North York Astronomical Association holds an annual “Starfest” each August for Astronomers to enjoy an extended weekend of dark skies and networking with other enthusiasts. This was my first year attending after getting an invite from a member of Ottawa Astronomy Community.
I set-up (the “small” scope on the right of the photo beside Eric LeMay of DeepSpacePhotography.com an experienced astrophotographer.
So without further ado, I packed up every piece of astronomy equipment I owned (with the exception of the observatory itself – more on that below in the lesson’s learned). The temperatures at Starfest varied wildly at night, dropping down as cold as 6°C one night and around 12-16°C the other three nights. This generated a lot of dew for the telescopes and more than once when pointing towards zenith I had quite a bit of dew on the scope(s), I’ll have to investigate the condition of my dew straps and heater.
First night represented a very short astronomical night, and after a full day of packing and driving and set-up I was pretty tired. I managed to get a test Image of the Heart and Soul Nebula, but I plan to revisit it at the North Shore Observatory this fall:
While I had some issues with getting my set-up running I did end up with 2 nights of solid imaging (despite the 12-2am moon rises which cut the nights a bit short). My main imaging goal for StarFest was the Trifid Nebula, a southern summer target that I liked the look of but never captured before, I was super happy to get this elusive nebula:
My initial goal was to try to capture the Trifid with the William Optics’ RedCat 51 and when framing realized I could go even lower and also capture the Lagoon Nebula.
Next I pointed at Cygnus Constellation, I wasn’t really aiming at anything in particular, just pointing the scope up at Zenith to try to get the highest quality sky conditions as the site has a lot of light pollution near the horizons (N, W, SW, S, SE):
I swapped over the the EdgeHD, I’ll admit I had some in-field issues getting it to operate correctly. I did get a 48mm T-Adapter from Ontario Telescope so one night was lost getting the OAG realigned and focused again. Something I could do in 10 minutes took over 2 hours because I kept the computer in a shelter and had to walk back and forth to the scope (grumble but that’s life). I also picked a faint object to image, IC 10 which is Mag 10, by far my darkest target to date.
Besides the observing and camping there were a few other activities occurring around the camp. A tent had been setup for astronomy related talks.
And there was a vendor section with a few suppliers on location selling the latest and greatest in astro-gear. I ended purchasing a 48mm t-adapter for Nikon, I know… big spender.
And finally there was a food truck for when you got hungry at 1 am. It served the basic hamburgers and fries as well as a few muffins etc for breakfast.
There was also swap tables setup Saturday morning for those on the prowl for a deal or to get rid of some older unwanted gear.
It was a great event but as it was my first time attending I learnt some tricks for next year which will improve the experience. I’m an avid camper but the astronomy side of the event did require some additional tweaking from my normal modus operandi.
- Dim Red Lights Only – The majority of attendees are visual observers (with is typical of the hobby) and there is a strict moratorium on red light, even a bright red light will incur jeers.
- Don’t Expect an All Night Party – I found most people had gone to bed by 1-2am and the camp was pretty quiet all the time. If I wasn’t imaging nothing would of been happening past 3am.
- Bring only 1 setup with you – While bringing both my small setup (Redcat + Zenithstar) and EdgeHD sounded like a good idea, it wasn’t and lead to loosing two nights working out the bugs when switching over systems.
- Everyone has huge tents – I swear I had the smallest tent on the field, while this has some positives it also meant that by 9am it was too hot to sleep in which meant afternoon naps were a no-go.
- There is a Photo Contest and the Prizes are Amazing – I wasn’t aware there was a photo contest, and while my chance of winning a category was unlikely it would of been nice to enter and give it a shot.
- Weather can be inclement – The night before I showed up there was a massive rain/wind storm that ravaged the campground and several early arrivals got stuck in it and a few failed to adequately secure their tents and shelters.