Three years after my first trip to the Texas Star Party, here we are reunited again - Al, Ron, Fred and Jeff. It took about three days to drive to Ft. Davis - 1450 miles each way. That made for some long days in the saddle :)
This is the reception office on the front-left. Going to the right is the dining room and the gymnasium on the far right. We lined up for our meals on the back side twice a day. The food was pretty good considering that they fed somewhere between 300-700 souls twice every day.
The Prude Ranch (a dude ranch) was first established in 1887. This is where the original main building was. It is now the owner's house.
This is one of the buildings that makes TSP a fun trip. The door on the left side leads to the showers. Daytime temps run from the 80s to low 90s. So a nice shower after dinner makes for a nice evening of observing or imaging. The rest of the building is the indoor pool - a refreshing break in the afternoon.
The ranch nurse hangs out here. Right next door on the end of the shower building is a snack bar that stays open until the wee hours of the morning - just in case you need a hot cup of coffee, hot chocolate or a hot sandwich to keep you going.
Here is a shot of the middle field. There are three fields that can be used at TSP. The upper field is where all the really high-end guys set up. The lower field is for tent campers and RV folks. Both the middle and upper fields have camping and trailers around the outsides and telescopes set up in the middle.
Here is the upper field. This picture was taken on Tuesday - so it's still only about 2/3 full. At night you have to be really careful walking in this area. There are so many rigs set up so close together that it's like walking through a maze. At night it's really easy to bump into someone's telescope so I only visit this field during the day.
Another view of the upper field.
Here's Fred - all set up and ready to start imaging Messier 87.
My next door neighbor, Al. This is the only picture I got of Al with his telescopes this year. Unfortunately, he had his eyes closed. Sorry Al.
Jeff was set up just a few "doors" down to the west of Al and me. Jeff has a really nice Celestron 14" scope on an Astro-Physics 900GTO mount. A good, accutate mount and a long focal length scope. Throw in his good eyepieces and he's got really a great rig!
This is me. I finally got smart after a couple of days and moved the car to the east side of my tent. When the sun comes up in the morning it soon turns a nice comfortable tent into a hot oven making it kind of hard to sleep after being up 'til all hours of the night. My scope is in the back between the tent and car. Al's big Dob is just off to the left under its cover. Nightime temps got down to 48-50 degrees. Kind of chilly!
That's me. The sun is just setting and I'm all ready to go. The first two nights were cloudy and I took off for home two nights early due to forecasts of heavy thunder storms and hail. That left only three nights for imaging with only one of those nights having really good seeing. Guiding, as usual, was my limiting factor :)
This was taken from Jeff's spot. I should have included Jeff's rig in this picture since his mount is an AP, too. With Jeff's mount there were four AP mounts in a row and two Paramount mounts right next door. Just in those six mounts there is about, well, lots of dollars' worth of gear, not including the telescopes, eyepieces, cameras and other misc. gear. I counted over 20 AP mounts and just as many Paramount mounts in all three fields.
This is one of my other nieghbors, a fellow from Ohio. Both of those rigs are his. He has a very serious investment there. The red mount is one of the high-end Softerware Bisque Paramounts, the camera mounted on the right-hand scope looks to be the same model that I use, the SBIG ST-4000xcm OSC.
Just getting ready to drive over to the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) which just happens to be right next door to the Prude Ranch property and only about a 10 min. drive on a dirt road. Fred was thinking way ahead on this trip and set up the tour while Jeff was kind enough to do the driving even after just 2 hours of sleep.
Here is a bit more about the VLBA. Photo: Fred Miles
This is the telescope tecnician, Ben. When we got there for our tour it turned out that he was having a bit of a rough day. He was right in the middle of changing out some hardware that had failed. These radio telescopes are in use 24 hrs/day. So he was under tremendous pressure to get it back up and running. He asked us to come back the next day - which we happily did.
Al, Fred and Jeff in front of the radio telescope. It looks pretty big from here, but when you're up close and personal - it's really big.
The telescope is mounted on four railroad type wheels. The rails have to be perfectly level, just like our smaller telescopes. The rails and wheels are cleaned, grounded and lubricated via the various gizmos attached to the wheel assembly.
Wow! Al and I next to the telescope. We sure felt small next to that... Photo: Fred Miles
Here we are again up close and personal :) Photo: Fred Miles
Al, Jeff and Fred in front of the visitor center.
The day after our radio telescope adventure we went up to Mcdonald Observtory for another tour. Jeff knows a fellow that used to work here so he used that connection to wrangle us the "inside" tour with David Doss who has worked there for about 40 years. This is the visitor center with the 107" Harlan J. Smith Telescope Observatory way up on the left and the 82" Otto Struve Telescope Obsrvatory on the right. There are a number of smaller, older scopes located around the visitor center.
All about the McDonald Observatory.
The valley at 5280' and the observatory at 6791'.
Fred on the left with Jeff and Al just turning in to the 82" on the left.
The front door is always a good place to start. Here's Fred waiting for the rest of us to catch up.
The original pendulum clock that was used to keep very accurate time measurements. Exact time was essential for discovering what we know about the orbits of our planets as well as figuring out that there are other bodies orbiting the Sun that affect the orbits of known bodies.
David, our tour guide at the original controls of the 82" telescope. Now days, astronomers have a "warm room" to operate the telescope via computer control. But back in the "old" days - you'd better have a good pair of long johns.
Al standing under the 82 inch. Right behind his right hand is the motor and drive wheel for the R.A. axis.
