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Star Party Weekend

This weekend, May 15-17, the 7th Michiana Star Party and the Earth & Stars celebration in Cass County, MI, get underway on Friday at 3:00 p.m. If you've never camped under the stars and wondered what it's about, now is your Time for a Star Party. Besides the bevy of organized events linked above and the Saturday speakers series, there's plenty to do at Dr. T.K. Lawless Park on your own, with miles of biking and hiking trails, disc golf, fields, fishing, and more.

The Yarger Observatory Clear Sky Chart suggests predicted observing conditions. In the event of rain, we have the covered main pavilion with its big stone fireplace and picnic tables. A modest kitchenette has a hot dog cooker and microwave, and there's always hot coffee in the pot. On Saturday evening we also will open the community room near the observing field.

Because weather demands that we be flexible with programming, we will announce on-site the times for the showing of the film The City Dark. This award winning documentary film, which dovetails with the interests of astronomers and non-astronomers alike, takes you on "a search for night on a planet that never sleeps."

Visitors are welcome to give impromptu astronomy talks on Friday under the shelter by the fireplace if it's cloudy. Bring your slides on a thumb drive. And if you've got a kazoo, bring that, too. If you've got a telescope but aren't comfortable setting it up or using it, bring it out of storage. Lots of talented telescope owners will be present to help you in the downtime.

There are lots of ways to have fun at a star party site. We're expecting a contingent of VW bus aficionados, a Facebook event coordinated by Pete Owsianowski, with rumors of much musical talent and family-friendly attitudes to carry us through any cloudy nights around the fire. Don't forget, music is part of the scheduled Earth & Stars celebration, too.

But enough talk about clouds. We prepare so we are ready to remove our telescope lenses and let the wayward photons from distant celestial wonders gently bathe our eyes. No one said experiencing the stunning presence of the firmament comes without challenges. I encourage anyone who is riding the fence because of weather simply to embrace the opportunity and come out for a new personal adventure. Bring a friend, or commit to meeting new people in a safe environment.

Remember, white lights are the bane of observers at telescopes, so this is a dark-intensive event. Plan accordingly, especially if you are overnighting. There is no vehicle entry or departure from the observing field during darkness. I point my car headlights away from the field in case of a gaffe when I unlock a car door or some other dumb move that turns on my lights. Yikes! Please be attentive. MAS will provide some red cellophane to wrap around your flashlights, but it helps if you cover your lights in red in advance. A large red balloon over the end of a small flashlight works really well.

For more information, including nearby lodging, restaurants, and costs, see the MAS Star Party web page. We have water and flush toilets (but no showers or electricity); you bring the rest. Looking forward to a great gathering.

For other astronomy happenings in Michiana, you can hear a brief talk The Other Half of History I gave last week at the invitation of Rotary Club of South Bend. Thanks for keeping in touch.

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