Last updated: 21 November 2002

2nd Annual Mighty ETX Star Party

The 2nd Annual Mighty ETX Star Party was 3-6 October 2002 in Southern Illinois. It was held in conjunction with the Sangamon Astronomical Society of Springfield first Illinois Dark Skies Star Party. The site was the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Wildlife Area. This location provided a very nice horizon along with surprisingly dark skies. Thanks to Tony Hopp and all the other officers at the Sangamon Astronomical Society for allowing us to piggyback on their successful star party.

Attendee comments and photos (11/21/02)

Sponsors for this year's Mighty ETX Star Party were Scopetronix and Shutan Camera and Video. They provided door prizes: accessories and two (2) new ETX-90RA telescopes! Congratulations to the six winners and thanks to Jordan Blessing at Scopetronix and Bob Shutan at Shutan Camera and Video for their support.

And thanks to our speakers (most talks were held on Saturday afternoon):

Dr. Clay Sherrod gave a talk on amateur contributions to astronomy. Details are on the Askansas Sky Observatory under "YOUR CONCISE REFERENCE GUIDE TO RESEARCH PROGRAM SOURCES". Dr. Clay also gave a talk on telescope troubleshooting.

Dr. Robert Pasken of the Dept. of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Saint Louis University, talked about downloading and upgrading the Autostar and adding tours. His presentation is here (5.8MB).

James Kalemis gave a talk on his astrophotography experiences using digital cameras. During his talk he provided some useful web sites:

Digital Camera Astrophotography discussion group
Getting Started Guide to Digital Camera Astrophotography (PDF) by Gregory Pruden
A Basic Primer on Astrophotography

I also gave a talk on astrophotography with small telescopes. It concentrated on camera mounting adapters.

Dr. Clay and I jointly talked about Autostar usage.

There was also time for Q&A.

Scott Roberts, a VP at Meade Instruments, made an appearance on Thursday. A few early arrivers were able to talk with him.

And of course, thanks to all the attendees. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of you and talking with you about the ETX, Autostar, astrophotography, and all the other topics that came up (including some "war stories").

Before going on with my report and some photos, I thought I should mention how my travel with the ETX-90RA went. At Los Angeles International Airport I had to completely unpack the carry-on case with the telescope. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) person at the American Airlines gates had to look inside every pocket in the case. He was friendly, patient, and understanding of my caution at removing items. At Lambert-St. Louis International Airport the case passed through Security without any questions or inspections beyond the X-Ray. I felt that the St. Louis TSA run security checkpoint for American Airlines was well organized and efficient, and not just because they didn't need to see the telescope. They really had their act together.

Attendees who had previously told me that they were going to attend the 2nd Annual Mighty ETX Star Party received a patch to proudly wear or display. As some planned attendees did not show up, there were some extra patches. Some of these were given out at the Star Party. I still have a few left and will sell them for $10 each to those who would like to try to convince their friends that they did attend! When these are gone there will be no more 2002 Mighty ETX Star Party patches available. Contact me via email for details.

Due to the success of both the 2001 and 2002 Mighty ETX star parties, I do plan to hold one in 2003. Oceanside Photo and Telescope has once again offered to be a sponsor (they were one of the sponsors of the 1st Annual Mighty ETX Star Party in 2001). I won't start the planning for it until early in 2003 but it should be somewhere on the East Coast of the United States. Please don't write to me yet about the 2003 star party; I will post a "call for interest" once I have some basic details worked out.

Here's a short report and several photos I took during the Star Party. All of my photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 995 digital camera.

Thursday, 3 October
I arrived at the site early enough to get through the registration and setup at the location for our ETX events. Unfortunately there were clouds at sunset and through most of the night. About 10 of us had time for discussions about the ETX. There were occasional times of clearing which allowed some viewing and training on Autostar usage for the few early arrivers. Everyone gave up on any serious observing about 2330 hours and it began to rain lightly shortly before midnight. I slept in my rental car for a short while (in the hopes that it would clear; it didn't). I then drove back to Springfield, Illinois to my hotel for a couple hours of sleep in a bed and to get my items for Friday's events.

Mighty ETX Star Party
Sunset on Thursday

Friday, 4 October
The morning started out with a heavy downpour for several hours. But when I arrived at the site about 1100 hours there was a nice clearing moving in from the southwest.

The next eight photos taken on show the site clockwise from approximately North. As you can see there was a pretty low horizon.

Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Observing Site.

I managed about 30 minutes of nice solar viewing using my ETX-90RA before the clouds and winds came. At one point the winds were very strong; gusts were 30-40mph with an occasional gust to 60! One tent blew down (a rope broke!). So, what do amateur astronomers do when the winds blow? Well, one (David Birmingham) flies a kite:

Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Kite flying

The afternoon did offer some other nice opportunities. I finally got to meet Dr. Clay Sherrod.

Mighty ETX Star Party
Dr. Clay Sherrod (left), the original Mighty ETX (center), and Mike Weasner (right)

And Dr. Clay was able to perform some of his tune-up magic on Mike Yancey's LX200 telescope.

Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Dr. Clay Sherrod, LX200, and Mike Yancey (red shirt)

Friday evening Dr. Clay and I discussed using the Autostar and answered questions from the attendees.

Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Mighty ETX Star Party
Dr. Clay Sherrod discussing the Autostar and some attendees attentively listening

And then sunset arrived. And beautiful, clear, dark skies.

Mighty ETX Star Party
Sunset on Friday

Unfortunately, there was still a strong breeze so no small telescopes were set up. However, there were several LX200 telescopes on heavy mounts being used for viewing during the night. The sky was really dark and the Milky Way could be seen from Sagittarius on the southern horizon to Perseus in the northeast. A dark lane was visible as well. A really nice view! During the night it would be perfectly clear for 15-30 minutes and then the clouds would come and hang around for another 15 minutes or so. Then it would clear up again. There was one nice two hour period 2300-0100 when it stayed clear. Since it stayed breezy through most of this time I and many others looked through several of the 10" and 12" LX200 telescopes that were nearby. We also enjoyed some tremendous views through a 20" Dobsonian. M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, was a work of art through the 20"! I left the site for my hotel around 0500 Saturday morning.

Saturday, 5 October
Today started out really good. It was clear and we were able to do some solar viewing with the ETX-90RA. Then we started the talks mentioned earlier. Saturday night started out good but the sky seemed to be not quite as dark as it had been Friday night. About midnight high clouds came over and there seemed to be some lightning to the west. It never improved, at least not by the time I left the site at 0300 Sunday morning.

Before it clouded up I did take some wide field astrophotographs using the Nikon Coolpix 995 mounted piggyback on my ETX-90RA mounted on a tripod/wedge combination. The photos were done at a normal lens setting using the Nikon Remote Release Cable. Here are the best ones. Note that these are single frames with only minor editing (adjusting "levels").

Mighty ETX Star Party
Sagittarius - Milky Way - 60 seconds, ISO 800, Noise Reduction On

Mighty ETX Star Party
Aquila - Milky Way - 60 seconds, ISO 800, Noise Reduction On

Mighty ETX Star Party
Cygnus and Lyra - Milky Way - 60 seconds, ISO 800, Noise Reduction On

Here is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. This image is cropped from the normal lens shot.

Mighty ETX Star Party
M31 - 60 seconds, ISO 800, Noise Reduction On

See the report on the First Annual Mighty ETX Star Party held in Southern California, September 2001.

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