Friday, August 29, 2014
Almost Heaven Star Party at Spruce Knob Mountain Center
We had a great time at the Almost Heaven Star Party (AHSP) at The Mountain Institute, 22-26 August, 2014. Although the weather did not cooperate for the first two nights, there was plenty to do with good food, science presentations, and great camaraderie among the attendees.
Once the skies cleared, we were able to enjoy one of the darkest skies in the Eastern US. People wandered around in the dark and it was fun to show strangers the best objects in the heavens. Folks from across the USA were in attendance, and I even talked to people from as far away as Bulgaria and Japan!
One of my favorite moments happened when a fellow of college age appeared out of the darkness at 3am on Tuesday. Wandering around without even a flashlight, he startled me, but we were soon talking and looking at the sky. Then I showed him how to operate the small refracting telescope we were using, and he was off exploring on his own! He spent around 90 minutes independently "discovering" some of the famous objects of the sky, like the Double Cluster in Perseus and the Andromeda Galaxy. He left just as Orion and Gemini were coming up over Spruce Knob in the east.
You see, the Star Party was not really so much about the sky. It was about the people who had gathered there on the mountain. I do not remember when I was last around such a fine and agreeable group of people. Many small acts of kindness were seen, such as when a neighboring camper gave me a can of Progresso soup - which he had warmed on the exhaust of his SUV! The people at the Star Party were friendly and genuine in a way which is not often seen these days, and many new friendships were formed amongst the attendees.
The Spruce Knob Mountain Center of The Mountain Institute is an ideal location for a Star Party. There is a feeling there on the mountain which is quite spiritual, and many of the attendees mentioned it. I felt so bad when the Party was over and I had to drive back down the mountain and rejoin the "real world."
I look forward to next year's Almost Heaven Star Party.
Glen Ward is a member of NOVAC, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club. For more information on the 2015 AHSP, please go to ahsp.org.