The South Pacific Star Party in 2009 (SPSP17)

On the weekend of the 22nd – 24th May, the South Pacific Star Party (SPSP) was held at Wiruna, Ilford, about 3 hours drive West of Sydney. The SPSP is hosted by the Astronomical Society of NSW (ASNSW), and is Australia’s biggest star party and usually attracts up to 300 people from all over Australia and some from overseas, to enjoy the beautiful dark skies and great company that the SPSP has to offer.

This weekend was the 17th SPSP, and my 5th. In 2005 I attended my first SPSP and I’ve been hooked ever since. The beautiful skies and the chance to catch up with friends that you might only see once or twice a year, is well worth the trip.

Continue on to read more about this year’s SPSP – the bad weather, the great company and the results from the Astro Imaging Competition.

I left on Friday morning around 8am and arrived about 12pm. It was a harrowing drive over the Blue Mountains – windy, heavy rain, fog, low visibility. The rain cleared by the time I arrived, but found that wind was the theme of this years SPSP.

A Low pressure system on the mid-North Coast, and a High down off Tasmania resulted in very strong Easterly winds buffeting us as we sat right between the 2 systems. Although May is always going to be cold at Ilford, the wind chill really put an icey feel in the air and staying warm became my main priority, as it was pretty clear there was not going to be any observing this weekend.

The bad weather simply meant more socialising, and with good friends Rod, John and Anna, Roger, Geoff, David and Alan we spent much of Friday huddled around the camp fire feeding it more timber and trying to keep warm. Friday night was spent with Rod, John and Anna eating a lovely Guiness Stew, looking at Hubble pictures and watching youtube videos of STS-125 in John and Anna’s caravan. After a long drive, cold weather and no chance of observing, we went to bed quite early but it was a pretty sleepless night as strong gusty winds roared up through the camping fields. It sounded like someone had a hairdryer on outside the tent, all night long.

Saturday morning started with our traditional trip to Rylestone for a big breakfast, with John, Anna, Rod and Roger. We got back at about 11:30am, enough time for Rod to buy a 31mm Nagler and John and Anna to buy a 17mm Ethos at the vendor stalls! 🙂

The Astro Imaging Competition format was tweaked again this year. This time there were 5 categories – Widefield, Solar System, Fixed Equipment (home observatory), Mobile Equipment (setup/pull-down each time) and Image Processing.

I was fortunate and pleased to take out the Solar System category with my Jupiter and Callisto shot from May 2008.

Jupiter with Callisto in Transit

Jupiter with Callisto in Transit

Richard Higby took out 2nd with a shot of Comet Lulin.

Fred Vanderhaven swept the Fixed Equipment category, taking it out with his brilliant starless Lagoon in Narrowband, and his unique Bug Nebula image was the runner-up. 

M8 Lagoon Nebula in Colour Mapped Narrowband

M8 Lagoon Nebula in Narrowband by Fred Vanderhaven

In the Widefield category, a beautiful star trails shot with an observatory in the foreground won, with my Smiley Face Conjunction shot taking out 2nd place.

The Image Processing category, while a great idea, was unfortunately not well represented this year, with Marcus Davies being the only entrant. I’m sure there’ll be more next year!

In the Mobile Equipment category, Mike Sidonio’s brilliant Centaurus A Deep Field was 2nd place, with an M104 by Richard Higby taking out 1st place. I’m sure Mike was a little disappointed, and he definitely deserved to win the category (taking nothing away from Richard), but Mike had entered 3 brilliant images and i’m sure it split people’s votes between his images, so no single image stood out enough.

The lucky door prize draw went quite smoothly, and interestingly about 75% of the winners were children. I’m not sure on the reasoning for having a separate kids draw, and then putting the kids tickets in the open draw as well – most of the winners in the open draw were also children. I reckon it’s great to have a kids draw, hopefully it can spark a lifelong love of astronomy – just not sure why they need to get double the chances by being entered in both draws. 

The Saturday roast was very nice, and after eating the lovely meal I decided it was time to head home. It was evident that the weather wasn’t going to improve and with no chance of any observing, the thought of sleeping in my own warm bed and having a nice warm shower in the morning was too good to pass up. Although I would’ve liked to stay around for more socialising on Saturday night, it sure was nice to be home after a very cold, very windy 2 days at Wiruna.

Even though the weather didn’t co-operate, it was great to see friends again. Well done to the ASNSW and the SPSP organising committee for a very well run star party. It’s improving every year and I already can’t wait for next year. It’s planned to be in May again – very cold as usual but hopefully no wind and no cloud next time!

Thanks for reading.

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