of the drawbacks of taking an astronomical vacation is the
weather. You can make plans months in advance and
spend untold amounts of money on new equipment only to have it thwarted
adverse weather conditions. Such was the
case of our plans for the 2006 Black Forest Star Party
Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County, Pennsylvania. Eleven
Kalamazoo Astronomical Society members were planning to attend
this years BFSP; the largest group we’ve ever put together for a
only KAS member to attend BFSP was Robert Wade, who
traveled with members of the Lowbrow Astronomers in Ann Arbor.
According to Robert, BFSP now stands for
“Black Forest Sudden Precipitation”!
Robert did do some observing through hazy conditions on Thursday night,
but it then clouded up for the rest of the weekend. He said the
“skies opened up” on Friday and
really soaked his 20” Obsession. There
was even a tornado warning in one of the neighboring counties and,
other reports I read, in Potter County itself.
the weather forecast for BFSP looked grim; I asked my driving mates
(Jean DeMott, Dan Morgan, and
Jack Price) if we should come up with a Plan B. Black Forest has
incredibly dark skies and a
few lectures on Saturday, but other than that there’s not much to
weather is bad. I realized that Starfest
was being held from August 21st - 26th, so I suggested we go there
though the weather forecast wasn’t much better (at least there
warning). Jean, Jack, and I have all
been to Starfest before, so we knew about the large number of quality
presentations they have on Friday and Saturday (mainly). There
would be plenty to keep us occupied
during the day and evening hours.
hosted annually by the North York Astronomical Association (NYAA) and
The River Place campground, which is located about 13 kilometers (8
north of Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada.
Starfest is Canada’s largest star party and one of the premiere
astronomical gatherings on the North American continent. It
easily attracts over 1,000 amateur
astronomers from Ontario, and the neighboring provinces and
states. I’m not sure what the attendance was for this
year’s event, but the poor weather didn’t seem to scare too
departed very early in the morning on Thursday, August 24th and, after
an uneventful 7 hour drive (minus
a lunch break and pit stops), arrived at The River Place. Skies
were partly cloudy and it would be the
last time we would see the Sun until Sunday.
We setup our tents and Jack’s dining fly, which again proved
since it kept us out of the rain! At the
last minute, Dan decided not to bring his 12” Dobsonian and
binoculars. Jean brought her 15×70
binoculars and parallelogram mount and I brought my Tele Vue Pronto and
equatorial mount. Neither ever left
Jack’s van the entire weekend!
our campsite was setup, we ventured into Mount Forest to exchange
pick up some groceries. I made sure to
get plenty of loonies (one dollar coins) for the shower! Everyone
had dinner once we got back except
for me. I planned to get all my meals at
the main food vendor, but they closed once it got dark so I had to
rough it the
first night. A few of us then attended
the “Astro-Rap” session in the massive Main Tent.
members of the NYAA shared slide show presentations about their journey
the Total Solar Eclipse on March 29th. First was Malcolm Park who
traveled to Egypt
with his daughter, Amy. Next up was NYAA
and Starfest founder Andreas Gada.
Andreas, a veteran eclipse chaser, traveled to Libya. Both of the
slide shows were very well
done. Andreas also showed an animated
slide show of the Moon occulting the Pleiades on July 20th. All
of these presentations can be viewed on the NYAA website
August 25th, was the first full day of lectures. It was also the
day the “skies opened up”
above The River Place. The rain started
at dawn and continued almost non-stop all
! The first presentation at 10:00 am was called Amateur Astronomers
Contributing to Real Science -
Robotic Observatories for the Discovery of Supernovae
was given by Ajai Sehgal. Ajai built a research-grade observatory
Osoyoos, British Columbia for detecting supernovae. The
observatory is equipped with a 50 cm
(20”) f/5 folded Newtonian that can be controlled from any where
via a high-speed internet connection.
Obviously, Ajai has a license to print money! Ajai’s
mainly dealt with the
“trails and tribulations” of building the facility, which
equatorial fork-arm mount the wrong way to his newly built observatory
being destroyed in a forest fire! Ajai
and Jack Newton were also the recipients of the 2006 “Bring Home
award for their discovery of Supernova 2005dy.
next presentation was called Deep
Sky Imaging from your
was given by Paul Mortfield
Paul has a small backyard observatory near
North York (which is a suburb of Toronto), so he has to deal with
light pollution. He demonstrated that
high-quality images can be obtained under less-than-ideal conditions
appropriate filters and image processing techniques. After the
lunch break, we attended the last
three presentations of the afternoon.
First up was the well known astrophotographer and author of the new
book Photoshop Astronomy R.
. Scott’s called his talk Orchestrating Light - The Image Processing
. Scott gave a demonstration of his image
processing techniques and showed a few of his fantastic deep sky images.
Gada then gave another presentation which was entitled The RAT Project
gentleman named Heinz Lorenz donated an 8’ Ash Dome, 12”
telescope, and some money to the NYAA.
Andreas discussed the NYAA’s ordeal of upgrading the telescope,
with a new Losmandy equatorial mount, and turning the facility into a
Accessible Telescope (RAT), which would allow the NYAA members to image
night sky from the comfort of their homes via the internet.
main presentation of the day was scheduled for 3:30 pm, but started
about 15 -
20 minutes late because the special guest speaker was delayed by the
weather. Andreas used the extra time to
replay his eclipse and Pleiades occultation slide shows. It was
worth the extra wait, because the
guest speaker was none other than legendary NASA astronaut Story
Musgrave. Story is obviously best known for being one
of the astronauts to successfully install the corrective optics on the
ever Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in December 1993.
