At Stellafane they have a swap table, where fellow enthusiasts sell the stuff that they no longer need.
I picked up an equalizer (compensates for the weight of 2″ eyepieces while using 1.25″ eyepieces so one can just counterweight the scope and be done with it (I no longer have to ask my child to be tied to the other end of the scope). I also got a Peterson mount for my 25x100s (it ain’t pretty, but it lets me use the 25x100s at zenith), and the seller threw in a set of Oberwork 20x90s with a 1.5x finder for $110.
Of course, as someone here said, if I don’t like it, I can always bring it back and sell it at the swap table. I responded to him that now I understand why there are people here who have come to each Stellafane since 1969, to much laughter.
Stellafane is about 2 months away at this point, however, the star party at Cherry Springs is a month away, and there are rumors of some DVAA members going to Blue Mountain at some point soon. So, I’ve been kicking the prep into high gear.
I’ll update this post as appropriate as we get closer, in case people like the way I pack and want to try it themselves.
First item of business is sleeping quarters. On a social worker’s salary, spending $100 per night or more on a hotel for just me is a bit much when it is Thursday through Sunday. So, I needed to look at other options. I looked at many tents, but ultimately decided to go with http://www.habitents.com/. They produce a tent that fits on the hatchback of any Prius from 2003 forward. Here’s a couple of stock photos from the Internet:
Below are some photos from what I have set up so far with my own car, graced with my daughter Luci channelling Vanna White. I still need to pack up more when the time actually comes. I’ll show you more pictures then. The photos below have not been touched up, so please accept the flaws.
First, this is what it generally looks like, with the windows of the tent down. The windows do, of course, go up. The chief advantages of using this kind of tent are to enhance ventilation, increase leg room, and enhance one’s Prius geek street cred. Basically, what you are seeing is that it attaches to the hatchback, which is up, and from which it hangs. It has the big door, and it also has two side windows. The windows have a plastic part that keeps out the rain, and the no-see um mesh part that keeps out the bugs. Of course, both can be opened. The Habitents is made out of 180T 1000 polyurethane coated polyester tent fabric. Polyester is stronger, more UV resistant and retains its shape better (does not stretch) in wind and rain. Polyester is naturally hydrophobic and the polyurethane coating increases its water resistance, according to the website. The hooks go in well below the paint, so I didn’t see any problems with putting it on in terms of scratches.
One question is about the waterproofness of it while the hatchback is open. The website purports that rain will fall into the groove in the picture below where it attaches to the hatchback and it will run off to the side. I haven’t tried it yet, but the next time we get a rainy night where I can sleep in it, I’ll give it a whirl to see.
The installation was easy. In the picture below, a long webbing pocket fits on the top of the hatchback to form something of a seal. Then, after draping it over the car, you lift the hatchback, pull the tent over, and lightly hook up the straps, tightening later. It took about 2 minutes the first time, so it could conceivably be done in a relative downpour.
Below is what the inside of the car looks like. The front seats are moved all the way to the front, and the back seat has the headrests off and are moved forward. The hatchback trunk cover is removed. That’s a Thermarest Base Camp XL mattress on top of a thick yoga mat. It fit fine.
OK, so she’s prettier than Vanna White.
And, the next two are me inside with a view of the neighborhood. I had PLENTY of room in terms of length (I’m 6’3″!) and could see sleeping pretty comfortably in there, assuming that I didn’t have a tremendous amount of other stuff keeping me company. More on that later.
It took a lot of junk food to make the mountain in this picture. I’ve seen smaller mountains on the Moon through my telescope.
As you can see in the pictures above and below, sitting room is an issue with this arrangement. Being 6’3″ and big, I needed to do some twisting to get around when lying down. Being new to the tent, I entered and exited by the side doors, which took some acrobatics. In the future, I’ll enter by the back flap of the tent, duh. Here’s Luci sitting comfortably with and without mesh. I was able to do the same when I cleared the part of the tent under the roof of the car and sat under the trunk door.
