We found this part of Pennsylvania surprisingly rural, out in the middle of nowhere actually. Hunting, fishing, hiking, viewing wildlife, astronomy to a small degree, ATV riding in warm weather and snowmobiling in cold, appear to be the primary recreation pursuits in the area. The nearest town of consequence was Coudersport (yes, The Coudersport, home of Adelphia, a company in big trouble these days) about 15 miles from our site. The Park offers two chemical toilets, several post mounted cooking grills, a pavilion structure that can be utilized by reservation, water at certain locations and little more in form of amenities. We found an outlet behind the restroom building that was live and used this to charge our deep cycle batteries. We’d transported a small, extremely quiet, Honda generator we purchased just for the purpose of charging and used it some as well. If you want to get away from landlines and cell phones, this is a good place to do it; there is no cell phone reception at the site. Across from the park is a small grass airstrip that is still in use. There’s a post-mounted telephone there, the only public phone for miles around as far as we could tell.
Our pre-trip research indicated there’s a camp area about 20 minutes away where you can take a shower for a few bucks (there are state parks, large and small everywhere in this area). Upon investigation, we found a private campground about 8 miles away where you could shower for $3.00. We found the $3 and time to make the drive well worth the effort after a long night; this was the nearest shower from our location.
As the new moon occurred at 06:27 on Wednesday (July 10th), both weekends were fairly active and the number of astronomers present surprised us the Friday we arrived, perhaps 30 or 40 set ups of various equipment types at all levels of excellence. This wasn’t a formalized, advertised star party and as our goal was imaging, we hoped it would be less active and quiet. This looks like ‘big dob’ country and there were many dedicated dob observers that we later found are regulars.
The first night upon arrival, Friday, July 5th found decent sky conditions. We were set up before dark and had completed a lengthy, precision drift polar alignment on the mounts around midnight. At this point we were ready to break out the autoguiders, load film in the cameras and start to image. One significant problem arose however; we left Portland at 03:00, drove 577 miles in just under twelve hours and I was so tired after pre-trip preparations, the early start and arrival set up, I needed to get some sleep. Over the next few days I came to regret this decision.
Before going on I should point out that this trip was the ‘official’ debut of George’s new ‘super-system’. This consists of an AP 1200 Goto mount (this monster has a conservative 150 pound payload), a side-by- side mounting system with an Astro-Physics 155 EDF f7 triplet refractor on one side and a A-P 105mm Traveler, an f6 Christen triplet, on the other. This assembly, along with my MI-250 Goto, also mounting two f8 refractors at 130mm & 78mm, became the focal point of the area and we had many visitors. We came to realize that those ‘crazy guys from Maine’ were being discussed and known in the camping area (they must have been talking about George
Thursday, July 12, 2002 – ‘A Date that Shall Live In Infamy’
Actually, infamy isn’t the correct word, try ‘magnificent’…. Thursday night was one of the finest evenings for astronomy that I’ve experienced; certainly the best combined sky conditions under which I’ve imaged. Key West skies are better with sub-arc second seeing, but this night, taking into consideration all factors, wind (or lack of), transparency, darkness magnitude, ambient light, etc., it was terrific.
This site is noted as having magnitude seven sky conditions; this night was all that and perhaps better. If you wish to take the time, the STV can provide much information about the conditions on any given night. My interest is to set up and shoot to utilize the maximum exposure time possible, so neither of us spent time trying use the STV’s to find out how many arc seconds the seeing may have been. Many of the big dob guys indicated that this was perhaps the best night they’ve experienced at the site and they’re regulars.
I checked my drift alignment and was ready to start an exposure by end of twilight. Cygnus was a few hours from zenith so I determined to shoot an elusive object that I’d always wished to image, The Veil Nebula. As many observers know, the Veil is a faint, remarkable but irregular nebula and best viewed with an OIII or other filter visually. We always refer to it as the Veil, but other common names include the Cirrus, Filamentary or Lace-Work Nebula. The field of view for my f8 prime focus 6X7 camera, (approximately 198 X 231 arc-minutes), indicated nearly all would fit in the frame except for a small section. However, George and I have come to learn that as much of an asset as The Sky, (Level 4, Release 5) is, it often misrepresents objects size and often proves unreliable for frame composition. I centered the target using the computer read out as a guide and started the exposure. Shot 1 was started at 22:57 and exposed for 60 minutes. Upon completion, I advanced the film, started the STV tracking after re-acquisition of the same guide star, and exposed Shot 2 for 90 minutes. CCD imagers claim that film is dead and digital is ‘where it’s at’. However, after starting the exposure I laid back in my lawn chair, wrapped up in a blanket in a position where I could watch the autoguider readings and looked up into the beauty of the Summer Milky Way; imaging just doesn’t get any better than this in my view. The night was superb.
For Shots 3 and 4 the mount was slewed back to Perseus and IC1805 & IC1848, the Heart and Soul, were revisited for another image to be stacked with the first. Both exposures were at 45 minutes, after which the equipment was capped off, covered, etc., and I was in the tent by 03:30. George shot a bit longer and got to bed before 04:00 when the morning twilight was clearly noticeable.
I was up before 08:00 and had the usual visitors coming into camp looking over the equipment and asking how we did imaging during the evening. I started to dismount my telescopes and disassemble the mount in preparation to packing up. George soon exited the tent and started doing the same. We kept to our schedule to within a few minutes of the planned departure and started the 12-hour drive home in our typical astroimaging, lethargic state.
We would highly recommend Cherry Springs State Park for observing or imaging and plan to go back as our schedules permit. All things considered, it’s worth the journey from Maine if you can stay multiple nights. Feel free to contact George or I should you wish to learn more about the site and area. We can put you in touch with some great folks that organize star parties and events at the area facilities and a few we met that are in the employ of the State of Pennsylvania for the parks. All are really helpful and nice folks. This concludes the outline of one of our typical imaging trips. We shot three nights out of eight under decent conditions and where this may not sound all that great, it’s better than our usual average. You can travel wherever you wish in search of dark skies, but astronomy can be a humbling experience whenever the weather doesn’t cooperate, no matter how well you plan. I consider this trip a success and after processing received around 31-6X7 positives from three cameras, 11-35mm prime focus shots from the FS78 and a varied lot of 35mm special effects and daylight shots taken during the week from the two rolls exposed. Of the guided shots, this should produce about six or eight prime focus and wide field final images when stacked and enhanced.
Kiro - July 2002