Of course, Story has done much more than
repair the HST, but it would take too much time to go over his entire
career. Please visit his NASA
biography web page
and his personal website
learn more about him and his accomplishments.
Story called his presentation An
Artist’s View of the
he said this talk dealt with the Earth and tomorrow nights talk would
the heavens above.
in the evening was the Starfest 25th
Anniversary Gala. The NYAA served cake,
cookies, and coffee and played a musical slide show featuring images
Starfests. This slide show can also be
viewed on the NYAA web site
The “Bring Home the Bacon” award presentation
was also held and Andreas passed out a special pin to those that
25 Starfests starting in 1981. According
to Andreas, only 25 people attended the first Starfest! After the
Gala ended, we hung around and
played “Celestrivia” since the weather was
other groups played along and attempted
to answer the various questions; most of which pertained to
history or amateur astronomy. Needless
to say, we didn’t win!
rain finally stopped for most of the day on Saturday. Jean
actually woke me up at about 4:00 am and
said it was mostly clear. I peaked out
of my tent and the skies did look pretty impressive, but clouds were
the horizon. I figured it was just a
sucker hole, so I went back to sleep!
The first presentation of the day was at 10:00 am and was given by the
author of NightWatch
co-author of The
Backyard Astronomer’s Guide
, and Editor-in-Chief of SkyNews
Dickinson. Dan is a big fan of Terence’s work, so we got
there early and made sure to get a good seat.
Terence’s talk was called Digital
SLRs and the
Democratization of Personal Astrophotography
was pretty much the same talk he gave at the 2005 Black Forest Star
many new spectacular images were added.
Some of the more impressive ones were taken by his co-author on The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide
Alan Dyer. Alan spent several months in
Australia and took some amazing images with the Canon 5D. Some of
the images were assembled into
astounding animations. Ladies and
gentleman, film is dead!
next presentation was again given by Andreas Gada and was entitled The Truth, Tribulations and Triumphs of an
. This talk was basically a summary of all
eclipses he’s witnessed starting in the late 1970’s.
checked out the
vendors, which was difficult to do the day before because of the
rainfall. Many of Canada’s large
telescope dealers and mail order outfits were there such as
EfstonScience. The Swamp Meet started at noon but there
didn’t seem to be anything of interest, so I didn’t spend
Jack, and I decided to have lunch in Mount Forest. Dan stayed
behind and sat next to Terence
Dickinson and Story Musgrave while they chatted and had lunch. We
missed both of the afternoon
presentations, which was unfortunate since I heard good things about
them. Sometimes you have to pick and chose what you
do at Starfest, since there’s so much going on and so much to see
do. We got back in plenty of time for the group
photograph at 4:00 pm. The four of us
even took a picture with Story Musgrave himself.
2006 25th Anniversary Group Photo (taken by Joe O'Neil)
later, hundreds of people crammed into the Main Tent for the big door
drawings. Everyone in our group won a
door prize with the sole exception of me!
Dan won a copy of MaxDSLR from Diffraction Limited, which he took as an
omen that he should take up astrophotography.
Jack won a $100 (Canadian) gift certificate from EfstonScience and Jean
won an optics cleaning kit. They thought it was pretty funny that I
a thing until I reminded them that their prizes combined don’t
what I won
at the 2005 Winter Star Party. Ha! Andreas then invited all
of the Starfest 2006
speakers on stage and then the Starfest volunteers themselves.
final presentation of Starfest 2006 was given by NASA astronaut Story
and was called Being the Best You
Just for the Fun of It
was largely an autobiographical talk.
Story talked about how he used his experience and lessons from his
farming days toward his time in the military and work with NASA.
He, of course, showed images from the Hubble
Space Telescope, which he helped make an icon.
Story’s presentation must have lasted about 2 hours, but it sure
seem like it since he’s such an engaging and entertaining
speaker. He’s the reason we decided to come to
Starfest in the first place and he sure didn’t disappoint.
weather radio said Sunday, August 27th was
supposed to bring partly cloudy skies in the early afternoon, but it
was off by
several hours. The day actually started
with light drizzle and fog. The River
Place was looking like a ghost town by the time we finally packed up
gear and hit the road. Our last stop in
Canada was at Elginfield Observatory, which is owned by the University
Western Ontario and located just off Highway 7 on Observatory Drive
(naturally). According to their website,
observatory is equipped with a 1.2 meter (47”)
by Boller & Chivens. One of these
days we’ll have to stop there on a weekday, because the place was
deserted. The facility isn’t normally
open to the public, but I’m sure we could talk our way in if we
we reached the border we had to wait an hour in line to get through
customs. The wait normally isn’t that
long and I attribute it to bad timing. I
was really disappointed the weather for Black Forest didn’t work
year. I was really looking forward to
having so many KAS members attend at the same time. We’ll
definitely try again next year, so mark
your calendars. Every amateur astronomer
should attend at least one star party.
Starfest is a great event and well planned, but the skies can’t
to those at Cherry Spring State Park and, after all, observing (and
what it’s all about.
and images by Richard S. Bell