Habitents recommends that Prius campers purchase specific plastic containers for storage (about $6 each at Targét) which can be stacked between the back seat and the front seat (Sterilite 56 and 28 qt containers, stacked). I plan to put clothes, dry food, toiletries, etc. in these). The purpose is so that there will be a level space for the head to rest beyond the end of the back seat. Don’t let the picture below fool you. This worked just fine when I tried it, because my chest and head made the back seat go down to become even. While camping, I’ll have my pillow there.
Of course, the front seats will need to be storage spaces. I plan to put my car jumper battery there (to power my C-PAP, which will also be there), as well as food and whatever else will fit that MUST remain dry. To drive, however, the containers behind the seats must be moved. This arrangement, therefore, would be most comfortable for one person, less comfortable for two. I would not add more than that for this tenting situation.
I also noticed that even with the ventilation of the tent, it was still hot. So, I think I”ll bring a couple of old sheets to hang up along the length of the car windows for privacy, and I’m considering getting some no-see-um mesh to hang on the windows with magnets.
Price for the tent? $99.
Now, look. I know you are looking at the pictures. Yes, that’s a Prowler Regal in the backyard. Currently, we don’t have a car that can tow it, and for one person going camping, you can’t beat the gas mileage of a Prius compared to a Suburban towing the darned thing. I will miss using a shower, though.
We are selling the Regal, if anyone is interested. It’s a 40 footer with bells and whistles. Camping outdoors in the summer in air conditioning is quite popular.
Here’s what I’m thinking of bringing, if space permits. I’d love input on these, and have already benefited from some:
[ ]Credit card
[ ]Reading glasses
[ ]Umbrella and/or poncho
[ ]EZ Pass
[ ]Power cords for gadgets brought
[ ]Computer and cords
[ ]Iphone & cords
[ ]Ipad and cords
[ ]Toilet kit
[ ]Swiss Army Knife
[ ]Camera and charger and other equipment and lenses
[ ]C-Pap with backup mask
[ ]Wash car, check fluids and tires
[ ]neck pillow
[ ]Sleeping Bag/sheets
[ ]Sleeping Pad
[ ]Dew Shield (need to make)
[ ]Insect repellant (with DEET)
[ ]Red flashlight and red cellophane
[ ]Star Atlas
[ ]Reading glasses
[ ]Nylon rope/paracord
[ ]Bungee cords
[ ]Warm clothes, warm shoes/hiking boots, hat, warm jacket
[ ]Batteries for astronomy stuff
[ ]Allen wrenches
[ ]Duct tape
[ ]Electrical tape
[ ]Telescope/Binoculars with mounts (just bringing an 8×30 and a 10×50 with a p-gram mount to Stellafane)
[ ]White drop cloth
[ ]tent spikes
[ ]battery charger (have one for the C-PAP, need to purchase a second one)
[ ]Furniture (table, lounge chair)
[ ]Hiking sticks for tarp
[ ]Sterilite 28 and 56 quart container x2
[ ]Coleman stove and fuel, cooking supplies
[ ]Water container (5 gallon)
If space permits:
25×100 binos with tripod (can’t see the zenith with these, but can see other things)
Don’t worry, I will leave my bagpipes at home.
Any other ideas for packing?
I’m really looking forward to going to Star Parties to see what they are like, and I’m even more looking forward to meeting people and relaxing in the outdoors.
I’m looking for suggestions and questions and comments on ways to make camping at Star Parties more awesome, so feel free to comment here.
Aside from the cultural history of Mars, it is noteworthy that it wouldn’t be a particularly fun place to stay. Too cold, covered in rust, and only a tiny bit of yucky tasting acidic water. Yes, if I were a Martian, I would want to invade the Earth. Earth girls are cuter.
Now, on to my rant.
