Hello from Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia. I am happy to report that we are having a fantastic time at the Deepest South Texas Star Safari (DSTSS).
Before I go further, I guess I should describe how this trip "works". We are not an organized tour in the traditional sense. We all arranged for our own transportation to Sydney, we reserved our hotel in Sydney individually and we have our own rental cars (or informally formed car pools). On the other hand, the organizers of the DSTSS have arranged for tours and activities that we can choose to participate in or not – it's up to each individual. They also arranged for our accommodations in Coonabarabran at the Warrumbungles Mountain Motel and provided the majority of telescopes for our use. (The members of the 3RF and the Australian volunteers are just fantastic people – it would be hard to thank them enough for the generosity.)
My wife, Beverly, and I arrived in Sydney on Monday, March 8. We met most of the group for a Sydney guided tour on Tuesday, March 9. Our fellow travelers are great fun and very interesting. Many of the Americans are from Texas but several of us are from other states including New Hampshire, Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas and California. Our Australian 3RF members and volunteers are from a variety of places in Australia including Bateau Bay, NSW; Denistone, NSW; Melbourne, VIC; Albury, NSW; Sydney, NSW; Woy Woy, Central Coast, NSW and Bunbartha, VIC.
While in Sydney we participated in a variety of tours (besides the previously mentioned Sydney city tour) including a trip to the Blue Mountains and the old Sydney Observatory.
The astronomy fun really started on Friday, March 12, when the American travelers took the train from Sydney to Dubbo and then rented cars for the trip from Dubbo to Coonabarabran. Coonabarabran and the surrounding area are often referred to as the astronomy capital of Australia. Notable sites in the area include the Siding Spring Observatory (home to the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the UK Schmidt Telescope and a variety of telescopes belonging to other institutions) and the Mopra Radio Telescope.
Our days have been filled with various activities including an Argo Navis / Servo Cat tutorial (most of the telescopes available for our use are equipped with both), presentations on several topics including: what is probably the world's first visual Schmidt telescope, Southern sky highlights, Aboriginal astronomy, and Wolf-Rayet stars as well as an inside tour of Siding Spring Observatory and a hike to an Aboriginal cave. The fun isn't over yet, either. We still have two interesting hikes and an inside tour of the Mopra Radio Telescope to look forward to.
Our nights are filled with unbelievable observing. In my next blog post I'll focus on some of our observing highlights and experiences.