Oregon Star Party 2007
This was my 14th consecutive OSP. My work schedule strongly favors staying over Sunday evening and arriving no earlier than Thursday, while the trend at OSP has been for earlier arrivals. This year, the weather did not work in my favor. Thursday morning was supposed to be partly cloudy, but it was all clear as I pulled out of my driveway in Chiloquin at 6:30am. I planned to stop at the Tumalo Falls area west of Bend for some hiking and waterfall photography. Generally, waterfalls are easier to photograph on overcast days when the contrasts are not as harsh and slow shutter speeds for smooth water blur are more easily attainable. But, I made do with the clear skies.

Clear conditions prevailed as I pulled into OSP late in the afternoon. I enjoyed "Dark Ranger" Kevin Poe's talk on light pollution and the National Park Service. It reminded me of John Dobson's encounter with park staff at Crater Lake years ago. There was apparently some disagreement over whether Dobson could set up his scopes for public viewing. One of the authorities told him: "The sky is not part of the park." Dobson's response: "No, the park is part of the sky!"

Thursday night/Friday morning (August 16/17)

Thursday night was clear all the way through and pretty good. My best limiting magnitude count yielded 7.2, although I didn't do it until 2 in the morning and it may have been reduced due to fatigue. Maybe I shouldn't have spent all those hours hiking earlier in the day... Seeing wasn't that great on Jupiter, although it was nice to see Europa emerging from eclipse. The wind, while generally not destructive during the day, was a bit annoying at night and kept blowing later than usual. I enjoyed my best eyepiece view yet of the ISS during its early evening pass. I tracked it with a 7mm Nagler in my 10" Dob (165x). The central portion was a very brilliant white with angular edges, connected to the huge golden solar panels on 2 sides. It looked like home plate with the batter's boxes on each side! I remember often catching just a rather vague T-shape in years past. I couldn't make out Endeavour docked to it, however: the angle probably wasn't right.

Another early target was Supernova 2007gi in galaxy NGC 4036 in Ursa Major. The supernova was relatively bright and easy at 13th magnitude, looking like a second nucleus in the galaxy.

I decided I wasn't up to the "Messier's Revenge" list, particularly after failing to find the faint galaxy IC 4278 near the Whirlpool. Although I had seen most or all of the objects on the "Sky All Night" list before, I felt like I needed some direction to my observing for the night. I knocked off 9 of the 20 required objects on the first night. Of these, the most interesting was NGC 6907, a spiral galaxy in Capricornus I don't recall observing before. Here are my notes:

NGC 6907 Spiral Galaxy in Capricornus
Observed in 10" @ 165x. 2007 August 17; 8:05 UT.
At first glance, NGC 6907 has a disappointingly low surface brightness. It is a 2.5' x 1.5' oval, elongated NE-SW with a slightly brighter nonstellar core. NE of the core is a vaguely crescent-shaped patch that is brighter in the center and extends northward, perpendicular to the main axis of elongation. See sketch below.
My other objects for the night were NGC 5322 (an elliptical galaxy in Ursa Major), NGC 6207 (the little spiral near M13), NGC 6210 (a small planetary nebula in Hercules), M56 (the globular cluster in Lyra), NGC 6781 (planetary nebula in Aquila), NGC 7606 (spiral galaxy in Aquarius), Uranus and Neptune. By 2am, I was getting pretty foggy, so I packed it in. I set an alarm for 4am, but when I woke up I was still disoriented so I decided more sleep would do me good.

Sky All Night Log Page 1
Sky All Night Log Page 2
Sky All Night Log Page 3

Friday night/Saturday Morning (August 17/18)