See all those stars in the Star Walk picture? See all the stars in the picture of Mars that I took? What? No stars in the picture I took? Just Mars, right?
Folks, I did this observation in my company’s parking lot, which is flooded with light. That night I could see Mars, Spica (lower right hand star in the “box” in Virgo), and Jupiter. That’s about it.
That’s light pollution for you.
Seriously, it is a real problem. I’ve heard of complaints from city folks when they went out to the country and thought people were poisoning the air because they saw a “cloud” that extended for the length of the sky (er, that’s the Milky Way, city mouse).
The first time I really SAW the Milky Way was when I was bowhunting in Sullivan County, PA (Northern Tier). I was camping in my car and was awakened at 3AM by a bright light. I opened my eyes and looked outside to see loads of stars, very much like the picture above. I marveled in wonder and felt sad that where I live, one is not able to see such sights.
I live in a “white zone,” an area classified as the highest level of light pollution available. Where I live, I can see the larger, brighter constellations. That’s about it without a telescope. In the following link, which includes my town, Havertown, you can see how white it is.
Compare that with Cherry Springs State Park, near Coudersport, PA, an International Dark Site (one of the darker places in the country). That’s in blue, which means it is better. I suspect the grey area below is either not measured, or even better, but not easily accessible.
Last night I was out just observing in general with my 10×50 binoculars. I was trying out my red dot finder and found it to be extremely helpful. I looked at Jupiter, Orion, the Pleiades, Perseus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia. Just for the fun of it, no official recording of observations. The sky was not too great in terms of transparency, about a 2-3 on the following scale. I live in a “white zone”, i.e. a place heavily impacted by light pollution. Having a street light on my property doesn’t help, either.
1 :: Mostly Cloudy
2-3 :: Hazy; 1 or 2 Little Dipper stars visible
4 :: 3-4 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way not visible
5 :: 4 Little Dipper stars; Bright parts of Milky Way visible (Scutum starcloud)
6 :: 5 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way visible with averted vision
While looking at Andromeda and Cassiopeia, I saw a rapidly moving gray object that did not have blinking lights moving from S through NW in Andromeda through the lower part of Cassiopeia around 9:18 or 9:19p. I had never seen one of these before. It was most likely a satellite.
With a little help from people in the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers group, I was able to access a database of satellite passes at Heavens-Above.com, but didn’t see my newfound friend.
Interesting. There were other satellites in the general area, but none that were flying from S through NW around lower Cassiopeia at that time. Maybe it was one of those satellites that aren’t on the official register, or perhaps an NSA satellite keeping an eye on us or the little green men were involved.
Today I braved the elements again and got in another observation. This time I went a little west of Cassiopeia and looked at Andromeda and the Andromeda Galaxy/M31.
Again, I had focus issues with my camera. I think what happened was a combination of star drift and too wide an aperture. I was using my 50mm lens, and I noticed that I had stuff out of focus at 1.8, but when I moved my aperture to 3.5, it improved. I was able to get a picture that wasn’t too incredibly horrible out of about 20 shots. In this one, the Andromeda Galaxy is somewhat present.
Here is the image with a little more of a guide to what you kinda sorta are seeing:
That smudgy thing in the circle is the Andromeda Galaxy. It is around the size of the moon, about 2° in size. It is noteworthy that Mirach (β Andromeda) is a red giant. By naked eye this could not be seen, but it could be seen in the above photo.
Here are some clearer views in Stellarium.
I also spent some time fiddling with a multi reticle red dot finder that I purchased which goes on top of the 25x100s. Got it to work by zeroing in on the moon. It does make finding things easier, assuming I can star hop to where they are. With binoculars, though, compared to telescopes which are inverted and/or upside down, it is far easier. the Finder can also double as a rifle sight (yet another hobby of mine).
While what’s below isn’t my actual red dot finder in action (it was a bugger trying to take a picture of it due to depth of field issues), this is essentially what it would look like looking through it.
