Last touched 2001 December 4
Originally published in M-111, the Newsletter of the Richland (Ohio) Astronomical Society
Reflections in the Eyepiece
by Robert Bunge
A Users guide to Hidden Hollow '91
From the very first amateur convention I attended - the 1980 Apollo Rendezvous - I've always found these events to be fun, entertaining and useful. They have allowed me to learn about observing, telescopes, explore new telescope making ideas and meet other astronomers. Still though, I can remember my own sense of confusion the first time I went to one of these meets. So lets see if ten years worth of Apollos, Astrofests, Stellafanes and Hidden Hollows can help me make your HH'91 even better.
First off, before I leave for a convention of the sorts of HH, I like to decide in what type of amateur astronomer I am that year (yes, it changes). Observer? Telescope Maker? Astrophotographer? Armchair Amateur Astronomer? None of the above. This is important because at almost all of these events, there is too much going on at any one time and you only end up wearing yourself to the bone trying to do it all (which can be done - IF you don't have to work for the next week!).
Observer: I tend to do this at HH, but have also done it at Astrofest. Here I'm mostly interested in (gasp) observing. Of course the true irony of conventions is that they expect to you attend events during the day and then observe all night. Trying to do this tends to cause an overload, normally at about two AM Sunday morning.
Last year at HH this manifested itself in the form of accidently running over Biff Smooter with the mit-e-lift. "Gee, sorry, Biff... but don't you think you can at least wedge your dead tired body behind the north pier instead of laying spread eagle on the floor? Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I'm sure you leg will be better in the morning."
So, if I'm into observing, I'll at least try to get some sleep. Although that's pretty rare and a good compromise is to just take it easy. Grab a chair and sit under the 31-inch all day, or sit out on the telescope field. Typically there are people about who more than willing to listen to your mindless babble.
Some years ago, however, I got depressed. All set and ready to go at sunset at Astrofest once, I eagerly went from big dobsonian to dobsonian, only to see reruns of M-13. Finally at about two in the morning, I noticed a change had taken place. The REAL observers were out and the interesting objects (you know, those faint fuzzy, 15th magnitude galaxies) were reflecting in the eyepiece. Sometimes you can even find the owner of a BIG telescope who is more than happy to let you do the finding.
Another great advantage to going to these meeting from the observing standpoint is getting to see all those great goodies that other people have paid for. You know, the Naglers, the C-14s and other new (and old) commercial equipment. I've long believed that one the best places for a serious beginner who knows their stuff to go is a convention like HH. I often get to test new eyepieces for the first time, use filters I can't afford - all which form premises that I will later use to buy new equipment.
Telescope Maker: This is what I'll do this year, but then again, I've got a brand new shiny 12-inch to show off. By far, being an amateur telescope maker is my favorite thing to do at Astrofest (which in my opinion is the best telescope making conference in the country). Typically, HH centers around the speakers and observing, so only a few new homebrew telescopes normally show up. But, last year, there were a surprising number of ATMs on the hill, so this year I'll join them.
In this mode, I tend to wander the field in the daytime, mostly just to look at the scopes and talk to the owners. Beware through, at HH, at least a few telescopes will be set up in the basement of Sky High Lodge and others will be up on the hill with the 31-inch. The best thing to do, is to plan you day with care, so that you can catch a couple of the talks while in transit to the scopes in the basement.
Another tidbit is to not sleep in Saturday morning. The early bird gets the worm... and I'm talking rich, juicy worms at the flea market. Last year, I got to the market late and missed a first English edition of Texereau. I cried over that one for months. But, also beware of the "stuff" collectors. They will start gathering at five AM and eagerly pounce on each person/commercial display as they set up their tables (yep, I know because I've done it!).
If you do bring along a neat telescope that you have built, please do one of the following things: 1) Commit to being near that telescope most of the day, so people can ask questions or make comments. This doesn't mean you can't go to the bathroom, but it would help if you didn't leave. Or: 2)Create a short write up, describing the telescope and its features. Provide your name and address - perhaps even list a time that you will be around the telescope.
A note here is that for the first time at HH, this year there will be a TM contest, sponsored by the Astronomical League. As a follower of the Bob Cox school of TNing, I'm a firm believer in merit awards (that means that telescopes are not ranked 1st, 2nd, and so on, but receive awards if there is some quality that warrents the honor of an award). I will inquire before entering my 12-inch. If they aren't giving merit awards, I will not enter. I just can't see how anyone can decide that a beautifully machined 6-inch refractor is a "better" telescope than a slickly designed breakdown 17-inch dob that is made out of plywood.
Astrophotographer: I have often brought along one or two pictures to display. As with the telescope making, for the first time this year, there will be a contest sponsored by the AL. Again, it will be interesting to see how they judge.
At Astrofest, they break it down into deep sky and solar system groups and then let the convention goers do the voting. I once saw this guy enter a beautiful deep sky photo. He had spent hours in the dark room, making unsharp masks and the like. In the end, he presented a negative image, so you could see the faintest of the faint detail. He didn't even get a mention. Why? Because the convention goers (read the wifes of the convention goers) had picked out the biggest, brightess, most colorful picture of M-42 and voted for it instead. And to top it off, I was guilty. It was my picture of M-42 and I had observed what was really happening the year before. But even worse will be if a couple of people with little experience do the judging. Grab Misters Parker, Newton and perhaps Berry (and/or others). For something real special, have a PC with a VGA screen so CCD photographers can display their latest work.
As for those who like to actually DO astrophotography at a convention, I can only say "What guts!" As people are almost always driving up, turning on lights and pulling power cords to plug in their computers, good luck!
In addition, HH will offer budding astrophotographers a chance to meet and talk to a couple of the more famous astrophotographers around, Jack Newton and Don Parker during a two seminar featuring the two of them on Friday afternoon. Be sure to grill Parker on the details of what he does to achieve the best seeing _within_ his telescope. On the flip side, ask Newton if he prefers color slide or color negative for deep sky work, and why he thinks one might be better than another. Also, compare notes as to how the two different styles of astrophotography are using CCD technology.
Armchair Amateur Astronomer: This just about has to be the best and perhaps the most common way to do HH. In this mode, one just sort of does whatever one wants. Browse the telescope field, gaze in wonder at the 31-inch, play with Warren Walker's niffy computer programs on the computer near the 31-inch dome, glance at the great astrophotography on display and swear to yourself that you are going to do some of that this coming year, listen to any number of speakers, grill the speakers during the "bull session" on Saturday, knock Dave Levy's steak into the fire on Saturday or just sleep away the day in the shade of the telescope dome. Oh, and one more thing: if it's clear, it is well worth your time to sit out in front of the Sky High Lodge and watch the sunset.
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