Up until May 2001 I've never
been to a major star party. Attending the 2001 Texas Star Party was one
of the greatest times I have ever had despite the [mostly] cloudy
weather. Maybe we just had dumb luck. If my finances permit, I would
love to give TSP another try in 2002. However, I couldn't wait that
long to attend another major star party. I couldn't afford another long
trip across the country, so I needed something closer.
annual event organized by the North York Astronomical
Association based near Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Hundreds of Canadian
and American amateur astronomers gather at The River Place campground
site about 13 kilometers (that's 8 miles to you and me) north of Mount
Forest, Ontario. This years event was held from August 16 - 19. Just
like TSP 2001, several KAS members attended this years Starfest. Our
group consisted of Jean DeMott, Jack Price, Bill Nigg, Mike Sinclair,
and myself. Bill was the first to arrive on August 16 and claimed his
usual campsite (saving a little room for the rest of us). Bill was
joined by Mike and Jack shortly thereafter. My traveling companion was
once again Jean, which [again] was great for me since I could bring up
all my equipment.
Things looked grim even before Jean and I left Kalamazoo. I awoke
Thursday morning to heavy showers. Once I arrived at Jean's house we
turned to the Weather Channel for advice. If one of the meteorologists
were to speak directly to us through the TV they probably would have
told us to stay home. We figured it was too late to back out now, so we
packed up Jean's stuff and hit the road.
The first half of the trip was easy. Traveling on the interstates of
Michigan, it took us about three hours of driving to cross the boarder
into Canada. Our first task was to visit the currency exchange and get
some colorful Canadian cash. Heavy road construction on Interstate 402
slowed down what should have been the quick part of the drive through
Canada. Once we reached Strathroy the rest of the journey was on single
lane roads. After seven hours of total travel, we arrived at The River
Place, which was not nearly as flat as it looked in the pictures. Bill
gave us a general map of were to meet and we soon spotted Mike waving
Jean and I figured we'd better hustle and set up our tents, because the
skies were looking very gray. My tent was first and I was anxious to
get it up since it was brand new. I recently acquired a Kendrick
Astro-Tent, which is designed to double as an observatory. Once my
temporary home was set we started with Jean's. A short time later it
started to rain, so Jean asked Mike and Jack to lend a hand and in no
time at all we were done.
Thursday night was a shut out. I was anxious to polar align my
telescope and begin my astrophotography program, but I was fatigued and
used the opportunity to rest. Thank goodness Jack came along for the
four day weekend. He brought his large canopy which enabled us to stay
dry outside and not trapped in our tents or cars.
The first task on Friday morning was to get cleaned up. This was easier
said than done. Starfest is a good sized star party and there are only
three coin operated showers in the men's bathroom. I got lucky and
found a spot in front of a sink to brush my teeth and shave. Then I
waited in line to take a shower. Make sure you have a Canadian dollar
coin (known as a "loonie") handy if you ever shower at Starfest. Later
in the afternoon Jean, Jack, Mike, and I headed into Mount Forest to
pick up some supplies. Once we returned to The River Place I attended
two lectures: "Double Stars At the Limits of Perception" and "Optical
Astronomy: The 'Read' Light District" presented by Dr. Doug Welch.
Friday night was clouded out again. It was rainy and very windy all day
Saturday was the main day for activities and the best day for weather
(still mostly cloudy, but the wind and rain finally ended). I attended
many presentations. First were "Ultraviolet Astronomy" by Dr. Alex
Fullerton and "Arrival and Recovery of the Tagish Lake Meteorite" by
Phil McCausland. I then went over to the small tent and attended "Who
Wants to be An Astro-Wiz" hosted by well known Canadian amateur
astronomer and author Terence Dickinson. Jean and I then went to get
our name badges, since we needed them for dinner. Dinner was scheduled
to begin at 5:00 pm, but it took 47 minutes for the long line to move.
At least the dinner was well prepared. A home cooked meal of mashed
potatoes, chicken, root beef, carrots, salad, pie for desert and fruit
juice to wash it all down.
A short time later we were back in the main tent for the evening
festivities. First was the door prizes. As with TSP, no one in our
group won a single thing! We then enjoyed a great presentation by Dr.
Steve Murray entitled "Splendors of the X-ray Sky". Dr. Murray started
with a brief history of X-ray astronomy and then spent the rest of the
presentation discussing the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Saturday night
had hopes of being partially clear only to give way to cloudy weather.
Jean predicted showers by 3:00 am Sunday morning. She was only off by
three hours! We had to tear down our campsite almost exclusively in the
rain. A fitting end to a rainy weekend.
Based on weather reports of previous Starfests, this was the worst year
for weather ever. There were past years that were mostly clouded out,
but this was the first that was mostly rained out. To make matters
worse the entire region was going through a two month long drought,
which ended the day we arrived. Are we charmed in that we bring rain to
needed areas or cursed in that we bring clouds to major star parties?
I don't know if I'll return to Starfest. The unpredictable weather does
take some of the blame, but light pollution is another. We noticed
multiple light cones in almost every direction along the horizon and
it's guaranteed to get worse. I can get better skies at my favorite
dark sky site in Fulton [Michigan]. In conclusion, if you're looking
for dark skies then try a star party in the [American] southwest, but
if you're just looking to combine a camping trip with a weekend of
excellent astronomical lectures then Starfest may be for you.
the picture: My Kendrick Observatory Tent and 10" LX200 at
Starfest 2003. Yes, that's right! I did indeed return to
Starfest 2 years later. It was actually clear a couple of nights