The Starry Night, 143

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Southern Star Astronomical Convention at Wildacres Retreat

plus Handheld Astrophotography

The Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club pitched the 29th Southern Star Astronomical Convention this weekend. Explain to me how I'd managed not to hear about this until this year (no, really, don't; I know perfectly well how much of a mole I am). Anyway, I connected with Jim Lamm on Facebook and learned all about it. George Fleenor, whom I had seen since ~1980, planned to go, and one of this year's speakers was Dennis di Cicco, whom I met in the Sahara in 1973 (click here) and hadn't seen since 1974 in Costa Rica. In short, I had to go.


Evening light on the patio.
(worth clicking on the picture)


But I also had to tend some web deadlines, so I signed on as a day-attendee and drove up from Rutherford College on Saturday morning. It's only an hour away. Cruising the parking lot, I collected astronomical vanity plates from four states. In addition to my own ("DARKSKYZ") I found "PLE1ONE", "ASTRONMY", "DRKSKIES", "JUPITER2", and "IOBSRVE".

I ran into George while Joyce Riggsbee was sigining me in; George introduced me to Jim Lamm and Mark Marquette (another Facebook acquaintance). I found Dennis during a lull at the swap meet and handed him a photo of himself flying a Frisbee in Mauritania ("Do you know who this is..."). You don't exactly "catch up" after 40 years, but you do find some common ground and work it over a bit (photo backups, F+W refugees, green flashes, comets, a few eclipses, goat as featured protein). Dennis introduced me to Johnny Horne whom I'd heard speak at Bay's Mountain 20+ years before. I told Johnny I blamed him for costing me a lot of bandwidth: it was his presentation of his astrophotographic mistakes all those years ago that largely inspired and guides the slowblog. "If you only post successes, it's just one more damn picture of M42," I said, "but if you post the mistakes along the way and what you do to fix them, then you've got something that might be useful."

I finally met Paul Lewis after hearing about him from various quarters for decades.

Lunch and supper are served family style at Wildacres around circular tables for 10. Take a seat, see who else is there — you might know the people you were standing in line with, but you'll meet more while passing plates around.

After Dennis's keynote talk and the drawing for door prizes, I wandered around in deepening twilight with the 24mm F1.4 Rokinon. Who know handheld astrophotography was a thing? I should've bought a Canon 6D twenty years ago.


Over the fireplace in the craftsman-style lobby of Wildacres Retreat: "To blend the graces of modern life with the beauty of the wilderness."


setting up

Setting up for a clear night. Elsewhere: various dobs from 6 - 24 inches, refractors and binoculars.


dennis di cicco
Featured speaker Dennis di Cicco flinging a Frisbee in the Sahara (June 1973) and telling
attendees about an ambitious imaging project (April 2015).



After the keynote, Venus and the Pleiades over Wildacres Retreat.
Handheld astrophotography, anyone? (1/6s, 24mm @ F1.4, ISO 6400)



Looking west from Wildacres Retreat in deep twilight.
(Handheld astrophotography: 0.2s 24mm F1.4 Rokinon ISO 6400) Click the image for a closer look.

parking lot

Not really handheld: I braced against a signpost for this one (5 seconds @ F4)


george fleenor

One last handheld astrophoto before heading back down the mountain: Orion in the trees, George Fleenor at the eyepiece of a 24-inch StarStructure Dob. (0.8 second, 24mm F1.4 Rokinon, ISO 6400)


Wildacres Retreat

Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club

Southern Star Astronomical Convention




Except where noted, deep-sky photos are made with an SBIG ST2000XM CCD behind a 10-inch Astro-Tech Ritchey-Chretien carried on an Astro-Physics Mach1GTO. The CCD is equipped with Baader wide- and narrow-band filters. The internal guide chip of the CCD most often keeps the OTA pointed in the right direction (I'll let you know when an OAG or guidescope takes its place). Camera control and guiding are handled by Maxim DL 5.12. The stock focuser on the AT10RC has been augmented with Robofocus 3.0.9 using adapters turned on the lathe downstairs. A Canon 6D and a modded 50D find themselves mounted on an Orion 10" F4 Newtonian or carrying widefield glass on an iOptron Skytracker. Beginning in May 2013, PixInsight has taken over more and more of the heavy lifting -- alignment, stacking, gradient removal, noise-reduction, transfer function modification, color calibration, and deconvolution. Photoshop CS4 et seq and the Focus Magic plugin get their licks in, too.


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                   © 2015, David Cortner