Jan 222018

Our last star gaze of the year at Eden Gardens State Park was somewhat cloudy but we had a great turnout for scopes and guest observers. We were able to just catch the day old Moons’ barely visible crescent before it set behind Eden Gardens ancient tree line. We were also able to pick out Saturn as the sky started to darken. It also set behind the trees fairly early. After that we shifted to the deep sky objects we could pick out between the clouds.

NWFAA members as they set up their scopes: (L->R) Robert Sutphen & friend, Tom Haugh, Dean Covey, and Dennis Hausch. To the far right is a young guest observer and his parent who accepted our standard invitation to bring personal equipment to the star gaze. He brought out a very nice 60mm refractor.
The day old Moon before it set. It is much easier to see here than it was finding it in the telescope. The contrast between the Moon and the sky was just at the limit of visiblity in the scopes.
Additional telescopes were brought by James Dubbin (hiding behind the 16″ Dobsonian all the way on the left) and Mike M. (prospective new member just to the right of the Dob). Ken Sharp also brought his scope but by then it was apparent we had good scope to observer ratio and he spent the evening moving from group to group providing color commentary.

We want to thank, once again, Marietta Hausch for her photos of the event.

 Posted by at 1:27 pm
Jan 222018

Fresh from the total eclipse on Monday, Dean Covey, Tom Haugh and Robert Sutphen set up scopes for the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park star gaze. After an initial viewing of the Sun we shifted to nighttime mode. We had a fairly good turnout but the high wispy clouds discouraged any deep sky object viewing. Luckily, Saturn was high in the sky and that was our primary target for the evening. A couple of star clusters were visible through the haze, but all the assembled guest observers went home pleased with the event.

 Posted by at 12:37 pm
Jan 222018

Not all of the NWFAA members were at Henderson Beach State Park for August’s total eclipse of the Sun. Several members along with friends and family were spread out across the country to get a better view than was visible in the Florida panhandle. The NWFAA distributed about 1000 solar eclipse glasses. While most went to the public attending the eclipse watch at Henderson Beach some went to family and friends across the nation with a few making it all the way to the west coast.

NWFAA locations (members, friends and family)

Most of the group’s travelers viewed the eclipse visually, but some took cameras along to record the bucket list level event. Below are some of the photographic highlights.

Dennis and Marietta Hausch traveled to Lebanon, Tennessee to view and photograph totality. Dennis set up his camera in tandem with an H-alpha scope so other eclipse watchers could follow along telescopically.
Robert Sutphen made the trip to Lexington, South Carolina to view the eclipse. Unfortunately, camera problems limited his photos to pre and post totality, but those exposures were excellent.
Chris Haugh traveled a short distance north from Atlanta, Ga. to Anderson, SC. Clouds were the problem there. His photos were taken through a cell phone with a strap-on zoom lens filtered via NWFAA provided eclipse glasses.
Arguably the best photos come from Ken and Paula Sharp who traveled to Seneca, SC. Ken is one of the NWFAA’s finest DSLR astrophotographers and his image of totality proves it. His meticulous planning and preparation for the event paid off handsomely.
 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Oct 082017

This event at Henderson Beach state park was not like any of our past events here. As we arrived an hour before our published start time, there was already a long line of ‘guest observers’ waiting. Even before we arrived park staff had setup a comfort stand to hand out water to those that would need it, so we took advantage of their help and gave them the eclipse glasses that we brought for the guests.

Guest observers waiting for 11:00 AM

Finally, the line starts to move.

Meanwhile we started setting up the solar equipment. Dean Covey and Tom Haugh each set up two telescopes; one white light filtered and one H-alpha. Robert Forrester brought his white light filtered Maksutov for his first public star gaze with the NWFAA. He also setup a static display with information and handouts about the eclipse and the Sun. His help was greatly appreciated.

Tom checks the 3rd mount’s compass heading.

Guest observers getting a ‘before’ view of the Sun.

As we finished setting up those scopes, the clock chimed 11:00 and the crowd started to gather at each of the scopes. Lines formed and we were busy from then until well past maximum eclipse. If fact, we were so busy that Tom did not have the chance to finish setting up his third telescope. Unfortunately, that was the scope with the piggyback camera to record the eclipse, so he was not able to get any photos. Dean wasn’t able to get any either while he manned his two scopes.

