Once in a while, you have to get yourself to dark skies. Forget the excuses, the lost sleep, the long drive. Just go. It will regenerate you, reconnect you to the cosmos, and help you remember why you became a stargazer in the first place.
Which is why I powered down the computer and packed a simple Dobsonian telescope, a binoviewer, and a couple of eyepieces and headed out to the Almost Heaven Star Party (AHSP) in West Virginia, an event held this year on September 2-6, 2016.
Organized by my adopted astronomy club, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC), the four day weekend featured stargazing, fascinating talks by astronomy experts, and tours and expeditions of local points of interest including the nearby Green Bank radio observatory, as well as the chance to talk to fellow stargazers in a relaxed and beautiful environment. The event is held each year at The Mountain Institute near Circleville, West Virginia, a location with very dark sky (Bortle Class 2).
Of course, in eastern North America, clear skies are never a sure thing. But the 2016 AHSP yielded two dazzling nights of clear skies and relatively dry, if slightly unsteady, air. It was spectacular. Even after 40-some years of stargazing, I was like a kid in a candy store as I surfed the Milky Way for hours from end to end with my little binoviewers and Dob.
If you’re in the area next year, put AHSP on your list of stargazing activities. And if you’re not, get to some dark skies near you to enjoy gazing into clear dark sky and hopping from star to star, contemplating the cosmos.
(All images shot with a Nikon D5500 and Tokina 11-16mm lens at f/2.8. ISO 3200 or 6400. Exposure times from 15-25 seconds. RAW images processed in Adobe Lightroom).