I’ve had an interest in astronomy since childhood. Some of it could be because the night skies were darker then. Some of it undoubtedly was because I was born at the tail end of the space race. And I’ve always been aware I share the Christian name of the first man to step onto the moon. But my interest in the night sky faded as I grew older and became sedentary. However, the light became rekindled when I came across star parties.
A star party is a gathering of amateur astronomers spending the evening looking at the sky. These events are usually organized by the local astronomy clubs and held in PA state parks far from the ambient light of nearby towns. These ‘dark sky’ locations are harder to find than you might think; “light pollution” in even small amounts ruins the experience. While the best, and best known, star party in PA is a four day event at remote Cherry Springs State Park, close to Philadelphia are two state parks that host these events, French Creek and Marsh Creek. It was at the latter park I attended a star party in May with my friend Chris. After dinner we, and Chris’ small reflector, headed to the boat launch area for the Chesmont Astronomical Society’s monthly event.
When I wrote about “amateur astronomers” I meant the attendees aren’t professionals. This doesn’t mean they don’t come prepared to play. As someone who grew up with a cheap telescope I wasn’t ready for the sight of the elaborate equipment coming out of the back of vans and trucks. Unfortunately my head wasn’t ready for the event either. I found myself getting dizzy while looking through the scopes. Perhaps it was because I first tried Chris’ out of adjustment reflector and its bouncing images, but the end result is I spent much of the night in the truck trying to stay warm.
Chris, however, was in his glory. My friend is into rocketry and, yes, he does consider himself to be a rocket scientist. And his appearance does imply he comes from a different world, or at least lives in one. I feared we’d have to throw a tarp over him lest he produce too much ambient light. Instead he got along with the less flamboyant astronomers, who all probably thought when Chris got excited seeing Saturn that creatures on Saturn got excited seeing Chris.
Despite my poor result at the star party, I’m eager to try again. Even if I never look through another telescope, just seeing a dark night sky is wonderful enough. When I do, I’m a kid again, and a man named Neil is taking a small step….