has repeated itself. Plans to attend the
2007 Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) in Pennsylvania fell through once
again. This year I monitored weather
forecasts for two other star parties just in case the weather for BFSP
unfavorable. These include the Great
Lakes Star Gaze (held near Gladwin, Michigan) and the Illinois Dark
Party (IDSSP). Ultimately my drive-mates
(Jean DeMott and Rich Mather) and I decided the forecast was best for
Dark Skies Star Party
hosted by the Sangamon Astronomical Society (from Springfield, IL) and
Louis Astronomical Society. It’s held at
the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area (JEPC
which is located 25 miles northwest of Springfield in eastern Cass
County. According to the IDSSP web site, this area
boasts some of Illinois’ darkest skies.
The limiting magnitude at the zenith is estimated to be 5 or 6 and I
attest to the accuracy of that statement.
The sky quality is definitely better than the Kalamazoo Nature
Center (my usual observing spot) but it can’t compare to Cherry
State Park (host of
BFSP) - more on that later.
year’s IDSSP was held from Thursday, September 13th
Sunday, September 16th
. Jean, Rich, and I traveled
about 6 hours in
Rich’s Honda Odyssey mini-van and arrived at JEPC at about 3:00
CDT. We actually got a little lost when we reached
the town of Petersburg, so we got directions at the local tourist
center. The typical Rand McNally road
atlas doesn’t show enough detail of the region to be useful, so I
to create a high
resolution map of the area if you ever attend IDSSP.
seems funny we had difficulty finding JEPC, because it’s pretty
large. The total acreage is 16,550, but the area we
stayed at (referred to as Site M
about 26 square miles in area. JEPC is a
mixture of agricultural land, grassland, mature forests, and rare hill
prairie. Wildlife is also abundant and
this was evident one night when we had a couple of raccoons sneak onto
campsite and steal some popcorn! Not
sure how that ended up on the ground anyway. We also heard a pack
of coyotes howling off in
the distance one night, but we’re used to that.
in was a snap for me, since I registered online the day before.
Jean and Rich had to register on site,
because they missed the online registration deadline. It really
didn’t matter, since they don’t
charge a late fee (which is a lame thing to do). However, they
didn’t get their own custom
printed name tag! We setup my Kendrick
Observatory Tent along a northern line of trees behind the east
the meals were held). Rich and Jean set
up a bit further to the east, so they’d have some shade in the
time for IDSSP was at 5:00 pm, but we missed the deadline to order
online. Apparently, we could have bought
into the meals on site, but the web site made no mention of this.
Instead, we brought our own meals for the
long weekend. There were no other food
vendors at IDSSP, so purchasing late night snacks was out of the
question. Fortunately, we prepared for this contingency
as well. I was also hoping to buy a few
minor accessories for my telescope, but there are no astronomical
IDSSP. This was the first star party
I’ve ever attended that didn’t have vendors.
Seems like a lost opportunity for profit.
finally came and, as usual, my first task was to polar-align my Meade
Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. I started
with a rough alignment, since I wanted to start with some wide-field
the Milky Way. Unfortunately, the light
pollution visible from JEPC spoiled my images of the southern Milky
Way. Before attending IDSSP, I read that a light
dome was visible in the southeast from Springfield. However,
there’s also a significant light
dome from nearby Jacksonville. This
interference comes from the same location that the central bulge of the
Way is visible from this time of year.
It was still possible to see M8 naked eye, but any picturesque images
the central bulge of our galaxy were impossible. Plus, there was
WAY TOO MUCH airplane
traffic! The Summer Triangle, visible
overhead shortly after sunset, was splendid though and I took a very
nice picture of the Cygnus Star Cloud with my Canon 300D.
drift-aligning my telescope we viewed a few popular deep sky
targets. I then mounted my Tele Vue Pronto on the 10”
LX200 and embarked on a long exposure of NGC 7000, the North American
Nebula. I took 18 five minute exposures (not
including dark frames) for an equivalent 90 minute exposure. The
end result was far better than my
previous effort from the Nature Center.
Thin clouds started to roll in shortly after my exposures ended, so I
decided to call it a night at about 5:00 am.
breakfast, we drove over to the shower house, located at the
Park. The building is brand new and very clean.
Thankfully, the showers are free to use, so
there’s no need to bring a pocketful of change.
The Odyssey needed some gas and we were told the closest station was in
Chandlerville. On the way, we drove past
a hillside on fire! We turned around and
pulled into the nearest driveway and told the resident they should call
fire department. They actually passed us
on the way back and we got delayed while they put out the fire.
As a result, we missed the only lecture of
the day. It was given by John Martin, a
professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, and was about Eta
night was again clear, but the temperature was much colder.
Temperatures on Thursday night were in the
mid-50’s, while Friday’s lows were in the
mid-30’s! These were
record low temperatures according
to the weather radio. Jean wanted to
avoid low temperatures like this, so it was one of the reasons she
against going to BFSP or GLSG. So much
for that! I spent most of the night
imaging through the 10” SCT, but got cut short due to some
my deep cycle marine
battery. My telescope seemed fine, but
my camera wasn’t getting any power. I
was too tired to try and solve the mystery, so I decided to call it a
about 3:00 am. I did wake up briefly
after sunrise and saw lots of frost on the ground.
attended the IDSSP Astronomy Bowl on Saturday morning and won a free
next year’s star party (FYI: I
answered a question on Kepler’s
). I then sold one
of two items at the Swap Meet, which was sparsely attended. Rich
and I missed half of the first lecture
of the day. It was given by Jim Hopkins,
Professor of Astronomy at Joliet College.
He called his presentation “What’s New on Mars” and
focused on current
and future robotic exploration. What I
saw was very well done, but it was very difficult to see his slides
back of the west pavilion. Plus, the
star party has an attendance of about 200 and there was no where near
room for that many people inside the pavilion.
The organizers of IDSSP should consider a large tent (like at Starfest)
for their presentations. The lighting
would be better and more of the attendees could go to the
presentations. We skipped the final lecture entirely. It
was about the Deep Impact Mission and we
had already heard presentations about that subject at two other star
dinner, the winners of the astrophotography contest were announced and
prizes were handed out. Needless to say,
with no vendors, the prizes were fairly small.
I believe the biggest prize was a $200 copy of the “Starry
desktop planetarium software.
on Saturday night before the clouds rolled in.
night started out mostly clear, but a cloud front slowly rolled
in. Astrophotography was out of the question, so
the three of us did some observing through my telescope until the
over. There were some minor rain showers
throughout the night, which was not even in the forecast when we left
were mostly sunny on Sunday morning.
After packing up our gear, we headed into Springfield and visited the Lincoln
Historic Sites. This was
something I always wanted to do and was one of the reasons why I voted
attend IDSSP. One interesting bit of Lincoln trivia I learned is
that Robert Todd Lincoln
eldest son of Abraham and Mary Todd, was an avid amateur
astronomer! His telescope, a 6-inch Warner
& Swasey refractor, has been preserved and is still in use today.
I wish we would have bit the bullet and attended BFSP. I was
really looking forward to visiting
central Pennsylvania again and from what I heard the weather
Maybe we would have attended this year’s BFSP if it wasn’t
perfect weather Jean and I had for the 2005 event. That’s a
act to follow. I wouldn’t hesitate to attend IDSSP again if
I only lived a few hours away. However,
if I’m going to travel for 6+ hours, I’d prefer skies that
free of light pollution.
by Richard Bell