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Observation Report
Lassen Park & Shingletown Airport,
July 18 - 22, 2001

by: Jim Ster

I've posted some pictures from last weeks trip to the Lassen area in the TAC-SAC files folder. There are also some pics of the weekend before last's trip to Blue Canyon, where I took mug shots of some of the TAC-SAC trouble makers and pot stirrers as well as some of their known associates (and of course their "King"). Check them out when you have a minute.;)

One of the great spin-offs of the aforementioned Lassen trip was my meeting with the local constabulary where I obtained official permission for us to use the Shingletown (SHT) Airport for our observing endeavors anytime we want!!!!! The Sheriff then directed me to the local California Department of Forestry office where I was given the combination lock code to the front gate of the airport. TAC-SHT was officially born! Following the inaugural TAC-SHT Bar-b-que at Mags folks place, Jane and I spent Saturday evening observing at SHT instead of going up to Lassen again. We set up on the northern end of the runway and held our inaugural TAC-SHT star party. We were not disappointed in any way, shape or fashion!

FYI, SHT is located about 5 miles east of Shingletown proper, a mile north of Hwy 44 @ 4000' elevation. It's severely undulating runway runs 190 - 10 (nne-ssw) and is about 3000 ft long. The airport has ZERO lights (no rotating nav beacons, runway lights or obnoxious red radio tower lights like BC) and therefore is closed to aircraft traffic after sunset (unless you're a drug runner!). In fact, after almost 9 years of going up there, I've never even seen an airplane at or near the airport to give you an idea of how quiet it is. The horizons are absolutely fabulous, actually much better than Blue Canyon (or any of the venues at Lassen park for that matter). With the exception of a small stand of pine trees about 100 yards to the west of the runway, there is nothing but sky in all directions. The small stand of trees to the west actually blocks most of the small light dome (about 1/3 the size of the Auburn/Sacto light dome at BC) from nearby Redding (which is about 35 miles to the west). Despite the fact that there are some nearby homes, there wasn't a single photon of local white light pollution visible in any direction to disturb our night vision. To top it off, there is a fully equipped KOA campground located directly across Hwy 44 from the airport to stay at (not to mention that Mags folks live less than a 5 minute drive away). The only drawback (if you can really call it one) was the lack of restroom facilities, but there are a gazillion manzanita bushes surrounding the airport, so privy privacy should never be much of an issue.

If any one would like to go to SHT, e-mail me and I'll send you the gate combination. Considering it is only a 20 - 30 minute further drive than Monitor Pass is to get too from Sacto, and offers a more user friendly environment (lower, warmer elevation) and with it's close proximity to local services, I'll be seriously considering it for my 2 -3 night observing plans in the future. This could also provide those TAC-SACer's who don't care to experience altitude related illness from a session at either of the Lassen or Monitor Pass venues, the opportunity to enjoy some really nice dark skies in a great vacation area of No. Ca..

As far as our observing sessions went, we got clouded out at Bumpas Hell (BH) on Thursday night. Randy and Jane ended up at the Lassen Devastated parking lot and I went back to Shingletown and used my Stellarvue 12x60's to cruise the heavens. Friday night at BH was much better than Thursday. No clouds and the seeing was maybe 8 out of 10. There was a touch of moisture in the air which prevented it from being an unbelievably great night. Early on I ran into some technical difficulties with my LX200, VB. Prior to leaving Sacto for Lassen, I had purchased a new 12v DC to 110v AC adapter to power the scope, but it's advertised 150 watt rated output was apparently not the case as my stock, 57 watt, 110v AC to 18v DC converter brought it to it's knee's after running a short while. Let me tell you all that GOTO really sucks when you suddenly can't GOTO. I was able to manually probe the skies, but it wasn't a lot of fun with the LX. Frustrated, I even took a peek at the southern horizon to see if I could see where the two light domes to the south were coming from. As it turned out, we could easily see rows of streets in Chico with cars traversing back and forth as well as planes taking off from Sac International. Anything for some fun.

