Star Trekking Weekend

For me, anything taking less than a week of planning and preparation is a spur-of-the-moment thing. So when I decided to take off for an overnight of camping & star gazing (what I call a “Star Trek”) last Saturday morning, that was a real spur of the moment decision.

First order of business was the essentials: the telescope, mount, eyepieces, laptop, cables and other astro-items.  Next, the food: a quick look in the fridge for easy leftovers. A couple of hot dogs, a chicken breast, some bread, drinks, eggs, hash. I’m all set.

My trusty FJ40, Rocinante, and trailer are always ready; they just had to be hooked up and I was off. Except…dang! I had a show to attend. No getting out of it. It was a Christmas gift for a friend, after all.

So right after the show ended at 4 PM, I headed home, hooked up and hit the road. You might say I blasted out of there, but then, this IS my FJ40 with trailer. Blasting is relative, so a mighty quick pace is 60 to 65 mph.

I was headed to southeast Arizona about 75 miles away from home, where I could count on some nice dark skies. Celestial objects don’t take kindly to all the light pollution around major cities, and I am afraid Tucson has become just that.

My timing was only fair, as I arrived after sunset and my first two choices for campsites were already occupied. So I set off along another little used track, finally finding a nice flat area about a half-mile away.

No problem. I set up camp very quickly (the Horizon Adventure Trailer with RTT makes that really easy), then set up the telescope and laptop. An hour or so after sunset the stars were out in force, and I was rolling. My scope is an 11” Schmidt-Cassegrain, which gathers a lot of light and allows me to see some very faint objects. Right now my particular favorites are galaxies and galaxy clusters.

This night though, I was on the hunt for the Messier objects (see: http://www.seds.org/messier/). I had a list I wanted to see and was making steady progress for a couple of hours until the night temperatures dropped below 45Ëš. Then my laptop battery pooped out and shutdown.

Not to be deterred I pressed on using the onboard computer within the scope base and managed to knock off a few more. As the temp dropped, I called it quits for a few hours and crawled into a nice warm sleeping bag.

At 4 AM I was up again and observed for another hour and a half before crawling back into bed until after sunrise.  What a crazy feeling to not be up well before sunrise!

I spent the day sitting in the sun, reading an old Sci-Fi novel by Heinlein.  I was planning on a second night star gazing but the wind started to pick up, actually lifting my awning off the ground at one point. The very fine powder dust that was swirling about is no friend to an optical instrument so I simply packed it up and headed home around sunset.

It was a most excellent Star Trek.

Now to start planning for an extended Star Trek to southern Utah later this year…