Here is my observation report for tonight:
Sadly, due to shifting transparency conditions, I was not able to see the Andromeda Galaxy using the 25x100s tonight, although I was able to see it with my 8x30s earlier in the evening.
Andromeda is named after the daughter of Cassiopeia. Andromeda was apparently chained to a rock to be eaten by the monster Cetus, which is behind Pisces. It is bordered above by Perseus, below by Pegasus, to the right by Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, and the Pleiades are to the left. Pisces and the Triangulum are to the left, but closer. Only one or two stars in Pisces were visible tonight, and Pegasus was behind trees.
The Andromeda Galaxy/Messier 31 is one of the largest deep space objects of the Messier group. It is a spiral galaxy about 2.5 million light years away from Earth. It will collide with the Milky Way galaxy in the future! In 3.75 billion years. Not high on my list of anxieties this week.
If you are an astronomer already, you know where I’m going. Read on anyway.
Yep, clouds. Clouds are often the bane of my existence when it comes to this stuff. All the good stuff lies beyond them. It seems like ever since I started astronomy, I’ve rarely had anything but cloudy nights. And on the rare non-cloudy night, it has been as cold as space is.
When I see this on my astronomy weather app, I just have to let out a big sigh of disappointment.
However, there is a cycle to astronomy. Some nights I can look at stars. Some nights I can only see a couple. Some nights I can’t see any at all. Some nights I’m too busy or tired to do anything but think, however briefly, about it.
During nights that I can’t observe, however, I can go to the other part of the cycle of astronomy. I can read, and I can reflect.
As a beginner, I tend to look at beginner texts. The one I am reading now is Nightwatch, by Terence Dickinson. It is a beginner book, but pretty good. I’m almost done with it. It covers the basics of equipment and has some beginner star charts.
I also have enjoyed the forums at Cloudy Nights (aptly named). Pretty much anything you ever wanted to know about astronomy can be found here, and they have specific sections for beginners.
Seriously, you can get lost in there.
For quick and dirty but comprehensive information on things in the night sky that I am currently researching, there is always the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to the Night Sky. This book includes lots of information on things that you will see if you use a telescope, binoculars, or the naked eye.
For binocular research (which is limited due to its fixed limitations on magnification and aperture [ability to take in light]), I enjoy Touring the Universe through Binoculars: A Complete Astronomer’s Guidebook. The funny thing is, I bought the book used off of Amazon. It said it had scribblings, highlighting, etc. I didn’t mind, thinking I might benefit off of someone else’s research, and that I would get the book at a discount, which I did. Here’s the only scribbling I found in the book:
The book is a guide to things that can be seen with a set of binoculars. No, Virginia, you cannot see zits on the face of the Man on the Moon with binoculars. For that, you might need the Hubble Telescope, if it is even THAT powerful. That’s why books like this are important.
Another thing you can do is see what your local astronomy club is doing. At this point, I’ve only been to star parties (more later when I get some pics from a local one in March or April). However, I plan to get to some of the meetings (where they have lectures, etc.) when I get a chance. They will range from extremely technical to simple, I understand. But, I have found members of the club to be very approachable and enthusiastic about your progress in understanding and enjoying the hobby.
The other thing you can do is reflect on the hobby. As a man of faith, I am often reminded of my favorite verses in the Bible on astronomy.
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen 1:1-31).
I am sure that there are other writers, religious and secular, who have written on the feelings of awe one encounters when looking at the sky. Whatever your beliefs, you have to admit that all of these are just wonderful examples of humanity’s reflection on the majesty of the creation that is above. I really enjoy marveling at the wonder of what was made, and I note that the more I look to the skies above, the more I appreciate what is here on the earth as well.
So, even on the cloudiest of nights, or during times when you can’t see the stars or anything else for that matter,
you can always, always engage your sense of wonder. That is what you can do on those Other Nights.