Starry Nights Festival

Posted On January 1, 2000

A few weeks ago I posted a request on the OCA home page for reports on the recent Starry Nights Festival held in Yucca Valley.

I received a note from Ed Flaspoehler, VP of the American Association of Amateur Astronomers. He has written up a report on SNF that can be found at the AAAA web site. Here is the article.

I also received the following article from Craig Cuthbert, a novice astro enthusiast. I found it fun to to read Craig's report which brought back memories of my early days in the hobby. Can you recall your first experiences with a telescope? How about your first star party? Thanks, Craig. -- Russell Sipe

My first experience with the Starry Nights Festival was in 1997 event which was my first star party. A friend of mine who was just getting involved in astronomy invited me to join him. We had an excellent time camping and observing the night sky. This year was even more spectacular.

Prior to Starry Nights Festival 1998 (October 16-18) some friends and I went camping in the Sequoia National Forest for a week. Don and I were experimenting with his small, old telescope with a wobbly mount. We were having fun, but it was very frustrating trying to observe anything with it. Little did we know that my girlfriend Tiffany, was going to arrive later in the week with a very special birthday present. Her gift to me was an 8" Celestron Starhopper Dobsonian--my first telescope! I was shocked. Although, it did not come with a finder scope, we were able to find some objects that first night including Jupiter, Saturn, Andromeda (M31), and the Ring Nebula (M57).

The day after I returned home, I immediately purchased upgraded eyepieces and a Telrad. I tested out my new accessories that evening in front of my Huntington Beach home with my friend, Ron. We were hooked! Ron enjoyed looking at the giant planets so much that he went out the next day and purchased a Meade 4400. Within a week he realized that this scope wasn't quite "serious" enough for him and returned it for a Meade 8" LX50! We were now ready for the Starry Nights Festival!

Tiffany and I arrived at Black Rock Canyon Campground Friday evening. After setting up our campsite we walked to where the telescopes were displayed on the concrete viewpad. It was pretty quiet this evening, with only a dozen or so people. We looked through a few of the scopes and saw some very beautiful objects. Rick, one of the amateur astronomers, was very helpful and showed us dozens of Messier objects. Tiffany and I learned quite a bit that night.

The next morning, Ron arrived with his new telescope. At noon Ron, Tiffany, and myself drove to the community center to hear some guest speakers. We received our raffle tickets just in time for the drawing. We were completely blown away when Tiffany won the starry nights raffle grand prize-- a Meade ETX astronomical telescope! She was elated. Ron teased Tiffany, saying that this telescope craze was all her fault, now that both Ron and I have become astronomy addicts. So it seems that it was her turn to have her very own telescope. We stayed at the community center for most of the day, listening to informative guest speakers. We especially liked the presentation by David Levy.

Saturday night was a completely different environment with 150 or more people on the viewpad! Ron and I brought both of our 8" scopes from our camp to join the party. Tiffany and I were so preoccupied showing objects in my scope to people that I didn't check out any others until later that evening when the crowd thinned out (probably from the chilly temperatures). I was delighted to hear comments from observers saying that objects were clearer in my 8" Dobsonian then some of the others. With help from other astronomers, Ron was able to view many deep sky objects on his first night of dark sky viewing. Everyone at the party was very friendly and enthusiastic. Those who stayed up late enough were treated to a superb view of the Orion Nebula (M42) as it rose in the east. It seemed that everyone really enjoyed themselves.

We attended three lectures. Steven Levy was our favorite. He was a passionate speaker and did a great job of projecting his enthusiasm about astronomy. I also enjoyed his poetry readings intertwined with videos and slides, such as the video of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. We also heard Gene Hansen's "Observing Variable Stars" and Leo Connolly's "Planets Around other Stars". I enjoyed both of these as well, however I thought they were a bit too involved for us "newbies". We missed some of the beginner presentations on Friday due to car problems.

This is an excellent spot for a star party. The skies are surprisingly dark, being so close to LA. The clear skies, altitude, and dry desert environment make for a good combination. We did have some wind on Friday night which died down around 10:00. Saturday night was perfect with clear skies and no wind and many people showed up for viewing. The only real drawback about Black Rock Canyon in October is that it gets pretty darn cold.

Craig Cuthbert

Image and logo above from AAAA Web Site

Starry Nights Festival Report
by Craig Cuthbert