Nebraska Star Party 2006

Roberto Garza

This is my 7th trip to this Star Party. It took place at the Merritt Reservoir, 26 miles south of Valentine, July 23rd to July 29th. I arrived a day early to give myself time to set up my camping gear, and by then, there we some old Astronomy Pals in the field. I set up my telescope on one of the hills, which are actually gigantic dunes, not far away from my tent. That very first night was a lucky one. Total darkness was achieved around 11:00 pm. CT. The Milky Way was so bright that I could see my own shadow on the ground. So, you can imagine my excitement when I started the session looking for objects beyond 10th magnitude.

I have a simple system; I start from the constellations which are going down in the direction of the western horizon. Then, I go to the next ones which come about 60 degrees above the horizon, where I don't have to climb on the ladder if possible, (Dobsonians like my telescope don't work well while aimed straight up). This way I can sweep the sky at will. If some of the planned constellations are clouded, I switch to the clear ones of course, disregarding the original agenda.

My setting circles computer allows me to find objects in a jiffy. If set up properly, most objects appear in the field of view - outside of it sometimes, and a little off the field a few times. I wobble the scope and usually find them, then I take note of the numbers the little computer box shows in a minus or plus manner. This allows me to know where I stand, when looking for the next object where the "align" feature does not correct the error.

I Swept through Draco for objects up to 12.5 magnitude. Some appeared bright and small, others, large and diffuse, and some, nearly invisible. The one object, which really caught my eye, was NGC6543; this Planetary looked very small, round and with a bright emerald color. I had the impression I saw the central star with adverted vision

Going through Scorpius I caught several small open clusters like NGC6242, NGC6281 and NGC6383 with up to 70 stars each. They were easily resolved due to their low magnitude. AAHH but when I went for the Black Nebulae there was a different story: It was hard for me to find the boundaries of any of them, so, I wrote "black void" in my notes. Sagittarius has many objects under 10th magnitude. Small open clusters are everywhere, but the ONE OBJECT that took my entire attention was the DOUBLE Globular Cluster NGC6522 (called: The Cat's Eyes), both globulars were shown on the same field of view of my scope, while using my 17mm 68 degree of AF Lantanum eyepiece. (I never thought an object like this existed). I could not resolve any stars but the two greenish blobs looked like two eyes staring at me.

In total, I had 3 good nights out of 7, which is fine with me. Considering that the site is over -7th magnitude. If you ever plan to attend to this Star Party and camp on any of the several sites (one of them has showers), be sure to have plenty of bug spray. The biting flies are relentless and go through your T-shirts easy and often through your socks, jeans and light jackets. In some nights the mosquitoes are like a fog and seem to find that spot the size of a dime you didn't spray. The days were hot; one of them reached 107 degrees. I spent much of the time sitting (trying to read) close to my portable cot under a tree. I could catch some sleep regardless of the sweltering temperature.

This terrible weather is a blessing for many people who bring their families, and some of them, with their motorboats and other motorized water vehicles, to have a good time in the water. Those who can afford it, stay at the Lodge's cabins with all the facilities included.

There are many programs for the kids and adults as well; like rafting and tubing on the Snake River crossing a set of falls on the way; there is some hiking too if anybody is interested.

I've might have roughed it a little too much, since I could have gone into the Dam any time during the day and cool off, but this would have implied some physical effort on my part, so, I preferred to rest as much as I could to be ready to observe till 5:00am every night I've noticed this constant haze during the day and almost every night around the horizon and some times reaching near the zenith. It reminded me of the many years of draught Southern Texas had. I saw this very set up in 2001 and 2002 at The Prude Ranch where The Texas Star Party takes place every year. You could see M13 easily through the haze "naked eye". Some attributed this phenomenon to the activity of our Sun, others attribute it to the many fires going on around the country, and others blamed it on the pollution from neighboring Mexico. Whatever the problem was it seems to be the same one this year at the Nebraska Star Party site. If this is the case, I hope rain will solve it like it did in Texas; of course, this might bring dew during the nights.

If you ever logged into NSP Web Site you have probably read about the sudden storms (no warning at all) with heavy winds at times. This time we only had a 35 mph wind for just an hour or so and a few raindrops.

In spite of the hurdles I had to jump over, I'm ready for another round of NSP, even though there are rumors the organizing clubs might relocate it in a pristine site about 50 miles south of the Merritt Reservoir, next year.

Published in the September 2006 issue of the NightTimes