Stellafane is an experience, especially for a newcomer. But, its an experience for someone returning after several years as well.
This year's Stellafane was special for me. I was taking the first friend I'd made when I moved to Boston. My friend Steve Oyangen has a 90mm refractor on an equatorial mount. He's one of probably hundreds of thousands of people who has been gifted with such an instrument, but doesn't really know how to use it, or how to begin. Steve also loves camping, and he's very good at it. So, earlier in the season he says to me, "We should go camping with the scopes!" I think, Camping with telescopes? There is, of course, only one answer to that question in New England - Stellafane.
The AAVSO, in one way, shape, or form, has maintained a presence at Stellafane for years, if only because many of our members are there. But recently we've kept up the presence in terms of talks. I asked Rebecca if anyone was doing a talk at Stellafane. If not, I'd like to do it. There was no one, so I signed up and gave a talk abstract to Dr. Kris Larsen, conveniently, a fellow AAVSO member, of course.
I've now been to Stellafane about 5 times. However, I'd not been to Stellafane since the beginning of the century. A good many things had changed or been added.
Steve handled the camping issues. We had a two room tent and another screen tent to act as a kitchen. No, we probably weren't the most sophisticated setup at Stellafane, but I think we were close.
After setting up I started giving Steve a tour. The first AAVSO-er we met, coming down the path from McGreggor Observatory, was Mario Motta. I introduced Mario to Steve as President of the AAVSO. Without missing a beat Mario gestures to me and tells Steve, "That basically makes him my slave, you know."
"Of course," Steve agreed. "I'm familiar with the hierarchy!"
We never made it to the Pink Clubhouse on Friday. As we were walking there a storm front came in and we had to go back and batten down the tent. Around 9:45 that night I looked up and there were stars! "Steve!" I called out. "There are stars! Let's go to McGregor!" I thought if there were stars, observers would be active on McGregor's South Field. As we walked to the Observatory I thought I was going blind. Where was the Big Dipper? I thought. Things were actually getting dimmer the closer we got to the Observatory. By the time we arrived, everything was clouded back over. At least I hadn't been going blind!
Friday night's highlight was the movie, shown in the Flanders Pavilion, "Undaunted - The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory." This was a documentary, done nearly to the level of Ken Burns, of the history of the Allegheny Observatory. Wonderfully, even if you missed it, you can check it out here.
Saturday morning dawned and Steve & I were camped within a stone's throw from the swap tables. So, while he made breakfast, I went over to the swap tables. Due to the light pollution in Boston, I've been concentrating my visual observing on objects like the planets and the Moon. In my mind I scored something big this year. If any of you were fans of the old "Mary Tyler Moore" show you may remember a Moon map that Lou Grant had in his office at the newsroom. I found that map at the swap tables this year for $5.00!
Saturday afternoon I was scheduled to give my first talk for the AAVSO - an introduction to visual variable star observing - in the McGregor Observatory Library. The place was literally packed, but given the size of the Library, that's not all that surprising. The talk was received well, and I had many questions afterwards including at least two people seemed to be inspired to rejoin the AAVSO afterwards.
Friday night was the highlight of the trip - even better than my talk at the Observatory. One of the goals of the trip was to set up and use Steve's 90mm refractor. I'd not really been visually observing since I moved to Boston, and I'd never used an equatorially mounted scope that hadn't been permanently mounted in an observatory.
After the Keynote on Saturday night, under a wonderfully clear sky, Steve & I went back to the campsite and we set up his scope. My equatorial alignment was, at best, rough. I also managed to lose an RA/Dec knob screw as we set things up that we never found again. I should have realized beforehand that the finder scope was not aligned, so that was basically useless. Still, amazingly, just by sighting along the barrel, I managed to find and show Steve: Albireo (my favorite double star), M13, two clusters in Sgr, and some open clusters in Cas. He was nicely impressed, and given it had been years since I'd been able to do that type of observation, I was pretty impressed myself.
Star parties and conventions are pretty special to astronomers, granted. It can be even more special when you have a chance to share your passion with your colleagues or introduce it to someone new. Both happened this year for me at Stellafane!