Two weeks ago was the Almost Heaven Star Party on the slopes of Spruce Knob, West Virginia, sponsored and organized by the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC). The weather was wonderful, and we could see the Milky Way and lots of Messier objects with our naked eyes, every single night for four nights. This is by far the longest stretch of good weather I’ve ever experienced up there at The Mountain Institute.
(Friday and Saturday, it was only clear for a few hours, but Sunday and Monday nights were clear all night, AND there was NO DEW to speak of!! Wow!!)
During the daytime, there were lots of talks and also activities and expeditions such as hiking, spelunking, visiting the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, canoeing, and Phun With Physics and arts & crafts for kids. I particularly enjoyed the talks on Russell Porter (the founder of amateur telescope making in the US and one of the major designers of the 200-inch telescope at Palomar), LIGO (detection of gravity waves), and Rod Molisse’s talk on 50 years of mostly-commercial telescopes as seen in the pages of various astronomy regime.
I was one of the speakers and gave a little talk on telescope-making. If you care to sit through it, you can find it along with all of the other talks (many of which I missed for various reasons) at this web-page.
I brought my home-made 12.5″ Dob-Newt [shown to the left in the picture below] and added about a dozen items to my formal list of Messier objects. (I had already seen all 100+ objects, but hadn’t recorded enough details on them to be able to earn one of the ‘merit badge’ pins from the Astronomical League, so I’m going through the list again
(If you didn’t know: Charles Messier loved hunting comets about 220 years ago, with what we would consider today to be a fairly small (4″ diameter) refractor that he used from downtown Paris, not far from where I lived back in 1959. Comets look like fuzzy patches in the sky, and so do galaxies, star clusters, and illuminated clouds of gas, all of which are MUCH farther away and MUCH larger. Comets are part of our own solar system, and move noticeably from one night to the next against the apparently fixed background of stars. Messier is credited with discovering 13 comets. But when he discovered a fuzzy item in the sky that did NOT move, he would record its location and its appearance, so as to avoid looking at it again. He published and updated this list a few times before he died, 199 years ago. Nowadays, his list of things-to-be-avoided are some of the most amazing and beautiful things you can see in the night sky. I’ve tried imaging a few of them, but am very, very far from being proficient at it. I attach my best one so far, of something called the Dumbbell Nebula. No, it’s not named after me. And thanks to Mike Laugherty for helping with the color balance!)