Friday night looked very promising. There were a few clouds visible to the west, and a bit of smoke around the horizons (isn't there always?). The wind blew a bit again, and the seeing was pretty atrocious for the first part of the night. I watched as Io was occulted by Jupiter (one of the Sky All Night objects), and observed several of the wide double/multiple stars on the list (Xi Bootis, 70 Ophiuchi, 95 Herculis and 16/17 Draconis). I missed dim globular cluster NGC 4147 in Coma Berenices, buried in the receding twilight glow and poor transparency of the NW horizon. As a bonus, I did pick out globular cluster NGC 6541 in Corona Australis, always a difficult object from the OSP site at declination -43.7 degrees. I think there should be a "Southern Sky Graze" list next year. Back to the Sky All Night list, my remaining objects for the night were NGC 5053 (globular cluster in Coma Berenices), NGC 6544 (globular cluster in Sagittarius near M8), Barnard 92 (dark nebula in M24 in Sagittarius), NGC 1502 (open cluster in Camelopardalis), NGC 1501 (planetary nebula in Camelopardalis), NGC 1528 (open cluster in Perseus), and NGC 1931 (emission nebula in Auriga).

Limiting magnitude-wise, the night was one of the best I've ever seen for overhead transparency. At 11:55pm, I did a count in Lyra that yielded a limiting magnitude of 7.4, and at 2:30am my count in Pegasus rounded up to 7.5. Saturday night in 1999 was still better. As far as limiting magnitude in the 10" Dob, I was only able to get down to magnitude 15.7, the same as I get from my yard on the best nights and far short of my best ever. I think the seeing had a lot to do with it. I wasn't able to see the central star of M57 in the Dob, although I didn't make an extended effort. Transparency was very good toward the southern horizon, and I enjoyed the southern galaxies NGC 7793, NGC 55 and NGC 247 as well as the perennial favorite NGC 253. I was a bit too tired to attempt full sketches, and hoped the weather would hold for more observations. I made it over to Dan Gray's 28" scope for a view of NGC 6543 (the Cat's Eye) and the NGC 5981/2/5 trio, and got a 3D-like experience of M31's dust lanes through a binoviewer on Mike Powers' 18" Dob. I hoped to get some more peeks through other scopes on the remaining nights.

The seeing did settle down a bit after 3:30am, and I turned to the tiny disc of Mars. There really wasn't that much detail visible. Comparing an image to a photographic rendering after the fact, it looks like I caught a very vague Mare Sirenum and part of Mare Cimmerium, as well as a small dark albedo feature in the northern hemisphere. Most of the round limb was bright and hazy, especially near the poles. Not the most exciting view or sketch of Mars (thinking back to OSP 2003), but here it is:
Sky All Night Log Page 4
Sky All Night Log Page 5
Sky All Night Log Page 6

Well, that was it. No observing on Saturday night, which culminated in rain on Sunday morning. Three members of the GAMA observing group from Argentina were visiting Oregon, and with the help of the Nomad ISP truck on site we eventually established a video chat connection with the rest of their group back home. The cloudy skies were a bit of a blessing for this exercise, as they allowed the use of white lights for webcam lighting.

Sunday morning was a downpour. All the forecasts I had heard called for poor conditions during the day. I drove down toward the North Fork of the Crooked River. Now I've done it, and I don't need to do it again... The rain let up, but skies were still cloudy and moist. I visited the Painted Hills, but I was hit by more rain there so I didn't do much hiking. When I made it back to Ochoco Reservoir at around 1pm I saw the first clear patches. I considered going back up to OSP, but once I'm down off the mountain it's difficult to go back up. I made the trip back to Bend and the Tumalo Falls area, and checked out one waterfall that I had skipped on the way up. There was a large area of clearing there, but some rain clouds hanging over the higher elevations. There were a couple of beautiful rainbow displays.

On Sunday evening I made my way over to the free campground at Sparks Lake on the Cascade Lakes Highway. Skies remained partly cloudy, but cleared enough for an inspiring pass of the ISS and Endeavour (the shuttle having undocked earlier in the day). Monday morning was overcast as I visited Todd Lake, a nice little brook trout lake just off the beaten path. The rain and wind came in with a vengeance, but didn't keep me from catching my limit while I got soaked through to the bones.

So long to another OSP. I only got in about half the observing time that I had hoped for, but the trip was enjoyable. I get to spend a couple of weeks at a dark site near Chiloquin in September, so if I get some clear skies then (as well as for next week's total lunar eclipse and the September 1 Aurigid meteor shower) I'll call it good.

--Wes Stone
Annual Report by Wes Stone
Be sure to check out my OSP 2007 Photo Companion on Flickr (30 Photos)