Five of us left New Jersey in a 32-foot motor home Saturday morning to drive to the Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys. We drove straight through to a campground near Homestead Florida, arriving there around noon on Sunday. The drive was uneventful except for some fog and light rain in the Carolinas and Georgia. After checking into the campground, we picked up some needed supplies and then visited an alligator farm for the afternoon.
We got up early Monday morning and drove across the Keys to the island where the WSP is held. We parked the RV behind the Wheel House next to the water - a good camp site. The weather on Monday as mostly clear, around 70 degrees and humid. Tippi gave the opening address in the afternoon, reminding us of all the rules (like no white lights after dark) and the evening looked promising. There were a few clouds around Monday night and the transparency wasn't great but the seeing was superb and we all overdosed on Jupiter and Saturn, looking for the elusive stars in the Trapezium and, of course, Sirius B. I think most folks went to bed by 2-3am.
Tuesday was partly cloudy with a hot sun. T-shirt and shorts in February! Can't beat it. We did lots of solar looking through a new Ha filter Al was using. This new filter provided the most contrasty, "3-D like" views I've ever seen. This filter was so much better than the others (and the same price) that is should sell very well.
The rest of the week was mostly clouded out out at night. We sat around talking and waiting for the few "sucker holes" that drifted over that provided a few additional hours of night-time viewing over the remainder of the week. The daytime temperatures were in the low 70's and dropped to the high 60's at night. Missing was the precipitous nighttime drop of 20-30 degrees we get in NJ so, even though the humidity was high, there was almost no dew.
It is sad to look at the key now and compare it to several years ago before the two hurricanes. There used to be lots more vegetation and trees, especially palm trees along the beach. Now much of that is gone in spite of major efforts by the Southern Cross Astronomical Society. To add to the woes, the large building where the vendors and food concession was housed has been condemned so they used tents this year. Also, the upper floor of the Wheel House, where the talks are held, is now limited to around 60 folks so many attendees missed at least some of the talks. I suspect the persistence of the astronomical community will eventually overcome these obstacles.
Continuing our "winning" tradition, four of the twelve WAS members attending the WSP won prizes at the drawing on Friday. We woke up in the rain Saturday morning, packed our stuff and left about 10am. We drove up I95 to Titusville and found a great little campground on the coast (Manatee Hummock) for the night. This is run by the county and I recommend it to everyone. We could easily see the Shuttle and the VAB from the beach. On Sunday morning, we took an airboat ride on the Saint John's river and drove home from there.
It is easy to get disappointed with the Winter Star Party when the night skies are so cloudy but there are so many other positive points that it is worth the effort. You get to renew old acquaintances, talk "shop", see lots of scopes and equipment, enjoy warm weather and get a tan - to name only a few. I'll be there again next year.
|This is Scott driving Saturday morning.||We hit this traffic jam on I95 soon after we left NJ and lost about one hour but this turned out to be the only significant traffic delay of the entire trip.|
|Sunday evening, we managed to find, once again, our favorite rib restaurant and had a great meal of ribs, french fries, cole slaw and garlic toast. We have made this trip three times over the last five years and ate ribs at this restaurant all three times.||The alligator farm we visited on Sunday afternoon was full of what could be best described as "porky" alligators. They were very fat and lazy but impressive in size...|
|We also saw a good snake show given by a lady that really knew her subject. ...||our own Betsey showed off the largest snake...|
|and we got a close-up look at this magnificent Blue Heron.||Early Monday morning we entered the Keys, which consist mostly of bridges and ...|
|"villages" like these.||This is the entrance to the Winter Star Party, held at camp Wesumkey.|
|These are the registration and "t-shirt" tents...||and these are some of the vendor tents.|
|Bob and Lisa's Astronomy To Go vending area.||Most of the camp consists of the berm and...|
|the valley. The berm is an old railroad bed running next to the beach and the valley (aka the "valley of the dobs") is behind the berm.||Tippy, giving his opening remarks on Monday afternoon.|
|Solar observing on Monday. That's Al in the white T-shirt and shorts and Jim in the Red hat.||Bob and Scott collimating the yard scope.|
|The food concession was outdoors under this tent this year.||WAS attendees from top left: Scott, Betsey, Lisa, Scott, Bruce, Joan, Joy, Al, Al, Jim. Kneeling are Bob and Lane.|
|Talk about opposites - whenever one of this pair of pelicans did something...||the other did the opposite.|
|This hapless hermit crab was caught passing through our camp site. It was immediately assaulted by several very aggressive photographers.||Flowers were abundant on the island, such as this morning glory...|
|and this - whatever.||we also found these leaves gorgeous.|
|This hovercraft was caught circling the island. It eventually "landed" at a boat ramp on the other side of the key and we watched the owners load it onto a trailer and drive away.||One the way home, we stopped on the St. Johns river and took and airboat ride with the legendary "Airboat John". That's John with the white beard and Scott seated.|
|We saw many alligators on the St. Johns and they were slender, alert and fast, unlike the porkers at the alligator farm.||This is a Cyprus swamp along the St. Johns. Look closely at the high water mark on the trees and you can see the effect of the the drought in Florida.|