SSPM25. Star Party Post Mortem

By Scott Mellish, 2001

This years "New Millenium" South Pacific Star Party was shaping up to be another biblical epic, so I decided to go up on the Monday prior to the official star party weekend.

I had a small sunshade to erect onto the front of the humpy using some treated pine and some shade cloth. So upon leaving Woy Woy Bay at 10am Monday morning with a fully laden car and trailer it was a nice leisurely drive over the Blue Mountains to Ilford.

This trip on the average takes some 4hrs so it makes a nice day run, especially if the weather is nice and sunny.

Upon arrival at the property it was nice to see that there were some ASNSW members already in attendance. Mick McCullagh and Don and Cynthia Huggup were already well and truly settled in for the Star Party.

Mick came over to see how things were going, while Don and Cynthia had to go into Sydney for the day.

Mick also had to leave to return home because he had a doctor's appointment on the Tuesday.

The afternoon was quite mild and sunny, so while daylight savings was still in action I thought I would get as much done as possible, so I unloaded the car and set about putting up the tent. After all the gear was organised, I thought, while I was on a roll, I would get stuck into erecting the sunshade over the humpy. I had all this done by 7.00pm which left just enough time to set up the telescope to take advantage of a clear night if it arrived.

With everything finally completed, and the telescope set up and collimated, it was just a matter of waiting for the sky to clear.

There were some clouds about early in the evening but by the time I started observing at 10.30pm all was clear. After a pretty hectic afternoon's work I had to push myself to get started. As it turned out it was a wise move, as the night was to be the only night's observing until the following Monday night!

I was keen enough after a few sojourns around the sky looking at various objects to start on a few Abell galaxy clusters.

What better place to start than Hydra. This vast and sprawling constellation is home to a myriad number of extragalactic nebula, and also an abundance of Abell Galaxy clusters.

The first object on the agenda was the nice little cluster Abell 3559 that contained three quite easily visible objects of about mag 14.5. In the eyepiece of the 16inch at 191x mag this trio of oval shaped galaxies was situated among a nice smattering of about mag 9.0 stars.

As you can see in the DSS image (FIG 1) this is quite a rich little cluster, with the three galaxies that I was able to see quite evident in the field.

While these galaxies seem elliptical in shape it is impossible to discern their type by visual inspection of objects that are at such a great distance. Even in the DSS image it is hard to judge the true shape and form. The cluster is also known as Hickson 65 and all up contains some 141 galaxies in total.

Going by megastar the two closest galaxies in the sketch (FIG 2) are actually 5 galaxies in total, which is not evident in the eyepiece at 210x. This usually indicates that all that is seen is the combined glow of the galaxies, which are obviously very close together and probably superimposed on each other.

The furthest separated object in the sketch is PGC 47398 and lies almost out of the 18' Field. It would be about mag 14.5 in brightness.

Abell 3559 is at R.A. 13 29 51.0 DEC. -29 30 53.

It was not long before I was onto the next object of interest which was Abell 3558. This cluster turned out to be richer than 3559 and all the galaxies were marginally brighter. This is a compact little cluster of some 5 objects visible in the 16inch at 191x mag.

All up, there are evidently some 226 galaxies associated with this cluster, a fraction of which we see here.

In the DSS image (FIG 3) you may be able to discern the true richness of this congregation.

If you look closely at the photograph, you can see that there is large number of tiny, very distant galaxies in the field, some are edge-on spirals others are probably face-on or ellipticals. With careful study you should be able to match up the sketch of visible galaxies observed in the 16inch, with the prominent objects in the DSS image.

The bright star in the DSS field is the one that is slightly off-centre in the 18' sketch field (FIG 4). It is obvious that sketching objects is not going to give the same detail that can be gained through a photograph, but it is most interesting to see what can be viewed in comparison, and in some cases that can be quite similar.

Abell 3558 is at R.A. 13 27 38.9 DEC -31 32 23.

The final object that was observed during this first session was a rather disappointing Abell cluster containing only one visible member, at least that I could see.

Abell 3562 could be mistaken for a singular galaxy of little note. If it was not for it being plotted in the Millennium Star Atlas I would have strolled past this cluster and never given it a second thought.

The object in question here is ESO 444-72 (Fig 5) and it would seem that it is the dominant member in a very faint and remote cluster. The galaxy in the 16inch at 191x would be around mag 14.5. It is a very small object, and resembles a planetary nebula in some respects.

As much as I tried, I could not see any other objects in the 18' field no matter how hard I tried. Indeed it is quite apparent that this is a very remote cluster.

