Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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One of the advantages of writing a monthly column in Astronomy magazine is that I can promote a particular event I think has value to our readers, especially those just beginning their astronomical voyages. I've often felt that a star party in the Stella-fane tradition, but limited to a smaller, more intimate group of people, would be perfect.


This summer, from August 6 to August 13, our Sharing the Sky Foundation, led by my wife Wendee and me, will hold its seventh annual Adirondack Astronomy Retreat. For advanced observers, the goal is to help rediscover why we became interested in the night sky in the first place. For beginners, the idea is to gather under some of the darkest skies in the northeastern United States, look up, and feel the magic of the night.

Nature grants us a special event this year: a chance to view the Perseid meteor shower under dark, moonless conditions. It doesn't happen often; either the Moon brightens the sky and washes out all but the brightest meteors or the urban light pollution bedevils us and prevents any possible faint-meteor sightings. This summer will provide us with a fabulous sky for observing the Perseid meteors, assuming the sky remains clear, of course. In that happy instance, the rates of falling meteors should increase through the night.

Our campsite there has a lot of personal memories linked to it as well. In the summer of 1964, it served as the site for my first summer specifically devoted to observing. The next year it led to my decision to begin a lifelong quest searching for comets, writing books, and, most recently, completing a Ph.D. dissertation. I saw my first major aurora there in 1966. And over the past 6 summers, the site has served as the home of our retreat.

Each year has provided at least one good night; we were particularly lucky in 2008 with six! During clear skies, the site offers one of the darkest spots in the northeastern United States. It is dark enough to spot the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) easily with the naked eye, but on good nights I have even seen the faint glow of the Triangulum Galaxy (M33).

One night, around 2 a.m., a stray meteor appeared high in the sky, then exploded as it careened toward the forested southern horizon. The meteor must have been at least magnitude -8. It was an utter thrill to see that event--proof positive that the sky serves as an arena where dramatic action can occur, with events to enthrall the eye and enrich the mind.

The best part of this star party is the friends we make -often the same group returns year after year, clouds or not. People like astrophotographers Greg Taylor and Bob Masterson display photographs they take of deep-sky objects during the retreat. Another of our regular attendees, Dr. Martin Rice, always offers good suggestions for observing simply and efficiently. Although our regulars are advanced observers, every one of them, without exception, is happy to answer questions from newcomers and guide them into the avocation we love.

The campsite has a certain magic that comes out each clear evening. The only urban glows we see are from the east and north, while the rest of the sky, especially the south toward the heart of Adirondack Park, remains totally dark.

I hope to see some more of Astronomy's readers this summer. For more information, write Relax, recharge, and soar.

Browse the "Evening Stars" archive at

Source Citation
Levy, David H. "A special star party in upstate New York: gazing at the wonders of the dark sky with like-minded friends never loses its allure." Astronomy May 2010: 76. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Mar. 2010.
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