Almost Heaven Star Party
Okay, this has nothing to do with writing…almost. Last weekend I took off to West Virginia for the Almost Heaven Star Party with my husband. We met as amateur astronomers in the astronomy club that hosts the event, NOVAC, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club. That would be back in 1986 when Comet Halley passed by.
Star parties–telescope conventions–are held in remote locations, away from city lights, with wide open vistas. Often the amenities are few, so astronomers camp.
For 13 years our convention has been at the beautiful Spruce Knob Mountain Center, formerly part of The Mountain Institute. The facility, housed in yurts (!), provides dining, meeting rooms, some dormitory lodging, and a full bathhouse.
During the daylight hours, NOVAC staff arrange lectures on astronomy subjects…
and outdoor adventure programs with the Spruce Knob staff.
Then folks wait for dark to fall.
As the light wanes, the red lights come out…
Our first night had several hours of clear, dark skies, giving us great views through a friend’s 14 inch reflector. Though I wasn’t set up for astro-photography, I’m pleased with this image I captured with my phone.
We always have mixed weather in the mountains, no matter what month the star party has been held. This year brought clear nights and stormy nights, so even the remaining nights with clouds drifting in and out were appreciated. Unfortunately, many participants didn’t make it past an hour of severe wind and rain that blew in the second evening. Canopies went flying, tents ripped and bedding got drenched.
Cars pulled out steadily over the next few hours of drizzle while lightening flashed in the distance. My husband and I were thankful we had fully staked our low tent with its full fly, though later we discovered two of our fly-to-tent attachments did have gluing failure and broke free. But no rain made it into our tent!
This experience, combined with our fellow astronomers’ excited preparations for the upcoming total solar eclipse across the U. S., prompted me to pull out a booklet I started years ago: Camping, For Those Who Don’t. I’d written out this list of tips while planning a cross-country tent camping trip with my kids. It looked pretty good, so I added to it over the weekend, taking note of things that failed for folks at the star party, and including beginner tips for camping near astronomers–descriptions of stargazing etiquette. And a booklet was born!
If you’re a beginner planning a tent camping trip during the eclipse, check out Camping and Stargazing – When You’re New To Both on Amazon. Free reading with Kindle Unlimited!