Astronomers used to use this lift (it looks like what window washers use on tall buildings) to move up to the secondary mirror. Early on, astronomers that were taking long-exposure pictures had to be right at the telescope to to keep an object centered in an eyepiece. That was how guiding worked. Now we have computers to do that for us. Anyway, astronomers would use this lift to stay in the proper position while the telscope moved across thje sky. There is a space to stand on either side of the open observatory door. The lift only went up to the top of the dome. Then it would come down after the object crossed the meridian and lowered in the western sky.
There's Al standing on one side of the lift. I'm taking the picture from the other side of the lift.
A side view of the 82" telescope. You can see the R.A. axis running diagonally left to right. The R.A. drive wheel and motor are in the lower right. The counter-weights are in the upper left. The telescope weighs in at 45 tons. There is a white patch on the inside of the dome wall - that is where they point the telescope when they take flat frames. Photo: Fred Miles
Ron getting a ride in the lift. Photo: Fred Miles
Al's turn on the other side. Photo: Fred Miles
This is a big tank of liquid aluminum. When the primary mirror needs to be recoated, they pull it out and lower it into a vacuum chamber where vaporized aluminum is added in, coating the mirror surface. Photo: Fred Miles
Looking down at the rear of the telescope and the original operator's station from the catwalk. Just the primary mirror alone weighs 4200 pounds.
After we finished combing through the 82" with David, we took a stroll around the outside catwalk. The dome that holds the 107" is just across the way.
Fred checking out the 107" telescope dome.
A nice shot of the visitor center from the top of the mountain.
The observatory that houses the 107" telescope with the Hobby-Eberly 433" scope on the far hill. The Hobby-Eberly telescope is comprised of 91 hexagonal mirror segments and the whole thing weighs-in at 40 tons.
These observatories don't look all that big - until you get right up to them - they're huge.
Looking up at the 107" telescope.
This telescope has a second secondary mirror that can be swapped out in just about 45 minutes with an overhead crane. David said that they've gotten pretty good at it. When they first got it they would take a couple of hours to change it.
A side view. Lower center to upper right is the R.A. axis. Photo: Fred Miles
On the left side of the telescope there is what looks like a hatch. If I remember correctly, this is where the light from the telescope can be diverted to the Coude room (Coude has an accent over the e) beneath the telescope. Photo: Fred Miles
Here's Al in the warm room/control room next to some of the tubing leading to the Coude room still further down.
Fred, Jeff, David and Al checking the Coude tubing. Right next to Fred's foot you can see where it goes through the floor where it really gets interesting.
Fred taking a break.
Another view from the other side. Photo: Fred Miles
Al horning in on my picture in the control room :) Photo: Fred Miles
The operators really keep a close eye on the weather around the observatory. Everything you'd ever need to know :)
The diverted light from the telescope first passes through the control room, then into a primary Coude room. It comes in from the tube that looks like a laundry chute, reflects off one of a number of lenses in the lower left and then shoots into the main room through one of the two holes in the wall.
Now might be a good time to explain the purpose of the Coude Slit Room. Check out this link. Photo: Fred Miles
McDonald Observatory Spectroscopy
Another view - light coming in from the top. A good view of the two ports that the light can be shot through.
We're finally down in the main room - three levels beneath the telescope. The light enters from the other room through the port on the wall and then is directed to any number of instuments for the mysterious science of Spectroscopy.
Here we are checking out some of the lenses.
From the previous picture - turn right about 90 degrees and we can look farther into the room where there are even more diffraction gratings, lenses and mirrors.
Al checking out a diffraction grating that has (I think) around six grooves/mm.
And this is where all the spectographic information is recorded - a reeeeally big ccd chip. it looked to be almost 2" square. Photo: Fred Miles
Another view of the ccd chip.
Taking a stroll around the outside of the 82" dome. We spent about three hours with David. He was seriously generous to take that much time with us out of his day. Photo: Fred Miles
Down in the basement to wrap things up. On the left is another tank of mirror coating material.
This is one of the museum pieces that David has saved over the years. This telescope at one time held the record for observing the largest supernova yet found.
Al had a tough time getting his camera level for a group shot. Looked like a good time for a candid picture, though.
We all had great time at the observatory. Many thanks to David for his generosity! Jeff, Ron and Al. Photo: Fred Miles
The rest of these photos are from Al. Here's Fred at the front door of the observatory. Photo: Al Smith
There's Ron glooking like he's ready to take a ride in the lift. Jeff and David supervising:) Photo: Al Smith
A little better shot of the elevations at the summit and valley. Photo: Al Smith
A nice picture of all of us together at the end of the tour. Jeff, Ron, Fred and Al. Photo: Al Smith
Here we are enjoying dinner in the dining room. I really enjoyed the food. They had a good variety of dishes throughout the week. Photo: Al Smith
Everyone waiting for dinner. We would all head over to the dining room about 30 min. before meal time so we could be toward the front of the line. It was also a good opportunity to visit with other folks in the shade. Photo: Al Smith
One day it was pretty overcast most of the day, so I spent it under a tree reading. Very enjoyable except for the sunburn :) This is Al's camp and both of his telescopes. Photo: Al Smith
Another shot of Al's spot. This one has my scope on the right and my tent on the left. Photo: Al Smith
One last picture of us at McDonald Observaroty. Jeff, David (our tour guide), Ron and Fred. Photo: Al Smith
Here's a link to some of Jeff's photos from TSP 2016.
Jeff's Photos from TSP 2016