Eclipse underway.

Watching the observers watching the eclipse.

The rarity of the event led to great coverage by our local media. The Northwest Florida Daily News and Channel 13 out of Panama City sent teams to cover the eclipse.

Northwest Florida Daily News live streams a report. Note the un-scoped mount in the background.

Channel 13 live from Henderson Beach.

Although none of the NWFAA members got the chance to get any photos of the eclipse, one of our guests did. He was kind enough to send us some that were taken through the eclipse glasses that were handed out at the beginning of the event.

Near maximum obscuration.

Past maximum.

The park ranger’s first estimate of attendance was 1,400 and with the uninterrupted flow of observers, we believe them. The weather started out with some high hazy clouds, but well before first contact the skies overhead were clear. Luckily, the ominous clouds to the north stayed away until well after last contact and most of the crowd had left. But ultimately, the skies darkened, the wind picked up and we scrambled to get packed before the rain started. Thankfully, it didn’t.


Frank, Robert, Tom and Dean (L-R)

We would like to thank the Henderson Beach rangers for their support of our event. We also need to thank Donna Haugh for her support and photography. And finally, we need to thank guest observer Artis Coleman for his pictures of the eclipse and of the crowd. Thank you all.

 Posted by at 2:09 pm
Aug 242017

This year Bay Elementary School’s summer SPICE program featured NASA and Space. We were glad to support the program with a daytime solar star gaze. The only party not fully cooperating was our atmosphere. It was very cloudy by the time the students had finished the NWFAA presentation about our closest star – the Sun. There was lots of waiting for the Sun to peek out of the clouds. However, the students patience paid off and the clouds started to break and ultimately the skies were mostly clear.

Frank shows off his scope while waiting for the clouds to clear.

Finally, the clouds started to break and lines formed at the scopes.

The line at Dennis’ H-Alpha scope.

Robert’s 8″ Celestron was used to view the sunspot.

Dean’s H-alpha scope shows off the small prominence.

Viewing the solar spectrum through Tom’s spectroscope.

Frank Atchison, Dean Covey, Tom Haugh, Dennis Hausch and Robert Sutphen all brought instruments to support the event. Eventually everyone got to see the Sun in each of the devices that we had set up. In addition to the solar disk, the students were able to see one large sunspot and one small prominence.

We would like to thank the staff of Bay Elementary School for the invitation to share our passion for Astronomy and for the photo of the entire gang. We also thank our unofficial club photographer ,Marietta Hausch, for the additional event pictures.

 Posted by at 8:29 am
Aug 092017

Our first visit to Parkwood Estates was our second attempt after the first was postponed due to weather. Unfortunately, what looked like better weather conditions deteriorated until the skies were very overcast before the Sun even set. Tom Haugh held a question and answer session for the assembled crowd until Jupiter finally made an appearance through a few holes in the clouds.

Tom answers questions while stalling for clear skies.

Dennis answers guest observer questions.

In addition to Tom’s telescope, Dennis Hausch, James Dubben and Robert Sutphen all brought scopes in hope of clear skies. The clouds slowly broke revealing a 6 day old Moon. Those guests who waited out the sky were able to ultimately view Vega, Epsilon Lyrae, the Ring Nebula (M 57) and the great Hercules cluster (M 13).

A line finally forms at Roberts 8″ Celestron.

James aims the 16″ for a young observer.

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Aug 012017

Clouds were somewhat broken when members of the NWFAA started setting up their solar equipment at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, but by the time we were all setup, there were only a few small spots of blue in the sky. Dean Covey, Tom Haugh and Robert Sutphen provided the solar telescopes. However, the Sun and the holes in the clouds rarely lined up. Luckily, a few of our guests were able to catch a quick glimpse of the Sun before it set. A band of clear sky to the south, out over the gulf, kept promising clearing skies so we stuck around. Eventually, the clouds started to break and the later it got, the bigger the holes were until it was mostly clear. By the time the Sun set, club member Cliff Schornak added his scope to the group for the nighttime portion of the event.

We had 40+ guest observers throughout the afternoon and evening. This was one of the better attended events at Topsail and we must acknowledge the assistance of the Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park for the larger crowd.

