An Inside Tour of the World's Largest Radio Telescope!
On my recent tour to China, we had the privilege of being invited inside the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST). This project managed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences will allow astronomers to observe to the early beginnings of the universe.
FAST needs to employ around 300 astronomers to work at the observatory, and currently there is a shortage, which poses some challenges to get this instrument up to full performance capacity.
It was a fascinating tour and we hope that you will someday visit the site, once the visitor's platform becomes available.
Learn more about FAST: http://fast.bao.ac.cn/en/
It all started on Thursday, Feb 16. Our warehouse and QC guys loaded up the tiny trailer (not the 1968 Airstream as we'd hoped) with our necessary star party equipment and support gear. Scott and I loaded our stuff and we began our trek toward the Florida Keys. It took us some 28 hours of drive time and 3 overnights on the way.
We arrived on Sunday, Feb 19 around 2pm and checked in to our hotel on Marathon Key. Shortly after, we made our way to Camp Wesumkee on West Summerland Key to join the other vendors and star party staff to set up in anticipation of the 33rd Winter Star party crowd.
Nothing much happens on setup day except the arduous task of making our area look good and presentable. We set up maybe 10 scopes and mounts along with the pop up tent and tables for our eyepieces and other accessories. It took us most of the afternoon.
The star party actually opens at noon on Monday, Feb 20. Scott and I had breakfast and headed to the site around 10:30. We scrambled to get our space looking good as the campers and motor homes flooded in. Most of the attendees rush to their favorite spot or just grab the best spot they can find and they do their setup routine as well. It was a windy day and we expected after dark to be the same way. We got in a little viewing time, but fought clouds and wind so we quite early the first night.
Tuesday was windy and cloudy but we met lots of our old friends and spent all day showing off our telescopes and mounts and eyepieces. That night, we expected clouds so we took the evening off and headed to Key West for some dinner and cocktails. As luck would have it, it cleared - somewhat. We were told the next morning that it was clear but the seeing wasn't so great.
Wednesday brought a deluge of rain and strong winds. Winds as strong as 40 mph. We stayed at the hotel until around 2pm when Scott had to go to the Key West airport to head to China. He had to be there a few days later to join in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of JOC - our factories. That evening cleared but the seeing was crappy and we dodged clouds until after midnight.
Thursday was not much different than the first few days and we dodged clouds once again until midnight.
Most of Friday was spent packing all but a few scopes and eyepieces for travel. We needed to head back home on Saturday as soon as we could get off the site. Friday was the best night I've seen at this event in a few years. Heck, 2 years ago, we were there for 6 nights and didn't get one second of viewing. The weather in Feb is so unpredictable, but I can't think of a better place to be in Feb. As night fell, the sky was magnificent. We had a ton of fun with lots of people coming to check out our toys. We viewed maybe 30 or more awesome objects through our 152mm ED APO and our 16" DOB. Gary Parkerson of Astronomy Technology Magazine and several of his "newbie" friends stopped by for more than an hour looking at great objects through the large DOB. They were very impressed. I stayed until after 2am and really didn't want to leave but Saturday would be a long day so I headed back to the hotel.
I arrived at the site at 8:30am and finished tearing down the rest of the scopes and packed the trailer for the long drive home. I was off the site by about 10:30am which gave me a chance to shower before checking out of the hotel. I was on the road by 11:15am. Remember, Scott left the star party on Wednesday afternoon so I was by myself for the teardown and drive back. I was only going to Atlanta but it's about 815 miles. I made it to Valdosta GA around 11:30pm. Sunday morning I headed back out about 8:00am and arrived in Atlanta around 1:30pm. Exhausted and road weary, I crashed for a few hours.
All-in-all, this was another successful event for us. We saw many of our old friends and made a bunch of new ones. We showed off our products and gave people a change to look through our scopes and eyepieces. That isn't always available to the public unless you know someone who has a scope or eyepiece you can use or look through. We fully believe our attendance at star parties is the correct form of marketing and connecting with our customers. We look forward to seeing you at a star party in the future.
Here's a short time-lapse I shot on Friday night. It's about 300 images shot over about 4 hours using a Canon 70D and a Tamron 10-24 f/3.5 lens at ISO 2500 for 25 seconds each exposure with a 5 second delay. It's put together using MPEG Streamclip software and converted to an mp4 file.
It's that time again and Scott W. Roberts and Greg Bragg from Explore Scientific USA are on the road again heading towards the Florida Keys and the annual Winter Star Party to meet up with astronomers and friends from all around the country!
We will have the new 62 Degree Series Argon Purged Waterproof Eyepieces, the new ED80-FCD100 APO, the new Explore Scientific EXOS II EQ Mount with the PMC-Eight GOTO System (at the red hot price of only $899), and much more!
You can take advantage of our eyepiece loan program to try on your telescope at WSP. And of course we will be giving a door prize, an ED102 Essential Series APO telescope valued at $1200!
You can also examine meteorites (provided by Dr. Mike Reynolds) with our new Microscopes.
We encourage you to thaw out under the stars in the Keys.