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Weekend In New England


The day broke ugly and turned worse with a hard rain and a chill wind. This was actually good news for the NEAF organizers. Bad weather drives attendance up. NEAF was packed!

If you have never attended the Northeast Astronomy Forum and Telescope Show (NEAF) it's hard to understand what all the buzz is really all about. But once you've seen telescopes and astronomy equipment on display as far as you can see in an auditorium this size you'll never forget. I always lose my breath for a minute and then have to resisit the urge to just go running and screaming down the aisles like a little kid let loose in the biggest candy store ever.

They have them all on display at NEAF. Shiny new telescopes of every size. From small refractors to giant Dobsonians you could hide a small child inside of. Made from wood, carbon fiber, and everything in between.  You can also buy whatchamacallits and gizmos. They have everything at NEAF.

The list of vendors is impressive. Every seller you know and a few you probably don't. They are ALL here.

The also have activities for the kids.

2 Star Lab Planetariums with shows all weekend, Solar Viewing with Stephen Ramsden and S.U.N.S.P.O.T. the mobile Solar Observatory, Chris Lintott from Galaxy Zoo: How kids CAN help!, the Discovery Channel's Meteorite Men with their awesome meteorite finding vehicle made by Orange County Choppers for their hit T.V. show.

There was also a complete meteorite program by Dr Mike Reynolds
which included:
1 Meteorites/Meteorwrongs
2 Comet Making
3 How to find Meteorites
4 Making model Asteroids
5 Cratering
6 Free meteorite to every kid
7 Many other hands-on activities

Another thing you may not have known is NEAF puts on workshops each year. Last year I did one on variable stars and the AAVSO. This year they featured Marni Berendsen and Vivian White from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, presenting Sharing the Universe: Growing your Astronomy Club through the NASA Night Sky Network and Thierry Legault demonstrating Photographing the Solar and Lunar Transit of the ISS.
And if that isn't enough equipment shopping and workshoping there is also a full schedule of speakers Saturday and Sunday.
NEAF gets better every year. I can't want to go back in 2012.



A beautiful, cool, sunny spring day in New York was the perfect setting for Day 2 of the astro imaging conference. The first talk of the day, given in the main meeting room, was about the technical and aesthetic challenges of imaging the Sun. Now that the Sun has woken up from its extended period of inactivity, solar imaging has become a hot topic, especially among those who would rather observe during the day and sleep at night. Alan Friedman received a huge applause after showing slides ranging from interesting to awesome for about 45 minutes.

I was next on the main stage, and did a presentation on how to use imaging equipment to do citizen science.  I took my title from a t-shirt sold on the xkcd website, "Stand Back! We're Going To Try Science". I talked about asteroids, planets, comets and occultations, but the last half of my talk was all about variable star projects and campaigns.

The way the conference as set up there were talks going on simultaneously on three fronts, a four part introductory imaging workshop by David Snay, imaging for aesthetics (pretty pictures) and science related talks. I didn't get to see everything, but the buzz in the break room and during lunch was very positive. 

I took a break in the afternoon to catch up on processing my data from the AAVSOnet telescopes. This led to an impromptu demonstration of VPhot in the lobby where the ease of use drew some attention from imagers passing by. 

My wife had gone into New York city to visit with her sister until Saturday, so Steve Howell and I went out to dinner at a swank little Italian restaurant he found on the Internet. We worked our way through two incredible appetizers, salad, a bottle of wine and excellent entrees while we hatched our mad scheme to have Scorpio replaced by Ophiuchus in the zodiac.

Tomorrow is the gadget orgy known as NEAF. I'm under strict orders not to spend my next month's paycheck there. Wish me luck. 


Today was the first day of the big astronomy conference and forum held each year in Suffern, New York, put on by the Rockland Astronomy Club. The first two days are the Northeast Astro Imaging Conference (NEAIC) and Saturday and Sunday are the Northeast Astronomy Forum and Telescope Show, aka NEAF.

Today started off with opening remarks from Jim Burnell and then a great talk from Kepler mission scientist, Steve Howell. Steve is well know to AAVSO members, and also known for his lively and engaging presentations. Today was no different. Instead of concentrating on the science Kepler is doing, Howell's talk was more about the nuts and bolts of the telescope and massive array of CCD detectors.

This is the stuff astro imagers go to conferences like this for, because you can't get it anywhere else. Steve's talk could have been called "Extreme Astro Imaging from Space". Rubbing elbows with and picking the brains of an astronomer of this caliber is priceless. 

Spectroscopy is the next area amateurs are rapidly expanding into and the software to acquire and analyze spectroscopic data has become a hot topic. The next talk I attended was about a software package called R Spec which does analysis of spectroscopy in real time. The author demonstrated how the spectra of different types of stars could be shown on screen in real time as the telescope slewed from one target to the next.

A side note that caught some of our attention was an experiment proposed by the presenter using an airhorn moving past an observer at a constant speed, and an IPhone to record the Doppler effect.

After lunch, Alan Holmes, from SBIG gave a talk on tube currents in Schmidt Cassegrains. The experiments he ran were interesting enough, but the data didn't really point to any solutions, and Alan didn't offer any. I know Tom Krajci was interested in what I had to report from this session, and how it might be used to improve performance of the AAVSOnet scopes, but I have to tell you, Tom, you're already doing all the things that can be done. 

At the end of the afternoon session Sean Walker talked about the project he and Dennis DiCicco have been working on, stitching together Ha images of large nebulous regions in Eri, Tau, Ori, Mon, Cyg, Per, Cas and Cep. Some of this has been seen in Sky and Telescope before, but the story of how the project developed and how they put together the plan for the second, improved version was an interesting story.

As is always the case with these kind of meetings, a lot of the best stuff is what happens outside the lines. This evening was a perfect example of that. My wife, who grew up in the area, suggested we go to a historical restaurant in Tappan for dinner. Martin Ratcliffe, columnist for Astronomy magazine and planetarium expert, and Steve Howell joined us. The food was great, the ambiance special, and the conversation lively. 

Tomorrow morning I give my talk, then I can coast for a while. More later...

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