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 Post subject: OzSky Star Safari
PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2014 3:20 pm 
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Joined: Mon Mar 10, 2008 6:41 pm
Posts: 53
Location: Los Angeles
Ever been at a dark site where -35 degrees is overhead and every southern object is seen high in the sky?
My wife and I just spent a week at the OzSky Star Safari in Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia(see for info about the 2015 Star Party), and we had, in total, about 3-1/2 clear nights (distributed among 4 nights). The site (Warrumbungles Mountain Motel) is fairly dark, averaging about 21.4 on the SQM every night.
We got to use the scopes set up for the purpose of providing scopes for all attendees: 14" to 30" scopes plus a pair of 12" binoculars (reflectors) and a pair of 6" binoculars (refractors) plus a few personal scopes brought by their owners, including a fine 120mm Takahashi apo. 3-4 TeleVue eyepieces per scope were also provided, and proved very adequate for amazing views.
Nighttime temperatures reached about 14-15C (57-59F) and daytime temperatures about 25C (77F), though it was hotter in Sydney. Humidity was on the wetter side of tolerable and, fortunately, there were hair dryers available to keep the scopes and eyepieces going. At the site, the dobs really should be equipped with heater cords or deep dewshields.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, having Scorpius and Sagittarius overhead was amazing. The portion of the Milky Way that's circumpolar there is brighter and nearer than the portion we get to see all year around. And the Magellanic Clouds are simply full of objects (imagine seeing 4-6 star clusters in one field). Superb southern globulars abounded (including Omega Centauri, 47 Tucanae, and M22, as well as some that would be favorites here in the north if we could ever see them (like the "Starfish" Globular NGC6752 in Pavo). The southern sky has the bluest planetary I've ever seen (in Centaurus)--about the same blueness as Neptune. And seeing NGC5128 in Centaurus overhead was truly incredible. By putting the central area outside the field, you could see that the round central area (crossed by the dark lane) was only about 1/9 of the overall size! All those southern galaxies we see cruising along the southern horizon were high in the sky and filled with amazing details. NGC 1365, for instance, appeared photographic in the 18" I spent most of my time using.
I could make a long list of the objects I saw, but that would be like dangling a carrot in front of the horse that the poor horse never catches. Those of you who have visited the Southern Skies know how special they are.
A lot of very nice people (amateur astronomers) acted as "docents" to show us the sights. I want to personally thank John Bambury for spending so much of his time to show me and my wife the "eye candy" of the southern sky. And I've come away with a lot more appreciation for the Argo Navis Digital Setting Circles computer. It's expensive, but easy to use and loaded with a much larger list of objects than most of the other brands out there. LED screens really are better.
The Southern Skies weren't the only things we saw, either. The organizers of the event planned daytime outings to radio telescopes, optical telescopes (3.9m at Siding Springs), and many local nature and cultural sights. There was plenty to do for the non-observers who came.
Though, even though the Australian dollar is a little less than the US dollar right now, even converting, food, gas and lodging runs about 40-50% more than typical US costs. My friend Wynn, who grew up in Sydney, warned me about that, so I expected it. You can find some less expensive alternatives if you shop in markets and stay in lower-cost motels/hotels.
But, I would say this is an event worth spending your pennies to go to, if you can, because not all northern amateurs have skies that dark, and the southern skies really do put the northern skies to shame. We have M31/32/110 on high, and M81/82 and M33, but that really doesn't make up for the Magellanic Clouds or the Eta Carina Nebula. Even if it's only a once-in-a-lifetime event, this one's the one to plan for.

 Post subject: Re: OzSky Star Safari
PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2014 11:29 am 
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Joined: Tue Mar 18, 2008 6:28 pm
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Location: In search of the ultimate switchbacks and single tracks
Once in a lifetime is okay. My wife and I visited the Grand Canyon several years back, in January. It was part of a shotgun tour of the Vegas region and surrounding geology, which also included The Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon, The Valley of Fire and Death Valley. We only spent 24 hours at the canyon, and the one night we were there was graced with clear skies. I don't recall any particular disenchantment over the chill of the 10ºF air, or the fact that I didn't have access to any optical instruments. What I do recall is the beauty of a sky that absolutely knocked my socks off!

At any rate, your post is big a enough carrot as it is. I know that one day I'll see those wonders. Hopefully I'll remember to buy a Canon 10x42 IS L before the trip. :grin:

Jason® (Admin...and spoke-folk)
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“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ― Albert Einstein

 Post subject: Re: OzSky Star Safari
PostPosted: Wed Apr 09, 2014 4:35 pm 
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Location: Off Grid in Paradise... Mag 7 skies
Sounds great, Don- thanks for sharing! I'm planning on seeing the southern sky a bit more this fall when we visit French Polynesia. But not quite as far south as Australia. And I won't likely have access to large telescopes like you did- that must have been incredible! :cool:

-Erik Wilcox
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