A 3562 is at R.A. 13 33 30.0 dec. -31 40 00.
The first night's observing was a nice little bonus that would prove quite handy as the week progressed.

As Tuesday arrived so did the poor weather. From then on until the conclusion of the star party on Sunday the sky would prove very elusive. There was to be no further observing sessions to warrant discussion here. But the social side of the star party was to be quite enjoyable. Apart from a brief grass cutting session and general clean-up on the Tuesday, the whole week would be one of relaxation intermixed with trips to the garbage dump laden with the usual loads of refuse.

Myself and Don and Cynthia Huggup decided to have a rest day on the Wednesday so we trundled off to Bathurst for a bit of sight-seeing. On the way back we had a most enjoyable cup of coffee at a rather rustic café at Sofala.

By late Thursday a vast percentage of the attendees were already on site, so the place was starting to get quite busy.

As Friday arrived the site was a hive of activity, with guests arriving almost constantly throughout the day. The introduction in the hall was very professionally done. And the range of prizes on offer this year was staggering, to say the least.

The scouts were up and running with their successful catering enterprise. That is a very welcome fund raising effort for a small town like Kandos.

Despite the weather on Friday afternoon being quite magnificent, the end result as darkness came was vast amounts of cloud, which built up over Wiruna like the plague.

As I was one of the volunteers for the sky tours I attempted to get something happening, but the cloud just kept on zooming in on the areas where I was pointing the telescope. In the end I had to tell all the tourists that it was a lost cause. But if it cleared they could come back at anytime.

Alas the cloud persisted all night so the rest of the night was spent talking and just generally socializing.

Saturday was the day that the bulk of the festivities were to take place. In the afternoon there was the much-anticipated drawing of all the prizes, which as it turned out, seemed to take forever. Then there were the talks by such notables as Dr Miriam Baltuck, the NASA rep in Australia, and Dr Fred Watson from the AAT, along with Gordon Garradd and our very own Richard Jaworski. All these talks turned out to be most enjoyable. Saturday afternoon also saw a brief fireworks display and the famous rocket launches by Mike Smith, who this year managed to have the director of JPL actually press the ignition!

To round off the afternoon there was the infamous cocktail party which had as its theme this year 'facial hair'. You can shudder to think what was the end result here. This went on to the wee hours, with a few jam sessions with Roger Davis on guitar thrown in for good measure.

All these events such as the trivia quiz and the cocktail party are good fallbacks if the weather is bad on the Saturday night, which in the past it has proved to be 90% of the time. And this year's star party was no exception.

Sunday saw most of the guests return home, with just a handful of people remaining for the usual tidy up of the property, and last trip to the tip.

It is usually the case that Sunday night proves to be the best night for observing. Not this year however. The clouds were out in force again and put paid to the observing. So it was another night of quiet discussion in front of the fire.

Monday was to be my last night at Wiruna after a pretty hectic week. And the night turned out to be pretty good. The usual clear Sunday night arrived a day late this year. But beggars cannot be choosers, so I uncovered the 'coffin' and got stuck into some serious observing.

The final object observed was the very interesting Galaxy group 'Copeland's Septet' in Leo. This gathering of galaxies is somewhat famous in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is not hard to see why. In the eyepiece of the 16inch at 191x mag there are 6 objects visible in the 18' field. Upon checking the megastar chart what we see in the field is as follows: left of centre - NGC 3751, the centre comprises of three objects, but I could only discern two. This usually means that the third object is probably superimposed on its companions. But for interest's sake the three objects listed are NGC 3754, NGC 3753 and NGC 3750. To the right of these Galaxies we have NGC 3746 and directly on top of it is NGC 3745. About 1' above these two objects is the quite obscure, and almost stellar NGC 3748. This galaxy would almost pass unnoticed if it was not for its diffuse and tiny faint halo around what appears to be its bright pin-point core, or line of sight faint star.

All these objects are around the 14.0 mag or less range, which makes the fainter members a bit of a challenge.

As you can see in Fig 6 this is a charming little group worthy of close scrutiny. I spent quite a bit of time meticulously studying the septet with averted vision just to squeeze out as much detail as I could.

Copeland's septet is also known as Hickson 57B and is at R.A. 11 37 43.6 DEC. +22 00 34.

Well, the final night at Wiruna, after the star party was over and done with, turned out to be a nice little observing session and it was about time too! Having been at the property for 8 days, only two nights' observing was scant reward. But it was an enjoyable star party which ran like clockwork and everyone got together and helped out in the biggest show of volunteers I have ever seen at an SPSP since they began way back in 1993.

Now it's time to start thinking of next year's event.