As has been the pattern recently, Jupiter was the first object that was visible. The planet was so bright it was visible through the lighter parts of the cloud deck and it was the only object visible for some time. Later, the great Hercules cluster was also spotted high overhead as well as the Ring Nebula and Antares over the southern tree line. Even though the sky still had some clouds, the Milky Way was just visible.

Finally, just before we shutdown, Saturn rose over the southeastern treeline. As usual, Saturn stole the show and wowed the first time observers.

 Posted by at 8:02 pm
Jul 132017

Eden Gardens State Park is just down the road from Grayton Beach State park and since it was only one month since the Grayton Beach event the same celestial objects were still visible. Once again, our early guest observers were able to view Jupiter before sunset well before the 4 Galilean moons were visible.

Jupiter’s not visible yet.

A young guest observer gets ready to view Jupiter.

This edition of state park star gaze featured the debut of Scott Morgan’s radio telescope. NASA sponsors the Radio Jove project; an educational project for students, teachers and the general public. Scott built one of their receiver kits and constructed the antenna system. Although the Earth, Jupiter and Io orbital geometry was not optimal to ‘listen’ to Jupiter’s radio emissions, he set up the scope anyway and monitored the observations.

Scott and his radio telescope setup and listening.

‘Observing’ Jupiter

Several club members brought traditional optical telescopes as well. Dean Covey brought his 8″ Celestron and James Dubben brought the clubs big Dobsonian mounted Newtonian reflector. It took several members and several minutes to setup and collimate, but the 16″ aperture is well worth the effort. The Ring Nebula (M 57) just starts to show some color when the big scope is pointed its way. Other objects viewed were the Whirlpool Galaxy (M 51) and the Great Hercules Cluster (M 13). Additional optical telescopes were setup by Tom Haugh and Robert Sutphen. This star gaze also featured a second debut. Robert has his classic orange 8″ Celestron mounted on a brand new goto mount.

Dave, Robert and James assemble the clubs 16″ Dobsonian.

James and Ken collimate the 16″.

Our binocular observers also supported the star gaze. Dave Halupowski and granddaughter Kennedy made the trek with Dave’s ever popular binocular chair, and Ken Leone brought his tripod mounted 70mm Oberwerks binoculars.

 Posted by at 4:04 pm
Jul 122017

Members of the NWFAA headed north Wednesday morning to provide students of the Holt Academy with telescopic views of the Sun. Each class got a quick presentation about the Sun before heading outside to view our nearest star. We had enough volunteers that the students were able to view the Sun four different ways. Frank Atchison brought his white light filtered 8″ Meade. Dean Covey provided a Hydrogen-Alpha view. Dave Halupowski had his Unitron refractor setup for solar projection and Tom Haugh had his spectroscope set up. A couple of times the clouds slowed the lines at the telescopes but everyone got a chance at each solar device.

 Posted by at 2:07 pm
Jun 122017

Our first public star gaze at Grayton Beach State Park was a qualified success. We setup solar telescopes three hours before sunset as usual, unfortunately, there were only a few guests to take advantage of them.

Taking a last look at the setting Sun.

One person that did show up was photographer Todd Douglas who was on assignment for Emerald Coast Magazine. He was there to get photos for the magazine’s upcoming article on Astronomy. It is always amazing to see the results of an artist at work. The previews he showed us were amazing. We really look forward to the magazine’s article.

Guest observers view Jupiter at dusk.

As the Sun started to set, the clouds started to gather. But, they were broken enough that we were able to view through the gaps. The first target visible was Jupiter easily seen in the evening dusk. By the time the sky was fully dark the broken clouds were lit fairly well by the surrounding communities. However, it was obvious from the dark skies in between that Grayton Beach, absent the clouds, would have quite dark skies.

We observed an eclectic set of objects. Whatever was visible through the holes, we looked at:

  • Jupiter
  • M 42 (Orion Nebula)
  • M 65 & M 66
  • M 44 (Beehive Cluster)
  • M 41
  • Alcor/Mizar

The skies in between the brightly lit clouds were dark enough that we could view both components of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M 51). That is unusual for a site as close to the gulf as the state park is. We look forward to a cloudless event at Grayton Beach.

One again we thank Marietta Hausch for her event photos.

The NWFAA members who supported our first Grayton Beach star gaze were:

  • Frank Atchison
  • Tom Haugh
  • Dennis & Marietta Hausch
  • Ken Leone
  • Robert Sutphen
 Posted by at 8:35 pm