I've had an epic weekend of work and partying to celebrate the launch of the New Forest Observatory mini-WASP telescope facility: Probably the most advanced amateur wide-angle astrophotography facility in the country.

The mini-WASP system is named after its big brother, the Super-WASP system. Mini-WASP consists of two wide field refractors with two 10MP Starlight-Xpress CCD cameras and filter wheels. Eventually the system will boast 4 such cameras and scopes. Under this array of imaging equipment is a Paramount ME equatorial telescope mount on a custom aluminium pier. The rig is housed in a 2.2m Pulsar Optical observatory dome.

I turned up at Greg's around 11am on Saturday. After trying out some software I'd written to synchronise the 4 cameras and 4 computers, we erected Greg's new 6m by 4m marquee. This was kind of fun with only two chaps and no clue how it went together. Much of the remaining afternoon was spent tuning the automatic dome rotator system and generally making preparations for the following day's party.

During the evening we has a lucky bonus of some clear skies. I set to work in the observatory about 9pm to polar align the Paramount using a rather humble webcam and a copy of K3CCDTools: Despite the simple tools, I got the job done. Beneath deteriorating skies we were able to grab a few long exposure frames to validate the polar alignment. This test culminated with both cameras running automatically in parallel for the first time.

Sunday was party day. We got up fairly early (some earlier than others) and I collected Little Pete from the train station at the god-forsaken time of 9.15am. The morning was spent cooking and preparing for the guests who started to arrive around 11am. The rest of the afternoon vanished in a blur of activity: Cooking, eating, talking etc. As chief astro-engineer geek, I made sure lots of would-be astronomers got their hands on the Paramount joystick control for a test drive.

We had to endure one of Greg's powerpoint lectures, but were rewarded with a lot of superb puddings, one of which was more densely packed than a neutron star with yummy things. Surely gravitation pudding collapse was only averted by "ice-cream degeneracy pressure"? After discussion with my old physics professor, Brian Rainford, the solution to the cosmological "Dark Matter" problem was found in Helga's chocolate fondue.

After people left we reversed the process by dismantling the tent, tidying lots of stuff up, driving home and collapsing in bed.

A very successful weekend, and very enjoyable. Hopefully it won't be long before Greg dazzles us with his first completed mini-WASP image.

New forest observatory party

New forest observatory party

New forest observatory party

New forest observatory party

New forest observatory party

Most of the photos by Pete because I forgot!