Are big and bright…
Deep in the heart of Texas"
Every year hundreds of avid observers flock to the Texas Star Party to enjoy a week of stargazing under some of the darkest, clearest skies available anywhere. They're drawn to the TSP's scope-friendly accommodations at Prude Ranch, just outside Fort Davis in western Texas, combined with a southern location (latitude 30.6°) that lets the Milky Way's rich starclouds arch high into the sky and even brings the legendary southern-sky cluster Omega Centauri into view.
But at this year's event, held May 13–20, things "big and bright" were most often flashes of lightning from drenching storms that persisted for virtually the entire week. Organizers admit that the weather was about as poor as anyone could remember. By midweek many of the 580 attendees had tired of sleeping in soggy tents and left early.
Still, clear skies prevailed on two nights, which provided the amassed army of giant Dobsonian reflectors, exotic refractors, and high-end astrophotography rigs with plenty to look at. Early-evening viewing featured faint galaxies in the Virgo Cluster and elsewhere, while anyone who endured until the predawn hours feasted on the myriad "faint fuzzies" hidden in Scorpius and Sagittarius.
Fortunately, the TSP team had lined up an impressive slate of speakers. Australian observer Andrew Murrell detailed the many wonderful sights found in the Small Magellanic Cloud; Alan Dyer showcased images and time-lapse videos he's obtained during his recent trips "Down Under;" and astrophotographer Tony Hallas explored "dynamic processing" — how he manages to extract incredible detail from images taken even under mediocre conditions.
Next year's Texas Star Party will take place June 1–8 — a few weeks later than the typical late-April or May window. According to Barbara Wilson, one of the TSP's directors, there's a hope that the later date will allow more school-age observers to attend.