not very transparent, as can be seen in the photo below.  The humidity seemed to improve the seeing (not surprising), and we took advantage by marveling at high-power views of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn on just about every night.  On a few nights the breeze almostly completely stopped just after sunset, and on at least two nights the mosquitoes came out in force to feed on the blood of unprepared astronomers.  It is rare for the wind to stop here, so we scrambled to find the bug repellent and then enjoyed an hour or two of the telescopes not being buffeted by gusts.

Overview of the field

The image below shows Bob observing the jet in M87 through the 32" scope, which I believe was the largest at the event.  Joe, Howie, and others stand in line to glimpse it.  To me, it appeared as a wavering finger of God, going in and out with the seeing, but definitely present and visible.  This was the first time I had seen it, and as my large grinding machine toils away figuring a 1.1-m mirror behind me while I type this, I can only imagine the view of it with even more aperture at my disposal.  Also note the southern cross to the right of the two palm trees, Omega Centauri above the palm tree on the left, and the faint, pinkish glow of the Eta Carina nebula just to the left of John's 25" scope at far right.  Al Nagler's refractor sits on a tripod at bottom right.  He spent lots of time viewing with it, but he couldn't resist breaking away to marvel at the sights in the 32".

Observing the jet in M87

We departed on Saturday, and headed to my uncle's house to relax and enjoy a margarita or two.

I spent another week doing other fun Florida activities, and then headed north on Sunday, just in time to catch a good-bye dinner for the Clarks where they were joined by many long-time friends from Chiefland at a local restaurant.

Dinner celebrating the Clarks

On Monday morning I left Chiefland, and headed for home.  Not really getting tired, I kept driving and finally arrived home at about 1am, ready to get a good night's sleep.

I look forward to my next trip south, but also to a trip southwest to see what Tom Clark's 42" soon-to-be-improved telescope can do under drier New Mexico skies.  (I'll bring some golf clubs, Tom, so I hope the weather is good and your range is open.)

Clear, dark skies, warm weather, good friends, and good seeing.

  -Mike Lockwood, Lockwood Custom Optics

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