Saskatchewan Summer Star Party

Article by Kevin Kawai 

Throughout the year, Jeff Swick, Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Saskatoon Centre), kept leaving off-the-wall comments on Celestron's Flickr Photo Albums hinting that Celestron should come out and visit a different part of Canada and experience the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party firsthand. For example, Jeff wrote "Come on....just a little more cable and we'll be able to plug into the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party." Well, after reading a comment like that, I conducted my own investigation and decided to read more about the SSSP, now in its 14th year. The SSSP is held yearly at Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park, where its high elevation is filled with forests of pine and spruce trees along with abundant wildlife such as moose, elk and deer. At night, the magnitude 7 sky is filled with stars and is probably one of the darkest sites to observe from in all of Canada - a perfect place to hold this yearly gathering of astronomy enthusiasts - mainly from the Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces.

Celestron's Firmware Engineer, Derik DeVecchio, accompanied me on Celestron's first ever trip to the SSSP. After arriving in Calgary, we took at nice 4.5 hour scenic drive along the Trans-Canada Highway to Maple Creek and then on to Cypress Hills. We arrived on site as light drizzle began to fall, which soon turned to a steady downpour. The roads became muddy, and the grounds saturated with water, yet campers and RVs were still entering the Meadows to claim their campsite. We were immediately greeted and welcomed to the star party by our hosts - Ken From and Wade Williamson, of All-Star Telescopes; Jeff Swick, our initial contact person; Rick Huziak, Registrar & Registration and Les Dickson, Resort and Speaker Coordinator. Eventually, the rain subsided enough for us to set up a temporary table at the All-Star Telescope tent to meet and greet star party participants, but soon after, the rains returned, and we hurriedly took cover. That evening, a BBQ took place at the Recreation Hall (originally scheduled for the outdoor amphitheater). With good food and conversations, the BBQ dinner was a great place to mingle about, make new friendships and stay dry. Noted Canadian Astronomer and Author, Alan Dyer, introduced himself to us, and how great it was to finally got to meet the man behind one of our favorite astronomy books - "The Backyard Astronomer's Guide." I must say, the Canadian folks really went out of their way to make us feel welcomed!

Rain and foggy conditions continued to plague the Cypress Hills area into the next day with no letup in sight. Even though, everyone made the best out of the situation and congregated at the Cypress Hills Resort, located just around the corner from the Meadows, to talk astronomy and telescopes. Derik and I took a drive around the park to check out the local wildlife and scenic points before our afternoon meeting with Les. We eventually found our way back to the Meadows, but it was rather sad to see a field void of any telescopes. However, good news began circulating that the Clear Sky Chart pointed to clearing skies for Saturday night. Everyone remained optimistic and had their fingers crossed. After dinner, people started to gather downstairs in the huge Wapiti Room for the casual 5 - 15 minutes Friday Evening Talks. Scheduled presenters included Vance Petriew - Regina Centre's 100th Anniversary; Brian Richards - Kamloops Club Dome & Star Party; Chris Beckett - RASC Observing Certificate Program and Richard Huziak, The Grasslands Dark Sky Preserve.

Saturday morning started off with rain but soon became intermittent enough for people to return back to their campsites. All-Star Telescopes, with a fully erected tent, opened for business selling the must-have telescope essentials, while Derik and I interacted with attendees and answered questions. We also spent some time walking the Meadows to meet up with Celestron telescope owners to give them tips on how to better enhance their equipment's operations, which went over very well with everyone.

After lunch, nearly everyone drove back to the Cypress Hills Resort for the much anticipated "Saturday Talks" in the Wapiti Room, which Derik and I, along with Alan Dyer and Stan Shadick, were scheduled to speak. About 250 plus people were in the audience as Alan began the talks by delivering his presentation of "Latest and Greatest Images of Neat Things in the Sky." Alan's provided stunning astrophotography works from Chile and incredible time lapsed videos of the night sky. In addition, Alan shared his "unlucky" 13th eclipse expedition images from Tahiti. His previous 12 eclipse adventures had been all clear.

