The 12th annual Weekend Under the Stars (WUTS) astronomy gathering August 8, 9 and 10 at Foxpark was a big success with 231 people registered, packing an impressive 1,553 inches of aperture in a wide variety of telescopes and binoculars. WUTS is sponsored by the Cheyenne Astronomical Society and by the Laramie Astronomical Society and Space Observers.
Junior astronomers enjoyed stories of constellations, a 1,000-yard model of the solar system and a "Tick Tock Big Dipper Clock Class" at WUTS, conducted by Mary Jo Schutz of the Cheyenne Astronomical Society. Guest speakers at the Saturday main event included physicist Gary Linford (a copy of his talk can be read by clicking on this link), who talked about the origins of the solar system. Linford's talk touched off a discussion on everything from astrophysics to the future of fusion reactors as a practical power source. The discussion continued for hours afterward. There was also a talk about light pollution from Don Higgins of the International Dark Sky Association, Arizona.
Participants started arriving unusually early this year, with many RVs rolling into Foxpark on Thursday, August 8. The weather was excellent this year, with clear skies every night. It did get cold, with temperatures in the 20 degree Fahrenheit Range, but it warmed up on Saturday night. Winds were brisk during the day on Friday and Saturday, but it calmed down at night.
There were some very large telescopes at the event, including two huge Dobsonians, one with a 30-inch mirror and one with a 32-inch mirror. The 32-incher was brought by Astrosystems, which had many visitors at its vendor tent. To see photos of these, and other telescopes and people at the event click on this link to Gary Garzone's online WUTS photo album at Webshots. Garzone owns the 30-inch scope mentioned above. Gary has more WUTS photos posted on the Longmont Astronomical Society's web page at the following links: WUTS photos page 3, page 4 and page 5.
Some of the telescopes at Weekend Under the Stars had some very interesting designs, like an unusual schiefspiegler (German for "leaning mirror") telescope. The design is an unusual open external structure made with kite struts. It was designed and constructed by Longmont Astronomical Society member Tim Brown with the aid of an optical design program. It looks kind of like a tinker toy telescope, but it is a very efficient "folded optics" design, sort of like a Schmidt-Cassegrain, but with a much longer focal length, better contrast, and no center obstruction. It works best at high magnifications, Brown said, and is an excellent instrument for planetary and solar observations. Click here to see photos of Brown's tri-mirrored schiefspiegler telescope. This telescope design, which originated in Germany, is common in Europe, but is rarely seen in the U.S.
For more on the schiefspiegler design, click on this link to a web page of another amateur astronomer who designed and built his own tetra-mirror Brunn-schiefspiegler telescope. Here is a link to a page with instructions on how to build a simple, dual-mirror schiefspiegler telescope.
As in the past, the main attraction of the event was not so much the stars or the telescopes, although the stars are fabulous under dark skies at an altitude of over 9,055 feet, and the telescopes were fascinating, but the people. There is nothing quite like a gathering of astronomers in a place where you can find your way from one telescope to the next by starlight alone. Of course, the door prizes always draw a crowd, too. This year the top door prize was a Meade ETC150, complete with tripod and starboard computer. Check out WUTS next year at the 13th Annual Weekend Under the Stars July 24, 25 and 26 at Foxpark. The official website of WUTS is http://home.bresnan.net/~curranm/wuts.html.