Jane pooped out around 1:00 and graciously offered me the use of her exquisite 12.5 Starmaster EL, to which I eagerly accepted. Armed with only my 31mm Nagler, I proceeded to do some serious sky surfing. For the next 3 hours, I cruised back and forth across the Milky Way from Sagittarius to Perseus, having as much fun as I have ever had observing. Manually sweeping the sky this way was unbelievably fun to do. FYI, the 31mm Nag has a 1.75 degree FOV in the 1500mm 12.5" Starmaster. When I reached the area around M31, I was blown away at the view. I could easily get the central portion of M31 as well as the two tertiary galaxies in the FOV. M31 was so huge that it took two and a half FOV's in the 31mm to see it all. The dust lanes were clearly visible and I could actually see them wrapping around the central core, clearly revealing the relative angle of M31 to the Milky Way. It was very 3-D looking, the best I have ever seen it. There is also an area of nebulosity at the end of one of the arms that I had never noticed before.

The view of the Double Cluster in Perseus also knocked my socks off. Thousands of sharp pinpoints of lights surrounded by velvety black skies. Spectacular.

The area around Cygnus was breathtaking as was Sagittarius. I was able to easily find all the major items in both as well as finding the components of the Veil Nebula manually for the first time. The evening ended with the rise of Venus and the glow of morning twilight around 4:00am.

So, what started off as a lesson in futility, ended in one of my most enjoyable observing sessions to date. The lesson I learned was that while a GOTO scope is highly desirable, don't bank on it. Be prepared to GOTO a back-up plan for observing (or at least have great friends around that will share their killer equipment with you!). Thanks again to Jane and Randy for all they did for me. I took a run to Redding the next morning and picked up a new cigarette lighter 12v to 9-26v adaptor from Radio Shack, which worked great and salvaged my Saturday night observing session.

Saturday night, Jane and I went to the new site at the Shingletown International Airport for the inaugural TAC-SHT star party. We were not disappointed. Clear and way dark skies. I'd have to give the seeing a 7.5 out of 10, due to a bit of moisture in the upper atmosphere, but the transparency was a 9 out of 10. There was a light (2-4 mph) wind coming from the north with temps in the high 40's (about ten degrees warmer than BH). With VB up to speed, I selected it's self guided tour mode and let it take me to just about every mag 11 and above object in the sky. In appreciation of her generous offer the prior evening, I insisted that Jane use my 31mm Nag this evening to surf the skies like I did the night before, while I used my new 55mm Plossl in VB to show me the way. Afterwards, Jane and I both agreed that the 31mm Nagler should be included as standard equipment in all new StarMaster scopes. What a great eyepiece. As a matter of fact, we both got so wrapped up in our observing that we were both surprised when we realized that it was nearing 2:30am, more than an hour and a half later than we thought it was and about an hour longer than either of us thought we'd last.

As we were winding down, having a chat with Jane about the great evening we were experiencing, I was facing NE when two very bright objects (mag -1.5) suddenly appeared, one trailing behind the other, about 20 degrees above the horizon, low in Camelopardolis, nearing Auriga, heading down towards the NE horizon. I got a bit excited and told Jane to check it out too. We speculated that it was the Shuttle and ISS and that they must have recently undocked. Bingo. A check of Starry Night Pro confirmed our suspicions. What a sight. And if that little surprise wasn't enough, as I was packing my gear 20 minutes later, I was facing the NW when I noticed a fairly bright (mag 2-3) satellite heading south about 30 degrees up. As I pointed this one (Cosmos 1536) out to Jane, I made a sarcastic comment (who me?) about seeing "another" satellite and how they were ruining my night vision. Suddenly, about 5 degrees to the north of this one, an incredibly bright flare of light brightened the entire sky. Just as fast as it brightened, it dimmed and Jane suggested that it might have been an Iridium flare. She was right again. It turned out to be Iridium 66, which reached a mag -6.0 at our location!!!! Unbelievable! A totally unexpected celestial light show. What a way to finish off our inaugural TAC-SHT star party.

Clear Skies,
Jim Ster

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