Derik and I were up next, and we divided our talks into two parts - Marketing and Engineering presentations. My presentation was titled "Celestron on-the-go and its 50th Anniversary." I spoke about my 10 years with the company, and my first meeting with Celestron's Founder, Tom Johnson, when I was a young boy. I went on to speak about the many star parties and school outreach programs Celestron have been involved with this year, and I highlighted Celestron's 50th Anniversary, and how Tom got started in developing a passion of building large aperture, affordable, high quality telescopes. I also discussed our 50th Anniversary Mini-Site on Celestron's Homepage, and at the conclusion, I played the trailer from our Documentary film "The Path of Light," which received a loud applause from the audience. Derik spoke next and gave a humorous yet serious presentation on "Getting the most out of your Celestron Go-To Telescope." He informed the audience how most customers usually skip over reading the instruction manual and therefore, miss out on many key handcontrol features which would greatly enhance their viewing experience. Throughout his presentation, Derik constantly reminded the audience to "read the manual" which generated much laughter from the audience and became the theme of the entire presentation. I rejoined Derik for 10 minutes of questions and answers immediately following his presentation. We answered as many questions as we could until Les crossed his arms to signal that our time was up. After the presentation, both Derik and I held our own impromptu workshops to give advices on handcontrol features and SCT collimation tips.

Stan gave the final talk of the afternoon with his very informative presentation of "Investigating Exoplanets with Small Telescopes." He covered what scientist have learned about the properties of exoplanets in over 380 planetary systems, and even how amateurs may be able to contribute to finding additional exoplanets. What a great afternoon of talks.

After the presentations concluded, the Awards Ceremony took place followed by the Door Prize Draw. Awards were given in various categories including the 10th Anniversary Awards for those who have attended at least 10 of the last 14 SSSPs. One winner was 9 year old Emily Petriew, daughter of Vance Petriew, who had discovered comet P/2001 Q2 Petriew at the 2001 SSSP! Emily had attended her first ever SSSP even before her first birthday! Other awards categories included the Finest NGC Awards and the Astro Photo & Sketch Contest Awards. A Volunteer Prize Draw was held, where winners were picked beforehand, including our own Derik DeVecchio, who won a green laser pointer from a competitor of all things! Finally, the grand Door Prize Draw took place. Darrel Chatfield, door prize coordinator, called up Ken (All-Star Telescopes) along with Derik and me to the front to draw winners of the SkyMaster 25x70 binocular, a NexStar 127SLT and a 114LCM. Each of us took turns drawing and announced the winning numbers. Below are some of the lucky winners.

A group photo was taken outside followed by the delicious Dinner Banquet back in the Wapiti Room. By this time, the sky was filled with white puffy clouds and lots of blue skies! Being higher up in latitude also meant longer summer days here, even during the dinner hour. The Clear Sky Chart correctly predicted the weather outlook as everyone was eager to finish dinner and get back to the Meadows to salvage one last clear night of observing. When darkness fell, the night sky definitely lived up to everyone's expectation. The Milky Way soon arched its way across the dark filled starry sky, and we gasped at seeing the myriad of stars from one of the best sites on the planet. Every now and then, bright meteors from the Perseids Meteor Shower lit up the sky to a chorus of "oohs!" Just a short walk away, a public star party took place at the tennis courts, where park visitors, comprised mostly of families, converged to listen to an expert guide who provided beginners with a tour of the summer constellations. To look up and see M13, M31, the Sagittarius Star Cloud and more with the naked eyes, we knew this place was very special.

The next morning, we stopped at the Meadows one last time to say our goodbyes to all the new friends we made at the SSSP. To leave all this wonderful nature behind, especially with clearer days ahead was hard to do, but we reminded ourselves that there will always be a "next time." We would like to say a big "thank you" to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Saskatoon Centre), Barb Wright, Jeff Swick, Rick Huziak, Les and Ellen Dickson, Alan Dyer, Darrel Chatfield, Kathleen Houston, Chris Beckett, Regina Centre, Ken From and Wade Williamson of All-Star Telescopes and many other dedicated volunteers that put on a wonderful 2010 SSSP and welcomed us (Celestron) to this great annual event. Hopefully, we'll be invited back for a future SSSP, but until then, just remember Derik's famous quotation - "read the manual."

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