Star Party at Ottawa Lake, WI on a rare 60 degree April night

It was enjoyable to gather at Ottawa Lake State Park this past Thursday, 4/13 for a star party under darker skies. 

With enough time to pack and prep, it is amazing to see how many telescopes I can fit into a 4 door car and then set up for the star party in time for sunset. I'm glad I did, as we all got to look through these scopes. Pictured above are:
  • Unistellar eVscope 114mm imaging reflector, for live stacking (EAA). Favorite view, M51, as well as the Black Eye Galaxy:
  • Vixen FL90s 810mm refractor on a manual mount with a telrad sight. Favorite view: Cruising through the Cancer Constellation, 25mm
  • Takahashi Mewlon 210 uncorrected Dall Kirkman on a Meade LX85 Go To. Favorite view: M3, noted to add a reducer next time.
  • Vixen AX103s reduced imaging refractor (575mm), connected via ASIair Plus for live stacking (EAA). Favorite sight: M101 live stack of just 15 minutes.
Another person at the star party also brought a 12-inch Orion dobsonion, with a Nexus DSC pro and a selection of nice Televue wide-angle eyepieces. Most enjoyable to look through were Bode's and Cigar Galaxy in one eyepiece view, as well as a variety of galaxy clusters. 

The views were wonderful once the clouds started to ease back, starting around 9pm. Prior to, we were treated to some spectacular sunset views as well as a visit by a number of cranes. I'd forgotten the name of the birds that were hopping around in the field nearby making the unique noise, but there was also a birder in our group for sure.

By the time it got darker we started getting some wonderful views from the Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA) scopes I'd set up, the eVscope, as well as a refractor, both projecting wirelessly to tablets on battery power. 

My favorite view from the ASIair plus setup was M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy, only a mere 20.87 million light years away! The image below is the result of just using 14 x 60 second frames (14 minutes total integration), using the Live Stacking feature in ZWO ASIair Plus, without loading flats or darks into the live stacking library. I think it turned out very well, using the Omega Galaxy Contrast filter, Vixen AX103s quad apo and the  ZWO ASI2600MC. We could see most of this image after just about 2 frames or 2 minutes of exposure time, on my tablet live. For post-processing today I trimmed areas where flats would have helped (still some blotching, but considering context, it's fine), then I just took the auto-stacked image file into BlurXterminator and NoiseXterminator, and then raised the saturation and rgb curves in Pix Insight. If you look toward the bottom, I think we even caught an early Lyrid, as they tend to be green or pink, so this has a brightening section as well as a tail, in contrast to satellite shots I'd picked up in other photos:

The above is definitely my favorite, in addition to the Lyrid streak, note all of the surrounding galaxies in the left, right, bottom right as well from such a wide-angle view, as marked below using a plate solve from

Then via the Unistellar eVscope I bring with me whenever I'm out, we all took turns controlling the scope and jumping around to various sights, which we could see displayed in real-time on a tablet as the telescope live-stacked the 4second exposures it was taking.

Some of the favorites were the Black Eye Galaxy, a mere 17 million light-years away. This is the result of 42 minutes of eVscope live-stacking:

Then the duo of M51a/b, called the Whirlpool Galaxy, about 31 million light years away, featuring two galaxies being stretched apart to eventually form one. This is after about 20 minutes: 

A similar situation is occurring with Bodes Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy, shown here separately - but as noted, we could visually see in one eyepiece as well.

Bode's Galaxy - the larger of the duo that pulls in the Cigar Galaxy as it comes close.

We also enjoyed Planetary Nebulas, and the dust and gas from stars that have shed their layer of gas. Here is the Oyster nebula, which was a little too faint to catch in an eyepiece although it was fun trying and swapping filters to attempt Sii/Oii visual filters, catching a faint fuzzy bit of it. You can see why it's called the Oyster nebula, with the star in the center acting as the pearl:

The Owl Nebula was also another fun target for EAA, similar situation of being a planetary nebula - this was too faint to see that night visually, and also fainter than normal in EAA:

As we were waiting for clouds to clear, we prepped for the night by push to align on Venus with a Telrad sight, which is the same sight we use on our Dobsonion at the MAS. As the sky grew darker we went on to view doubles with the Alt-Az push to manual mount on the refractor, including Castor, and my favorite view of the night which I spent a little time to sketch of the unique star formations in the Cancer constellation at 25mm. I used a white gel pen, to allow me to quickly mark on black paper what I could see here:

Sketching is a wonderful way to remember star formations in certain areas, then work on improving accuracy and observing details for future visits to the same area, in my opinion. My sketch is definitely not 100% accurate in terms of placement of stars, but it's close, and helps identify asterisms and unique visual characteristics to come back to.

Overall it was a lot of fun to explore the skies with astronomical society members, plus a few drop-in campers enjoying a wonderful 60 degree night in April. We left at around 2am as clouds started coming back, and I got back home around 3am, although others came and went as late as they'd like. As we get warmer temps, I look forward to seeing some more people at dark sky sites just like Ottawa Lake this summer, as it's a lot of fun to cruise the sky in a group and take advantage of sharing the highlights with others. 

The MAS will be back at Ottawa Lake for a DNR OutWIGo event during the day on May 13th at 10am: 


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